Treat yourself to a weekend at one of these romantic castles
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The former playgrounds of some of the most powerful families in the country, not to mention some of history’s most prolific royals, are as unique as snowflakes. Why not explore the rabbit warrens of Scotland’s best castle hotels and rentals, and be privy to the grand imaginations of a king, laird or chieftain for the night? You can expect acres of secluded grounds to wander in – complete with lochs, rivers and woodland – where you’re more likely to bump into a knight in shining armour (well, just its suit) than anyone else. You may also spot astounding survivals from history, such as ancient monumental stones or score marks on stone from the ropes that lowered prisoners into their dungeon hell.
Yet don’t expect these bleak memorials to taint your experience. These castles know how to bring history to life in luxury. Medieval pursuits, banqueting halls and secret en-suite passageways, promise a glorified taste of the Scottish battles these castles endured – much less war and far more peace, you might say. Although, with so much to see and do, you’ll be hard pushed to make time for even a wink of sleep in your gloriously large four-poster bed.
At the foot of Ben Nevis and the head of its own, practically private loch, Inverlochy Castle has the winning formula when it comes to castle grounds. Queen Victoria agreed. When she visited during a trip to Balmoral in 1873 she wrote: “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot”. Indeed, the castle’s origins lie in a real-life, 19th-century love story. Since being bought from the Marquis of Huntley in 1840, Inverlochy was the holiday home of the Scarlett family. While stationed with his regiment in Canada, William F Scarlett met and married his American belle, Helen Magruder. Upon returning to England, Scarlett set about constructing a baronial castle within his inherited estate for his new wife. Completed in 1866, this was where the newlyweds lived, employing a large staff to maintain the 39,000-acre property. Its extravagant size and sensitive beginnings lend this castle a surreal air of importance.
Price: From £365 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)1397 702 177, inverlochycastlehotel.com
The turbulent history of this site on the edge of Loch Oich is hazy, though it is thought that at least two fortified structures predate the present Glengarry Castle Hotel. Still just about standing in the hotel grounds today are the remains of the original Invergarry Castle, which was the seat of the Chiefs of the MacDonells of Glengarry, a powerful branch of the Clan MacDonald. It was first set alight in 1654 by General Monk and its reincarnation was similarly destroyed by the Duke of Cumberland after the Battle of Culloden (though not before Bonnie Prince Charlie had rested his head there in 1745). From the ashes, like a phoenix, Invergarry House arose, built in 1869 by esteemed architect David Bryce, whose works include Fettes College, The Royal Infirmary and The Bank of Scotland. It was later renamed Glengarry Castle Hotel.
Price: From £130 per night per double
Contact: +44 (0)1809 501254, glengarry.net
The shores of Stonefield Castle’s woodland gardens (left) are lapped by the glinting waters of Loch Fyne. An enviable location, it was much-loved by the Campbells of Muckairn. The land was previously owned by the MacAllisters, when it was called Barmore, but in 1746 the Campbell family became its new owners. Renaming it Stonefield, the present castle was built in 1837 in the Scottish baronial style to designs by revered architect William Playfair. Inside, the hotel retains much of its original furnishings, ornate ceilings and marble fireplaces, taking you back in time while also showcasing up-to-the-minute culinary expertise. Its renowned Scottish fare uses local produce, such as seafood from the nearby fishing village of Tarbert.
Price: From £140 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)844 815 9833, bespokehotels.com
Clan Ramsay retained a stronger hold over their castle, Dalhousie (above), for longer than any other family in the history of Scotland. So, if safety is your concern, you can’t beat this 13th-century fortification just eight miles south of Edinburgh. From basic needs to your most superfluous, this four-star property is now at its peak of comfort, complete with a luxurious thermal spa. Many surviving features whisper secrets in your ears as you peruse its 11-foot-thick walls and 11 acres of grounds. A mural staircase leading from the castle’s 120-seat banqueting hall speaks of royal ghosts of the castle’s past: King Edward I spent the night here in 1298 before travelling to Falkirk where he defeated William Wallace. Meanwhile, the original drawbridge-raising mechanism survives to tell the tale of how Sir Alexander Ramsay withstood a six-month siege at Dalhousie laid by King Henry IV of England – Dalhousie proved to be the last castle in Scotland to be besieged by an English king in person. This formidable hotel gets you into the medieval spirit with falconry and archery available on-site. Then dine on the sophisticated creations of the hotel’s French head chef, Francois Giraud, in the barrel-vaulted Dungeon Restaurant.
