Glenapp Castle ~ Press Reviews
HOTEL REVIEW SCOTLAND (2005)
CASTLE FOR ALL THE SENSES '
There are many reasons why people come to Scotland for a holiday and, especially at the top end of the market, the country can provide a special experience. The Scottish landscape and heritage are the main attractions and explain why this northern European nation is such a perennial destination.
A castle in a fine location can combine the best of both: but which castle?
Here, the Ayrshire coast is well known to golfers world-wide for it is home to famous championship links golf courses such as Turnberry.
The southern part of Ayrshire, where the coast looks over to Ireland, is rugged and beautiful – and yet easily accessible by car, train and air. Glasgow Prestwick airport is only 45 minutes from the castle, a busy airport with many connections (largely thanks to Ryanair) which was modernised recently and which received the heads of state arriving for the 2005 G8 summit.
And it is in Ayrshire, ‘Robert Burns’ country’, high up on a seaward hill, hidden and placed by the landed gentry as carefully as a jeweller might place a specimen gem in a valuable piece, that the discerning and fortunate find Glenapp Castle.
The castle, built in the 1870 for the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Ayrshire, and subsequently purchased by the Earls of Inchcape who made their wealth in shipping, was created in the iconic Scottish baronial style. True, there is a touch of French about certain aspects, but the whole is as Scottish as Brigadoon and a deal more believable.
The approach is the overture: however you come to this part of the world, the last part of your trip will be by car, wending eventually along scenic roads until arriving, once through the pretty village of Ballantrae (of Robert Louis Stevenson fame), at closed black gates. This combination of old world and high-tech makes one wonder if the chatelaine may in fact be Lady Penelope herself. But no: press the button, give your details, and the gates will swing open to welcome you to an enclosure of privilege. The mile or so between gates and castle sees one drive up through a deeply wooded gully where fine specimen trees, planted centuries ago, grow tall and where a tumbling stream, or ‘burn’ as the Scots call it, rushes. At the top of the hill the woods clear, and a large monkey-puzzle tree stands sentry on a level area where the car swings round to reveal the pink-toned sandstone edifice, all turrets and towers, emblems and tall, sparking windows. Drive up to the door and look forward to a warm welcome from owners Fay or Graham Cowan, and a stay where friendliness, intrigue and some glamour awaits.
Enter under the castle via the Hall, under a shield bearing the (Latin) inscription Light and shade may change but love is constant, and soak up the atmosphere: stone walls, interesting artifacts, fresh flowers, big doors and seemingly endless oak-panelled corridors leading to – where? Up a short flight of stairs and enter the Drawing Room where a log fire warms a welcome and scents the air. Polished antique furniture gleams, big oils await inspection and enjoyment, while an array of plumply-upholstered sofas and chairs await. The high ceiling’s delicate plasterwork details are set off by generous chandeliers. A Library lounge offers a further quiet escape and there are plenty of places indoors and out where guest can simply explore, unwind and enjoy “one of the finest country houses in the UK”, in the words of Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
The castle has been entertaining guests for almost a century and a half but earlier travellers were possibly not as comfortably set-up as are today’s visitors. Along panelled hallways, hung with interesting pictures, are located the 17 bedrooms and suites. They offer a wide range of accommodation choice – from smaller, garden-facing rooms, through spacious double rooms overlooking the sea, to the vast Master Bedroom Suites – Earl of Orkney and Earl of Inchcape – with gracious furnishings and huge windows. The Guide’s room, typical of many, had an original period bathroom lined with marble; some rooms have free-standing baths and one has a terrific Art Deco suite.
The hotel’s own website can give you a good tour and, since there is such a wide choice, it is perhaps a good idea to have a chat with the castle staff before making a selection of room and tariff. Sometimes a room has featured a in a glossy magazine and then everybody wants that one. There is a lift and disabled or limited-mobility guests are welcome (although some parts of the castle and grounds are reached by steps). Children are well looked after, with high tea being served especially for them in the Dining Room; kids under 5 go free overall; younger children are not allowed in the public rooms or Dining Room after 6.30pm.
Our room had a CD player and a touch of Mahler went rather well with the beautiful afternoon tea – all silver teapots, refined china and homemade delicacies – served expertly. What better than to stand by the big window and gaze out and down at the vista of terraced gardens, woodland and sea, cup of tea in hand, music in the ear, and the anticipation of dinner and a night in the regal-looking bed tingling? Expect and enjoy real castle atmosphere, and not high-tech.
