OWNED by Sir Jack and Lady Lydia Stewart-Clark, Dundas Castle is a five-star exclusive-use venue which hosts events for the lucky people who get to stay in their flat-sized boudoirs or get betrothed in a Downton Abbey-like setting (although, apparently, one of their more recent weddings had a Star Wars theme).
The honey-coloured main building, designed in 1818 by architect William Burn, is plushly decorated and stuffed with the realistic-looking silk flowers that Lady Lydia creates. On the other side of this historic pile, there’s the atmospheric Auld Keep, dating from 1416.
Want something more secluded? Then follow a gravel path, past a field full of big-eyed llamas, and through a clump of trees, to discover the four-star Boathouse, situated beside its own lake (home to plenty of white-snouted coots and a pair of swans).
On our visit, we were given the key code to this waterside retreat and told that we wouldn’t hear a peep from anyone (apart from the coots) until the next morning, when our breakfast would be delivered. Ah, peace and quiet.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
The latter, of course, but in an old-school fashion. The design is luxurious, but romantic and chintzily so, with a huge bed that features a bridal veil swag effect and a faux fur throw. To befit the waterside theme, there are plenty of ornamental ducks and Daffy-themed paintings.
The Boathouse features one main floor space, which works a bit like a suite. As well as the bed, there’s a working fireplace, a comfy seating area for two where you can watch telly, as well as a highly polished dining table and four chairs. The “bathroom” is bijou and, apart from the lav and sink, features a smallish rainforest shower.
However, this space is really all about the decked verandah, which opens out on to the lake. If we had visited in better weather we’d be out there, singing On The Bayou, from dawn until dusk.
WINING AND DINING
You could easily rustle up something in the mini kitchen, with its oven, microwave and fridge. Instead, we ordered a Dundas Castle breakfast, which consisted of a Blyton-esque wicker basket full of treats: croissants, organic smoked salmon, ham, Mull cheddar, granola, yoghurt, brioche, cream cheese, Nutella… we had to smuggle our leftovers home.
For dinner, we took advantage of the free pick-up service from nearby hotel and restaurant Dakota (www.dakotahotels.co.uk). I made a note to visit this place more often, as they do a mean ribeye steak and chips. We could have eaten a vat’s worth of the crispy pork, chilli, peanut and lime salad. I just wish I’d had room for some banana toffee pudding (though I did manage a few scoops of apple, peach and mango sorbet).
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Go walking round the estate as you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a deer (we saw three cotton-tailed Bambis). You also have to give the resident llamas a visit. We didn’t get too close, as we didn’t want to be spat on (watch out for their ears going back, as that indicates an imminent strop). They’re a nosey bunch, and all trotted up to say hi, before proceeding to stare us out.
It’s always worth a jaunt to South Queensferry, where there are some great boutique shops and restaurants, like The Wee Restaurant (www.theweerestaurant.co.uk). Visit nearby Hopetoun House (www.hopetoun.co.uk) for a cream tea in their Stable Tearoom or bag some top-notch produce at Craigie’s Farm (www.craigies.co.uk).
There are decanters of whisky, for those who want a gratis postprandial snifter. The kitchen is well stocked with tea, coffee, milk, sugar and shortbread. Two fluffy gowns hang on the back of the bathroom door, and we had fresh flowers on our visit (white lilies). There’s an electric blanket on the bed and an additional heater, should it be chilly. Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet products are in the shower-room.
We’ll be back in the summer to soak up the sun on that verandah. Best breakfast we’ve ever had.
• £235 per night, breakfast hamper an additional £60. The Boathouse, Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, EH30 9SS (0131-319 2039, www.dundascastle.co.uk)