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Romance does not drip from Scottish Castle walls, instead it roars at you from the landscape. There is a certain clarity in the romance of a Castle in Scotland, less swirling mists and clouded turrets and more a practical, country-living, sturdy stateliness.  These castles do not require the boost of royal prestige or expensive plummage, though these exist too. Instead, they have the ultimate romance of heart shocking beauty surrounding them. In Scotland, you are forced to pause as your brain tries to catch up with the heart. Sometimes, words are pointless. Except poetry, only poetry here .

Inverlochy Castle

 

Other nations’ Castles are often defined by indulgent opulence and royal prestige, but in true pragmatic Scottish style their Castles shout with pride of their functional solidity, allowing the landscape to take the glory. “I am more than fine, but look behind me, put that in your wee gob and try to swallow!” The cost to stay in a Castle in Scotland is as varied as the buildings themselves but what you get is beyond mere value.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO STAY IN A CASTLE IN SCOTLAND?
(prices quoted are per room with 2 adults sharing)

5 STAR CASTLES

Stay at the 5 star Achnagairn Castle Estate near Inverness from £120 per night in low season where the motto is             ‘ Escape the Ordinary’. This present castle was built in 1812 but an orginal building on this site dates back to the 17th century – a stone in the library fireplace is dated 1663. The vaulted ballroom is beyond the ordinary and gifted by the owner as a 21st birthday present to a daughter. During the second world war the castle was utilised as a hospital, with the ballroom transformed into a ward. As the soldiers convalesced they devised a game, tossing each other’s clothes onto an elephant tusk suspended in the high vaulted walls. Escaping the ordinary.

Achnagairn Castle

Cuddled by trees and leaning over the lochside, Fonab Castle is another affordable 5 star castle hotel with rates ranging from just under £200 per night during low season. This commanding castle blends its solid past with a contemporary glass fronted view of Loch Faskally woven with salmon, brown trout, grilse and pike. Fonab is just over a mile from the town of Pitlochry, famed for its distinctive distilleries and theatre festival. Drama in the landscape and on stage.Fonab Castle

 

Marooned by the shored edge with its foundations wave lapped by the North Sea, Ackergill Tower Castle is a 15th century nod to solidity. Dip your head to its serene authenticity.  You will not feel part of the clamoured world here. It is a place removed. The cost to stay in this Scottish Castle can be under £200 and the smallest self-catering cottage ‘The Smiddy’ starts at £350 per night. Return to knee grazed years, planks nailed to branches with dangling rope ladders and climb into the adult dream come to life – ‘The Treehouse Retreat’ at £1000 per night.

This Castle has a Billiards Room, its own Bothy, an Opera House and The Old Smoking Room with an open fire, lulling flames and drawn curtains to paralyse all stress. Clay pigeon shooting, golf and archery can all be arranged from the castle, with bonfires on the beach afterwards and the extra warmth of a hot whisky. At Ackergill, the open spaces move the mind and time shifts.

Ackergill Tower Castle

You can rent Fonab Castle, Auchnagairn Estate and Ackergill Tower Castle for exclusive use also.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO STAY IN A CASTLE IN SCOTLAND?

4 STAR CASTLES

Kincraig Castle, once home of the Mackenzie clan, is just over 20 miles north of Inverness and beside Cromarty Firth. This is a charming, unpretentious country mansion renovated in the 20th century from sandstone to a white-harled Scottish baronial manor. Automatically discard the stresses of urban residue and glut as you move past each tree in the driveway like a stripper with each article of clothing slowly peeled off. Suspend all else in the branches and the open fields around Kincraig.

The lounge here is renowned for delaying guests from their dining in the award winning restaurant. In the evenings the rich darkness unfurls from the wood panelling and whispers with the open fire. In daylight, lingering is unavoidable too as the room changes to bright, flower filled warmth. The cost to stay in this Scottish Castle ranges from under £200 and you will leave enriched by the authentic welcome and the stately country tranquility.

Kincraig Castle

Comlongon Castle lies on the edge of the Southern Uplands in Dumfries and Galloway,  20 minutes from Carlisle and less than 2 hours to Glasgow, Edinburgh or the ferry to Ireland. This central location with luxurious facilities, set in over 120 acres with lakes and woodland has ensured Comlongon’s 5 star reputation in creating high quality private functions and celebrations. The cost to stay in this Scottish Castle in one of the 4 poster bedrooms can be less than £200 per night. Classic rooms like the ‘Maids Chamber’ will cost £159 in 2017 and Suites start at £179 or why not book this Castle for exclusive use.

Comlongon Castle dates from the 15th century and features wonderful displays of historic banners, suits of armour and medieval weapons. Shackles are embedded in a wall , a reminder that kidnapped individuals were imprisoned here after raiding parties when ransom was demanded to release the victim. You might also see history float by as the ghost of Lady Marion Carruthers who died after falling from the lookout tower. History records suicide, though she was found dead with suspicions of foul play. Marion was involved in a spirited attempt to reclaim her inheritance of Comlongon Castle. No grass grows where she fell.

Comlongon Castle

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO STAY IN A CASTLE IN SCOTLAND?

3 STAR CASTLES

The welcome at Glengarry Castle is legendary and enormous – a St.Bernard greeting without drool! Here at Invergarry on the shores of Loch Oich, linked in a line of lakes between Loch Lochy and Loch Ness, this Highland mansion seems a home more than a hotel. Personable and charming, you will try to extend your stay here almost as soon as you arrive.

The cost to stay in this castle during peak season between mid May and mid September starts at £145 and the rest of the year from £125, with single rates starting at £85.  Glengarry closes in early November and opens in mid March every year.

It is only 40 miles to Inverness, 55 miles to the Isle of Skye and 25 miles to Fort William and Ben Nevis. The landscape here slows the brain to a standstill and the heart takes over. Drive from Glengarry Castle in any direction and the Highlands will seep into your soul, grip hold and clamp permanently.

 

Glengarry Castle

 

Scotland’s oldest inhabited castle is 13th century Dalhousie, less than 10 miles outside of Edinburgh. Home to the Ramsay clan, they retained possession of their castle longer than any other family in Scotland. Entry to the castle was originally over a drawbridge and deep dry moat, the recesses of the mechanism for raising the drawbridge are still evident above the main door today. You can also see rope marks in the stone where prisoners were lowered down to the dungeon. Guests often comment that of all the castles they stay in, this one really feels somehow more ‘real’.

Many of Dalhousie’s bedrooms have historical themes and some have four-posters. The cost of a castle stay here can start from just over £100 for a classic double. Staying here means you can easily avail of the onsite falconry which boasts species of birds including buzzards, owls, eagles, hawks and falcons. Try a hawk walk around the grounds of Dalhousie or an encounter with an owl. Feel the rush of wing as they return elegantly and dramatically to your gloved hand.

Dalhousie Castle

The cost to stay in a Castle in Scotland is minimal compared to the returns. Similar to an investment of one dollar in a 100 to 1 winning horse race. The joy and wonder of staying in a Castle in Scotland overpowers you before you cross the threshold.  An exorcism is impossible, the romance of Scotland is incurable. Once possessed, it will hold you forever. Be thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"This island is discontent as light
glanced under precipitation:
a weather system from south of Islay.
Ireland is there, under Malin Head."(Ian Stephen)

Arrive with the zip flush of swallows in April or May, a sparkling June, any settled spring or a bee-laden high summer. Choose a darkened, cosy December, a crisp January, a frosted fresh February or a light lengthened March.  A leaf curled autumn in a daze of an Indian summer  would give a golden glow to any vacation in Ireland and Scotland . There is neither a best time or a worst time, an in-between or a chance your luck month. Simply, go.

 

BEST TIME TO VACATION IN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND

WINTER

“The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.” (Louis MacNeice)

Each season has it’s own lure and seductions to tempt you with a visit to these Celtic nations. The winter nudges in with November, through December to January and sometimes shares February with spring. The more northerly latitudes of Scotland reflect a colder winter than Ireland’s, with Scottish average temperatures in January and February (usually the coldest months) around 41*F (5*C) to 45*F (7*C). Don’t let a little chill put you off as the winter months can be the best time to visit these countries.

The New Year in Scotland – Hogmanay- is the highlight of the calendar with a three day festival in Edinburgh bursting with music, street parties, a torchlight procession and of course the spectacular fireworks. This is a magnificent city in any light but it really glows with an exuberance at this time of year. All corners of Scotland celebrate Hogmanay with verve and relish and traditional customs are honoured with gift giving and first footing. The ‘first foot’ is the first arrival to a house after midnight, bringing traditional lucky gifts of shortbread, a lump of coal and/or a black bun with whisky for a good luck toast. Honour this tradition in your own way by setting your foot in Scotland for the first time.

Hogmanay

 

Another Hogmanay custom is the traditional good luck kiss at midnight while singing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in the New Year. Embrace a stranger or old and new friends as you wave goodbye to the old and welcome a fresh new day. This Hogmanay custom has been borrowed by Ireland too and although the Irish winters are quite mild with an average 45*F (7*C) this is the ideal weather to swirl a whiskey by an open peat fire. Apart from the rich taste, it could be the reason this drink was created- to give warmth in the cold! Capping the perfection would be a whiskey by a peat fire in a Scottish or Irish Castle. Perfect sense.

