Fit for a King: Dalhousie Castle, Scotland

PUBLISHED: 17:27 15 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:52 20 February 2013

Dalhousie at dusk

Dalhousie at dusk

Always wanted to stay in a castle? How about sleeping in the tower or clambering into a four poster overlooking the ramparts? Karen Bowerman went to Bonnyrigg, just outside Edinburgh, to see what it was like staying in a 13th century fortress...

Always wanted to stay in a castle? How about sleeping in the tower or clambering into a four poster overlooking the ramparts? You can even try your hand at falconry, the sport of kings. Karen Bowerman went to Bonnyrigg, just outside Edinburgh, to see what it was like staying in a 13th century fortress .

Of course its full of stories! The castle steward exclaimed, picking up on a fleeting remark I made as I stood at the stone, ivy-covered doorway of Dalhousie Castle in Scotland a castle which, in the glow of its floodlights, looked as if it had come straight out of a story book.

My host beckoned me in. I stepped through the heavy wooden door onto a floor of red flagstones which ran between two narrow, spiral staircases at either side of the entrance hall.

Youre interested in stories then? the steward asked, taking my suitcase as he ducked beneath the first set of stairs and indicated that I should follow.

Royal guests and resident ghosts

But before I could reply he was off, listing everything he could offer: a selection of battles, sieges, romances, royalty, even ghosts (which he seemed particularly keen to share).

I suggested at this point that he might like to leave any mention of hauntings to the morning, whereupon he deposited me at reception, promised photographic evidence and bade me good night.

I slept (soundly) in an enchanting Rapunzel-like tower with stone walls and arrow-slit windows.

Turrets, towers and ramparts

If youre looking to stay in an authentic castle, Dalhousie wont disappoint. Its the real McCoy - a 13th century fortress with turrets, ramparts, suits of armour and massive, faded tapestries.

The castle, also a boutique hotel, towers over parkland, surrounded by forests and woods full of wild garlic. Its easy to forget that Edinburgh is just eight miles away.

The weekend I stayed there was a small wedding. Guests were greeted by the castles piper, who strode up and down under the cedar tree looking resplendent in swathes of green and blue tartan.

The owl, the rings and the ribbon

Outside Dalhousies chapel I met the falconer with Lily, a barn owl. Attached to her ankle was a tiny net bag, secured with a tartan ribbon.

Shes about to deliver the rings, the handler explained.

I watched through the open door as the bird flew over the heads of astonished guests and landed on the grooms gloved hand.

Catching up with Duke

Inspired, I headed to the aviary and booked an Owl Encounter where I was introduced to Duke, a Turkmanian Eagle Owl. He flew to his perch the other side of the lawn. I stood with my arm outstretched, and waited.

A few seconds later the bird dropped down, skimmed the grass, and at the very last moment swooped up to land effortlessly on my glove. He was surprisingly heavy to hold.

You can also try your hand at falconry. The birds flit so deftly from tree to tree that often the tingle of tiny bells is the only way you can keep track of them.

Dinner in the dungeon

That evening I dined in the Dungeon Restaurant, the castles former kitchens. Candles flickered on tables under arched stone walls. Suits of armour stood in small alcoves.

The food is fresh and wherever possible sourced locally. A typical menu offers lobster and pistachio tortellini, foie gras, Aberdeen Angus beef and roast partridge.

The castles original dungeon is now the wine cellar; ask to take a look. Stone steps end abruptly at a pane of glass, separating you from a twenty foot drop. Men were lowered, struggling, into the pit by rope; you can still see the score marks in the walls.

The ghost reveals itself

On my last night as I enjoyed a whisky in the library, the steward appeared with a wry smile: hed found the ghost. He showed me a photocopy of a snapshot taken during a wedding. A human-shaped smudge stood among the guests. Rather spookily the mother of the bride looked as if shed just turned to talk to it.

Yes, we have some very strange guests here, he said dryly, very strange indeed. Some like it so much that they never seem to leave.

I swirled my whisky round in the cut glass as it warmed the back of my throat.

Then I leant back in the leather sofa, smiled sweetly, and assured him that despite Dalhousies charms I was one visitor whod be off in the morning.


Trains run direct from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley station. Journey time 4hrs 20 mins. Dalhousie is 8 miles from Edinburgh.

Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg, Scotland EH1J 3JB

01875 820153

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