Great Places to Stay
- Dalhousie Castle
Situated just half an hour south of Edinburgh at Bonnyrigg on the A7, Dalhousie Castle is a truly magnificent and historic baronial castle hotel and Spa resort. Although expanded and refurbished over the years, the original towers, dungeon and thick moat walls date back to the 13th century. Built as the strategic fortress seat of the Ramsays of Dalhousie, it still stands proudly above the curving flow of the River Esk surrounded by open meadow and woodland.
As a famous noble family, it was with the Ramsays at Dalhousie where Edward 1, King of England spent a night in 1296 before travelling to Falkirk where he defeated William Wallace. This loyalty to England soon faded some years later when William de Ramsay joined forces with King Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314 and he also signed the famous declaration of Arbroath in which the Scottish barons appealed to the Pope against the English oppression. Other famous visitors over the years have included James VI, Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott. Today, you no longer have to be a member of the Royal family or a celebrity to enjoy the delights of Dalhousie.
In 1972 when the castle was being converted into a hotel, there was still a drawbridge over a deep, dry moat. This fascinating and authentic historic castle is the perfect place for a romantic break, sporting weekend or rural retreat, perhaps after spending a few days seeing the sights of Edinburgh - you can move on to this Scottish castle, without the need to travel a long distance to the Highlands. Dalhousie Castle was recently taken over by the prestigious group of Hotels, the Von Essen collection of fine properties across the UK, including Clivedon, Berkshire and The Royal Crescent, Bath,
You are immersed in the ambience and character of ancient times as soon as you walk into the impressive hallway. From the reception lobby downstairs, a double staircase leads up to the Quarterdeck landing, a lavish design inspired by and in honour of the 9th Earl's love of sailing ships (see the illustration at the top of this page). Above is a fabulous Gothic ornate arched ceiling with central circular cupola, stag heads around the wall, wood carvings and tall pillars. And everywhere you'll find period antique throne chairs, chests, chandeliers, ceremonial swords and shields, dark mahogany tables and oak panelled doors create a fabulous setting. Hidden spiral staircases link each floor (not safe to be used), and the wine cellar is the former prison cell. To think that you can stay here and live like a Laird amongst these beautiful artefacts and furnishings.
The beauty of Dalhousie is its intimate size with just 27 bedrooms and suites, which are all distinctly different in size, layout and interior design. Warmly recommended for a very special stay, is to reserve one of the 14 themed rooms, each designed with an historical style and named after Kings and Queens, heroic warriors and other famous Scottish people and places. These rooms have extra luxuries - bathrobes and Macallan whisky miniatures. The stunning Dalhousie room for instance is located in a huge tower, with a dark crimson colour scheme from walls to the thick brocade bedspread on huge four-poster. The Mary Queen of Scots suite with separate cosy sitting room, is equally luxurious and opulent featuring bold colours, a touch of tartan, furnished with fabulous rugs, tapestries and portraits of Mary and Darnley.
If you want to experience living in the 'bowels' of the castle then the 'de Ramesia' themed suite is for you. This is popular with Honeymoon couples as it is very special and hidden away within the thick stone walls of the former Moat. Through a series of corridors and small connecting rooms, you'll find the antique oak bed within a huge arched 'dungeon'. But don't worry, it's all very dry, warm and cosy, with thick Indian carpets underfoot, although you will find the old water well here, carefully covered over to prevent accidents. To add a contemporary touch, the bathroom offers a double jacuzzi bath. Other bedrooms include the Queen Victoria - bright and pretty with lovely garden views and Oliver Cromwell, decorated with a large timber bed, armoury and separate anteroom for your 'guard on duty'. Whichever room you choose, you are sure to have a peaceful and comfortable night's sleep - although be warned, the ghosts of the past have been known to wander the corridors.
A five-minute walk from the castle is the Lodge, said to be 100 years old, which has additional accommodation in five rooms. Modern furnishings and comfortable enough, but unfortunately no added extras such as room service, which cannot be offered. But due to this, Lodge rooms are at a lower tariff. Ground floor rooms have a private conservatory sitting room.
Guests have the use of a fantastic Library, with floor to ceiling shelves filled with books ancient and modern. Wood panelled throughout with a roaring log fire, the room's central piece is a beautiful crafted Rococo ceiling. Next door is a cosy sitting room with television, and across the Quartermain landing are the function rooms for weddings and parties.