Kincraig Castle

BEST TIME TO VACATION IN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND

SPRING

“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; “
   (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
There is a frisson of excitement in Springtime, a canter in the heart before the gallop of summer, a time to savour and delight in the freshness of newer days. The landscape can be crisp and clear, richly lit and rewarding. Temperatures are mild in both Ireland (46* to 54*F) and Scotland (44* to 56*) but it’s always wise to pack a mixture of light and warmer clothes when travelling here. Layers ….. the answer to all weather clothing conundrums!
Spring is a perfect season for a self drive vacation in Ireland and Scotland.  There is a quieter freedom on the roads before the busier summer and without weather extremes. April and May are two great months to enjoy the stretch of roads with a stretch of light also in the evenings.
Rainbow
There are many events to ensure that Spring is the best time to visit Ireland and Scotland. St.Patrick’s Festival is the main highlight of March when Ireland heaves with parades on the 17th. At the end of April Limerick hosts a Riverfest with a multitude of waterfront events and one of the biggest horse racing festivals of the year is at Punchestown, Co.Kildare . In Scotland, Glasgow’s International Comedy Festival takes place in March and the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is in April.
BEST TIME TO VACATION IN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND

SUMMER

“Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,” (John Clare)

Bright long days, high sunshine bouncing off glassy waters and a gloss of green – the summer is one of the best times to visit Ireland and Scotland. It is also one of the busiest though and you will share high season with many as July and August coincide with school holidays too. However, these countries can easily soak up the extra numbers, with parts of northern Scotland in particular never bothered by crowds.

Dunluce

The summer temperatures will rarely hit extreme prolonged highs and the temperate average for both countries is 66*F (19*C). The best feature of the summer is the long pulled out days where the sun glints from an early 5 a.m dawn until dusk past 10p.m. Scotland’s northerly latitude means that Lerwick in the Shetland Islands has an extra four hours of daylight than London in the height of midsummer.

Which means you can see more and do more in the summer months. Both countries have a surplus of exciting activities and cultural events during this time and the hardest decision will be to narrow down your options. Edinburgh has 8 summer festivals,  including the gargantuan Arts Festival, and also International Film, Jazz and Blues Festivals and the goosepimpling Military Tattoo. Enjoy the Highland Games throughout Scotland where physical prowess is tested with shot put, tug of wars and caber throwing, bagpipes abound and Highland flings are flung beside livestock judging and parades.

Highland Games

Ireland is also ablaze with summer activities from concerts in Cork at the Marquee, Literary Festivals, Gaelic games, coastal Regattas , theatre and Arts Festivals in Galway, Donegal, West Cork and Kilkenny. A golfing vacation is an option in all seasons of the year (although perhaps limited in the winter months) in both countries and The Scottish and Irish Open are both on during the summer .

BEST TIME TO VACATION IN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND

Autumn

“On an apple-ripe September morning

Through the mist-chill fields I went ” (Patrick Kavanagh)

There is a rich ripening of harvest satisfaction in Autumn with these two Celtic nations. The crisp charge of the cooler days is perfect walking weather and the mild climate here allows for an average temperature in both countries of 59*F (15*C) . There are many marked small looped walks in most areas and also longer distance challenges such as The Great Glen Way and The West Highland Way in Scotland or Sheep’s Head and The Wicklow Way in Ireland which you can complete in full or dip in for a stage here and there.

Hill Walking

Scotland in Autumn celebrates Halloween with relish as this is the home of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, haunted Castles and the Great Scottish witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. In Ireland the highlight of the unique Gaelic games season culminates in four All Ireland finals in Dublin throughout the month of September in the mecca stadium Croke Park. This home of the Gaelic games association is worth touring with or without a match taking place.

Croke Park

Yes, it does rain. Yes, it will be changeable. Yes, you can get soaked and sunburnt in an hour. Bring sunglasses. Bring a raincoat. Bring some warm clothing. But always yes, bring yourself to Ireland and Scotland where at any time you can have the best vacation and leave with a greater gladness.

 

 

“There is no present in Wales,

And no future;

There is only the past,

Brittle with relics,

Wind-bitten towers and castles

With sham ghosts;

Mouldering quarries and mines;” (R.S.Thomas)

Wales is the European country with the most castles per square mile. This unassuming, green fringed, lilting valleyed land of song and gentle coastline is home to over 600 historical powerhouses. History weaves between these castles from Roman foundations to Norman additions and recent contemporary renovations. While many of these bastions are crumbling ruins some are luxurious castle hotels where your stresses will crumble away and you will be ruined by the warm welcome. Choosing which Welsh Castles to add to your must see list is a difficult but utterly rewarding task.

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Chateau Rhianfa

Start with a fairytale setting inspired by travels to the Loire region of France. Once upon a time in the North of Wales on the Isle of Anglesey where the winds blew ragged and the green grew in gentle grace there lived Lord and Lady Sarah Hay Williams

“ By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,

Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks “ (Dylan Thomas)

Chateau Rhianfa

On their trips to France, Lady Sarah a talented artist, made many sketches of the Loire Valley Castles and used these as inspiration for the architecture of their Anglesey Gothic chateau. Building work began in 1849 with details lovingly and carefully chosen , including the name ‘Rhianfa’. This means lady’s habitat or abode and was submitted to many Welsh scholars before it was fully accepted.   This care and attention to detail seeped into all areas of the chateau and ensured that the interiors matched the magnificent exteriors.

These fairytale details have been preserved and restored  to ensure a magical dream stay in the present era. Enjoy the drawing and music rooms, summer and winter balconies , turret showers and roll topped baths to soak up the wealth of views. All the bedrooms here have indulgent qualities with a style and beauty unique to this singular Welsh Castle. Steps lead up to a bath framed by a balcony window in the superior suites with superior views.

This Chateau is perched on the southern edge of Anglesey peering over the Menai Strait and beyond to Snowdonia’s peaked hills. The Menai Suspension Bridge will lead you to stretches of perfect landscapes on both sides of the Strait. Coastal activities are plentiful and Mount Snowdon is an accessible climb or train ride to it’s summit nearby- only surpassed in height by Ben Nevis in Scotland – Britain’s highest mountain.

Visiting or staying in this Welsh Castle will surpass your expectations as you remind yourself that fairytales do not exist in real life. However, here they do.

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Cardiff Castle

An impressive must see castle in a British capital city just minutes walk from the city centre? Most people immediately think of Edinburgh but few guess Cardiff Castle. It is one of Wales’ premier heritage attractions and is easily accessible within the heart of the city and close to Cardiff Bay.

Cardiff Castle

Almost 2000 years ago the first settlement on this site was created by the Romans. Later the Normans built a castle keep here on the remains of that original Roman fort and the most recent additional structure is a gothic palace created for one of the world’s wealthiest men. Cardiff Castle’s rich, diverse history is reflected in the character of it’s fascinating buildings.

In the 1860s the owner, the Marquess of Bute, reconstructed the castle lodgings and created a gothic palace with richly luxurious interiors . Each room has a separate theme and include The Nursery, the Roof Top Garden, the Arab Room and the Winter Smoking Room. Enjoy a guided tour of these decadently designed Gothic Towers wrapped in the enchantment of Arabian Nights.

Another era awaits outside when you climb the 50 steep steps to the Norman , twelve-sided keep. This is a form of fortified tower, a shelter built within castles as a Medieval last resort when the enemy had broken through the outer defenses.  This ‘shell’ keep maintained a protective outer wall for smaller buildings within.  The climb to the viewing platform might stilt your breath and when you take in the broad airy width from the keep height your breath will leave you again.

The twentieth century produced a version of a keep as an innovative protection from German aerial attacks. Within the castle walls are tunnels, used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War. When the sirens wailed, over 1800 Cardiffians rushed to these shelters where specially constructed ramps were used for quick access. Hidden within the walls were first aid posts, kitchens, toilets and dormitories with bunks. Explore these tunnels and get a sense of their dreaded fears as the city’s people huddled and also experienced a forced sense of togetherness.

Marvel at the replica of a Trebuchet on the Castle Green, a 13th century stone throwing siege engine. This is a deadly military machine used to attack castle walls with a catapult sling. Using a counter balance system, large stones and rocks were effectively hurled to batter and weaken the oppositions’ defenses. The Trebuchet is 10 metres high (35 feet) and is almost 6 tons in weight. A mighty Medieval machine for the mightiest of castles.

Relish each slice of history in this unique city location and marvel at the different layers of this castle’s past. From Roman to Norman to Victorian and  twentieth century usage, each era is entwined and enmeshed within Cardiff Castle – the opulent Victorian Gothic palace stands beside the rich historical stronghold of protection and defensiveness. Cardiff city returns the favour after centuries protecting it’s inhabitants, it now preserves and protects this bastion.

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Ruthin Castle

Do yourself a favour by staying at must see Ruthin Castle Hotel in North Wales sandwiched in the Clwydian Hill Range. This Welsh Castle was first documented in history in 1277 when gifted to Edward 1st by Dafydd ap Gruffydd and originally known as The Red Castle in the Great Marsh. It stretched down to the River Clwyd and was protected by a dry, deep moat. Some of those original stone walls stand in the present Castle grounds built in 1826 as a family home for the Myddletons, hosting and also owned by Royalty through the ages.

Ruthin Castle

Ruthin Castle maintains it’s royal retreat reputation with luxurious, indulgent accommodation and magnificent dining with a singular spa all enclosed in a unique setting. This Welsh Castle is embraced by acres of parkland in the heart of the Medieval town of Ruthin just off the main Town Square and is easily accessible from Chester, Liverpool and Manchester. The stone archway beckons you up the driveway where you might be escorted to the front door by the Castle’s resident peacocks.

Ruthin has a wealth of attractions on it’s doorstep with Medieval Chester just over 20 miles away. This town is renowned for it’s significant black and white buildings, a 2000 year old Amphitheatre and 13th Century Rows shopping galleries. Listen to the Town Crier proclamations at 12 noon during the summer, visit Chester Zoo or the Blue Planet Aquarium, the National Waterways Museum or Chester Cathedral.

The Pontcysvlte Aqueduct is also nearby which you can cross  by boat or on foot if you like heights, as it is 40 metres above the Dee valley. Take a hike on Offa’s Dyke National Trail which passes through the Clwydian Range or visit Llangollen where you can take a trip on a steam railway. Explore the unique village of Portmeirion surrounded by sub-tropical woodland less than 50 miles away and in the evening enjoy Ruthin Castle’s renowned spa.

