By Adam Attew
Cheeky and I were at King’s Cross about to board the 12:20 train to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, and I couldn’t wait. It’s hard to beat train travel when sitting in first class, with wine on tap, good conversation and the lush green British landscape speeding by. Our destination for the weekend was to be the Grade-A listed Cranshaws Castle. The castle, or ‘Peel Tower’ dating back to 1350, wasn’t originally built as a castle, but a keep to guard the Scottish and English borders. It’s only recently been restored to stunning perfection with beautiful interiors whilst retaining many original features.
The history of the place is fascinating and rife with conflict and mystery. The lands of Cranshaws were originally part of the Barony of Bothwell, which was created for David Olifard by King Malcolm IV in the mid 12th century.
In 1435-6 Cranshaws was forfeited by the Earl of March, and around 1460 there was a protracted battle for it by the Earldom of March. The removal of the Cranshaws estate from the Oliphants without compensation or consent was the start of a dispute which lasted most of the 15th century. Eventually, the castle was acquired by another branch of the Douglas family, the Earls of Morton, in the 18th century, who carried out extensive renovations from the late 1600s to the present time.
Today, Cranshaws Castle is available for hire to the public, and sleeps eight people. Guests can tailor their stay with as much assistance as they require, from self catering all the way to fully catered services – which is what we chose. The Castle is thought to be the inspiration for “Ravenswood Castle”, the home of the hero of Sir Walter Scott‘s literary tragedy the Bride of Lammermoor. Rumour has it, the Castle is also inhabited by a Brownie – not the baked good or the cookie-selling girls, but the Scottish mythological spirit. Throughout our stay, we enjoyed the assistance of Chris, Calum and Frédéric – more of which below – and hoped to see the Brownie.
As soon as we arrived to the verdant grounds, we were shown up the spiral staircase to the ‘Pink Room,’ which would be home for the next few days. It had a very old world feeling to it, and as with most old buildings, there wasn’t a straight line in sight. If once upon a time the castle had been cold, dark and damp, it certainly was not any more. With its own sitting room, super King sized bed, roll-top-bath and 3 foot thick walls, we felt very safe from the outside world.
Once settled in, it was time to adjourn up one flight of stairs to the drawing room in the centre of the castle. With its roaring log fire, plush sofas to sink into plus a secret bar hidden in the walls, one could while away the hours sipping on gin and tonics, whilst putting the world to rights. We were excited when it was time for dinner, but secretly I was looking forward to returning to my cosy spot on the sofa.
The open dining room on the ground floor is a place to pass the time with friends. Its thick bright white stone walls, large wood burning stove, simple interior design and a long oak table with comfy dining chairs in the centre make it an inviting, welcoming space. What I loved most about it was how from our vantage point there, we could easily watch, smell and experience our food being created for us by our private Michelin star trained chef Frédéric. The meals he produced over the weekend was simply sensational. Using fresh, local produce whenever possible, he served up dishes to feed the taste buds, the nose as well as the eyes. We dined on such delights as fresh mackerel with parmesan crisps, red snapper with samphire grass and sweet potato mash, asparagus and beetroot.
Each evening we would retire to our favourite spots on the sofa whilst the very dapper Chris and Calum looked after our every whim and desire. Like personal butlers, they worked their socks off keeping the whole place ticking, ensuring that our vats of G&T were never empty and that plenty of logs were ready to roar in the hearth. These two truly brought this ancient castle to life, making it feel like home for the weekend.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast it was time to explore the local lands by foot. We meandered our way through the local fields, trying to avoid upsetting the local herd of cows. With rolling hills, patchwork forests, huge blue skies with whirling wind turbines in the distance, it was easy to unwind and forget about the rest of the world beyond the Lammermuir Hills.
Once back at the castle, we jumped into the car and made our way through the beautiful Scottish landscape to one of the local bothies owned by Cranshaws Castle estate. It was off the beaten track and across the moors down to this little bothy where lunch and some bubbly had been set up by Frédéric. Despite the howling wind, it was a restful little place once the log fire was lit, and we sat down to more fabulous food, including the most delicious homemade gluten free brownie. Unfortunately, as tasty as it was, that was the only kind of Brownie we experienced that weekend – no Scottish spirits ever appeared. To us, anyway!
Later that afternoon it was time for a culinary class with Frédéric back at the castle. On the menu was Sushi with a Scottish twist – both Cheeky and I love sushi, so this combination was a marriage made in heaven. Beyond cooking, there is so much to do in the area, from hiking and picnics to fishing, sailing or just sight seeing. Personally, I would love to return for Christmas with the family for long wintery walks followed by hot toddies by the fire – nothing could be cosier.
After, our weekend at Cranshaw Castle we approached the train station a bit differently this time. Sure, I love trains – but this time I was dreading getting on board as it meant going back to London. What made our stay at Cranshaws Castle so special? Firstly, I would say the venue is simply gorgeous with attention to detail having played a large part of its making. Secondly the staff were just fantastic; warm, efficient and friendly. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. But above all, it was the feeling of being immersed in a little piece of British history.
For more information, please click here: www.cranshawscastle.co.uk