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Issue 15 - A touch of grandeur

Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004


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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A touch of grandeur

GRAND VALUE ROOMS - Where to stay for far less pay! This month's top three tips in association with

Glenapp Castle
Near Ballantrae, Ayrshire
Tel: +44 (0)1465 831 212

Glenapp may be a relatively recent addition to highly prestigious Relais & Chateaux membership but the castle itself is no less than 134 years old. Now one of Scotland’s finest establishments, Glenapp was grandly restored a few years ago – a process that itself took several years – by Graham and Fay Cowan. The Guide has watched with interest and we stayed in spring 2004. We had a feeling that Scotland Magazine readers would be interested in the place and, having been, now know for sure that you will!

The castle sits in a breathtaking position. High on a hillside, its glittering windows looking out to sea and the famous bird sanctuary isle Ailsa Craig. The cliff-edged island is dramatic and resembles, when the mists cling to its top, an exotic smoking volcano.

All around the castle are the most magnificent mature trees, many a century old, tall and swaying as if in some African breeze. The walled gardens are a little piece of Eden: fabulously coloured rhododendrons and roses climb, grow and thrive in this immaculate sanctuary. The glasshouse – in which you may sit – features a long established vine. None of this is exaggeration, and not a word of it purple prose; it is fact.

Graham and Fay, who have a successful hotel business in their family, are easy-going, friendly hosts. Their skills have shaped Glenapp and they enjoy welcoming every guest, as does their hand-picked team. This hospitality awaits once you have been given access via secured gates and have enjoyed the mile long avenue up the hill, past tumbling streams and under the canopy of fine trees, to see the imposing Frenchstyle castle draw into view.

The hall, like many rooms, is panelled and supremely elegant. Throughout are interesting pictures collected by the family, fascinating objects and treasures, and vase after vase of garden blooms.

The scent of wood smoke from the open fire in the drawing room is a joy. Like the backdrop to a James Ivory film each room reveals beauty and sparkle: serious chandeliers, fine fabrics, luxurious sofas, period furnishings. The style is authentic and confident, the luxury much as it must have been in the days when the Earls of Inchcape lived here.

There is privacy and peace in plush, characterful bedrooms and spacious suites. Tristan Welch is the award-winning and yet young head chef and the rich, matt dark red dining room is a grandly suitable setting for his creations.

Exciting and imaginative dinners are served with maximum care. The wine list is top-notch. Breakfast is as fine as ‘upstairs’ would ever have
had; enjoy the finest of fare and a friendly, refined start to the day as you gaze through tall windows and out to sea. On a clear day you can see Ireland.

On any day, however, Glenapp Castle is a true haven for all the senses, in the restless and noisy world of this day and age.

Inverlochy Castle
Near Fort William, Inverness-shire
Tel: +44 (0)1397 702 177

Today a Scottish saltire flag flutters atop a stone tower of this magnificently situated castle where royalty, celebrities and fortunate guests regularly choose to stay. It all began with William, the 3rd Lord Abinger, who had clearly loved the extensive Highland estate his grandfather Sir James Scarlett acquired 22 years earlier, so had building work commence on Inverlochy Castle in 1863. The President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis, was welcomed by Lord Abinger to newly-completed Inverlochy in summer 1869… and thus began this castle’s famous tradition of hospitality.

The imposing granite building sits at the very foot of Ben Nevis, the highest Scottish mountain. From many rooms and many vantage points around the castle, views are to the jagged and dangerous 1000 ft sheer drop cliffs on the top of the north face of the mountain, snow-covered for much of the year. It is a wild and impressive sight. The air is fresh and full of birdsong. Queen Victoria claimed “never to have seen a lovelier or more romantic spot” and a century later nothing much has changed, save that the castle is now a luxurious hotel available for you and I to enjoy.

A long-standing member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux organisation, Condé Nast Traveler Magazine (US) readers listed Inverlochy this year in the top 100 hotels world-wide, 16th best in Europe. A constellation of stars have been drawn here by the accessible and yet secluded, stunning location, the beautiful public rooms (such as the spectacular Great Hall with its frescoed ceiling and antique glass chandeliers) and the spacious, charming bedrooms.

But when we stayed in spring 2004 we were impressed most, we felt, by the kindness and warmth of the whole staff team.

Dinner has a sense of occasion. We came down the staircase at around 7.30pm, to the strains of Chariots of Fire from the hotel’s resident pianist, although we kept to a more measured pace. By the time he had drifted musically into Ae fond kiss we were ensconced by the crackling fire in the Great Hall. From somewhere a glass of Champagne appeared – the house bubbly is ultra-premium Pommery ‘Cuvée Louise’ 1989, as was served on Concorde. Head chef Matthew Gray has a modernist approach, and yet can carry off the classics with aplomb. The wine list runs from £3,000 for an infamous Petrus to a relieving £25 for a Bordeaux or Chablis. Michelin approves, too, and has awarded a coveted star. Cheers!

Clachan, near Tarbert, Argyll
Go for room 3 with its four poster bed, bay window and nicely wacky Victorian bathroom!
Tel: +44 (0)1880 740 206

by Aberfeldy, Perthshire
Keltyburn is the name of the poshest room at this lovely contemporary/ classic place
Tel: +44 (0)1887 820 332

Isleornsay, Sleat, Isle of Skye
Room 2 boasts ‘An Leabaidh Mhor’, the ‘Great Bed’. The view: a lighthouse and mountains
Tel: +44 (0)1471 833 332


Here are five more ideas

Kinbuck, near Dunblane, Stirlingshire
Tel: +44 (0)1786 822 125
Very easy to get to from either Glasgow or Edinburgh, ancient Cromlix is one of our favourites. Roomy suites and elegant dining made it the favourite of the late King Hussein of Jordan

Glen Cloy, Isle of Arran, Ayrshire
Tel: +44 (0)1770 302 219
The oldest house on the historic and lovely Isle of Arran, Kilmichael is run to exacting standards by dedicated owners. Dine finely in a refined place in a secluded spot. Perfect!

Kinclaven, by Stanley, Perthshire
Tel: +44 (0)1250 883 268
Like a French chateau, Ballathie is all pointy turrets and imposing. Inside, all is friendly and welcoming. Good in all aspects. The best bedrooms are ‘Kirkcudbright’ and ‘Inverness’.

by Kelso, Roxburghshire, The Borders
Tel (+44) (0)1573 450 331
Owned by a Duke, who happens to live nearby in Scotland’s largest inhabited castle, the Roxburghe is easy-going.Great golf, open fires, fine food, reasonable prices.Try it!

Kirkbean, by Dumfries, Dumfries-shire
Tel: +44 (0)1387 880 234
A smaller country house with the ring of a Champagne house to the name. It’s just as classy. Delightful hosts in Angus and Jane Fordyce. Elegant simplicity, house-party ambience, peace.