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Issue 22 - Live like a Laird for Hogmanay

Scotland Magazine Issue 22
August 2005


This article is 13 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 for Hogmanay

If you must only ever spend one night in Scotland, make sure that it's Hogmanay. And make sure you're in a castle. Andrew Ross reports

There’s no finer time in the Scottish social calendar than 31st December, or Hogmanay as it is known locally.

From the gargantuan Edinburgh street party, with hundreds of thousands of revellers from across the globe celebrating the New Year to the sounds of internationally renowned bands, to the more modest – but no less raucous – celebrations that occur in each and every small town and village across the country, Scotland celebrates the coming of the New Year like no other country around the globe.

Rio has its carnival, New Orleans has Mardi Gras, New York has its (or rather Ireland’s) St Patrick’s Day parade down Fifth Avenue and Scotland…? And Scotland has Hogmanay.

To be in Scotland at this time of year is a treat for the senses. It’s the best opportunity to see the Scots at their best, to hear the best traditional music, sample the finest whisky and to revel in the celebratory atmosphere which can linger on until 3rd January.

There’s a reason Scotland gets an extra day of public holiday in the aftermath of New Year’s Eve.

And there is no better time to be planning a winter trip to Scotland. Whilst in years gone by rural castle hotel owners have deemed the winter, with its short days and long, cold nights, as the ‘off season’, recently they’ve begun to see it as a time to offer exclusive hire of their castles for Christmas and Hogmanay parties.

There’s something to suit all budgets too, from a unique youth hostel sleeping 189, to one of the world’s most exclusive hideaways, but whatever the budget, the hospitality will be universal. Here are four of the best Scotland has to offer.

Ackergill Tower
You’d be hard-pushed to find a more dramatic location to see in the New Year than Ackergill Tower in Caithness. This seaside castle is dripping with 15th century charm. With accommodation for 48, Ackergill is large enough for big parties of family and friends yet maintains the personal touch.

From the moment you arrive at this windswept castle you’ll begin to feel festive.

The whole house is bedecked with holly and mistletoe and boasts four huge Christmas trees. In fact you won’t want to leave the welcoming confines of the castle but should you do there is a host of extra curricular activities on offer for guests including golf, clay pigeon shooting and ranger-guided walks along the rugged coastline.

The highlight of any visit, however, is the Grand Hogmanay Ball in the castle’s very own opera house. Guests – in Highland dress if castle hosts have their way – are treated to the finest local cuisine, fine wines, the odd dram of whisky and some traditional bagpipe and ceilidh music. This is not a spectator event, however. Guests are actively encouraged to get into the spirit of things, right down to the Highland flings.

Amemorable location for a memorable night.

Tel: +44 (0)1955 603 556
Getting there
Fly to Wick via Edinburgh or Aberdeen.

Carbisdale Castle
This cliff-top castle has a definite ethereal quality about it that is significantly enhanced in the depths of winter. Built in 1906 for a local Dowager Duchess, Carbisdale later housed the exiled Norwegian Royal family during WWII before being bequeathed to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association. Recently the forward-thinking SYHA made the castle available to let in its entirety for weddings and parties making it the perfect setting for those who want a big New Year’s party on a tight budget.

And when I say big, I mean big. Carbisdale’s 189 beds are available for exclusive use from £2,250 per night and guests can enjoy the run of the haunted castle. From the eerie corridors to the Italian sculpture room, you couldn’t find a more atmospheric setting for your first Scottish Hogmanay. Add some traditional Scottish music and you have your very own Brigadoon.

Carbisdale sits on an elevated ridge overlooking the River Kyle and extensive local woodland. It offers great scope for brisk walls to blow out the cobwebs come 1st January.

Haunted, yes, but also utterly enchanting and good fun.

Tel: +44 (0)870 004 1109
Getting there
Fly to Inverness with BA, Easyjet or BMI or arrive by rail or sleeper (

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle
This idyllic hideaway is a regular playground of the privileged that rates high in the romance stakes. But this exclusivity comes at a price: to book Skibo’s 46 rooms costs in excess of £25,000 per night.

Fortunately the open-house feel at Skibo is extended to the festive period and guests can come alone or as a small group to enjoy the famous Skibo hospitality safe in the knowledge that by the end of their trip they’ll feel like they’ve spent a vacation with old friends. Small touches, like guests eating together around a seemingly endless dining table, engenders a feeling of camaraderie.

Preceded by an exclusive Christmas house party, The Carnegie Club’s Hogmanay celebrations are legendary.

Castle guests, often numbering numerous VIPs and celebrities, are treated to the best of Scotland’s larder and activities as diverse as falconry, offroad driving and archery.

Most come for the golf and surprisingly, due to the local microclimate, Skibo’s two courses are usually playable yearround.

If all that sounds too strenuous you can sit in front of one of the castle’s many roaring fires, dram in hand, while omnipresent butlers cater to your every need, and resident host, Alan Grant, regales you with tales from the castle’s bygone days.

Once in a lifetime experience. If the budget allows book now.

Tel: +44 (0)1862 894 600
Getting there
Fly to Inverness with BA, Easyjet or BMI or arrive by rail or sleeper (

Inverlochy Castle
Queen Victoria wrote of Inverlochy, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.” If that doesn’t persuade you to see in the New Year here, the castle’s wild setting will: Inverlochy stands resplendent in the foothills of Scotland’s tallest peak (Ben Nevis), overlooking a picturesque loch.

Inverlochy is offering a dedicated New Year package this year. A champagne cocktail reception will be held on 30th December as a warm up for the big party the following day. On Hogmanay itself a black tie dinner will be served at 7.30pm with a ceilidh to follow until the early hours of the morning. New Year will be piped in by a Highland piper followed by a traditional ‘first footer’ (the first visitor of the New Year, usually tall, dark and handsome) to bring good luck to all.

On New Year’s day a special brunch will be served until 1.00pm before the local Lochaber pipe band perform on the castle’s lawn. A falconry display will follow before guests retire to get the party going again with an evening of music provided by Inverlochy’s resident pianist and fiddler.

Inverlochy has 17 guest rooms and is available for exclusive use. And if it was good enough for Queen Victoria, it‘s good enough for anyone.

Tel: +44 (0)1397 702 177
Getting there
90 min. drive from Inverness.

Glenapp Castle
Glenapp Castle is a classic picturepostcard castle, overlooking a sleepy fishing village on Scotland’s west coast.

This former home of the Earl of Inchcape is the perfect setting for a mid-sized Hogmanay party.

Though not as remote as the other castles in this article – it is a stone’s throw from Glasgow – it is the last word in romantic settings, boasting beautiful Victorian architecture and 30 acres of manicured gardens. The views from Glenapp, out over the Irish Sea and the island of Ailsa Craig, are worth the visit alone. But it is the hospitality of resident hosts, the Cowan family, that will stick in your mind as memories of your trip fade.

Glenapp can accommodate 34 guests in the castle with attentive staff catering to your every need. It is open over the New Year period for three night all-inclusive packages including a ceilidh and a piper on New Year’s Eve and a curling match (bonspiel) on 1st January, as well as various other entertainments. Easy to reach, hard to forget.

Tel: +44 (0)1465 831 212
Getting there
40 miles from Glasgow Prestwick Airport.

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