Today (October 12, 2015): Top 10 most extravagant castles to stay in the UK & Ireland.
One of the greatest tourist attractions for visiting the UK & Ireland is the spectacular array of castles which spread from the very far north of Scotland to the heart of England. Originally built as defensive fortresses, as the centuries past and wars were fought in more open terrain, the castle slowly became a thing of beauty. This was particularly true in Scotland where the age of enlightenment ushered in hugely important architects like Sir William Bruce or Robert Adam who was commissioned to build beautiful castles like Culzean, which combine the masculinity of a traditional castle with modern day aesthetics. During the Georgian era a lot of fortified houses were built to give the impression of a castle but offered the comfort of a family home.
The Victorian era ushered in new architects like James Gillespie Graham (Ayton Castle), William Smith (Balmoral Castle) or the very famous David Bruce (Balfour Castle). This was a more ostentatious era and a lot of these castles did not survive the post war period, having been used as schools, hospitals and army billets and effectively trashed. Indeed in the 1960’s they were pulling down castles at the rate of two a week and particularly in Scotland & Ireland, many were lost. The scale of the Victorian castles was simply not sustainable and few could afford to keep them up. However somehow a lot did survive and there are some wonderful examples throughout Britain.
If you are looking to stay in a truly extravagant castle, here is my list of the top 10. Despite crippling costs and decades of punitive taxation many of these historic castles have thrived over the last twenty years and many embrace everything from weddings to rock festivals. There are different avenues for making money but the running costs of these old buildings are huge and relentless, so their owners are to be commended for preserving such a vital part of the UK and Ireland’s heritage.
Balfour Castle on Orkney, designed by David Bruce, is a fine example of a beautifully preserved, Scottish Baronial castle. Watching over a tiny island, 6 miles long, this castle is first and foremost a family home and it retains every bit of its Victorian splendour having been luxuriously renovated and decorated with every modern comfort. Once you have arrived at the castle, it gives the feeling of being exceedingly remote, however, it is relatively easy to get to by helicopter landing on the lawn or scheduled flights into Kirkwall followed by a short boat trip to the island. With a billiards room, private cinema and media room, golf room with golf simulator visitors aren’t short of things to do. For the more outdoorsy types there are wonderful walks, bird watching, tennis, trout fishing, seal watching, sea fishing trips and visits to local attractions.
- Website: Balfour Castle
In the heart of England you will find Belvoir Castle in Rutland. Construction of the first castle to be built on this site started in 1067, by an ancestor of the current owners. However, both this castle and the next one that was built were both destroyed and the grand castle you see today, was designed as a family home by architect James Wyatt, and was built between 1801 and 1832. It is now one of the most beautiful Regency houses in England and to stay here is a truly unique experience.
- Website: Belvoir Castle
Birkhill Castle in Fife is a good example of a Georgian fortified house built to give the impression of a castle but with all the comforts of a family home. Situated in a 2,000 acre estate on the shores of the Tay Estuary, the castle is steeped in history and has great charm and style. For those who stay here, they will enjoy the luxurious comfort of this family home with a heated outdoor pool, tennis court, croquet lawn, private beach and boat trips.
- Website: Birkhill Castle
Close by Myres Castle is a more traditional 16th century structure, which has been cleverly modernised over the last few decades. It offers true luxury in ancient surroundings and every room has been decorated with huge care and is full of beautiful possessions making it enormously comfortable as well as both formal and cosy. There are delightful gardens and a tennis court which makes this a relaxing and fun place to base yourselves from to enjoy some of the well known golf courses nearby.
- Website: Myres Castle
Ferniehirst Castle, further south, is more of a traditional Border keep and played a defensive role in the wars against England but it is now more of a castle style residence with large windows and rolling lawns. This is a wonderfully romantic setting and the rooms have been recently refurbished offering a very luxurious stay. With a magnificent banqueting hall, it is ideal for a party and along with the tennis court there is salmon fishing and wonderful river walks to enjoy.
- Website: Ferniehirst Castle
On the outskirts of Inverness and overlooking Loch Ness is the wonderfully romantic Victorian, Aldourie Castle. It is in a dream location on the banks of Loch Ness and offers the best in authentic Highland Estate living. It can also boast being the only habitable castle on Loch Ness. Having won the Historic Houses Restoration Award in 2011, guests can be assured of sleeping in luxurious state bedrooms, meticulously restored to their former splendour. Guests can also enjoy the majesty of the world famous Loch Ness by boat from the castle’s private marina.
- Website: Aldouri Castle
Close by is Gordon Castle which is an equally glamourous Georgian home with wonderful fishing on the River Spey. Within its 500 acre estate the castle offers exceptional comfort in recently renovated accommodation. With beautiful, large gardens, tennis court and fishing on the door step there is no need to travel further afield. However, there is much to see in this part of Scotland and so it does offer an ideal base for families wishing to explore.
- Website: Gordon Castle
Across in Aberdeenshire, Kincardine Castle is another fine example of Victorian grandeur and of course families, mainly aristocrats, were inspired by Balmoral and were keen to be close to Queen Victoria during her long period of mourning. At this time, Sir Walter Scott of Abbotsford was also making Scotland fashionable through his books like Rob Roy and Waverley. Set in the heart of Royal Deeside, this castle is the quintessential Scottish house party venue. It is a wonderful house decorated in period style and furnished with antiques.
- Website: Kincardine Castle
Many of the Ducal families of course lived in castles and these included the magical Devonshire home, Lismore Castle on the Blackwater in Ireland. It is hard to find anywhere in Ireland that can match this exceptionally grand home. The updated facilities appear to blend seamlessly with the more traditional grandeur and opulence of an earlier time. If you choose to venture out of the comfort of this wonderful castle, there is so much to see and do nearby including visiting the nearby Waterford crystal factory.
- Website: Lismore Castle
Inveraray Castle in Argyll, built in the 18th Century, combines public access and private family use with the odd rental or corporate event. This is one of Scotland’s most historic houses and has been sumptuously renovated offering pure 5 star luxury. The architecture is remarkable incorporating Baroque, Palladian and Gothic styles. The castle features four imposing French influenced conical spires surmounting the stone castellated towers and was the first of its size and type to be built in this remote part of Scotland.
- Website: Inveraray Castle
Andrew Loyd at Loyd & Townsend Rose specialises in finding his clients spectacular private castles in which to stay.