Scotland was recently in the news for its unprecedented independence referendum. Though residents didn't vote to leave the United Kingdom, the news kept the media spotlight on the region. People unfamiliar with Scotland got a chance to see beyond the stereotypes of this historic land, which occupies the northern regions of Great Britain. The news coverage made no mention of kilts or bagpipes or haggis or William Wallace. However, one feature of Scotland was noticeable in the background of many news reports and photographs: the historic architecture.
This is a land rich with history. The past remains on display in the form of well-preserved buildings and castles that have been standing for centuries. Scotland is aware of the world’s fascination with these aged structures. Many of the castles that still stand have been renovated and converted into hotels or event venues. In fact, in some places the best (or only) option for accommodations is found inside the 500-year-old walls of a castle hotel. Though you can easily spend £300 (about $485) on a room at a luxury palace, there are also a number of castle rooms in the £100 range ($160).
Before you jump on a plane and rush to Scotland, know that castle experiences can vary widely. Some structures have been completely renovated. Though the exterior inspires daydreams about knights and princesses, the interiors may be more akin to a luxury hotel than a medieval estate. That might be a welcome surprise for some, but a disappointment for others. Even the most authentic-looking structure has probably had some renovations in recent years.
In their day, many Scottish castles were the very definition of luxury and wealth. This is especially true of palaces built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In this era, there was less of a need for thick, imposing defensive structures. Many of the buildings from this classical period can also be aptly described as manor houses.
Inverlochy Hotel sits near the ruins of the original Inverlochy Castle. (Photo: Johnny Durnan/geograph.org.uk/Wikipedia)
Inverlochy, which sits on a lake in the shadow of the famous Ben Nevis, Scotland’s tallest mountain, is an example of castle-turned-hotel. A fairy-tale-like building with skillfully renovated interiors, Inverlochy was a private residence until the late 1960s, when it was turned into a hotel. Despite its renovations, the original exterior remains, and the castle's interior upgrades were faithful to the past decoration and design styles. And like the best Scottish castle hotels, there are plenty of good stories about Inverlochy. England's Queen Victoria praised the castle and its grounds after staying there in the late 1800s. Also, the ruins of the original Inverlochy Castle, which dates back to the 1200s, sit nearby the newer building.
Mansfield Castle Hotel has a colorful history and a resident ghost. (Photo: Dave Conner/flickr)
Sometimes a castle's stories, both true and fictional, create a special mystique. That is the case at Mansfield Castle. From the same era as Inverlochy, this estate was a private residence before becoming an imagination-inspiring hotel. The wife of one of the owners was allegedly so in love with the castle and the surrounding Scottish Highlands that her ghost is said to still be in residence there. Both guests and staff have claimed to have seen her. Before being converted into a hotel, the castle was a garrison for members of England’s anti-invasion forces during World War II.
The imposing walls of Dalhousie Castle hide a luxury hotel. (Photo: CaptainOates/flickr)
Many history buffs are seduced by the oldest castle hotels in Scotland. The 13th century Dalhousie Castle is one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the country. It was built and owned by the Ramsay family, who were involved in the Scottish independence struggle in the 14th century. The onsite well, which still provides potable drinking water, was important for the Midlothian region throughout its history. The original dungeon has been converted into a dining room, and several of the bedrooms still have stone walls and atmospheric lighting that evokes a medieval ambiance. Like other hotels, however, Dalhousie has a modern spa and is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies and formal family reunions.
Edinburgh Castle is not a hotel, but it is Scotland's most famous tourist attraction. (Photo: Robert Moore/flickr)
This is the biggest and most accessible castle in Scotland, but it doesn't have any hotel rooms. Edinburgh Castle, one of the nation's most important symbols, sits on a hill overlooking its namesake city. More than 1 million tourists visit annually, and it is an ever-present part of the city's skyline. (So, yes, we cheated by including this, but we couldn't really write about Scotland without mentioning the place where so many monarchs laid their heads.)
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