This Welsh Castle is also infamous for it’s fun and feasting with Medieval dinners modelled on the Earl of Warwick’s legendary 16th century feasts. The costumed Court Steward will lead you into the regal Banqueting Hall where you will be entertained with song and jest while feasting with fingers and daggers. Toast your mead and goblets of wine glinting in the candlelight with tables groaning under the weight of  food.

Ruthin Castle is a feast for the senses and another compulsory addition to your Welsh Castle list. It will lull and seduce you with it’s hypnotic charms as you discover this beguiling corner of North Wales.

 

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Caernarfon Castle

One of the most formidable Welsh Castles is Caernarfon, anchored boastfully by the Menai Strait in the North West of this seductive country. This must see Medieval fortress began life as a Roman fort, followed by the creation of a Norman castle in the 11th century and later in 1283 King Edward 1st of England, in his conquest of Wales, began construction of the present beast.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon’s brute strength captures a corner of the River Seiont and is a domineering presence in this walled town also conquered and rebuilt by Edward 1st.  This English monarch ensured a symbolic link with Wales when his son Edward 2nd  was born here in 1284 – the first English Prince of Wales. The link was continued in the 19th century as Caernarfon Castle was the location for the Investiture of Edward 7th  and also Prince Charles as Prince of Wales..

Today the castle is framed by sailing masts and fishing boats on the village shoreline. This castle has unique polygonal towers, colour coded masonry and imposing battlements inspired by Constantinople. It was designed as a royal residence and also as base for regional power.

Edward 1st built Caernarfon as part of a mighty bastioned circle of intimidation.  His show of strength cost his nation a large portion of it’s wealth as he demanded the highest standards and quality . A Taj Mahal for the opposite of love. This expensive boast was an extreme display of showmanship as he attempted to impress his authority and suppress Welsh spirits.

Impressive , certainly, and suppressive for a while, Edward hired the top military architect of that era , Jacques de Saint-Georges d’Esperanche from Savoy, as his master mason designer. The solid walls and octagonal towers were imbued with lines of different coloured limestone and sandstone. The main King’s Gate was designed to be defended with a drawbridge with six portcullises, arrow loops, murder and spy holes.

This Welsh Castle interior boasted murals by the same artist who decorated Westminster Hall and the windows had the ultimate luxury – glass!  Unfortunately  the original interiors haven’t survived but you are free to wander within the immense castle walls. The substantial grounds are almost all open to the public and facilitates exhibitions including the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.

This museum is housed in two towers of Caernarfon Castle, dedicated to the oldest infantry regiment in Wales. Over 300 years of their military and peacetime service is detailed here using models, original exhibits, sound and film. Some of the most famous writers of World War 1 came from those who served with the Royal Welch – Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, “Hedd Wyn”, Frank Richards and David Jones. “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply” (Jones).

Another exhibition in this Welsh Castle is devoted to various Princes of Wales where you will see the royal links chained through the centuries. While you are exploring Caernarfon Castle climb the Eagle Tower, originally built as an accommodation tower and walk along the ramparts. Views here hug westwards along the coastline and to the peaks of the Snowdonia National Park in the east where you will  “pause a minute,

Let the mind take it’s photograph

Of the bright scene, something to wear

Against the heart in the long cold.” (R.S. Thomas)

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Conwy Castle

Take another  glowing mental snapshot at the next must see Welsh Castle at Conwy, curled into a corner on the North Coast in a curve before Great Orme’s Head. This dramatic colossus was another link in Edward 1st ‘s iron ring of domination. Built in the late thirteenth century together with Conwy’s town walls both serving to work together to defend and hold. The castle was again designed by Edward’s master mason of the moment Jacques de Saint-Georges d’Esperanche.

Conwy Castle

 

Big, bold, brash, breath-taking and bombastic, this dragon of a Welsh Castle dominates the landscape as it unfolds itself on a narrow rocky outcrop. The drama is magnified by the glorious old suspension  bridge completed in 1826 which connects the castle to the main peninsula. This is also a shoreline fortress and the stilled harbour is punctuated by boats and moorings, the masts’ slender, straight lines reflecting the towers behind them.

The unique design featured eight huge towers and a large bow shaped hall within the elongated castle. Although the roofs are missing, the interior is mostly intact, particularly the fine 40m/130ft Great Hall. Conwy Castle allows you the chance to walk on the outer curtain wall and climb even further higher to the tower tops where you will have a great vantage point of the castle interior – the King’s Hall, Great Hall and Cellars, the Inner Ward with private chambers and a royal chapel which was the heart of the castle and other related buildings.

This elevation allows you also to peer into the town of Conwy, the legoland kingdom in the palm of this fortress.  This classic walled town has a circuit of over three quarters of a mile long with 21 towers and 3 gateways hugging the original medieval narrow streets. It is one of Europe’s finest examples of a walled town – explore and ramble these curling corners until dusk when the floodlit beams throw their light up onto the Castle , it’s supreme, awesome, dominance overshadowing all else. Edward would have approved.

WELSH CASTLES TO ADD TO YOUR MUST SEE LIST

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle is a huge fortress sprawling over an area which makes it the largest castle in Wales and a must see on your list. The only other castle larger is Windsor in Britain. This leviathan, encircled by a series of islands and moats was created by Gilbert ‘the Red’ de Clare a red haired nobleman of Norman descent. Caerphilly Castle was built in the 13th century as the Anglo-Normans pushed into South Wales.

Caerphilly Castle

This Welsh Castle’s design was ingenious where the water barriers acted as defences and ensured that attackers were well covered. It also prevented the use of trebuchets (stone throwing siege engines) against the inner walls. The dams themselves are a huge success of medieval engineering, the earliest built on a great platform and strengthened by eight buttresses.

Inside the entrance at the gatehouse there is an exhibition on the castle and from here stairs lead to roof level and a wide-angled view. Here, this fortress’ mighty strength, lack of decoration, severity and lack of windows all point to it’s focus on defence. The castle’s strength is also reflected in the existence of many portcullises.

The dominance and power of this must see Welsh Castle reflects the overall might of this nations’ historical bastions. With over 600 castles in total to tick off your list start with these few mighty examples first. Whet your appetite for further discoveries as you feel the history seeping through their proud stone walls

“ To live in Wales is to be conscious

At dusk of the spilled blood

That went into the making of the wild sky,

Dyeing the immaculate rivers

In all their courses.” (R.S.Thomas)

One of the greater joys of modern inventions must be the car. The liberty of moving between places, the flowing forward and the arriving.  Feel this thrill as you turn your key in the ignition and the surge of excitement connects to the steering wheel. Maybe not though, as we are numbed with complacency and usually drive without acknowledging the pure joyous freedom of it all..

Driving opens up our worlds so much that maybe we should be hugging our windscreens every day in thanks. Or kissing that bonnet! Joy does bounce within us though when we are driving for the pure pleasure of a holiday.

A road trip with the sole purpose of visiting amazing places. Roads without swimming pooled potholes and tightroped clifftop curves but with interesting side roads beckoning adventure, coupled with magnificent scenery? Scotland, of course, it has to be Scotland by car. Time to embrace the windscreen and pucker up to the bonnet !

This is a country that combines clear aired spaces with the solidity and awesomeness of it’s moored mountains. The Scottish Islands are places apart, mostly untethered  from mainland botherations. The remote unspoilt wilderness of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire in the far northern reaches.  Place names with music flowing around and through them – Cape Wrath, the Summer Isles, Auchtermuchty, the Sound of Arisaig, Drumnadrochit,  Altnahara,  Rannoch Moor, Scapa Flow.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

Edinburgh , begin here at this exquisite capital city. You might need to pick up your car here or, alternatively be picked up if you choose a chauffeur driver/guide option. Whether you arrange your transport here or not, this city is a compulsory place to visit in Scotland by car. It is an essential part of your road trip. The Castle, the Ghost tours, Mary Kings Close, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, visit and experience these of course but perhaps the real heart of Edinburgh beats in the memory of a dog !

Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye terrier who pined at his owner’s graveside and refused to leave. The cemetery keeper tried often to evict Bobby and failed, eventually making a bed for him beside the grave. The locals also looked after their adopted dog. When the daily one o’ clock gunshot clapped from the castle he would leave the cemetery to eat a meal provided for him in the nearby coffee house. Crowds often gathered at the kirkyard gates to witness this extraordinary punctuality.

Bobby guarded the grave for 14 years until his own death. In 1873 a sculpture was erected to this beloved marvel beside Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is also buried. Naturally his grave is flower strewn.  His headstone reads “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all”. Indeed, let it be so.

Park the car and explore this unique city by foot as it’s history seeps out of the darkened Gothic buildings and underneath bridges and through winding narrow lanes. It is a 19th century Batman’s Gotham, reeking in it’s individuality. Proudly faithful to it’s history and unafraid to claim the darker , foulest of deeds. Murders, bodysnatching, witch persecution, the terror of torture all steeped in abject poverty. In fact Edinburgh embraces the murky past, loyal and devoted to it’s history. Echoes of the steadfast Skye terrier, Bobby, are imbued in this enigmatic city.

Once your feet have surrendered and returned to the car it’s time to drive 10 miles outside the city to Dalhousie Castle. This is an amazing place to experience the thrills and ancient art of falconry. There is an impressive variety of birds of prey here including owls, falcons, buzzards and eagles. Receive guided tuition in handling your bird before it soars upwards and returns spectacularly to your hand.

“Unleash me from your hand

And I will lance the light for you

I’ll cut a swordblade on the wind” (Jonathan Steffan).

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

The surge of excitement is still with you frizzling the air in your car as you drive on to another amazing place. Take the A82 northwards along the gentle shores of Loch Lomond towards Crianlarich. This is Scotland’s largest lake “Where in purple hue, the hieland hills we view, And the moon coming out in the gloaming.” – Naturally you will want to hum the lines of one of Scotland’s most iconic tunes dedicated to these shores. Doubly Bonnie it surely is.

