You wouldn’t think it to look at it now, with its extensive grounds, elegant rooms and bustling education hubs, but the fate of one of Scotland’s grandest country houses hung in the balance not so long ago.
Designed by venerated 18th-century architects the Adam brothers, Dumfries House ‒ once the playground of the Marquesses of Bute ‒ faced an uncertain future in 2007, when all of its cultural riches risked being divided up and sold off.
A royal intervention from Prince Charles brought the drama to an end and saw a exciting new chapter for this historical gem.
While members of the public can book tours of the house and enjoy the sprawling grounds, with its playgrounds, gardens (including a walled garden), and cafe, only guests of Prince Charles and the Prince himself can stay in the house. But for those who want to make a weekend of their time at Dumfries House, there are self catering and catered accommodations on site. These are: the lodge, two cottages, a doocot apartment and the walled garden bothy, which is where we spent a lovely, cosy evening in late November.
Budget or boutique
At £220 per night, the bothy is a boutique offering with quality furnishings and attention to detail. All of the proceeds from the commercial operation - including Dumfries House Lodge, Woodlands restaurant, The Coach House Cafe, and tours and events - are invested back into The Prince’s Foundation’s education and training programmes, many of which are delivered on the estate.
The bothy is set into the original wall of The Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden, a beautiful restored space, mainly used as an educational facility for school children to learn about nature and growing food. There are a standout pieces of craftsmanship too, including covered seating areas.
From the outside, the bothy looks like a Christmas card, which a covering of frost only enhanced.
Inside there’s a double master bedroom and single en suite room with family bathroom upstairs and downstairs a fully equipped kitchen and cosy living room with real fire, lit for our arrival.
The decor is a study in heritage paints, with the living room a warming deep red and the rest muted, making for a modern country house feel, from dog pictures to floral headboard and Victorian style bathroom fixings.
Wining and dining
The Prince’s Foundation runs public events at Dumfries House including weddings, afternoon tea and festive events but for those staying outwith these, there are plenty of dining options.
The Coach House Cafe in the converted stables serves hot and cold food and beverages year round, including vegetables from the estate. There’s also the Woodlands restaurant, open 12-2pm for weekly Sunday lunches. In the professional kitchen, trainees work alongside chefs and front-of-house as part of the hospitality training courses, many going on to employment with The Prince’s Foundation.
Newly opened in 2021 is the Lodge Restaurant, open seven days a week for Lodge guests with in-house dining from a table d’hôte menu for evening meals and the option to eat in the self-catering accommodation.
Worth getting out of bed for
While the house is a huge draw, the sprawling 2,000-acre estate has taken on a life of its own as the nerve centre for the philanthropic work of The Prince’s Foundation. Nestled amongst the expansive woodland, outbuildings are home to education programmes which champion traditional skills, including include textile techniques, hospitality, horticulture, thatching, blacksmithing, woodcarving and stonemasonry. It’s worth taking a walk around to see examples as well as the temple gate, avenue bridge, Rothesay Gardens, the dovecot, arboretum and Chinese bridge.
Children will love the adventure playground, maze and educational farm and a tour of the main house is a must.
There is 24-hour access to the walled garden, which is open to the public until late afternoon, and we enjoyed a moonlit stroll with the dog. Arran Aromatics toiletries, robes and breakfast packs are a nice touch.
Dumfries House estate is a free to access space where visitors and local people can engage with nature, with multiple playparks, a beautiful Walled Garden and woodlands walks.
The Walled Garden Bothy is £220 per night
Dumfries House, Cumnock KA18 2NJ (01290 425959, https://dumfries-house.org.uk)