Price: From £180 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)1875 820 153, dalhousiecastle.co.uk
Jutting out from the headland on a rocky outcrop, Mingary (above) was a windswept ruin until recently, when three years of extensive renovations transformed it into a luxurious castle to rent. On the coastal fringes of the 25,000-acre Ardnamurchan estate, its location once offered a strategic stronghold for various powers, including Clan MacIain for three centuries and the Vikings for over half a millennium. For today’s guests it affords spectacular views over the Sound of Mull towards Tobermory and back onto the wild moors. Inside, four distinctive suites sleep 10. The bathroom in the MacDougall suite, for example, was once part of a secret passageway hiding a tiny chapel, lost within the castle’s walls for 500 years. Now its walk-in rainforest shower, underfloor heating and copper bath may be a world away from its holier origins, but ‘find yourself’ there, you still will.
Price: From £350 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)1972 510 715, ardnamurchanestate.co.uk
The ancestral home of the Brodie clan for over 400 years – confirmed theirs by Robert the Bruce himself and erected in 1567 – Brodie Castle has more claims to fame than storeys (and there are five of those in its rose-tinted, turreted towers). Nearby the Moray Firth’s stunning beaches, a half-hour’s drive from the Culloden battlefield and on the brink of the whisky trail at Speyside, you and up to 13 other guests are spoilt for cultural choice – for much of it you barely have to leave the 175-acre estate. A Pictish monument known as ‘Rodney’s Stone’ within the grounds is notable for carrying the longest inscription of all and ‘Macbeth’s Hillock’ nearby is where the Shakespearean hero is said to have encountered the Weird Sisters. Above all, a sojourn here allows you to experience the life of a contemporary laird, following in the steps of the late Ninian Brodie who lived here until 2003.
Price: From £1,210 per weekend
Contact: +44 (0)1309 641 371, nts.org.uk
A chameleon-like castle, in its 500-year history the site has housed a bishop’s palace, clan stronghold, school, jail, courthouse and, now, the luxury Dornoch Castle Hotel. No doubt the most dramatic event in its past occurred in 1570, when following the rescue of Earl Alexander by the Murrays of Dornoch from the Earl of Caithness at Dunrobin Castle, the castle was sacked and burned by the combined forces of the Caithness, Mackay and Sutherland clans. Bitter feuds aside, a sweeter offering is now found on the fine dining menu, as served in the original vaulted dungeons. Other impressive survivals include a fireplace that would have previously been located in the kitchen of the Bishop’s Palace that now almost covers the entirety of one wall in the hotel’s bar.
Price: From £145 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)1862 810 216, dornochcastlehotel.com
Impeccably restored, you can rely on Crossbasket Castle to make your stay feel authentically regal. The Stewart Dining Room is a case in point, featuring uniquely detailed cornices finished in gold leaf in-keeping with the excessive taste of the 17th-century era in which it was built. The four-storey fairytale turreted tower actually dates back to the original 16th-century property on the same site, and today provides the ultimate Rapunzel-esque bridal experience (or just a romantic retreat fit for any damsel in distress). Overlooking the Calder River, which incorporates beautiful waterfalls and a large stretch of woodland, you won’t feel half-an-hour away from the sprawling metropolitan hub of Glasgow – but you are; the best of both worlds.
Price: From £315 per double per night
Contact: +44 (0)1698 829 461, crossbasketcastle.com
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