This lake is easily accessible and you can swap the steering wheel for the helm with boat hire available in Luss. Or sit back and take a boat tour of this iconic lake as you explore it’s open charms from Balloch, Luss or Tarbert which are all along your route. Enjoy the soothing lap of the waves before you drive on further northwards to one of the most amazing places to visit in Scotland by car.  No, wait, truth first and speak from the heart – it is the most amazing.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Glencoe

Glencoe

Glencoe. Until you get here this innocent, slight placename won’t conjure up the might of it’s impact when you draw in it’s staggering beauty. Rannoch Moor does help to prepare you with it’s bleak, stark wide wilderness as it funnels you in – a prince pointing you towards the king. Reminding you that there is more. There is, always, more in Scotland.

Glencoe. Perhaps even beauty is too slight a term to define this valley of purest geography . If you remain still enough you might hear the mountaintops groan on their weight to the sky.  Wait and listen in the ocean of hillside.

Try if you can, before you visit Scotland by car, to read about the 1692 massacre. Thirty nine members of the Macdonald clan were killed in Glencoe by the Campbells. The pathos of these murders lies in the cruel reply to hospitality. The Macdonalds had entertained the soldiering Campbells here for over a week before the orders were given to execute the clan as they slept in their beds. All is not fair in love and war.

Remembering this sadness as you linger slowly through this amazing place will add to the poignancy and the majesty of it all. The heavy solidity of the moored mountains reflects the heavy weight of it’s history. There are opportunities along the way to walk into the bowels of this great valley – one of these is The Devil’s Staircase. A zig-zag slow, steep climb with worthwhile views all the way to the top.  The 10 mile path continues to Kinlochleven from here as it is one of the last stages of the wonderful West Highland Way.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Fort William

Pass Fort William where in the height of summer lupins line Loch Linnhe, a purple-pinked frame to the moss glowing mountains across the lengthy sliver of water.   Drive into Glen Nevis where the highest peak in Britain, the mighty Ben Nevis, rules it’s domain. This benevolent seeming beast is humble in structure –  it’s squat, stubbed chunk belies it’s quiet powers. This Glen is famed for it’s alluring, beguiling beauty and has been used as a film location for epic productions such as Braveheart, Rob Roy and Harry Potter. Travel the length of this seductive glen to the end, park your car and then it is a short walk to where it theatrically opens up to an expansive gorge. The impressive Steall Falls increases the sensational effect, while you drink in the drama.

Inverlochy Castle

Another epic, amazing place to visit in Scotland by car is Inverlochy Castle. This is just 3 miles from Fort William and is as superlative as the Highland landscape surrounding it.

It is sumptuously embedded below  the bulk of Ben Nevis and tucked into a corner overlooking it’s own private lake. When Queen Victoria visited here for a week in 1873 she wrote in her journal “ I never saw a more beautiful and romantic place” . Nod and agree with her. Stop here for an afternoon tea and feel the romance dripping onto your plates. Inverlochy Castle Hotel oozes charming hospitality and it will serve you well to stop here.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Isle of Skye

Head westwards at Invergarry towards the iconic Isle of Skye. This road journey will leave you with a wide grin as you bask in the loch filled vistas. Firstly Loch Garry, followed by Loch Loyne, Loch Cluanie and Loch Duich. When you have seen one you have not seen them all. Each one glides you expectantly onto the next.

Eilean Donan Castle

You will recognise the Eilean Donan Castle immediately from it’s much used image on calendars, magazines,  t.v. and cinema screens. It is used widely because of it’s singular beauty. A three arched bridge leads your eye to the proud, haughty structure as the russet tipped seaweed  floating beneath contrasts perfectly with the island’s grassy verge. With the hills and sea lochs stretching behind it , this 13th century castle is a perfect snapshot of an idyllic scene. Though this is real, solidly breathtaking and not a fantasy ideal. Step in and take a tour of this clan MacRae stronghold, view the internal rooms of this fabulous castle with period furniture, Jacobean artefacts, fine art and weapon displays. Breathe in the wideangled views and almost hear the swish of medieval kilts brush past you as this stalwart castle casts it’s spell.

Expect more magic as you visit another amazing place in Scotland by car. Cross over the bridge to this Hebridean Hercules as it points outwards to the further reaches of Harris and Lewis. “Merry of Soul he sailed on a day over the sea to Skye. Billow and breeze, islands and seas, Mountains of rain and sun” – Robert Louis Stevenson knew the natural pulling power of The Isle of Skye as you soon will.

Isle of Skye

Skye inherits it’s name from the old Norse sky-a which means cloud island and the central spine of the Cuillin Hills are often swallowed by the clouds. These sharp peaks mingle with moorland, lochs and rivers all spilling over with wildlife. The scenery is the natural first attraction here but Skye also displays it’s rich heritage and culture in various museums and historical buildings.

On your drive around this island stop off in the southern tip at the Museums of the Isles at Armadale Castle. In the 6 galleries here you can explore the history of the Highlands and the Kingdom of the Isles in this ancestral home of Clan Donald. Enjoy the woodland walks and 40 acres of sheltered gardens allowing the Skye air to soothe the senses.

Visit Dunvegan Castle home of the Clan Macleods encompassing 10 different building styles from 1200 to the 1800s. Imposing, edged between wooded rock and Loch Dunvegan, this Macleod bastion will transport you to another place with it’s rich historical castle collection. You can also be transported to the seal colony in the loch where you might also spot the regal heron nesting, arctic terns and sea eagles. This short boat journey will leave a long imprint as you lock in the image of the castle surrounded by blue and bejewelled islets.

In the far north of the island at Kilmuir experience a slice of the soul of Skye with the crofting life depicted in the cottages of the late 1800s. Within these walls the oral traditions continued where the Hebridean songs and stories were inflamed by the peat fires. Explore the Barn, the Weaver’s Cottage, the Old Smithy and the Ceilidh House and perfectly reconstructed croft kitchens and bedrooms.

The ruggedness and spirit of the crofters whistles through this island where the weather chisels the land and it’s people. Leave Skye with the dusk enveloping and you will see

“the great Island with it’s many hills

lying in peace in the twilight,

grey-faced till the breaking of the sky.”(Sorley Maclean).

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Loch Ness

One of Scotland’s most amazing places to visit by car is Loch Ness. The lore and lure of the monster has brought this long splinter of lake to worldwide attention but you will leave with the imprint of the magnificent stretch of beauty trumping the three humped legend. If you do catch an image of Nessie however that would be utterly memorable also…..and lucrative !

Visit the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition at Drumnadrochit and get an indepth presentation of all things ‘Nessie ‘ as well as the geological history of the area. Take a cruise on the loch from here and imagine what lies beneath the depths.  You will also see the ruins of Urquhart Castle from the water and this is also a magical place to visit by car.

Urquhart Castle

The ruins of this dramatic castle hold 1000 years of history within it’s crumbled walls. Climb the Tower drinking in the stunning stretch of Loch Ness and discover the darkened prison cell which may have held the renowned Gaelic bard Domhnall Donn. The exceptional artefacts at Urquhart Castle include a working trebuchet – a stone throwing siege engine. Through much of it’s history it fought to keep people from within the walls, this castle now has an embracing welcome for all visitors.

Loch Ness will lead you to the capital of the Highlands – Inverness – meeting place of the River Ness and the Moray Firth. This compact city’s Old Town houses historical buildings such as the Cathedral and High Court with Inverness Castle grandly looming over the river.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Culloden

Less than 10 miles outside of Inverness you will come to the Culloden Battlefield.

Culloden

This is surely another amazing place in Scotland to visit by car. It is the site of the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil in April 1746. In just over an hour , over 1000 men had died in the short , bloody horror of battle. The visitor centre and interactive exhibition allows you to hear the original words in Scottish Gaelic of those who took part in the battle and events leading up to it, learn about those involved , watch a provocative film and take a battlefield tour with an audio device explaining the armies’ tactics.

This last confrontation of the Jacobite uprising took place on a bleak open moor. It is easy to feel the desolation and despair of the battle here as you walk amongst the headstones. This was the flame which fuelled the decline of the Highland clans and closed the chapter on a civil war for the title of the throne.

AMAZING PLACES TO VISIT IN SCOTLAND BY CAR

Pitlochry

Time now to head further south and pull yourself out of the memories of the moor with a cheery dram or two. Visit the Edradour  and Blair Atholl Distilleries by charming Pitlochry and taste the whiskys produced by both. Edradour is the smallest traditional distillery , dating from 1825 and is the last surviving single malt whisky produced from a farm distillery.

Edradour Distillery

Contrast and compare the whisky originating at the Blair Atholl Distillery. The water from the Allt Dour burn (small river/ large stream) is used to make the 12 year old single malt whisky with a deep aroma and fruity flavour. Complete your distillery tour with a smooth finish in the rich tones of Pitlochry’s Fonab Castle’s loch-side lounge bar where you might like to sample one of their signatory gin cocktails or continue with your whisky tasting. A chauffeur driver/guide is the best option for today’s testing route or spend the night in  Fonab Castle Hotel to taste the luxury here.

It’s a short drive back to Edinburgh to drop off your car, full of appreciation for all the amazing places you have visited. Scotland is almost mythical in it’s beauty, perhaps the eighth wonder in the natural world. The fresh, rugged clarity of this weather moulded land hastens you to return, nae, long to be here.

“It is big sky and it’s changes,

the sea all round and the waters within.

It is the way sea and sky

work off each other constantly” (Andrew Grieg)

 

Ears popping with a speed rush as you zoom headlong at 100mph through a quarry on the longest zip line in the world. Climbing to the top of a country’s highest mountain and proudly taking in the wide-angled view. Discovering cannibals, body snatchers , ghosts and devilish deeds as you walk through graveyards and underground vaults in a deep dark night. Bounce and jump on netting and industrial slides hanging across a cavernous mine.

Everyone’s’ idea of exhilaration differs and when you spend a night in these European Castle Hotels the choice of excitement is also yours. Start in Wales, land of fire breathing dragons, slate mines, rugby and the legend of King Arthur. Exciting slate mines? Is that type-slurring for late wines?