Dining at Dalhousie Castle
Where else to dine at Dalhousie but down the winding stone staircase to the Dungeon Restaurant, a rabbit warren of separate "cells", complete with a suit of armour and Medieval weaponry. A romantic mood is set with candlelit tables hidden in dark corners; this unique setting will surely induce a good appetite. And now wonder, the menu is superb. Starters include Pan Fried Foie-gras on a Lentil Tartlette, with roast parsnips and a Port Wine Jus, or Lightly grilled Finnan Haddock, with a Chive Risotto, poached egg and truffled vinaigrette (a starter!). This was a hearty dish indeed and absolutely delicious, the soft poached egg dribbling into the rice with thick chunks of salty fish. An absolute classic. Alternatively, Seared Scallops wrapped in Pancetta, with warm salad of Rosevalt Potatoes, and while the scallops were ever so slightly overcooked (I love them very soft and juicy), this was a warm, tasty and very filling salad.
On to main courses from which you could choose Squab Pigeon stuffed with Wild Mushrooms and caramelised endive, Canon of Lamb wrapped in breadcrumbs, with caviar of aubergine and baby vegetables, and for fish lovers, Fillet of Turbot or Pan-fried Seabass, served respectively with Langoustine sauce and new potatoes, [rather plain] or Roasted Fennel and stuffed tomato. Overall the quality and presentation was bordering on excellent. Service was professional efficient and attentive with just the right time between courses so that you were neither rushed nor left waiting. Wine and water glasses was topped up. Puddings are favourite classics along the lines of Cranachan, Pannacotta, Banoffie Pie or a plate of Scottish cheeses served with celery, oatcakes and grapes. Tea, Coffee and liqueurs are served in the Library after dinner.
The more casual, modern brasserie, which is designed like a Conservatory with windows, overlooks the meadow and river. This is open all day for breakfast, coffee, snacks, lunch, tea and dinner. It is more suitable for families to dine here in the evening that the formal Dungeon Restaurant. Breakfast, especially at weekends when the hotel is often full, can cause problems with seating. About five people were waiting for a table ahead of my partner and I and eventually we were all taken to the Dungeon for breakfast which was quite fun. But it also meant walking back along the corridor to help ourselves to the buffet. This was the usual affair - packeted cereal, tinned fruit, juice, (not freshly squeezed), yoghurt, and cheese which by 10am was all rather sad and tired, a breakfast selection of little imagination. However a hot breakfast was on offer, served by a waiter so we were soon digging into eggs, bacon, and mushrooms, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Tea is made with the inevitable teabag with lukewarm water.
The Library has a secret Bar, hidden behind a false wall which looks like a bookshelf. This is a fantastic place to sit before dinner while you look through the menu, for a nightcap after dinner or indeed for morning coffee or afternoon tea. The log fire was burning brightly and it was cosy and warm. You could certainly wish to stay here late into the wee small hours indulging in a few drams.
Leisure and Sport
Dalhousie Castle has developed a very exciting attraction in the gardens, Falconry, the noble sport of kings. Demonstrations take place and you can become involved yourself with handling falcons, eagles and owls. Other leisure pursuits available on request include clay pigeon shooting, fishing, archery and horse-riding as well as arrangements to play golf on local courses.
Dalhousie is not just a hotel but also a Health Spa, with a specialist Aqueous Hydrotherapy centre. This offers treatment rooms for a wide range of beneficial massages, wraps, detox, cellutox, facials and beauty therapies, a Hydro Pool with massage jets, a Laconium - a Roman-styled sauna with underfloor and seat heating - a Turkish steam room and Tropical Rain shower After your treatment or hydrospa session, relax on loungers with fruit juice or tea in the Rotunda. I experienced a fabulous Aromapure facial, which cleansed, toned and moisturised my face but also included a foot, head and hand massage. I then completed my top to toe treatment with a pedicure. The whole ritual was utterly relaxing, being pampered for an hour and a half, lying on a heated massage bed in a quiet, calm room, candles burning. Men too can experience Swedish or Back and Neck massage, and aromatherapy facial amongst other treatments.
Dalhousie Castle has enjoyed Wedding Fever for many years and they offer the perfect romantic setting, professional service for the reception, dinner dance as well as a private chapel for the ceremony. They host a few hundred weddings each year, and each one is tailor made, supplying a Piper, music, disco or a ceilidh band if you wish. The function rooms are quite separate from the hotel's dining rooms, bar and lounge so that hotel guests are not disturbed. You may however observe the bride and groom and wedding party as they enter and leave the chapel and make their way to the reception but this is all part of the special atmosphere. What could be nicer than seeing a beautiful bride in her white dress, smart groom and wedding party enjoying the happiest day of their lives.
Dalhousie Castle really does offer a unique and authentic historic ambience and the individual themed rooms are simply luxurious. Book yourself in for a real romantic hideaway -first class cuisine, cosy Library bar and fabulous Spa treatments. And you don't have to wait until your wedding day, though that would be a very fine reason for booking.
For more information or to make a reservation see the Dalhousie Castle Web site.
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