DINNER at Dalhousie Castle, Midlothian, is in no ordinary restaurant, finds Laura Lynott
A 13th-century palatial hotel haunted by ghosts might not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life – but Dalhousie Castle in Midlothian possesses far more than spooky stories of a heartbroken woman said to stalk the corridors and rooms.
Almost as soon as you set foot in the towering stone building, just eight miles from Edinburgh city centre, you are transported into a different era – one of elegance and majesty.
Classical music gently rings out throughout the hotel, and you are surrounded by grand, antique furniture and vast halls decorated by tasteful, historic artwork. For anyone wishing to switch off and escape for a day or two, the hotel offers the perfect setting inside and out.
Time seems to stand still in the castle, nestled in woodland just outside Bonnyrigg, where visitors can explore the grounds, including the falconry centre, or make use of the range of options available at the Aqueous Spa.
The castle itself is steeped in history. It was the seat of the Earls of Dalhousie, the chieftains of Clan Ramsay.
One of the Earls, William Ramsay, was a signatory of the Declaration of Arbroath in which the Scottish Barons appealed to the Pope in Rome over the oppression of the English.
A copy of this declaration hangs near the tranquil Library Bar, where guests can unwind with a glass of whisky or a coffee in surroundings that call to mind gentlemen’s clubs of old.
Those wishing to dine at the castle can choose from two restaurants – the Dungeon Restaurant or the Orangery. Down in the dungeon you can choose from a selection of delicious options created by head chef Francois Giraud. The menu is a modern interpretation of classic Scottish dishes cooked and prepared in a French cooking style, using locally sourced produce.
The glazed Perthshire lamb sweetbread starter and slow-braised beef main were mouthwatering and the attention and ghost stories from waiter Alex made dinner a fun and entertaining occasion.
The carrot sorbet, meringue, candied carrot, pistachio and clotted cream dessert was also exquisite.
The Dungeon recently retained its two AA Rosettes for a 13th year and it is easy to see why. The dishes on offer are delicious and reasonably priced for the quality of food, service and ambience; two courses are £42.50 and three courses, £49.50 per person.
Whether Alex’s claims of cutlery being moved by mischievous ghosts are true or not, there are long-standing stories of paranormal activity in the castle.
Suits of armour line some of the dungeon’s walls. Stop for a second and you would swear ghostly soldiers from within are watching you.This is far more than just another hotel restaurant. It is a special place where the past lives on today.
Lady Catherine, who lived in the castle in the early 18th century is said to haunt rooms 23 and 24, with many guests over the years reporting seeing or hearing her scratching at doors and rustling her skirt.
Petra the dog, who fell from the roof of the castle in the 1980s and is buried in the grounds, is also said to occasionally run through reception in the early hours of the morning.
If you’re interested in tracking down the ghosts, the staff are all too happy to help and will give you all the information they can about the spooky goings on. In fact, the staff are a delight in general. Every single one is polite, friendly and attentive and no request seems too big or small.
The Aqueous Spa is a relaxing haven, with treatments designed to invigorate and rejuvenate body and mind. A Spa Day Pass will set you back £30 per person for up to four hours while residents of the castle have complimentary access.
A multi-massage jet pool incorporates an airbed, neck and specific muscular body massage jets, designed to relieve aches and pains, leaving you feeling energised.
And the Rain and Fog Shower awakens your senses with a tropical rain shower, with lighting effects to induce a feeling of warmth and well-being. The Cold Fog replaces a traditional plunge pool to cool down the body.
Dalhousie Castle is ideal for a short break – being so close to Edinburgh, it offers the perfect combination of country life and city living.
• Dalhousie Castle, Bonnyrigg, Edinburgh, tel: 01875 820 153, www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk. Doubles with a full English breakfast cost from £150 a night.