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #10

Ruthin Castle

Ruthin Castle

Stay in Ruthin Castle Hotel and prepare yourself for a high speed thrill of your life. Set within acres of woods and parkland a little over 20 miles from Chester, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Ruthin Castle, dates back to the legend of King Arthur with notable owners including King Edward I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. King Edward I who built Ruthin Castle was responsible for tracking down and executing the last Prince of Wales to independently rule this country. Exciting indeed, but not thrilling for the Prince.

Less than an hour from Ruthin Castle Hotel get your high speed rush with the Goliath zip line in Blaenau Ffestiniog, the longest underground zip line in the world. Or perhaps you might prefer to plummet into a 70 foot abyss where you drop like one of the slates previously quarried here. The free fall system will stop you with a controlled ease but your racing heart will continue at speed for a long while afterwards. Bounce and jump and throw yourself about on an underground netting trampoline with industrial slides. Walk through the cavern and cross centenarian wooden bridges over 80 foot crevasses. If you haven’t felt shaky before now, surely this is the time to feel the adrenaline surge.

More exciting activities close by in Llangollen include climbing and abseiling the cliffs of the Egwyseg Escarpment. If you prefer the rush of water to heights then you will get a buzz from the white water rafting and tubing here on the River Dee’s rapids. Not had enough yet? You can test your archery skills and also try axe throwing to bring out the latent Viking in you. Return to spend a night at Ruthin Castle where you can use the Moat Spa to unwind after a full day of drama.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #9

Chateau Rhianfa

Chateau Rhianfa

North Wales is indeed an adventure paradise and why not spend a night in another of the most exciting European Castle Hotels here. The only 5* Castle in Wales is Chateau Rhianfa which is located on the Isle of Anglesey just across the Menai Suspension Bridge which dates back to 1826. Built in the style of a French chateau,  the drama begins here with the first sighting of your Castle Hotel.

The excitement continues with rib (rigid inflatable boat) riding on the Menai Strait as you zoom under the Suspension Bridge, your mouth open catching the sea spray as you traverse the Swellies with their rocks, whirlpools and shipwrecks.

For a further adventure you could try the Bear Grylls rib ride boat tour and explore the island of Anglesey with dare and verve whizzing around the Skerries – (unique rocky islands) and crane your neck to look up at sheer sea cliffs. If you are here during the summer you will be able to take on the challenge of the indomitable Irish Sea.

Wobble those sea legs back onto dry land and visit the South Stack Lighthouse on the wild west coast of Anglesey. You will have to take 400 steps from the mainland to reach it but it will be worth every knee crease. Climb to the top of the 28 metre lighthouse and marvel at the mechanics and the turbulent views – nature’s engineering overwhelming man’s. A trump card of a different suit. Stand outside and feel the elements whip around and mould you like the cliffs.

Battered and blown about you can try a less stormy climb , but no less dramatic, of Mount Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales. Edmund Hillary used Snowdon (Old English for Snow Hill) while in training for his Mount Everest ascent. The Welsh summit can be reached by a number of pathways and the degree of difficulty is up to you. Of course there is the ultimate cheat’s way out – take the railway option from Llanberis , 5 miles of a rack and pinion rail all the way to the summit station. Even more unexpected, you will find a cafe here to sip a cuppa while gulping in the views.

Sticking with the most exciting heights, try the cable car ride in Llandudno as it climbs to the Great Orme summit. You will dangle at 80 feet as you swallow the sweeping views of Anglesey, the Irish Sea and the Conwy Estuary.  While in Llandudno you can also test your screaming vocal chords at the Ski and Snowboarding centre.

The Cresta Run is the longest toboggan run in Wales at 750m – a cable car will take you up to the start, disconnect you and awaaaaaay you go. Maybe sno-tubing is for you – a great fun activity where large inflatable rings can be linked with others or ridden individually sliding down the hill.

Slide into your top class comfort at Chateau Rhianfa where you spend a night in happy exhaustion after an adrenaline soak in one of Europe’s most exciting destinations.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #8

Thornbury Castle

Thornbury Castle

Less than an hour north of Bath in England you can enjoy more excitement at Thornbury Castle, another great European Castle Hotel.  It certainly has the wow factor and you won’t forget you are in a 16th Century Castle once owned by Henry VIII and used during his and Anne Boleyn’s honeymoon tour. Many rooms are accessed via spiral stone staircases and well worth the climb !

Bristol, just 15 miles from Thornbury Castle, has bundles of adventurous activities to be sampled. If you enjoyed climbing those spiral staircases in your Castle Hotel then you might be inclined (that’s the only one – I almost promise) to try  nearby stiffer ascents and descents. Abseiling down the spectacular Avon Gorge is one to test the nerves or you can stick with the indoors and still be challenged by the climbing walls in 2 different centers in Bristol. One of these is practically a climbing theme park with a clip on system and fun challenges in a bright funky environment.

It is very easy to find Bristol’s maritime history exciting with the option of ascending the mighty mainmast and rigging of Brunel’s SS Great Britain to pause at the viewing platform 30m above the ground. For the truly fearless you can edge an even further 9m out onto the main yard, as those below gasp at your acrobatics. The Matthew is a replica of the original boat that John Cabot sailed in to Newfoundland in 1497 and you can enjoy a dramatic trip down the Avon River under the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge and through one of the world’s deepest locks.

Enjoy paddle boarding and view Bristol Harbour from a different perspective. You will float past the Victorian ship SS Great Britain, bend your neck back to view the old cranes at the dockside and marvel at the Matthew. Enjoy the great sense of freedom you get when you learn to stand while you paddle.

Feel the freedom also with a whoosh as you try a different type of bike ride. There are many purpose built mountain bike trails to test your peddle metal just outside Bristol at the Ashton Court Estate. Feel the exhilaration here as you hurtle through the woods over rock steps, rollers (bumps) and banked corners (berms).

Hopefully you won’t have picked up any bumps on the berms in your search for excitement and you can return to climb that spiral staircase to your Tudor style four poster bed in Thornbury Castle.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #7

Hever Castle Hotel

Hever Castle

Spend a night in Hever Castle Hotel for more excitement.  This fabulous Castle is located just South of London and only half an hour from Gatwick Airport so is well situated for your first or final European Castle stop.

The Castle has an incredible history and is best known as the Childhood home of Anne Boleyn . In 1903 William Waldorf Astor bought the double moated Castle and lovingly restored it to it’s former glory. He also added the Astor Wing which is where you can stay – it is an incredible structure behind the Castle built as a Tudor village. The Castle itself is open to the public – entry is complimentary when staying in the Astor wing and is an absolute must do on your visit.

The medieval sport of jousting comes alive again here with summer tournaments in a reconstructed arena with a Royal Box. It starts with a procession from Hever Castle with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn leading visitors through the grounds to the Arena. You can cheer your favorite Knight from the medieval spectator stands and watch him battle for glory.

The compere will let you know the points awarded to each Knight whether for lancing rings, riding and spearing enemy heads from the ground and one-to-one combat. The most exciting competition is the horseback duel between two Knights as they ride towards each other at speed, armed with a four metre lance and a shield. The loser is unseated while the victorious Knight remains seated on his shining Spanish steed. Perhaps a kiss to the victor  from Anne Boleyn, although she might be heading (!) for her own dark Knight as a result.

You have lost yourself in the excitement of Medieval times at this European Castle and you can also lose yourself in the present day by attempting to find your way through Hever Castle’s Yew Maze. This a rare 100 year old traditionally designed Maze built by William Waldof Astor. It contains a quarter of a mile of pathways within eighty feet by eighty feet square and the hedges reach a height of eight feet. Enjoy the challenge to find your way out or perhaps you might like the thrill of getting lost !

If the Yew Maze has not stimulated you enough then you can move on to the Water Maze. You might need to bring your brolly with you while you try to maneuver a series of stepping stone walkways built over water. If you stand on a certain point, a stone will tilt slightly and hidden water jets will soak the surprised victim. The goal is to get to the central grotto without needing that brolly but only a rare few reach the grotto without getting wet. Not only is it fun, it also gets the pulse racing as you try to avoid the water jets. In fact sometimes it’s even more exciting to get a little damp !

It might be difficult to tear yourself away from Hever Castle, but there is another way to raise the bpm close by in Chatham at the famous Buckmore Park Kart Circuit where Champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button fell in love with their sport. Take a kart for a screech around the circuit and feel your temperature rising.

Head to Whitstable on the Kent coast to cool down with a kitesurfing lesson after all that burning rubber. Harness the force of the wind with a large controllable kite and shoot across the water on a kiteboard similar to a small surfboard. Feel the exhilaration as the wind whips around you and the sea rushes past underneath as you try to mingle with the elements and use them to propel you forwards.

Excitement is certainly one element among many to entice you to spend a night in Hever Castle. It has plenty of thrills and spills within it’s walls and also close by to keep you on your toes or completely off them.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #6

Swinton Park

Swinton Park

Further northwards in the heart of Yorkshire another European Castle Hotel to raise your heartbeat is Swinton Park on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This is an area of outstanding beauty with rustic villages and scenic dales to admire.

Swinton Park is the ancestral home of the Cunliffe-Lister family and is set in 200 acres of parkland, lakes and gardens. This castle hotel is enclosed by the family estate where residents have access to the open moorland, pristine rivers, evocative dales and the quietly beautiful Yorkshire landscape. At Swinton Park they’ve thought of everything. Gumboots and Wax Jackets are provided to protect you from the elements as you go exploring and a wide range of bicycles are on offer too.

There is a sense throughout the Castle of it being more of a lavish home than a hotel, with individually designed bedrooms, each with generously sized bathrooms and exceptional views. For a truly special experience you can attend a Downton Experience weekend. It is a genuine country house party weekend, reflecting those portrayed in the t.v. series Downton Abbey.

