Lions, Llamas, Lochs and Lichen: Mugdock Country Park’s intriguing past (part 2)

The forlorn remains of the once opulent Craigend Castle

In some ways the history of Mugdock can be summed up as A Tale of Two Castles. The first one, Mugdock Castle, was built in the dark and violent days of the 14th century. The second, Craigend Castle, was erected in the 19th century as a mark of ostentatious wealth, its interiors awash with opulent furnishings. This was a ‘castle’ built not for warfare or bloodshed, but for luxurious comfort, and set in magnificent landscaped gardens.

Today Craigend is a dangerous ruin, but it had a diverse and varied existence, with numerous proprietors.  However, for me, its most colourful era was under the ownership of father and son Andrew and William Wilson. Andrew Wilson was a successful businessman, his son William a zoologist.

Report of the fire at Wilson's Zoo in Glasgow 15th March 1944 (c) The Glasgow Herald

Report of the fire at Wilson’s Zoo in Glasgow 15th March 1944 (c) The Glasgow Herald

The Wilsons were the well-known owners of Wilson’s Zoo in Glasgow: but what a ‘zoo’ that was! Housed in a tenement building on Oswald Street in the heart of Glasgow and close to Central Station, it had two floors of ‘wild’ animals, including a lion and lioness, with a pet shop in the basement. Definitely not the surroundings we would expect today, and not without accident (see report on the right), but nonetheless very popular with visitors in the 1930s-1950s. The smell must have been quite something and it is said to have boasted a mynah bird that spoke with a broad Glasgow accent!

By 1949 the Wilsons had moved to Craigend Castle and decided to establish a new zoo there, which opened to the public in the April of that year. In cages and pens around Gallowhill there were not only thousands of birds and reptiles, but also lions, llamas, chimpanzees, leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, an elephant and innumerable other creatures. Once again the conditions the animals were kept in would probably not be acceptable today, but what a difference from the smelly tenement home of their fellows!

Charlie the Elephant and Singh Ibraham his faithful keeper (picture courtesy of EDC)

Charlie the Elephant and Singh Ibraham his faithful keeper (picture courtesy of Mugdock Country Park)

Without doubt though, the zoo’s star attraction was Charlie the Elephant, who was cared for faithfully by his mahout, or keeper, Singh Ibraham. Such was Charlie’s popularity and lasting fame that Charlie’s Theatre Cafe Bar, one of Mugdock’s eating places, was named in his honour a few years ago.

However, a trip to Craigend Zoo was more than simply a chance to see exotic and unusual animals. There was a picnic area, a children’s paddling pool, pony rides, and boats, both motor and rowing, which could be hired to sail on the estate’s lochs. On top of that, there was even a miniature train which ran from Mugdock Village to the castle! While for many of the visitors the highlight of the day would be taking tea in the one of the three palatial rooms in the castle that had been converted into tearooms to provide sustenance for the thousands of visitors who came each day.

Abundant lichen: a testimony to the clean, fresh air of Mugdock Country Park

Abundant lichen: a testimony to the clean, fresh air of Mugdock Country Park

But unfortunately the zoo began to lose money and was eventually closed in 1955. There are many more interesting tales about the zoo – some of which will be told in Part 3! Since the closure, Craigend Castle has gradually fallen into disrepair.

But the castles are only part of the story of Mugdock Country Park. It’s a wonderful place to spend a day exploring. Wildlife and plant life abound.  Plenteous lichen on the trees shows just how fresh and clean the air is here. Walking and cycling are popular and there is a new bike shop, Mugdock Country Cycles, with bikes for all ages and abilities. A colourful playpark for younger children, an adventure trail for older children, orienteering, history and tree trails: it really is a place for everyone.

Inside the delightful Stable Tearoom

Inside the delightful Stables Tearoom

Add to that an arts and crafts shop, a plantaria with a restaurant overlooking the former walled garden, the Stables Tearoom, and a theatre, then a visit to Mugdock Country Park is a treat – come rain or shine!

Mugdock Country Park

Mugdock Country Cycles

Mugdock Plantaria and Garden Restaurant

Mugdock Makkers Arts and Crafts

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