Scotland - July 2016
We recently travelled to Scotland to visit three exceptional venues. First-hand knowledge of our destinations is an important step in crafting extraordinary experiences for you – it’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it! Our reconnaissance mission north of the border was blessed with uncommonly good weather all the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, but even the bright sunshine paled in comparison to the splendour of our three venues…
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
We got off the train at Edinburgh, Waverley and headed straight for the car hire office, raring to go. Unfortunately, we had to curb our enthusiasm somewhat as there was a very slow queue and a long trek across the station and car park before we could get in our hire-car. But then we were off! Well, first we went the wrong way but then we were off and heading straight (if straight means driving around a few times to find a parking space) for the National Museum of Scotland. We eventually got parked just across the street and only half an hour or so late. Car hire can be a great thing but so can taxis, I would recommend the taxi in this instance. Anyway, journey over we were ready to start our tour.
The National Museum of Scotland is impressive from the first moment you see it. Flanked by huge statues of two of Scotland’s celebrated sons, the Victorian Neo-Romanesque façade spills out onto a wide bright pavement, where museum-goers relax on the steps that cascade down from the old entrance, and passers-by marvel at the magnificent building.
Once inside, the atmosphere changes immediately. The museum’s entrance is contained in what was previously a cavernous basement storage area, now the stone-vaulted space is both beautiful and exciting – you can feel your nerves tingle, thrilling to the room’s pervading sense of history and discovery.
As you head up to the Grand Gallery, you experience another gasp-inducing change. The stairs from the entrance lead up and out into a vast, glass-ceilinged room. Delicate white and gold-painted galleries supported by slender columns run around the outside of the room on two upper levels. This light and elegant gallery, designed by architect Francis Fowke, is reminiscent of grand Victorian pavilions and the Great Exhibitions of London in the 1800s.
The newest part of the museum, constructed in 1998, was designed to reflect the architecture of Scottish Castles and contains five floors dedicated to Scottish history. It is in this area that we find the beautiful exclusive-use tower, complete with a private roof terrace providing spectacular 360° views over Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat and the castle on one side, right down to the sea on the other. The Tower restaurant is owned by award-winning restaurateur James Thomson, founder of Edinburgh’s famous restaurant The Witchery – so guests can expect great things!
The aesthetic and architecture of the National Museum of Scotland are truly magnificent and, besides this, it is full of ancient artefacts, modern wonders and everything in between. Above all, it is the exclusive opportunities offered by this spectacular venue that make it a truly special destination: wandering the museum once the crowds have departed, perusing exhibitions with a glass of champagne and dining in gorgeous galleries surrounded by history and art – these wonderful behind-the-scenes moments will transform a visit to the National Museum of Scotland into an unmissable VIP experience.
Sheep Heid Inn, Duddingston (just a little stop along the way)
We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with old friends for dinner and so I must dedicate a few words to the Sheep Heid Inn. Located in a beautiful little village just outside of Edinburgh this is the capital’s oldest surviving pub. We did miss the turning the first time around but were extremely pleased when we easily found a spot in the pub’s own car park. The Sheep Heid Inn is a great place for anyone who wants to experience a traditional British pub and it can actually boast of being fit for royalty, having recently received a visit from Queen Elizabeth II herself. Serving excellent real ales and classic Scottish cuisine, the beer is good, the service relaxed and friendly and the food wonderful – my personal highlight was the black pudding and poached egg starter with perfect home-made hollandaise!
Greywalls Hotel, Muirfield
After our delicious dinner we continued our drive along the coast to our next destination, Greywalls Hotel. The sun was not yet going down but it was beginning to soften and mellow into that beautiful dusky atmosphere unique to warm summer evenings. The scenery by the road was glorious; green fields melting into the sea and sunlight glancing off the water in glittering rays.
As we passed through the grand, gated entrance, down the elegant drive towards the beautiful curved façade of the hotel, I could already feel the magic of Greywalls at work upon me. To either side of the drive are the rose-covered walls of the estate’s stunning gardens; combined with the dream-like quality of the summer evening light and the uncharacteristic warmth of the night, the setting felt more reminiscent of a medieval Italian town than a Scottish coastal village.
Before we’d stepped out of the car, Callum, the manager on duty for the evening, was already on his way to greet us. He welcomed us to Greywalls and led us into the hotel, offering to carry our bags – such a warm and attentive reception was a reminder of the class of hotel at which we were lucky enough to be spending the night.
We were shown to our rooms which were sumptuously furnished without being stuffy, and old-fashioned in style without being outdated. Details such as the carefully-stocked book case, the writing desk holding a Roberts radio, and the two suede reading chairs, gave the room a charming sense of homely comfort imbued with the quiet dignity of a bygone era. While, when looking at the walls of the garden, I had imagined that we could have been in a different place, in here, I felt transported to another time. It was not hard to picture Greywalls as the favourite Scottish retreat of a Victorian gentleman, and while the balmy weather outdoors may have given me a sense of the Mediterranean, inside, the hotel felt absolutely Scottish in a fantastically nostalgic way.