Hosted by Lord and Lady Masham, whose family have owned the Swinton Estate since the 1860’s, the weekend is filled, in true traditional country house party style, with a variety of country pursuits and activities . It is an exciting thrill to experience a true taste of life exactly as it unfolded a century ago. This is indeed a rare and unusual treat.

The Swinton Park Bird of Prey Centre has an aviary on the Castle Hotel grounds. Here you can enjoy watching the owls – (barn, great grey, snowy and long-eared) Harris hawks, a common buzzard and an eagle strut their splendor. Go one step further and try some of the falconry experiences available , learning how to handle and fly the birds of prey under the tuition of an experienced falconer. Why not go for a hawk walk amid the magnificence of the castle grounds ? Or what about a hunting day with the hawks ?

After receiving instructions on how to safely handle your bird of prey,  you will have the opportunity to see a hawk and it’s true nature in the grounds of the Swinton Park estate. Marvel at the swoop as the bird’s sensory powers hone in on the quarry. This is not for the squeamish as a bird of prey is a killing machine, but this is nature and you can but watch and feel the brute force of it’s awesome beauty.

Traveling into the Yorkshire Dales National Park you can take a guided tour of the White Scar Cave which includes fascinating formations including The Witch’s Fingers, a claw-like phenomenon, The Squeeze, where the stone has grown so thick visitors must squeeze through sideways  and The Devil’s Tongue – avoid the drip here  folklore says. The Carrots are orange stalactites overhead hanging like a mini chandelier – try not to eat one!

Another overhead delight is the opportunity to launch into the clouds in a hot air balloon. You can do this in the wonderful setting of Ripley Castle, north of Harrogate and less than 20 miles to Swinton Park Castle Hotel. As you are moving with the wind you feel airless as the ground drops beneath you and the tapestry of fields and towns recede into miniature patchworks.

You will see such fantastic sights as Ripon Cathedral, Spofforth and Knaresborough Castles, the pretty village of Ripley itself and possibly even deer ambling through the estate’s park. You might also drift over the spa town of Harrogate viewing landmarks such as the Pump Rooms and the Royal Baths and also the meandering River Nidd. There is a wonderful feeling of pure peace as the quiet envelops and the gush of flame adds to the unique spell . You receive a champagne toast and a flight certificate at the end to celebrate this unique occasion.

Celebrate even further with the excitement of the sport of kings in any of the nearby horse racing courses. There are nine Yorkshire racecourses altogether and the closest to your European Castle Hotel are Ripon , York , Thirsk and Pontefract. When you spend a night in Swinton Park you should be able to enjoy the adrenaline burst of a day at the races as there are 180 days of racing throughout the year in Yorkshire.

Soak up the equine atmosphere as the glorious horses circle in the parade ring. Do you have a preference for greys or bays ? Do you notice the extra muscle in the hindquarters or the sprightlier step with the forelock ? Maybe you prefer to analyze the form and check their previous runnings? Ground, distance, jockey, trainer, handicapped weight – this choosing could be trickier than anticipated. Pick your favorite before placing your bet in the teeming betting ring.

The excitement mounts as the horses gather at the starting line. Take your place in the covered stands as the crowd begins to trickle back to watch their chosen favorite. Feel the electricity of excitement in the air. It is charged with expectancy, hope and the delight of it all. Find your jockeys silks and they’re off. There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush as you follow your horse around the course seeing that it has a chance, then as it battles nostril to nostril close to the finish you cheer home your victorious steed. The exhilaration of a win is further sweetened by returning to the betting ring and collecting your winnings. A royal sport indeed.

Staying in Swinton Park Castle Hotel is truly a royal experience and an exciting European Castle Hotel to spend a night in. You will certainly feel like a winner as a guest here.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #5

Dalhousie Castle

Dalhousie Castle

Further northwards across the border in Scotland we come to the wonderful Dalhousie Castle Hotel.

This castle is just 8 miles from the center of Edinburgh and just twenty minutes from the airport. It is a 13th century fortress and is the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland. The many twists and turns in the corridors give it a castle authenticity and to spend a night here gives you a slice of time from another era.

While staying at Dalhousie Castle you will want to enjoy the excitement of the city of Edinburgh and it’s most famous attraction, Edinburgh Castle. Try and take your first gulp of Edinburgh Castle from a city center vantage point. As you come around the corner and look over across Princes Street Gardens you will have to suck in your breath with the immensity of seeing a castle perched on the city’s skyline as it catches you by surprise. A majestic bastion overlooking it’s kingdom with a steely royal eye.

It is worth taking one of the complementary guided tours of the castle, however if you prefer to go at your own pace you can purchase an audio guide or just follow the blue shields through the castle as they draw you towards significant places of interest.  If you can plan your visit around lunchtime you will experience the firing of the “One O’Clock Gun”.

The historic gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle at this time on the dot, Monday to Saturday. It was first fired on June 7, 1861, and has continued ever since, except during the two world wars. The gun is timed to coincide perfectly with the Time-Ball, a large white ball which is raised above the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, which drops at exactly 1pm. The One o’clock Gun and the Time-Ball provide a time signal for shipping in the Firth of Forth and the Port of Leith.

The excitement of history seeps through the stone walls and whispers to you from the ages. A wonderful exhibition at Edinburgh Castle is of course the Crown Jewels which are the oldest in the British Isles. Known collectively as the Honors of Scotland they were used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543.

Look for a mysterious silver wand displayed with the Honors. It was found with the crown jewels in 1818 but no-one knows why it was there. Also displayed with the Crown Jewels is the Stone of Destiny. This Stone is said to be the pillow on which Jacob rested his head when he dreamed of Jacob’s Ladder.

Kings of Scotland were enthroned on this enigmatic stone for centuries until in 1296, the English King Edward I took the Stone and had it built into his throne. It has since been part of the coronation ceremonies of most monarchs of England and, later, Great Britain. In 1996, the Stone was returned to Scotland and will only leave Scotland again when there is a coronation in Westminster Abbey.

The whole city of Edinburgh has a drama and excitement to it which cannot be replicated anywhere else. The Gothic blackened stone buildings, a heavy grayness sinking into the cobbled stones on the Royal Mile, the gloomy darkened Cowgate beneath the weight of the bridges. There is no place like it.

You can glimpse the unique drama of this exceptional city in a corner of the Royal Mile just below Edinburgh Castle where Mary King’s Close, a little piece of the 17th century, is preserved forever.  The Royal Mile sits on a ridge and as the city grew the buildings did too – growing outwards. As the ground sloped away so the buildings increased in height – the further they got from the ridge the more storeys were added – this meant that the narrow streets below had access to very little light. Thus the closes were born and the poorest of the City lived in the lowest levels.

When the Royal Exchange was built in 1753 vaulted ceilings were installed in the lower levels of the buildings below but otherwise left the rooms untouched – closing in a portion of history forever underneath. Now you can walk in the footsteps of the inhabitants of this once bustling world of the 17th century. Feel the breath of history brush past you as even the air smells of a distant time.

This otherworldly aspect of Edinburgh leads naturally  to another thrilling activity – ghost tours. You can take an underground tour beneath the city’s streets exploring the South Bridge Vaults and feel your flesh prickle as you listen to the stories of terror , learn about witchcraft and the plague on the Royal Mile and the Old Town during a spooky walkabout . Body-snatching by the thieving duo of Burke and Hare and tales of local superstitions will lead you to the most haunted pub in Scotland.

As Edinburgh native Robert Louis Stevenson said “ Only a few inches separate the living from the dead”. The ethereal ghoulishness of his city inspired him to write The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It all seems mired in a boggy world of dark secretive doings and dank dreary underhandedness. Today’s Edinburgh stands up bold and proud like it’s castle on the hill openly proclaiming it’s past and weaving it into the present in the most exciting way.

Dalhousie is so close to the Scottish capital it is an ideal base to explore this enigmatic city from an equally enigmatic European Castle Hotel. After a day’s historical and ghostly exploration it is ideal to return and spend a night in one of Dalhousie Castle’s elegant and sumptuous four-poster bedrooms. A dramatic conclusion to a thrilling day.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #4

Fonab Castle

Fonab Castle

Where Dalhousie Castle is traditional, the rooms at Fonab Castle Hotel further north in Pitlochry are firmly placed in the 21st century. There is an effective blend of classic finery with a contemporary twist. This 5* gem is curled into a stunning corner of Lough Faskally in the shade of Ben Vrackie in the Perthshire Highlands.

This blend of classic and contemporary is reflected in the exciting drinking and dining experience here. Enjoy fine dining in the atmospheric award winning Sandeman’s restaurant with superb wines carefully chosen by the helpful Sommelier. At the loch-side glass encased Lounge, delight in the unique castle Gin Bar. It has a wide selection of micro brewed and premium gins to rival the usual whiskey choices. Try one of the great gin-based cocktails in a spectacular drinks menu.

Perhaps a strong cocktail will be needed after you experience an exciting Land Rover drive of your life. This can be conveniently arranged by the Castle Hotel concierge . Get your heartbeat raised when you rev up the power of a Land Rover and experience it’s all-terrain abilities. You will be taught by instructors to challenge the steep hills of the Highland countryside, bounce on off-road and woodland tracks as well as enjoying the wide open expanse of private tracks. You will feel empowered after you have mastered your mechanical thoroughbred and return to Fonab Castle Hotel with an enriched sense of achievement.

A Highland Safari can also be arranged close by. Why not get oot and aboot to experience the local wildlife and take in the wide-angled landscapes. The safari takes you through the Perthshire Highlands where you might be lucky to see red deer, the famous grouse, the shy mountain hare or the majestic golden eagle. You will travel through woodlands, moors and mountains on private hill tracks of this sublime natural wilderness.

