There’s something that is fascinating about castles. Perhaps it’s the gravitas of being in the presence of centuries of power and privilege passed down through the generations or just the sheer majesty of these imposing medieval structures with their crenelated roofs, battlements, and turrets. The Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Aqueous Spa is such a place, set on a sprawling estate amongst the enchanting hills and pastures Bonnyrigg, Scotland and offers the chance to live like royalty, or at least to vacation like one.
Dalhousie Castle is a real life fairy tale castle located in the Scottish lowlands, a 20 minute drive from Edinburgh and surrounded by green pastures, farmlands and a thick fir tree forest. The medieval castle was built in the 13th century and is today a welcoming boutique castle hotel on 11 acres of grounds with a gourmet restaurant, spa, and offers a noble pastime of archery as well as a thrilling falconry experience.
The castle is impressive with a façade of ramparts, crenelated roofs tops, turrets and towers and two-foot-thick redstone walls. Any time of day is beautiful, especially late into dusk as the night begins to fall and the arches, circular shapes and imposing battlements take on an even more ominous form with the backdrop of oranges, reds and purples as the sky turns from day to night.
The woods and grounds around the castle are nothing short of magical and one almost expects to see pixies, elves, and unicorns in the woods. There are well marked trails ideal for long walks where hours feel like minutes exploring the fields, livestock paddocks and strolling along side of the picturesque River Esk.
Interiors are made for royal living with a grand atrium and landing with a commanding imperial staircase, gilded cornicing on vaulted ceiling and a gothic oculus. Throughout the castle are grand ballrooms as well as small nooks and narrow hallways to get lost in while admiring the ornate thrones, suits of armour and centuries old oil paintings of landscapes and ancestral portraits. The library is a stately dark wood-panelled room stocked with centuries old leather-bound books as well as plush wing back chairs, rich chesterfield couches and a crackling fireplace making an ideal place to sip a fine whisky from their extensive collection.
The drawing room is located in the castle’s turret creating a round shaped room ideal for receiving guests and receptions with collections of hundred-year-old plates in glided display cases. The décor is completely Scottish with rich brocade drapes and carpeting in tartan patterns. As one could expect, castles, and this one in particular, are ideal for a storybook wedding. The Dalhousie Castle also has a stunning chapel and has hosted unforgettable weddings for decades.
The Dalhousie Castle has a rich history of over 800 years. It was built in the 13th century and over the eons has welcomed royalty and heads of state, including King Edward I, Sir Walter Scott, Oliver Cromwell, Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria. The castle was the seat of power for the Ramsay clan from 1280 until it became a hotel in 1972. One of the previous residents is rumoured to still reside. The castle is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Catherine or the “Grey Lady” who is said to be seen around the castle turret and in the dungeon where she died of a broken heart after a romantic affair.
Guests will find the 29 rooms and suites on four levels of the castle which are individually designed and range from less prestigious castle rooms to their uber elegant suites. Over the 700 years of the castle’s existence, royalty, heads of state and luminaries have visited and bestowed the castle with the honour of their namesake suite such as the Queen Victoria, Oliver Cromwell and Lady Catherine.
Rooms are exquisitely styled and full of character with antique furnishings, comfy beds with Egyptian cotton bed linen, Edwardian era wall art, and a cheery and light-coloured palette accented with sumptuous Scottish tartan, twill and tweed textiles and throws. All accommodations feature an en-suite bathroom, robes, and Molton Brown toiletries.
The Mary Queen of Scots Suite is a historically themed suite with dark panelling, a gorgeous hand-carved four poster bed made for a king, living room with antique furnishings, and sitting area in the curved walls of the castle’s turret.
Dining at Dalhousie Castle is a sumptuous affair and begins with an aperitif before dinner in The Library. The setting is super as guests gather for cocktail hour to partake in a whisky tasting from their extensive collection produced by local and regional producers while others opt for a G&T or a glass of bubbles. The friendly wait staff is happy to discuss their recommendations and then disappear behind a hidden wall only to re-emerge moments later with your most fitting libation.
After a pleasant aperitif, it’s time for the main event and your waiter appears to escort you through the winding stairs of the castle to your awaiting table in their highly regarded, and aptly named restaurant, The Dungeon. The venue is in the lower level of the castle in what was previously the castle stables and is now a cavernous dinner room space of rough-hewn stone walls and high arched ceilings. The medieval ambience is set with ominous coats of armour, polished shields and crests, and battle axes and swords that adorn the walls and spaces around the room. The textures, arches, and curves of the brick walls create a romantic space where candle lights flicker and create shadows as romantic couples settle in for the royal feast that awaits.
The dining experience is exceptional, with French-inspired cuisine using fresh and local produce. Expect to dine on an exquisitely crafted menu, such as the halibut win almond mile, braised beef cheek with haggis pomme dauphine and imaginative dishes of game meats including venison, guinea fowl, and rabbit. Each dish is perfectly paired with a wine selection from their extensive wine cellar.
The Orangery is their second and all-day dining restaurant. Breakfast is set in the solarium or on the outdoor terrace with sweeping views over the castle grounds. Expect a full and proper spread for breakfast including the Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausage and bacon, button mushrooms, haggis, black pudding, and potato scones. For many a traveller, the haggis and black pudding are clearly an acquired taste with many a portion left in obscurity on the plate.
A vacation in a castle is all about the chance to live like the noblemen of old, even if only for a few days. The ultimate adventure while visiting a castle is to partake in the sport of kings, falconry. The Dalhousie Castle falconry experience is incredible and allows guests to get up close to 42 fascinating creatures, including hawks, owls, falcons, eagles and exotic birds such as their Russian Steppe Eagle or a Turkmanian Eagle Owl. The thrilling two hour experience begins with a demonstration and then you, as the falconer, command the raptors, corvids and owls as these impressive birds take flight from your hands and circle around the grounds and then return at your call.
For a less adventurous outing, the Dalhousie Castle provides a pampering experience in their Aqueous Spa which offers a hi-tech thermal hydro spa experience with several experiences from their hydro pool, a Laconicum, which is a Roman style dry sauna, Turkish steam bath, hot and cold water foot bath, and an invigorating high tech tropical rain and cold fog shower. Access to the spa is complimentary for castle guests. The Aqueous Spa also offers a full range of spa services from massages, spa journeys, and beauty treatments.
Most of us will never be a member of a royal family or live the life backed by generations of wealth and privilege. A castle vacation allows us to taste the good life and live like royalty even if it is only for a few nights. Scotland’s Dalhousie Castle Hotel and Aqueous Spa offers an exceptional experience with a wealth of amenities, service and accommodation to bring your castle fantasy to life.
Address: Bonnyrigg, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH19 3JB
Phone: 01875 820153