CULTURE, HISTORY & LUXURY: REVIEW OF DALHOUSIE CASTLE, MIDLOTHIAN, SCOTLAND
We arrived at Dalhousie Castle on a sunny afternoon in early February and were thoroughly impressed with what we saw from the moment we drove onto the vast estate. The castle is surrounded by eleven stunning acres of private parkland on the banks of the River Esk and we spotted both archery and falconry facilities on the grounds. As true enthusiasts of outdoor pursuits, this pleased us greatly!
A Brief History
Dalhousie Castle boasts over 700 years of fascinating history, once the seat of the Ramsay Clan. Noteworthy previous guests include Mary Queen of Scots, King Edward I, Sir Walter Scott, Oliver Cromwell and Queen Victoria. Once designed to be an inaccessible place of refuge, the castle became a 4 star hotel in 1972 and now invites guests to explore the vast network of hidden passageways, hiding holes and dungeon secrets. Although the castle now boasts all mod cons, there are details hinting at its former lives, for example the castle moat remains and you can see the holes where the beams for the drawbridge mechanism were above the main door.
The Ramsay family have an extensive history, having passed Dalhousie down from generation to generation over a long period of time, losing it briefly the English at one point during the battles of the 14th century. Sir George Ramsay’s initials can be seen on the wall of the keep. On the way down to dinner, our waiter pointed out some rope marks worn into the stonework at the entrance of the ‘bottle dungeon’. Thinking this was a cool wine cellar, my ears pricked up. I was less enthused to hear that the ‘bottle dungeon’ is a sinister windowless cell where prisoners were pretty much disposed of - lowered down by rope with no way out. No thanks!
One a slightly lighter note, Queen Victoria popped in at Dalhousie in 1840 “to take tea with her devoted servant” James, 10th Earl and Marquis of Dalhousie and the youngest ever Governor-General of India. James and I found this fact particularly charming. 179 years later, a new James and Victoria were to be taking tea in the castle, although my James is yet to be referred to as the ‘devoted servant’!
Please click here to read the full history of the castle.
The Mary Queen of Scots Suite
Rooms and suites at Dalhousie Castle have been luxuriously decorated with rich Scottish fabrics and eye-catching antique furniture. Previous guests to the castle over the years of it’s existence might have requested a few extra blankets at this time of year. Luckily, guests to the hotel can now enjoy central heating, soft Egyptian cotton bed linen, fluffy towels, robes and slippers (alongside a touch of global warming). All rooms are equipped with Molton Brown toiletries, tea and coffee making facilities and all the mod cons you might need throughout your stay.
James and I were staying in the Mary Queen of Scots Suite, a brilliant dark wood panelled room with a beautiful hand-carved four poster bed, turret seating area, lounge area, a romantic window seat overlooking the grounds, two flat screen TVs and an en suite bathroom. With all the excitement surrounding the Mary Queen of Scots movie (currently in theatres), it was a great honour to be staying in this suite. I was also half way through the Mary Queen of Scots novel by John Guy at this time - i’d found the perfect reading spot!
The Aqueas Spa
At work, I am always travelling whilst carrying ridiculously heavy luggage, which causes various aches and pains. This prompted me to book a full body message at the Aqueas Spa, determined to say ‘sorry’ to my body for putting it through the cart horse motions. Before my massage, I was shown to the spa area in the castle basement, which has a hydro pool, a Roman style sauna, a Turkish inspired steam bath and a tropical rain and cold fog shower to invigorate and rejuvenate. The conservatory area with tea and coffee making facilities is a hidden gem at the back of the spa, with wonderful views of the castle grounds below.
The spa offers therapeutic and beauty treatments using products from the holistic spa brand Ytsara, which is both 100% natural and vegan friendly, much to my delight. I booked a Mohom Deep Pressure Massage, a sixty minute treatment designed for muscle healing of the whole body (£65). My therapist did a fantastic job of easing my joints and stretching muscles back to their former glory with the help of plant essential oils. As I emerged from the treatment room, I felt as light as feather - perfectly rejuvenated and relaxed.
Drinks and Dining
Evening drinks and aperitifs were served in The Library, a beautiful dark wood-panelled room lined with vintage books. The Library is complete with a secret bar hidden behind a bookcase. Trés Cluedo. A roaring log fire completes the experience - it’s a perfect spot for pre-dinner drinks. When it was time for dinner, a waiter led us down ancient stone steps to the barrel-vaulted Dungeon Restaurant, where candlelight flickers across well-dressed dining tables and polished medieval suits of armour. It feels more like a film set than a restaurant.