This European Castle Hotel is also in the perfect location for a fantastic whiskey distillery tour. Close to Fonab Castle is Eradour Distillery , the smallest distillery in Scotland and dating back to 1825. It is now the only handmade single malt whisky from a farm distillery in production today – a truly authentic small scale production. The Blair Athol distillery is also in Pitlochry where water from the Alt Dour burn produces the mellow, deep tones and smooth fruitiness of the 12 year old single malt. It is distilled in traditional copper pot stills and matured in oak casks.

Nearby Aberfeldy has a great whisky heritage visitor centre and is also a working distillery.   Here you will learn about making the single malt, the art of blending and also the history of the Dewar family who created it in the 1800s. The Strathearn Distillery is also in Perthshire and is the newest and possibly smallest commercial distillery.

Here you can take a tour of the distillery or spend a day distilling whisky or enjoy a day’s gin making experience. The whisky distilling day is spent operating the stills and running the spirit still and you can extend the experience to a three or five day more intensive learning. You will take away a bottle of your own whisky and a certificate of distilling. –

To spend a night in Fonab Castle Hotel is to truly enjoy a stay at one of the most exciting European Castle Hotels. With a mixture of handling a mechanical beast and marvelling at the natural wildlife and indoors sampling the natural botanicals, Fonab Castle certainly ticks the box of thrills.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #3

Inverlochy Castle

Inverlochy Castle

Winding your way northwards you will come to another sublime Castle Hotel. In the Highlands by Fort William near the shores of Loch Linnhe lies Inverlochy. It has been a world renowned 5* Castle Hotel for over 40 years. It was built in the 1800s and hosted Queen Victoria for a week in 1873.

Inverlochy Castle has a very traditional and authentic feel throughout and it is easy to imagine you have traveled through time to the 1800s. Hidden treasures such as the walled garden can be found in the grounds and there is a secret door in the paneling of the great hall leading to the library which can also double as a private dining room. If you plan to dine at the Castle in the evening you will need your jacket and tie as it is required for dinner in all 3 of the dining rooms.

The most exciting aspect of Inverlochy Castle Hotel must be it’s profoundly stunning surroundings. The Highlands of Scotland are surely the eighth wonder of the world . The pristine quality of the air, the lore of the lochs and it’s awe inspiring mountains. The complete grandeur of it all cannot fail to soften the hardiest most unromantic of souls. Those given to few words will gush unabashedly after days spent in a haze of Highland beauty. It weaves a spell and casts a web of wonder so strong that you will vow to return before you have even left.

This magical quality has been borrowed by the Harry Potter extravaganza as the Jacobite Steam Train becomes Hogwarts Express. It departs from Fort William on an 84 mile round trip often classed as the world’s greatest rail journey. Cross the famous 21 arched Glenfinnan viaduct (recognized throughout the world now by Harry Potter fans) overlooking Loch Shiel and the Jacobite monument. The train sometimes pauses here to allow passengers to take in the remarkable view and adds to the drama. After a stop in fuchsia dripped, rhododendron  filled Glenfinnan station the train passes through sweet villages until it’s destination of Mallaig.

Returning to Fort William why not explore Glen Nevis where, if you’re feeling very energetic you could climb Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain! The Glen itself ends in a wide gorge which has an almost prehistoric quality to it as you imagine dinosaurs bounding across it’s expanse. You can use the wire bridge here to escape their ghosts if need be. Many film scenes have been shot in Glen Nevis including some from Braveheart, Harry Potter, Highlander and Rob Roy which reflects the quality of it’s beauty.

Another area of outstanding and thrilling beauty close to Inverlochy Castle Hotel is the inspirational valley of Glencoe. The views here are so outstanding your jaw will take a long time to close. This is where you feel the geography of nature eking it’s way through the land. The solid substance of the mountainous forms clawing their way out of the valley and straining cloud high.

You can feel some distant force here or maybe it’s the tragedy of the Macdonald massacre whispering it’s remembrance. In 1692 Captain Campbell asked for lodgings for his 130 soldiers from the Macdonald clan in Glencoe. The Macdonalds entertained them for 10 days until the Campbells massacred 40 of their hosts in the early hours of a cold morning while many escaped to the surrounding hills to die of hunger and exposure. This chilling tale echoes the valley and is carried in the wind as it flows between the peaks.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel is a wonderful place to spend a night with the pure joy of it’s surroundings  an excitement in itself. The thrilling nature of the magnificent Highland setting ensures that a stay in this European Castle Hotel is unforgettable.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #2

Dromoland Castle

Dromoland Castle

From Scotland it’s a jump over to Ireland and Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare. The drama begins here with the history of this Castle Hotel as it was the ancestral seat of the O’Briens, Kings of Thomond and descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. A royal lineage for a royally magnificent building.

The plush, luxurious interiors strike a sensational chord as you wander about the various public rooms. There are grand staircases and elegant hallways under sparkling antique chandeliers. Relax by the open , blazing log fires as you soak up the rich atmosphere and drink in the drama.

Peel yourself off the deep couches to try your hand at the ancient skill of archery available to Dromoland Castle’s guests. Learn to shoot with a bow and arrow and practice your stance in the Castle Hotel’s grounds. Some researchers believe archery was practiced as long as 15,000 years ago. Perhaps the O’Briens would have whiled away many an afternoon with their bows on the same patch of land as you do.

Another exciting activity offered here in the magnificent surroundings of the Castle Estate is clay pigeon shooting. This is a thrilling experience requiring a relaxed concentration, an intent eye and speedy reactions. When you learn to master your aim and coordinate your shots you will gain huge satisfaction from adding up your ‘kills’. This a sport for all ages and is all the more spectacular when practiced in such a royal location as this.

Dromoland Castle also has it’s own onsite falconry with owls, hawks and falcons all of which have been bred in captivity. You receive a fascinating insight into the world of birds of prey up close and personal. Watch the hawk’s idiosyncratic hop which was the inspiration for Jurassic Park’s velociraptors and gain a great knowledge from your falconry instructor of this ancient art.

You will be well prepared for the handling and flying of your bird but not so ready for the unexpected adrenaline rush that accompanies falconry. The flushed flash of a falcon’s wing beat as it rushes towards you. Will you hesitate and pull away ? Or stay ? Stay. It is so worth the pure exhilaration as it lands, talons curling your arm while you feel the weight of wildness close to your beating chest.

Reluctantly drag yourself away from your European Castle Hotel to explore the exciting countryside around Dromoland. The Burren is on the West Atlantic coast and is a 260 square kilometre dramatic landscape of limestone karst. The stone staired terraces here consist of limestone layers which were once part of the sea floor over 300 million years ago .It puts our concept of time in a totally different dimension.

The Burren is also unique for it’s diversity of wildflowers and plants where Mediterranean species grow beside Arctic and Alpine plants and is often called the ‘fertile rock’. In a naked limestone landscape these surprising dots of life soften the harshness and add to the unfolded drama.

Co. Clare seems to be the location  for dramatic rocks as just over 30 miles (50kms) away from your European Castle Hotel you will find the majestic Cliffs of Moher. These are sandwiched between the towns of Doolin and Lahinch and are renowned worldwide as one of Ireland’s most popular attractions.

The cliffs appear to have grown out of the water to meet the sky and loom out into the Atlantic- giant’s chunky, puffed fingers frozen in their attempt to touch further lands. At their tallest point the cliffs are 702 feet (214m) and they stub the coast for a distance of 5 miles (8km).

Standing here on a blue skied day you can see as far as the Blasket Islands and the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry, the Maum Turk mountains and the Twelve Pins in Connemara as well as the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. It is life enriching to absorb this thrilling vista in such an exciting landscape.

Dromoland Castle Hotel certainly fulfils all expectations and it is truly an enriching experience to spend a night in this top European Castle Hotel.

10 MOST EXCITING EUROPEAN CASTLE HOTELS TO SPEND A NIGHT – #1

Lough Eske Castle

Lough Eske Castle exterior

Moving further northwards in this journey through the most exciting Castle Hotels in Europe, come to delightful Lough Eske in Co.Donegal. This 5* Castle is just outside Donegal town and is set on it’s own secluded lakeside estate. It has won numerous awards including Luxury Castle Hotel & Spa of the year 2016. It comfortably combines it’s historical traditions with a modern elegance and the hospitality you receive here is legendary.

Lough Eske is a restored 17thcentury castle  set within 43 acres of woodland under the shade of the Blue Stack Mountains. This area is strongly associated with the O’Donnell family and the instability of the middle ages. The castle building itself has re-adapted itself through the ages – from a Jacobean house in the 1600s to an estate mansion in the 1700s and in 1861 the castle was built on the site of the old mansion. The public room interiors have been recreated in an early 20th century Edwardian country mansion style and the bedrooms and spa facilities reflect outstanding 21st century design.

Donegal is an exciting destination to enjoy many thrilling activities. The beaches here on this wild stretch of Atlantic coastline have become renowned for their quality surfing conditions. Why not learn the basics in Bundoran’s surf schools where all the equipment is provided and the beginner surfing class is in shallow water. If you prefer to sit down while you are on the water there are also plenty of kayaking and canoeing options.

There are many riding stables close to Lough Eske Castle Hotel offering various equestrian activities for all levels . This is the perfect landscape to enjoy a horse ride through woodland tracks or a lake shore canter. Maybe you might enjoy the wind rolling off the Atlantic as you gallop across empty white sanded beaches. Cantering would also be fully acceptable.

Visit Glenveagh National Park for an exciting slice of nature. It is set in remote wilderness with pure lakes and a magical native oak woodland in the Derryveagh Mountains. Here on Lough Veagh is Glenveagh Castle an 1800s hunting lodge mansion renowned for it’s lush gardens. The wildlife here is glorious in it’s wide freedom and among many species you might glimpse a hilltop hare or a golden plover as it sweetly calls. Peregrine falcons perch in their cliff faces with eyes opened for unlucky wood pigeons.  You will probably see a raven also and hear their loud croak echoing around the hilltops.

