Dumbarton, Scotland isn’t the most popular tourist spot. Even in the country itself, I’ve told others from Scotland about the place where I once lived as a baby, and I usually get a lot of blank faces in response. For me, my childhood brings one very specific place to mind — Overtoun House. Overtoun House is a grand, romantic-looking estate I can only ever remember having seen in pictures. It’s become almost a family myth at this point — a magical place a SoCal native can brag about to people who love Jane Austen and BBC.
Seeing as I’m studying abroad in the country I once called home, I had to see this place for myself. When my parents visited a few weeks ago, my family got in our rental car and drove two hours outside of St Andrews, past the metropolitan city of Glasgow and into Dumbarton. Dumbarton is small and isolated. That being said, my parents couldn’t help but voice their wonder that there was now a McDonald’s and a Starbucks where there used to be independent cafés. As we got closer and drove up the more winding country roads, they began to marvel in excitement as they recognized paths they had wandered with me as a baby all those years ago. Here are a few key highlights for those unfamiliar with this special house.
Overtoun House was purchased as part of the Overtoun Estate in 1859. It was owned and run by Lord and Lady Overtoun until it was bequeathed to the people of Dumbarton in 1939, after which it became a convalescent home for injured soldiers during World War II. After the war, it was converted into a maternity hospital, until about 1970. After that, it was tragically unused for seven years.
Other members of British society observed the estate and thought it would make a great men’s club, until they discovered the other caveat left by Lord Overtoun that no alcohol was allowed on the grounds. It was ultimately given over to Spire Christian Fellowship and Youth with a Mission, Christian organizations that allow the house to be used as a home base for training new missionaries. This is how my family used the house. Today, Overtoun House is run by two different organizations. A women’s shelter now utilizes the rooms my family and others once lived in.
The tea room
When visitors park outside, they’ll enter the main hall from a lovely stairway and come across beautiful tiled floors and tall, vaulted ceilings. There is also a large, oak fireplace before you enter what was once called “The Angel Room.” It’s clear to see why — the room is dreamy and painted in shades of cerulean with cream molding and classical paintings of cherubs and lovely pastoral women lounging, playing the harp and reading.
The room hosts polite tables, classical music, food, and pots and pots of tea.
The tea room isn’t too pricey, and it’s a great idea for people who have worked up their appetites hiking the grounds or those looking for a nice spot of history to relax on their tour of the Scottish countryside.
While much could be said to have been altered about the inside of Overtoun House, the grounds remain largely the same.
It’s a brisk, chilly walk past the house and across the bridge into the woods. Visitors should mind their step as people ride their horses, but it’s truly a striking walk. The stream runs by as they make their way under the canopy of gold and olive trees, strolling down and around the beaten path.
My parents can remember pushing my stroller down this way, back when there were cows to admire and sweet talk in the gated pastures.
Expectations versus reality
The truth is that Overtoun isn’t the same as it once was. My dad was itching to go up the stairs past the staff entrance, where he could remember where his office was, and my mom wanted to recreate pictures of herself up on the roof — something that likely would never be allowed today.
Regardless, the house is a piece of living history. It was restored entirely by the people who love and remember it. People have had grandparents treated in the hospital or family members born in the maternity ward, and there are even missionaries who fondly remember their worship sessions in the Angel Room.
Overtoun House has touched many people’s lives, including my own, and it continues to do so to this very day.