Dining at Glenapp is taken seriously and in either the Colquhoun or McMillan dining rooms is a privileged experience for which the castle holds 3 AA rosettes for 2005. Mind you, the castle thankfully does not ask male guests to wear jacket and tie and this results in a more relaxed and, in our view, contented atmosphere.
2005 saw a new head chef and HotelReviewScotland.com is the first guide to bring the news: Matthew Weedon was previously head chef at L’Ortolan restaurant in Berkshire, England, which holds a Michelin Star. With his strong background and experience Glenapp Castle has chosen carefully to ensure the continuing excellence of their cuisine. The menu had been left out on our bed (just in case there was anything we didn’t fancy, which there wasn’t) alongside the comprehensive wine list, and we descended all geared-up for chef’s set 6-course dinner.
By the fireside of the Sitting Room we were soon sipping a single malt whisky from not-too-distant Galloway’s Bladnoch distillery, and canapés - brace yourselves: haggis balls, no less. By Jove, you’ll know you’re not in Acapulco. We have to say that a nibble of spicy, warming haggis is simply divine with a dram. John Orr, the manager who keeps an eagle eye on proceedings, is perfectly cast and his kindly approach pleases guests - who clearly come from a’ the airts. He showed us through to the deep red-hued Colquhoun Dining Room where well-spaced tables were set beautifully with white linens, fine glassware, silver and fresh flowers.
Dinner is served leisurely: an appetiser tickles the tastebuds and the first course of Salad of Jerusalem Artichoke with Truffle Dressing is light and fresh. The fish course presented us with a satisfying bite of delectable substance in Pan Fried Red Mullet with Cous Cous and Vine Tomatoes. Loin of Locally Farmed Lamb with Pomme Purée and a Rosemary Jus... the Sunday name of the main course which included kidney and, being full of flavour and cooked on-the-button, met with approval around the room. Always good to see local stuff on show and we know that chef has already sought out new, neighbourly suppliers in this productive area.
Cheeses came before pudding, in the Continental style: Lochaber cream cheese; Bishop Kennedy; and Howgate Camembert - all appropriately Scotch. Dessert was a light and fun-shaped Strawberry Marshmallow and Vanilla Parfait with Scottish Raspberries. Sumatra coffee and chocolates, homemade of course, were served in the Library... where we bumped into Pete Irvine, author of the excellent guidebook Scotland the Best... like us, on a review stay. Just as well dinner had proved to be particularly well balanced and full of the Scottishness both guides support and which, we both recognise, guests of Glenapp seek - and find.
Breakfast is of an equally high standard. Served in the blue McMillan Dining Room, which is light and airy, extremely alluring with its view out to mist-capped, volcano-like islet Ailsa Craig, nothing was less then excellent. Getting all the details right marked the morning meal’s food and service as fully 5-star. A BreakfastRosette™ was attained handsomely. Such a beautiful place in which to start the day.
end is a season’s start
One of the main memories we have of Glenapp are its gardens. Here indeed your life can rhyme with the seasons and the walled garden, in particular, is a tempting little piece of Eden. Our visit was in spring but at any time the gardeners ensure that the season’s duties are done and the best produce available for castle and kitchen. This is a serious garden and we simply adored it. Fallen trumpet flowers from specimen azaleas, rhododendrons and unknown-to-us exotica carpeted neat lawns.
The old stone wall keeps out the stiff sea breeze and in the haven the large Victorian glasshouse (where you may sit) grows grapes on an immaculately cultivated vine. The extensive grounds are great for walks and strolls. Tall trees swayed gently as at one point we sat by a small loch where dragonflies hung in the air and the view was up to the castle. This is a view used by the hotel in its marketing and, we can confirm to you, it is entirely as it seems on the brochure – magnificent!
Tennis and croquet can be played in the grounds. Golf is available nearby on a wide selection of excellent courses.
Tours can be suggested, perhaps taking in the Galloway Forest Park, Wigtown the National Booktown, exotic Logan Gardens or famous Culzean Castle with its Eisenhower and Kennedy connections.
Receptions / Events
The castle can be reserved for exclusive use and has played host to some very exclusive weddings. Musical entertainment such as a string quartet can be arranged. Whisky and wine tastings… murder mystery evenings or weekends… Highland dances and Scottish singers… for upscale, elegant and special events Glenapp can provide a suitably unique backdrop, especially outwith the peak summer months.
The Reviewer’s View by Gary H A McLean, Editor