29th June 2020
By Chris von Rinteln
When travellers explore with us at Away from the Ordinary, we’re keen to match them to perfectly suited lodgings—whether it’s an exclusive-use Victorian lodge in a remote glen or an extravagant hotel in the heart of Edinburgh. But for those seeking authentic ambiance, few overnight accommodations can beat the experience of staying in a Scottish castle.
Sporting blazing log fires, manicured gardens, and centuries-old stonework, historic castles operating as hotels or exclusive use properties make for days and nights full of singular and unforgettable memories. Here are five of our favourite Scottish castles to spend a night in—including one we’re keeping anonymous to protect its exclusivity.
Erected in 1550 along Scotland’s west coast, Kilmartin Castle presided proudly over the Neolithic ruins and prehistoric monuments of Kilmartin Glen for more than two centuries, before falling into disuse and disrepair in 1790. It took another 200 years before the grounds were rediscovered and rescued by a visionary pair of travellers, and a decade of restoration in the 1990s raised the derelict stronghold up to its former stature.
The castle then passed from the hands of one intrepid couple to another, as 2015 saw the property reopen as a bed-and-breakfast under the operation of Stef Burgon and Simon Hunt. Now, after a comprehensive renovation—documented by an accompanying television show—Kilmartin boasts five bedrooms of unique personality, each a curious blend of contemporary comforts and character-filled history.
Enjoy rain-shower bathrooms tucked into turreted nooks and recline in luxurious linens beneath vaulted ceilings of exposed brickwork. Stone-clad quarters offer warmth in the shape of copper soaker tubs and modern under-floor heating—and if that’s not enough, a nip of the local whisky (perhaps nearby Oban rings a bell?) should do the trick.
Towering over the southwest bend of Loch Creran in Argyll, Barcaldine Castle is our go-to for families and couples looking for the consummate Scottish castle experience, full of rest, recreation, and intrigue.
Six private bedrooms within the 17th-century tower house feature ornately detailed furnishings—think Jacobean-era four-poster beds and antique mahogany woodwork—as well as sweeping views of the grounds, from venerable scots pine forests to the snow-dusted peaks of the Glencoe mountains.
Spend your mornings exploring the walled gardens of the “Black Castle,” take afternoon tea by the fiery hearth, dine decadently in a 400-year-old dining room, and seek out secret stairwells in the halls. But after dark, keep careful vigil inside the castle walls—the ghost of Donald Campbell, Laird of Barcaldine, is reputed to roam without rest.
Most Scottish castles owe much of their charm to weathered good looks and storied histories stretching back centuries—but young Glenapp Castle, built “recently” in 1870, is straightforward in its opulence. Designed in the Scottish Baronial style by the prolific architect David Byrne, Glenapp’s 17 rooms brag lavish interiors, beautiful garden views, and stunning seascapes over the Firth of Clyde.
Exquisite dining and gorgeous botanical gardens vie for your attentions alongside croquet tournaments and falconry lessons—and that’s all found on the castle grounds. For those with more wanderlust, take to the open waters for a “Hebridean sea safari,” or join an astronomer for a stellar evening walk through the United Kingdom’s first Dark Sky Park in Galloway Forest.
Originally built in 1560 by James Ogilvy, Forter Castle lay in ruin for centuries following the destructive fallout of a family feud raging amidst the events of the Scottish Reformation. Fully restored by designer Katherine Pooley over the last 30 years, the renewed fortalice holds sway over the south of Cairngorms National Park, deep in the heart of Scotland.
Five stories of stone encase cozy quarters of four-poster beds and iron-screened fireplaces, with a dungeon-turned-gourmet-kitchen and lofty garret room for wee guests. While 21st-century creature comforts abound, one never loses the feeling of being secure within a 16th-century Scottish castle—antique swords and coats of arms shine from the walls, and tightly twisting stairways link tartan-carpeted floors.
Forter Castle provides all manner of outdoor activity, from golf and biking in the summer to hiking and skiing in the winter. Staying in? Pour a dram of whisky, sink into a plush armchair, and tune yourself to the history surrounding you—even the decorated ceiling has a song to sing here.
We’re wary to let the word out about this one—there’s only one bedroom to be had, and it comes with exclusive use of the entire 14th-century castle. But let’s have a little teaser.
Our secret castle stands in silent sentry over the banks of a well-known river, the lands and view the same now as they were over 700 years ago. Its present peaceful repose on the riverside belies a dramatic history of conflict and fatefully famous occupants—including Mary Queen of Scots—all excellent tales to mull over by the roaring log fire with a whisky in hand.
Nowadays, the retired tower house hosts weddings, sets cinematic scenes, and caters to exclusive overnighters. The castle’s expansive grounds beg exploration—stroll the riverbanks to market in a nearby town or survey the land on a private horseback excursion. Within the castle walls, you’ll find modern amenities alongside ancient relics and rooms seemingly untouched for ages. In your personal chambers, warm your bones by a roaring log fire, dine on locally foraged fare prepared by a private chef, and rest in an elegant four-poster bed fit for royalty.
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