Great Places to Stay
- Lennoxlove House
"Last night a wind from Lammermuir came roaring up the glen,
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men,
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee,
Come forth, come forth, my Borderers and ride the March with me."
Beyond the wild, grassy moorland of the Lammermuir Hills in the Scottish Lowlands, Lennoxlove House, originally known as Lethington, a 14th century tower house was built as a Border fortification in the warfare between England and Scotland. The magnificent four storey, L shaped mansion with its castellated battlements, stands proudly today as an historic memorial to its three proud Scottish family owners and in particular to Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. Frances, "La Belle Stuart" beloved mistress of Charles II, who gave the house her name was described by Samuel Pepys as "the greatest beauty I ever saw in my life."
Lennoxlove was purchased by the 14th Duke of Hamilton as a family ancestral home in 1947, and is located in the heart of finest golfing country near the curving sandy beach coastline of East Lothian, just 20 miles from Edinburgh. Unlike most British Stately homes and historic houses, you can arrange to stay here as part of an intimate group of up to 22 guests. No, this is not a small country house hotel, but a fully staffed and catered private house where you, your family and friends can sample the authentic taste of aristocratic luxury for a special occasion.
The Lennoxlove Experience..
My partner Ken Scott and I were fortunate to be invited to join a house party of twelve guests at Lennoxlove for a couple of days to experience the elegant setting, gracious hospitality and country sports around the Estate. The excitement began with the arrival, motoring up the long drive of the 460 acre Estate, through an avenue of trees and landscaped lawns, to see the honey-rose pink stone Tower House ahead.
Welcomed at the impressive old front door and flagstone hallway, we were allocated one of the eleven charmingly furnished bedrooms each with a family or place name, such as Lady Bower's, Hamilton, Gifford, Douglas, with pretty garden views. With period antiques, paintings, prints, decorative artwork, all bedrooms combine original features with contemporary comfort, featuring king size beds, fine Egyptian cotton sheets, fluffy towels, bathrobes, Molton Brown toiletries, as well as plasma TVs and Wi-Fi broadband connection for the 21st traveller. Some bathrooms are palatial with original claw foot Victorian baths and modern plumbing ensures enough hot water for a leisurely hot soak after 18 holes on the golf course or bracing country walk.
The Lady Bower's bedroom (selected as the honeymoon suite for wedding guests) boasts a 16th century Four Poster bed which Mary Queen of Scots reputedly slept in. Made of solid black oak, the bed is intricately carved and draped in plush red velvet curtains re-creating the original Tudor embroidery style. Bedrooms and suites come in all shapes and sizes, with a few secret doors leading into dark nooks, crannies and hidden priest holes - the perfect place for a game of Hide and Seek or Murder late at night!
Time to explore the house - our house for a couple of days. Guests have the privilege to settle in and feel at home, to relax in the drawing rooms and library and stroll around the garden. This is a family home with portraits, photographs, furniture and exotic treasures collected and inherited down the centuries. It's like a time travel journey as you walk from room to room, sweeping through the centuries from Mediaeval Great Hall to ornate Georgian drawing rooms. The interior design of the State Rooms created in the 1950s by John Fowler of Colefax and Fowler, was refurbished according to this original decorative style. Fowler's artistic influence can be seen in the beautiful Blue Room which features his distinctive wallpaper, hand blocked in France for the redecoration, and the vibrant Yellow Room where the soft colour gives the perfect backdrop for the display of paintings by Van Dyck, Raeburn and Canaletto, fine antiques, porcelain and photographs.
Wander around the chandeliered, palatial rooms to see a tortoiseshell, silver and brass Boulle cabinet and decorated with crowns and hearts, given to the Duchess of Lennox by King Charles II, a silver casket and sapphire ring belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as her death mask, a wax cast which shows how peaceful she was moments after her execution. In the Blue room is an antique Pleyel piano once played by the Polish composer Chopin when he visited the family's former ancestral home Hamilton Palace. The piano was given by William Beckford to his daughter Susan, Duchess of Hamilton in 1828. Ghostly tales from family, guests and staff reveal that occasionally a mysterious pianist - Susan? - can be heard tinkling the ivory keys when the house is quiet late at night.
Sports and Leisure Activities
Time to get some fresh air and exercise around the Estate. Our house party of 12 was divided up into three teams for an afternoon of competitive sports organised by the Team Challenge Company who can arrange all kinds of activities from croquet on the lawn, falconry display to a mini Scottish Highland games.
We first tried our hand at quad biking which might look like children's go-carts but are powerful machines. The training instructors managed to make it safe while still being challenging - just on the edge of scary. They did say that we were a competent group of drivers and would not take everyone down some of the steep drops we did - but perhaps they tell everyone that! Great fun charging across the meadow to reach the start of the woodland trail until one guy hit a wet boggy patch and sunk, axle deep in the mud and had to be towed out. After a fast tour around forest tracks and over streams, we zipped back to the house like knights on lively steeds with mud and leaves flying everywhere and the thrill of the charge still singing in our blood over the roar of engines. You may have tried clay pigeon shooting, popular at many country house hotels. At Lennoxlove it's environmentally friendly high tech Laser shooting. The rifles feel the same but there are no bullets; you aim and fire at the clay pigeon but with ingenious laser "ammunition", there is no hard kickback on your shoulder. One enthusiastic girl was a natural shot, hitting about 99% of targets and when the points were tallied from all games, our team won the day with a presentation of medals.
