Edinburgh, Scotland (review published 2009)

There was a time when people starved to death in the dungeons of medieval castles.
But there’s no fear of that ever happening again at Dalhousie Castle, a magnificent 13th century fortress near Edinburgh.
In 1972, the castle was converted into a romantic hotel and its stone, barrell-vaulted dungeon is now a restaurant with two AA rosettes.
On a weekend break, my wife and I were served pre-dinner drinks from the wood-panelled library’s “secret” bar, hidden behind a false bookcase.
After choosing our starters and main courses, a waiter ushered us down an ancient stairway adorned with worn flags and into the dungeon.
Suits of armour stood in the recesses and I could have sworn that out of the corner of my eye I could see one of them moving.
But perhaps that was just the wine playing tricks.
Our five-course meal, from a menu which featured fresh local produce including salmon, venison and prime Scottish beef, was fit for a king.
And with an unparalleled combination of food, service and setting, I was begging to be chained up in the dungeon for life.
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Set in parkland on the banks of the River Esk, Dalhousie has 29 luxurious bedrooms and 15 of them are individually themed on a part of the castle’s history.
The Queen Victoria room, for instance, which celebrates the monarch’s visit to the castle in 1842, is rich in Victorian-era fabrics and fittings.
Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor to the castle in the early 19th century and the room that takes his name is festooned with artefacts about the celebrated writer.
There is even a room commemorating the tragic tale of a Laird’s mistress who was locked up in one of the castle’s turrets by a vengeful wife.
Other rooms are themed on Oliver Cromwell and King Edward I.
Cromwell laid siege to Dalhousie and then used it as his lowland headquarters during the Parliamentarian and Royalist conflict in 1648.
Edward I stayed at the castle before the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, when Sir William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson in the film Braveheart) was defeated.
With such a rich, royal history, there can be no better setting than Dalhousie to enjoy the noble sport of falconry.
The castle is home to falcons, buzzards, hawks, eagles and owls and guests can experience the thrill of flying them from the hand in the castle grounds.
We could have happily spent our entire weekend at Dalhousie but the lure of the Scottish capital, just seven miles away, was too great.
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We climbed the 143 steps to the viewing platform at the top of Nelson’s Monument on Carlton Hill, which was designed to resemble an upturned telescope.
Even more impressive views of the city, the Firth of Forth and beyond were had from Edinburgh’s own mini-mountain, Arthur’s Seat, in Holyrood Park.
No visit would have been complete without a trip to Edinburgh Castle, which stands on an almost impregnable volcanic rock and is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels.
The crown, sword and sceptre are amongst the oldest regalia in Europe and are displayed with the Stone of Destiny, the coronation seat of Scottish kings.
Other attractions include the tiny St Margaret’s Chapel – Edinburgh’s earliest building – and Mons Meg, a huge cannon which is among Europe’s oldest.
It was all very impressive but, on the downside, I was never treated like a Laird and there were no four-poster beds to climb into.
So it was back to Dalhousie where, for a few days, this Englishman’s home was a castle.
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Travel tips
  • The car park at Holyrood Park, next to Holyrood Place and the Scottish Parliament and a five-minute walk from the Royal Mile, is free at weekends.
  • The unassuming restaurant at Edinburgh Castle is blessed with some of the finest views of any restaurant the world over, yet the meals are still reasonably priced.
  • Treat your taste buds to a free sample at Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen in the Royal Mile – but try not to choke when you see how much a slice costs!
Travel file
Room rates at Dalhousie Castle, in Bonnyrigg, start at £125 per night for a Standard Castle Double including full Scottish Breakfast and use of the Aqua Sulis Spa facilities. For more details visit the Dalhousie Castle website

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