I had briefed Head Chef Francois Giraud of my vegan diet before hand and was so pleased when he prepared a special vegan meal for me, using fresh, seasonal, Scottish produce. James, in contrast, opted for the Braised Beef Cheek, Haggis Pomme Dauphine, served with shallots, turnip fondant, seared spring onion, whisky and thyme jus. It’s easy to see why the French-inspired restaurant has won AA rosettes for excellence. The combination of flavours and the presentation of dishes was raising many an ‘ooo’ and ‘mmm’ from around the dungeon.
Bumps in the Night
When night time arrived, we were sufficiently tired and ready for a decent night’s sleep, however, the castle had other ideas. At 3:00am, 4:00am and 5:00am, I was awakened by the distinct sound of running overhead. James confirmed that it sounded as though someone was preparing for a wild marathon, intensely, although why at such a peculiar hour? It would appear we are not the only guests who have experienced bumps in the night.
Since the 13th century, the castle has seen many people passing through its doors. It is alleged to be haunted by a several ghosts including the ghost of Lady Catherine or the ‘Grey Lady’, often seen around the turrets and in the dungeon of the castle. It is said that she died of a broken heart in the castle tower after a romantic tryst. If it was the Grey Lady sprinting back and fourth in the unoccupied room above us, perhaps it was because she was trapped in a time where treadmills were yet to be invented.
I’d never experienced a ‘ghostly haunting’ until this point and I had ardently denied believing in anything of the sort prior to my stay at Dalhousie. From unexplained noises to the movement of objects and footsteps in the night, hotel guests are regularly reporting supernatural activity around the castle, which has inspired many ghost tours and blog posts. Staff at the hotel do not deny the ghostly activity and several had their own stories to share. It would appear these strange goings on are just another unique selling point for the hotel.
Breakfast in The Orangery
After a fairly broken night’s sleep, we sat down to eat breakfast in The Orangery. The Orangery is a bright and breezy conservatory room with a slightly more relaxed dining style. We loved looking out over the grounds as we enjoyed coffee and fresh orange juice before our food arrived. James tried the full Scottish breakfast, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Vegetarians have a few options available (can’t go wrong with poached eggs on toast). Vegans - there is plenty of fresh fruit available and have a word with the waiting staff if you’re after something slightly more filling.
Falconry and Archery
Before we set off, we had booked a two hour archery and falconry session. The castle falconry, set within the grounds of the estate, houses a truly impressive selection of birds, each with their own unique characters. We met hawks, owls, falcons, eagles and even Mischief, the resident raven who is always up to no good. Although I chickened out when I saw the bird feed, James had a great time getting up close and personal with a falcon that flew around the grounds majestically, intermittently returning to James for another helping of food. Georgie, our Falconer, was extremely knowledgable about the birds and I was impressed that she seemed to have built friendships with each and every bird. A flirtatious owl had a particular love for her, which she handled with as much dignity and grace as she could.
After a tea break, it was time for a Robin Hood style archery tournament. Georgie (multi talented) set up the target as I panicked that the wind was picking up and an arrow might re-divert and stab an innocent walker. We spent an hour firing arrows from traditionally crafted recurve bows and I was surprised that I was actually very good at this. As the wind picked up, the competition between James and I intensified. We have since decided to set up a target in our own garden. It’s incredibly therapeutic and a great opportunity for a digital detox!
Weddings at Dalhousie
Dalhousie Castle is perhaps among the most romantic of wedding venues in Britain, and is available to hire on an exclusive basis for your own happy-ever-after ending. More on this coming soon…
Dalhousie Castle is perfect for anyone seeking the ‘quintessentially Scottish’ experience, with added extras. From the historical themed rooms to the spa, The Dungeon dining experience and outdoor pursuits, this hotel offers so much in one place, resulting in a truly unique and memorable experience. James and I can definitely recommend Dalhousie Castle to fearless couples with penchant for history and adventure. Looking beyond the luxurious decor that suits a 2019 audience, it’s impossible to visit a location so rich in history, drama and excitement without experiencing a little of it yourself.
Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH19 3JB
Tel: 01875 820153 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org