After all that outdoor fun, Afternoon tea with scones and home made cake was served before we had time to relax, have a hot bath and change into tuxedos or glamorous evening gowns (our tomboy sharpshooter now dressed in a flowing red gown) for dinner. Beforehand we were treated to a blind Champagne tasting session in the Oak Room library. Sandy Ramsay, formerly from Canada, is an expert in wine and whisky and she is an inspiring and informative tutor, explaining all about vintages, bubbles and how to taste wine. We were tested on our ability to distinguish between several real champagnes and sparkling wines - could we tell the difference? It was a most enjoyable and educational experience.
We were then invited to move through to dinner within the candlelit Great Hall with its barrel vaulted ceiling, open hearth and thick stone walls. The long table was beautifully laid with crystal glasses, silverware and flowers. For house parties, weddings and events, all catering is by Heritage Portfolio which provides the chefs and waiting staff. (Up to 84 can be accommodated in the Hall for dinner). Our menu this evening began with Grilled baby goat's cheese salad, then Baked Monkfish, pak choi and nicoise potatoes finishing with Scottish summer berries, shortbread and limoncello ice-cream, coffee and petit fours. Wines which accompanied the meal were a French Loire Sancerre and New Zealand Pinot Noir. A glamorous banquet in such an historic setting.
A Royally Romantic History..
Throughout the centuries, the House has been owned by the Maitland family, the Blantyre family and most recently the Dukes of Hamilton. It's a fascinating and romantic story. In the sixteenth century Lethington Tower (the former name) was the home of William Maitland and continued in the family until the death of John Maitland 1st Duke of Lauderdale in 1682. Frances Stuart, grand-daughter of the 1st Lord of Blantyre was Queen's Maid of honour in the court of King Charles II, who allegedly fell in love with her at first sight and she became his favourite mistress. She was the model for Britannia, the female impersonation of Britain on medals and coinage. Her profile image appeared on selected coins from 1672 until 2008.
Having no children of her own, she purchased Lethington and surrounding estates as a gift to her cousin, Walter, later to become 6th Lord Blantyre. When she died in 1702, her will requested that Lethington be renamed "Lennox love to Blantyre" which was shortened to Lennoxlove. A stunning portrait of Frances Stuart by W. Wissing and J.Van der Vaart hangs in pride of place in the house to this day, illustrating her lively blue eyes and beautiful face which bewitched a King.
Many castles and ancestral homes have suffered unwitting neglect and decay despite annual extortionate costs to roof repairs and heating. At Lennoxlove, rising damp and dry rot destroyed the interiors of several rooms and the entire house needed to be re-roofed, re-wired and re-plumbed. The 15th Duke of Hamilton, who had spent much of his childhood here, formed the Lennoxlove Trust to ensure the house would be preserved through a major restoration project which was completed in 2008. Chief Executive, Fraser Niven commented at the time, "Now that all the work is complete, the transformation is absolutely stunning. It has cost well over £3 million, but it's been money well-spent."
Opening up Lennoxlove as an upmarket 5 star exclusive use venue has been valuable not only in the conservation of its architectural and cultural heritage but to allow house guests and visitors to appreciate its exquisite treasures which reflect the tapestry of family, political and social influences which have shaped Scotland over the centuries. As well as precious art and antiques, the 20th century collection includes fascinating family mementoes, racing and flight memorabilia such as photographs of the 14th Duke, the first man to fly over Everest.
The house and landscaped garden is an ideal destination for weddings, an extended family party, a group of golfers and world travellers interested in Scottish history, architecture and relaxing countryside. With easy access half an hour from Edinburgh by train or car and there is a Helicopter landing pad in the grounds.
The Best Golf Courses in Scotland
East Lothian has the highest concentration of Links courses in Scotland and, outside St. Andrews, this is golfing heaven where you are spoilt for choice with several world class courses including the famous Muirfield. By personal invitation of the Chief Executive of Lennoxlove, guests may visit the Renaissance Club which was recently created by American brothers Jerry and Paul Sarvadi with renowned golf course architect Tom Doak. The layout of the 7466 yard course curves around the spectacular sunny coastline of sandy bays and beaches, with views over to Edinburgh and across the Firth of Forth to Fife. Members are from the UK, Hong Kong, Thailand, Sweden, Italy, Russia and the United States - it is a truly great privilege to have the opportunity to play a round at the prestigious Renaissance Club.
Romantic Weddings and Special Events
Lennoxlove is perfect for a wedding year round on an exclusive use basis where the party need only book a minimum of eight bedrooms. The marriage ceremony can take place in the 14th century Undercroft Chapel, and then guests may experience the grandeur of the house, photographs in the gardens before the Wedding Breakfast is served in the Great Hall or a Marquee for a large reception. Many wedding parties arrive on Friday lunchtime and leave on Sunday which offers a truly memorable weekend. Guests travel from all over the world for a traditional romantic Scottish celebration with piper, music and dance, amidst the historic atmosphere of this fairytale castle.
If you're looking for a special, unique venue to host a social event, a wedding, birthday, anniversary, Christmas or New Year family gathering, Lennoxlove House offers a truly authentic grand and glamorous setting. Unlike a standard hotel function room you have discreet privacy around the palatial mansion and grounds to plan a tailor made house party. The venue is also perfect for daytime events, fashion and film shoots, luxury car launches, executive meetings, corporate dinners and competitive team building activities.
Over the summer months the Lennoxlove House is open to the public three afternoons a week.. Guided tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 1pm to 4.30pm April to October when a tearoom is also open. Group tours outside these times are welcome by prior arrangement.
Lennoxlove House is near Haddington, East Lothian, less than 20 miles south of central Edinburgh. The post code (useful for many SatNav devices) is EH41 4NZ and the phone number is 01620 823720. For more information or to make a reservation see their Web site. You can see the location of Lennoxlove House on Google Maps.
Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
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