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Issue 39 - Historic havens

Scotland Magazine Issue 39
June 2008


This article is 10 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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Historic havens

Scotland offers all manner of accommodation for visitors. Richard Goslan finds some with historical interest.

We’re never going to be able to market ourselves for our sunny days or beach holidays. But if there’s one thing we really can do well in Scotland, it’s history.

From the 5,000 year old Neolithic structures of Maeshowe in Orkney to the country’s countless castles, stories of our past are everywhere we look.

What’s more, visitors have the opportunity not just to view Scotland’s history, but in many cases, they can actually be part of it – by staying overnight in a house or hotel with genuine historic interest.

The options vary enormously, from simple little inns to grand castles, but the common thread is that at one time, the buildings played host to some of Scotland’s most influential and famous characters.

Take Auchinleck House, for example. This mansion near Cumnock in East Ayrshire was built in the mid-18th century by Alexander Boswell, father of the famous biographer James Boswell.

In 1999 Auchinleck House was bought by the Landmark Trust, a building preservation charity, and fully restored.

The Trust now rents out the home as accommodation, where guests can soak in the atmosphere which inspired the young Boswell in his literary endeavours. Also still available is the famous drinker’s Book of Company, a list of the alcohol Boswell consumed between 1782, when he become laird on his father’s death, and 1795, when he died.

Tibbie Shiels Inn can’t compete with the grandeur of Auchinleck House, but the historic coaching inn overlooking St Mary’s Loch between Selkirk and Moffat in the Borders also has a strong literary connection.

It was at Tibbie’s that James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd who penned the Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was a regular visitor. John Wilson, writing as Christopher North in the intellectual Blackwood’s Magazine, used to drink with Hogg at Tibbie’s, which he compared to “a wren’s nest.” Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson were other visitors whose names are still in the guestbook. The inn has five ensuite bed and breakfast rooms available.

For self-catering accommodation with links to Stevenson, try Pilrig House, a 17thcentury townhouse located in a tranquil park close to Edinburgh’s city centre. Pilrig was owned and occupied by the same family – the Balfours – for hundreds of years. Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, James Balfour, lived in the house, and RLS visited and played in the gardens as a child. He mentions Pilrig House in many of his books and letters, including Kidnapped and Catriona. Pilrig House is now home to three separate self-catering apartments.

For accommodation with political history, look no further than the Eisenhower Apartment at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire.

Following the conclusion of the Second World War, General Eisenhower was invited by the Kennedy family of Culzean to accept the tenancy of a specially-created guest flat on the top floor of the historic Grade A-listed castle. General Eisenhower and members of his family stayed here several times. It is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, which has six double or twin bedrooms available for individuals or for groups of up to 12.

Rosslyn is now very much on the tourist map, thanks in no small part to the worldwide success of Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code, which reaches its conclusion at the site of Rosslyn Chapel. Those with an interest in the book or the story of the St Clair family can actually stay overnight in Rosslyn Castle, which is owned and managed by the Landmark Trust.

The Trust also has accommodation at the chapel’s gatehouse, known as Collegehill House.

This 18th century building might look humble compared with its architecturally exuberant neighbour, but Collegehill has been host to some notable guests in its time, including Boswell and Dr Johnson, Robert Burns, JMW Turner, Wordsworth and even Queen Victoria.

For some industrial history, there’s nowhere in the world quite like New Lanark, the site of Robert Owen’s 18th century cotton spinning village and location for his pioneering experiment in social reforms.

New Lanark is now home to a world class hotel, with rooms in a converted mill overlooking the River Clyde. If you prefer to do your own thing, there are also eight self-catering properties available, right on the riverbank. And if you’re on a tight budget, there’s even a youth hostel in the village where you can stay for as little as £14 per night.

Airth Castle is another historic castle, which dates back to the 14th century and was once owned by the family of Robert the Bruce. This castle overlooks the River Forth near the town of Stirling and not far from Bannockburn, site of Bruce’s famous victory over the English in 1314.

To sleep not just in a historic house, but in a historic bed, look no further than Lennoxlove House, in Haddington near Edinburgh, which has been part of the landscape here for the past 700 years.

The house was fully restored and opened to the public as a luxury hotel last year, and features a 16th century bed, reputedly slept in by Mary Queen of Scots. The solid black oak four poster is thought to have been used by Mary when under guard at Arden Hall in North Yorkshire. It is draped in long, deep red velvet curtains which have been embroidered in the style of the Tudor times, replicating many of the embroideries known to have been stitched by Mary herself.

For something a little less luxurious, but still rich in history, there’s always Flora Macdonald’s cottage, the home of the Highland heroine who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape in a rowing boat from the Battle of Uist to Skye.

The cottage, which is in the grounds of the Flodigarry Country House Hotel, has been completely renovated and is now home to seven bedrooms for guests at the hotel.

Let’s just hope the weight of history doesn’t stop you from enjoying a blissful night’s sleep.

Auchinleck House
Tel: +44 (0)1628 825 925
Tibbie Shiels Inn
Tel: +44 (0)175 042 231
Pilrig House
Tel: +44 (0)131 554 4794
Eisenhower Apartment
Tel: +44 (0)1655 884 455
Rosslyn Castle
Tel: +44 (0)1628 825 925
Tel: +44 (0)1628 825 925
New Lanark
Tel: +44 (0)1555 667 200
Airth Castle
Tel: +44 (0)1324 831 411
Lennoxlove House
Tel: +44 (0)1620 828 604
Flora Macdonald’s Cottage
Tel: +44 (0)1470 552 203