Had Eisenhower slept in this bed or perhaps, in the eighteenth century, the Countess of Cassilis? Now it’s my turn to wake up in this massive four-poster in one of Culzean Castle’s guest rooms.
Even the act of getting out of bed feels momentous: the bed is extremely high, so to step down, I have to use a footstool (provided for that purpose). Opening the curtains to look out at the view, I see the Firth of Clyde and, across the water, the Isle of Arran looming darkly out of the winter’s morning. Far below, waves crash against the cliff face.
We’d arrived the previous day to celebrate a special occasion in this most unusual boutique hotel. The Eisenhower Apartments, so called because they were gifted to General Dwight D. Eisenhower after World War II by the people of Scotland, take up the top floor of the castle. The suite comprises six comfortable bedrooms, a circular lounge and a dining room dominated by a polished oval table where today’s visitors sit round for meals as if they were indeed house guests of old. The rooms are accessed by an ancient but reliable elevator or by climbing the magnificent oval staircase.
We are treated like the gentry who would have visited this home in bygone centuries. On our arrival, afternoon tea was served in all its glory: a silver tray held the accompanying silver tea-pot, water jug, cream and sugar, along with traditional home-baked scones, jam, cream and china plates. It was approaching Christmas, and a choir sang carols on the floor below, their voices floating angelically up the stairs.
Despite the formality of the setting, dinner was a relaxed, friendly meal served by a butler, with conversation encouraged by the open drinks cupboard in the lounge where guests could help themselves to some fine malts.
In Your Bucket Because…
- It’s a special place for a special occasion; many wedding nights are celebrated here after a wedding in the castle or grounds.
- The setting beside the coast is stunning and castle and grounds are well worth visiting
- Good for: that romantic gesture, history buffs, nature lovers and hedonists
Setting and History of Culzean Castle
Culzean (pronounced Cull-ane) was built on the site of an older Tower House in the late eighteenth century for the tenth Earl of Cassilis, a member of the Kennedy family. It was designed by Robert Adam, the renowned eighteenth century Scottish architect, and is considered to be his finest work for its innovative oval staircase and circular rooms. The castle stands on the cliff edge overlooking the Firth of Clyde and on a clear day, the view stretches across the water to Northern Ireland.
The Gulf Stream warms this part of Scotland, enabling plants that would normally be unable to survive this far north to flourish. Filling the Castle’s 290 acres of grounds are half-hardy plants and trees not usually seen in Scotland, even including some species of palms. The castle and its grounds were gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 and they are now open to the public.
A Victorian Christmas at Culzean
One of the highlights of the Castle’s annual schedule is the Victorian Christmas celebration. The staff are all dressed in Victorian costume. In the magnificent long dining room which can seat around 30 guests, the butler is overseeing the maids who are setting the table for dinner and stacking logs for the fire; in the circular drawing-room beneath the hotel lounge, the young ladies of the house are encouraging the visitors to join them in a dance while the Dowager Countess of Cassilis has taken to her bed in a fit of pique. She berates us for not bowing and curtseying when we enter her bedroom and refuses to be tempted into joining the festivities.
And in the kitchen, all is hustle and bustle as the cooks and maids prepare the dishes to be served at the Christmas meal. Pheasants hang, waiting to be plucked, the cook decorates a huge pie ready to be baked and the scullery maid sighs as she is faced with yet another huge pile of dirty pots and pans to wash.
A Walk Through the Grounds of Culzean
Every day, the ladies of the family would walk through the grounds for fresh air and exercise so we follow their example. Daylight hours are brief in winter but the skies are clear. The bare silhouettes of trees allow for open vistas across the countryside as we wander along the Silver Walk into Happy Valley where specimen trees planted 200 years ago tower above us.
Making our way into the Walled Garden, we see the gardeners busy digging over the flower beds, readying them for spring and summer displays. The walls in the garden are hollow to allow the heat from fires to filter through them, warming the bricks so that tender trees such as peach can be grown against them. Nearby is a glass vinery where in autumn, heavy bunches of grapes hang sheltered from the winds.
The earl and his family would have enjoyed the delicacies grown on their estate at every meal; it must have been a very comfortable life, indeed. Having slept in their beds, danced in their ballroom, sipped their teas, and walked among their flowers, we feel momentarily ennobled to have experienced, if only for a short time, the gentrified lives of a bygone era.
- The castle and grounds are open to the public. See Culzean Castle for details.
- Even in summer, make sure you wear walking shoes and carry a warm sweater and a raincoat: The weather can change unpredictably.
- Children are well catered for with numerous safe paths for them to run along, an adventure playground, ducks to feed and plenty of activities led by rangers.
- There is a restaurant and several coffee shops dotted throughout the grounds as well as a visitor center and gift shops.