DALHOUSIE Castle has centuries of history behind its fortress walls but its comforts are very 21st-century, writes Shân Ross.
We’ve only ever had one ‘runner’, and even then it was a mistake due to his medication, and the piper brought him back,” says Ian Stokes, operations manager at Dalhousie Castle, when asked if anyone had ever bolted from the chapel used for weddings.
The next day an American wedding is in full swing at the 13th-century fortress near Bonnyrigg, six miles south of Edinburgh. Castle pipe sergeant Andrew Sharp, an ex-policeman now in his 80s, is reminded of the day the errant groom shot past him and made a run for it.
“I charged after him. Mind you, I was a lot younger in those days, got him in an arm lock and marched him back to the castle.”
After much black coffee and an “intervention”-style conversation with the Church of Scotland minister due to conduct the ceremony, the nuptials were back on.
But any bride or groom planning a similar escape would be missing one of the highlights of a wedding at the castle.
The Harry Potter generation will be thrilled to learn that an owl sweeps into the chapel to deliver the wedding ring – admittedly attracted by a piece of chicken on a gauntlet worn by the best man. Not only that, an eagle can be on hand to greet guests and a selection of birds of prey from the castle’s falconry centre may be booked to enthral guests during lulls in the day.
Dalhousie Castle, which was the historic seat of the Clan Ramsay, has a long and turbulent history stretching back 800 years. One of its forebears, William Ramsay, joined forces with Robert the Bruce, fought in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and was also a signatory to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.
A framed copy of the Declaration hangs on one of the walls and a Saltire flutters from the battlements.
As Mr Stokes puts it: “Men like Dalhousie because it’s not just a castle, it’s a proper fortress which has seen sieges, it’s quite macho.”
Nowadays Dalhousie Castle, with its resident ghost, throws open its doors for a range of activities which would have intrigued former illustrious visitors such as Oliver Cromwell, Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria.
Bought two years ago by former vicar-turned-entrepreneur Robert Parker, the castle plays host not only to weddings but also myths and legends nights, Jacobean banquets, whisky and wine dinner masterclasses, disco lunches, Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, corporate events, afternoon teas, archery, falconry and hawk walking experiences – handling and flying the magnificent birds – and has an extensively equipped spa.
I stayed for two nights in mid-October and saw the castle, which has 29 rooms and a further six in its separate Castle Rocks section, in full swing, smoothly catering for the American wedding party, plus a trio of golfers heading off each day to a nearby course, loved-up couples on mini breaks, and us.
The visit got off to a welcoming start with drinks in the wood-panelled library, with a roaring log fire, where guests are encouraged to mingle before dinner. A mini bar is available on request for rooms, but in the main castle a waiter appears as if by magic from behind a panel disguised as a bookshelf, to take orders just as the thought of a gin and tonic begins to form.
Guests relax on the leather sofas and velvet-covered chairs before being gently encouraged downstairs to the candlelit barrel-vaulted two AA rosette Dungeon Restaurant, presided over by head chef François Giraud, who specialises in traditional Scottish and classical French cuisine.
The food was a delight, and my starter of chestnut and wild mushroom ravioli and my friend Mary’s terrine of guinea fowl were superb. Meanwhile, a succession of tasty amuse-bouches kept us intrigued between courses. For the main course I had line-caught wild sea bass while Mary had shin of pavé Borders beef. For dessert we had poached pear with nougatine mille feuille, and a selection of Scottish cheeses.
During our stay we also dined and had breakfast in the castle’s bistro-style Orangery Restaurant which overlooks acres of woodland belonging to the castle. The food was first-class and enhanced by the unexpected pleasure of watching deer grazing in the morning mist a few dozen yards from the windows.
Our next treat was visiting the spa, which contains Scotland’s first hydro pool incorporating an air bed with neck and body massage jets.
Leigh Henderson expertly administered a wonderful relaxing holistic hot stone massage followed by a facial using products from French skincare brand Darphin.
After Mary’s facial and pedicure we enjoyed the Turkish-style steam room, Roman sauna and tropical rain and cold fog shower before lolling around in the conservatory tepidarium relaxation room, from where we could watch birds of prey circling overhead as they were put through their paces by a falconer.
Dalhousie Castle is most certainly an establishment never to do a runner from.
Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg EH19 3JB (tel: 01875 820 153, www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk) has rooms from £120 for bed and breakfast.