Callum suggested that we repair to the library for a nightcap, a suggestion that I was more than happy to comply with, but first I could not resist the lure of Greywalls’ gardens. We took a stroll around the exquisite gardens and found ourselves totally enchanted as the late summer sun finally began to set and the full moon rose into the pink and purple haze of the evening sky.
Once we could bear to tear ourselves away from the gardens we headed to the library where Callum recommended a local whisky (Glenkinchie, whose distillery is just a 30-minute drive from Greywalls) – after all, when in Rome! As I sat on the luxurious tartan sofa, sipping my single malt and looking over the golf course to the sea, the sun dipping below the horizon in a final blaze of fiery glory, I was struck again by the wonderful sense of indulgent tradition that oozes from every quarter of Greywalls, particularly in this room, suffused as it is with unmistakable, wistful aroma of leather-bound volumes.
As the sky outside the windows began to turn to the inky blue of night, I took what remained of my whiskey and retired to my room. I changed into the bright, fluffy robe and slippers provided for me, turned on the radio and drew a bath in the gorgeously renovated bathroom, determined to luxuriate in the rare opulence of my surroundings. When I finally climbed into bed and lay my head upon soft, feather pillows encased in crisp white cotton sheets, I could not have been more content.
Although we already had an early start planned in the morning, I set my alarm earlier than was strictly necessary, to enjoy the last of my lovely room before having to part from it. However, before saying goodbye to Greywalls, we still had one last treat to look forward to: breakfast. And what a treat it was! While my travelling companion was relatively reserved, opting for cereal followed by poached eggs on toast, I plumped (no pun intended) for the full Scottish breakfast. While waiting for my morning feast, I sipped on orange juice (which tasted freshly squeezed) and good strong coffee, and nibbled on warm pastries (I felt it my duty, in the name of research, to try both the pain au raisin and the pain au chocolat, and I can report that they were delicious) while perusing the paper that I had requested the previous evening. If there is a better way to spend a morning, I do not know it. The cooked breakfast was even more fantastic than I had anticipated, in fact my mouth is watering now at the mere thought of the haggis and locally-produced black pudding - the best I’ve ever tasted. We didn’t get to sample the food from Greywalls’ Chez Roux restaurant but, if their breakfast is anything to go by, I can only imagine the raptures I would have been transported to by dinner.
Finally, after one last tour of the hotel and grounds, it was time to bid a deeply fond and reluctant farewell to Greywalls Hotel.
Crossbasket Castle, Glasgow
Our cross-country drive from the East coast inland was not unpleasant, taking us through some lovely countryside, but if you wanted to cut out the traffic risks (we got stuck on our way back because of a crash on the motorway) a helicopter would definitely do the job. We had a little trouble locating the entrance to Crossbasket Castle but once we’d found it there were wide eyes all round.
If you’re looking for a fairy tale, this is it. With its crenelated battlements and 16th century keep, its secluded position in the Scottish countryside amid private grounds containing dramatic woodland and waterfalls, and it’s six-hundred-year history complete with heroes and villains, Crossbasket Castle is straight out of a story book. Rescued from ruin and renovated to the highest standards, Crossbasket is now an exceptional 5-star luxury hotel.
Just 12 miles from the centre of Glasgow, Crossbasket is surrounded by an atmosphere of refined tranquillity that you might not expect so close to Scotland’s largest city. Entering the castle’s 14-acre estate you really get the sense that you’re leaving the real world behind. This sense only increases as you explore Crossbasket further…
Stepping across the threshold of the hotel we were greeted by the view of a grand hallway and staircase that presages the level of high-class style and elegance that is apparent throughout the castle. To the right of the staircase is the main dining room; this magnificent high-ceilinged room, walls lined with sumptuously-patterned wallpaper in soft golden tones and containing an absolutely huge gilt mirror at one end, reflects not only the lavish yet tasteful décor of Crossbasket but also the sense of occasion that accompanies a visit to this venue – Crossbasket Castle is not just a hotel, it’s an experience.
From the castle’s early history in the 15th century, it has passed through the hands of many owners, including the notorious Alexander of Dunrod, an infamous scoundrel who consorted with witches and died in penury. Now Crossbasket belongs to husband and wife, Steve and Alison Timoney, who bought the castle and grounds and over the past 5 years have succeeded in saving it from rack and ruin. For me, the real triumph of this renovation (clearly a labour of love) is not in the exposing of the castle’s exquisite sandstone exterior, or in the addition of a stunning medieval-style ballroom, but in the sympathetic and tasteful furnishing of all the rooms. The hotel’s interior is exceptionally beautiful, full to the brim with original pieces, paintings and antiques.
While Greywalls provided luxury with a classic country house feel, Crossbasket is full-on decadence. I can only imagine that staying here you would feel like the hero or heroine of your own histoire and I certainly wouldn’t say no to being queen of Crossbasket for a day.
For more inspiration take a look at our recommended Dumfries and Galloway itinerary which features Crossbasket Castle or you can give us a call to include any of these venues in your tailor-made trip to Scotland. Sign up to our mailing list below to receive updates.