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Issue 11 - Live like a Laird

Scotland Magazine Issue 11
November 2003


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Live like a Laird

Scotland is the ideal destination if you want to enjoy a truly luxurious holiday. Kate Ennis went and sample the high life.

Few countries are better than Scotland when it comes to owning a country estate. Traditionally commanding the top land in the locality, lairds have always enjoyed the best of Scotland’s breathtaking natural beauty, from mountains to forests and rocky rivers to cliff tops.

Their homes, as stunning as the landscape around them, were designed for extravagant living. Waking up to this kind of setting every morning, no wonder the role of a Scottish laird has long been so enviable.

The modern-day rich and famous have already succumbed to the allure of the lairdly lifestyle. Known advocates include Madonna, Mohammed Al Fayed and the Douglases, who have made Scottish country estates choice destinations for their own getaway retreat.

And, of course, such trips also have the royal seal of approval.

However, the closest many of the rest of us get to inside a laird’s grand home may be a public tour, with only brief and tantalising glimpses behind red ropes and a trail of tourists. You cannot help but aspire to waking up in a four-poster bed, banqueting in the great hall and exploring the history of a building steeped in history at your leisure.

Just wishful thinking maybe? Well, sampling the Scottish high life in a castle or sporting lodge is most certainly realistic, even for those without such a healthy bank balance. In a country that excels in luxury rural retreats, a growing number of companies are specialising in exclusive rentals of grand estates for a tailor-made holiday experience.

Scotland is bursting with grand estates. And as real-life lairds see the opportunities of tourism to sustain the life of their properties, they are opening their doors to holiday renters.

There is an increasing wealth of properties to choose from, and renting one has never been so straightforward or more popular.

It’s easy to see the appeal. Yours to share exclusively with family and friends, renting a large property is ideal for combining a holiday with celebrating a special occasion, such as a milestone birthday or anniversary.

Okay, so you may not have a private helicopter to transport you there, but if you share the rent, a short break need not break the bank. Watch out though, your wallet may just tremble a little if you go in for all the trimmings.

For a truly relaxing holiday without having to lift a finger, you can call upon a dedicated team of workers to attend to your every need, just like any laird would expect.

In most cases, a chef, butler or housekeeper can be hired in advance, for an additional fee.

And in keeping with the traditional lifestyle of outdoor activities, you can summon the services of a ghillie to arrange your fishing and shooting.

As the leading conservation organisation for the country’s natural and built heritage, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) can offer outstanding accommodation within some of Scotland’s grandest estates.

With an eclectic range of vacation locations across Scotland, from crofts to lighthouses, a small selection really stand out as the most splendid and sumptuous to stay in. To highlight this, the Trust has recently christened four flagship properties which are known as the ‘Connoisseurs Collection’.

You cannot get much more prestigious than the Eisenhower Apartments at Culzean Castle.

This Ayrshire castle, perched dramatically on a cliff-top, is described as the jewel in the crown of all NTS properties and staying somewhere that has hosted a state leader is always a good sign of its exclusivity. Situated on the top floor of the castle is a self-contained country house, which served as Eisenhower’s presidential suite.

In 1945, the Marquess of Ailsa gave Culzean to the National Trust for Scotland. He asked that part of the castle be donated to General Eisenhower for his lifetime, as a thank-you from Scotland for commanding Scottish soldiers in the battle for Europe.

When the president died, the NTS – with support from Scottish Heritage USA – opened the apartment to the public.

Eisenhower stayed in the apartment four times, entertaining his own family and friends there.

To do the same and have the place entirely to yourselves, you will need to hire out all six rooms.

But then you will only want the best of company to share those panoramic coastal views.

Sporting pursuits have always been key to lairdly lifestyle so the Trust’s hunting estate, Mar Lodge, is also a natural choice for any would-be lairds.

You can be proud to temporarily preside over this 73,000-acre estate in the heart of the Cairngorms, which forms a good chunk of Scotland’s second national park and boasts four of the five highest mountains in Britain.

Deer stalking is the main activity here, with the need to cull in order to preserve natural habitats.

Whatever your sporting preference, with the help of the ranger service you will be contributing to the responsible and sustainable management of this highland estate, a role that faces all modern lairds today.

Back at the lodge you can appreciate hunting’s lasting legacy and check out the many trophies, with antlers hanging in every corridor within the house.

In the ballroom, too, adjacent to the lodge, there are more than 2000 deer skulls attached to the ceiling rafters – a rather eerie sight when the hall is viewed empty and in cold daylight.

But with ambient lighting and filled with partygoers, it makes a great venue for parties, receptions and ceilidhs – holding up to 130 people.

The Bynack apartment is the largest to rent in the lodge, occupying two floors of the east wing and sleeping 15.

But for a larger party, the other four apartments can be rented together to sleep up to 30.

Former guests here include royalty, with the lodge having been built for Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, the monarch that so popularised this part of the Highlands.

As for the present neighbours, you will be in royal company – Balmoral is just next door.

Her majesty has been known to pass by, so it’s worth looking out for her in these parts.

If you want to enjoy the experience of staying on a grand estate but simply don’t have the numbers to fill a giant castle then the NTS also has a great range of more modest properties, such as converted gate lodges.

All National Trust for Scotland properties can be rented out for a week but rather conveniently can also be hired for three night breaks.

These can be taken either at the weekend or during the week, for maximum flexibility.

Many castles and manor houses owned privately and not seen by the general public are also available to rent for those in search of the high life.

George Goldsmith is a leading letting agent of grand properties, with a handpicked selection of castles, mansions and sporting estates.

They can arrange an extravagant and full catered stay for a party of 25 at Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, for example, a baronial style castle built by eminent architect William Burn for Sir David Hunter Blair amid 2000 acres.

CKD Galbraith has a portfolio of grand properties within their ‘Castles and Cottages’ selection and Ross-shire company Large Holiday Houses also has a good selection of properties designed for luxurious living.

One such location is Calgary Castle on the Isle of Mull, an 18th century laird’s house with a castellated front, looking out upon stunning views of the nearby bay and out to sea.

In fact one of the original lairds will keep you company, as he is buried in the wooded gardens here.

Wherever you look to rent the estate of your dreams, one thing is certain: the combination of grandeur and indulgence in such a private setting can make for the most memorable holiday.

For a once in a lifetime extravagance, it is an ideal option for a Scottish holiday. All those who have always dreamed of lording it up can indulge in some serious role-play.

The only trouble is it’s very easy to become accustomed to laird-like living.

And that makes it very hard when the time comes to leave.

National Trust for Scotland Holiday Accommodation
Tel: +44 (0)131 243 9331

George Goldsmith
Tel: +44 (0)131 468 8535
Email: info@

Large Holiday Houses
Tel: +44 (0)1381 610 496

CKD Galbraith
Tel: +44 (0)1738 451 600