We had traveled to Scotland to visit our daughter Emily, who was a student at the Edinburgh College of Art and was staying on to work there over the summer. The beginning of the trip was a family vacation before settling into Edinburgh for a week. It was a chance for us to spend a longer amount of time in one place and feel a little more like locals than tourists. The first item on our itinerary, however, clearly fell in the category of tourists: We were spending the night in a castle hotel.
Borthwick Castle Hotel
It’s about a half-hour drive southeast of Edinburgh to the village of Borthwick, home to a 15th century castle of the same name. Sitting on a knoll called the Mote of Lochwart, Borthwick Castle is an impressive-looking fortress, its double towers appearing majestically over the surrounding landscape. Borthwick has played many roles over the years, and in 1973 it was converted to a castle hotel. Since our visit in 2007, it has been refurbished and reopened as a special events venue with some limited short-stay packages.
We passed through a stone columned entrance, parked the car and climbed an exterior stone staircase to the office. The innkeeper gave us our room keys and showed us where we would be staying. The narrow, winding staircases were just what you would expect of a castle – narrow and winding! – and I learned the first rule of castle overnighting: Only bring a small tote bag or carry-on-sized suitcase. The door to our room was shorter and narrower than a modern hotel room as well, adding to the charm and authenticity of the medieval times.
After getting settled, we headed out to another castle – Tantallon – less than an hour away, just outside North Berwick. Tantallon was built in the mid-14th century and was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army around 1650. What remains today are its ruins along the Firth of Forth.
The grounds at Tantallon look out over Bass Rock, an island of volcanic rock that is home to a colony of 150,000 seabirds called gannets. When you look through a telescope, you can see that the rock is completely covered with birds.
When we returned to Borthwick late that afternoon, the innkeeper gave us a tour of the castle, even taking us to the rooftop for a view of the valley. While we explored, he a gave a brief history of Borthwick, including stories about its most famous resident, Mary Queen of Scots, and damage from the cannons of Oliver Cromwell, which are still visible.
Dinner was held in the Great Hall, a medieval dining room decorated with period antiques, coats of arms and a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. With candlelight at our table and a fire going strong in the room’s centerpiece fireplace, it was a warm and inviting way to end our day.
Castle hotels can be found throughout Scotland and the U.K. For more information, here are several websites that offer ideas for this unique travel experience: rampartscotland.com, celticcastles.com and scotland-inverness.co.uk.