This National Park is where you will have the opportunity of glimpsing a Golden Eagle. Having become extinct in Ireland 6 chicks were reintroduced here in 2001 and more every year. Adult Golden Eagles have now migrated as far south as Co.Kerry . Even if you don’t catch sight of an eagle yourself, you know that they may be watching you. This is indeed a thrilling place to be amidst the abundant wildlife and lush landscape.

Return to your luxurious Castle Hotel and dwell on the sights seen and activities attempted. Lough Eske is a sumptuous, sublime European Castle Hotel. Enjoy it’s hospitable charm as you plan your next return.

Each of these Castle Hotels have unique qualities to entice you to spend a night within  the embrace of their welcome. Why not write out this list and tick each one off as you stay and linger and return again and again and again.

Most people have their own personal fantasy of what it might be like to stay in a Castle in Ireland. Perhaps you see greying turrets hugged by mists swirling in from ever-green rolling hill sides. You might hear soft voices and laughter mingled with the clinking of whisky glasses as the fresh earthy smell of a crackling peat fire throws a warm light on wide smiles.

Maybe the castle grounds boast a reed-ringed, metal hued lake brimming with trout eager for your line. You might stroll through lush castle gardens with a hawk on your arm as a pair of wolfhounds lounge on the lawn. When you stay in the best castles in Ireland this is all a reality and not a mist soaked fantasy.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #10

Clontarf Castle

To the north of Dublin city we come to Clontarf Castle, away from the bustling center but also accessible within 15 minutes . Clontarf Castle marries old world elegance with a contemporary twist. From afternoon tea in the stylish lounge to modern lavish bedrooms with mountain views and impressive aerial views of the foyer , this Castle breathes fresh elegance that it’s Norman ancestry would proudly approve of.

Clontarf Castle

Clontarf is a coastal suburb and reflects the elegance of the castle with it’s 3km promenade and a wooden bridge at one end offering glorious views of Dublin Bay and the Wicklow mountains with the Irish Sea on the horizon. Dollymount Beach is closeby and is also an ideal walking venue. Why not visit Castle Dracula while in Clontarf , an exciting attraction dedicated to the famous novel and it’s author Bram Stoker , born here in this attractive seaside location.

With the capital and the sea at your feet Clontarf Castle is sure to please everyone and will ensure a comfortable , delightful stay while in Ireland.

 TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #9

Ballygally Castle

Head northwards for the next top Castle and Ballygally will be included in this fine list. All fans of Game of Thrones take note, you are entering Winterfell and the Haunted Forest countryside.  Ballygally is a seaside Castle, perched on the stunning Antrim Coast Road overlooking Ballygally Bay across to Scotland. It is less than 30 miles to Belfast and thus makes it a perfect base to explore that enigmatic city as well as the Northern Ireland countryside.

Ballygally Castle

From here you can easily visit the Giant’s Causeway, Glenarm Castle, the Carrick –a-rede rope bridge, Bushmill’s Distillery and Dunluce Castle.

All of Ballygally’s bedrooms have ‘cloud mattresses ensuring restful repose. In fact the theme of relaxation and comfort runs throughout this tasteful hotel.  Although perhaps relaxation is not experienced in the corner turret of the Castle, once a small room, now known as “The Ghost Room” and no longer used!

Dining here is also memorable with only the finest local produce used to create an exciting taste of Northern Ireland .  Enjoy traditional Afternoon Tea here with a crackling fire while the waves roll past the window. Relax and unwind in the Castle gardens or stroll along the sandy seafront, whatever your preference, Ballygally Castle guarantees a wonderful stay in a Castle in Ireland.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #8

Cabra Castle

Just over an hour’s drive from Dublin we come to the next top castle to stay in Ireland. Nestled into a corner where the 3 counties of Meath, Monaghan and Cavan converge, it is the latter which proudly claims Cabra Castle. You will be thoroughly looked after here with your every want and need carefully attended.

Cabra Castle

The luxury accommodation here includes medieval style four poster bedrooms and a traditional courtyard restoration with suitably tasteful rooms here also. The Courtroom restaurant has first floor views over the gardens and you can admire these while having a drink on the ground floor terrace edging onto the lawn.

Golf and tennis can be played on the Castle grounds and nearby clay shooting, horse riding, archery and fishing is available to you . Dun a Ri forest park is also close by to wander a while.

Less than an hour’s drive will bring you to the iconic heritage site of Newgrange – older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids!  Ireland is the land of poetry and just 4 miles away in Carrickmacross is the Patrick Kavanagh Centre with information and exhibits devoted to one of the nation’s favorite poets.

There is indeed a poetry in the welcome received as a guest in top class Cabra Castle where the mix of friendly charm in a luxurious setting ensures it remains one of the best castles to stay in Ireland.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #7

Waterford Castle

Previously renowned as the city where the world’s best crystal was created, Waterford is now home to one of the top Castles to stay in Ireland. Waterford Castle goes one step further than a moat and a bridge, instead it has its own 310 acre private island! You will be whisked across to your intimate destination by the private car ferry.

Waterford Castle Waterford Castle

This Castle offers only 19 bedrooms as accommodation so a cherished intimacy certainly sums up the relationship you will have with this inviting island retreat. However you can enjoy the company of others if you wish as the island incorporates a golf course.

It is also only 10 minutes from Waterford city where you can tour the Crystal Visitor Centre, the Bishop’s Palace and Reginald’s Tower. The latter is a medieval museum , the oldest civic building in Ireland , built in 1003 and also home to Viking treasures. Waterford’s Copper Coast is worth exploring if you can drag yourself away from your sumptuous setting. You also won’t be disappointed if you visit the pretty seaside village of Dunmore East which is less than half an hour away.

Nothing about Waterford Castle is disappointing, with it’s timeless elegance and intimate setting – it will remain one of the top castles in Ireland for a long time to come.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #6

Barberstown Castle

Another on the list of Best Castles to stay in Ireland is Barberstown Castle which is less than 20 miles from Dublin and gives you the best of both worlds – an out of town location with easy access to Ireland’s capital city.

Barberstown Castle

The original castle structure has been extended tastefully in Elizabethan and Victorian eras and this unique mix has given this building an air of confident individualism.  Enjoy the 20 acres of surrounding gardens and relax by the log fire in the Tea Room after your stroll.

Barberstown is situated in Co. Kildare which is possibly Ireland’s best county for golf courses (possibly……no arguments please) – these include The K Club, The Carton House Golf Club and The Royal Curragh club , Ireland’s oldest golf course. Barberstown is also a perfect location for all things equine as the famous Curragh racecourse is nearby , home of the Irish derby and if you prefer the lengthier jump races then you have a choice of two  – Punchestown and Naas racecourses. Needless to say horse riding facilities are available close to this Castle also.

Attention to detail is paramount in Barberstown with a warm welcome for everyone. You will be pleased you chose this Castle during your stay in Ireland.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #5

Ballynahinch Castle

Ballynahinch Castle is folded into the foothills of the Twelve Bens Mountain Range. The wild, bleak beauty of Connemara, it’s not just experienced here – it happens to you – in this unassuming, singular Castle. Rugged, natural and real, the persona of Connemara is reflected in the character of this Estate.

Ballynahinch Castle

That reed encircled lake is here with its very own salmon and sea trout fishery. The 450 acre estate also includes 5kms of winding walks through oak and beech woodlands, beside the Owenmore River where you might delight in watching otters playing in the current.

You may want to wander further with guided walking tours of Connemara National Park , Diamond Hill by Letterfrack or the majestic Maumturk Mountains. The fishery manager and in-house walking guide are available for a chat with a morning coffee in the Castle’s Fisherman’s Pub. Ballynahinch also offers clay and woodcock shooting, cycling and a guided boat trip on Roundstone Bay to visit the once inhabited Inishlacken Island.

Rooms in the Castle have a sophisticated country style and most have views of the river and woodland, which might prevent you from having an early night!  Dinner at the Owenmore Restaurant is another highlight where local ingredients of fresh fish, lamb and game are imbued in the menu giving you the palate of Connemara.

Anyone who stays in Ballynahinch Castle will leave with a corner of their heart forever reserved for this unique, rugged corner of Ireland.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #4

Ballyseede Castle

Roaming further south to one of the best Castles in Ireland, you will treasure your time in charming Ballyseede Castle, near Tralee in Co.Kerry.  This central location is a wonderful base to tour the renowned Kerry landscape. Situated at the doorway to the Dingle Peninsula, you will also have easy access to Killarney, the famous Ring of Kerry and it is a short skip across on the ferry to Co. Clare.

Ballyseede Castle

This Castle dates from the late 16th century when the rebellious Earls of Desmonds used it as their garrison. After their defeat, the new landlord’s rent was the payment of a Midsummer’s Day Rose, so it is easy to see why financial institutions were relieved when this practice failed to continue into the modern era!

History has continued to seep down through the ages with Hilda the friendly ghost walking the basement corridors – Ghostbusters book your stay in this Irish Castle on March 24th as this date is deemed a certainty for a phantasmal appearance. Perhaps she is admiring and approving of the present day elegance of the Castle!

This elegance is seen throughout the building with the unique oak staircase emerging from the lobby, elaborate drawing rooms perfect for partaking in afternoon tea and charming accommodation which include four-poster beds. Remember those Irish Wolfhounds? Well, one resides here – Einstein and his smaller friend, Mr. Higgins will happily entertain you in the formal gardens.

This personable Castle charmer will hypnotize you with it’s friendly, relaxed atmosphere and soon you will want to extend your stay and also book your return trip.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #3

Dromoland Castle

Almost always a certainty on anyone’s list of best castles to stay in Ireland is the legendary Dromoland Castle.  It is less than ten miles away from Shannon Airport and thus a great first or last night (and often both) Castle stay when considering a comfortable dash for your flight or alternatively use that precious time to stay an extra while in luxurious surroundings.

Dromoland Castle

It truly is a Royal Castle, historical home to the Kings of Thomond, the O’Briens, who trace their genetic line back to Brian Boru the King of Ireland. Dromoland oozes top class style and luxury in a dramatic setting. Sparkling chandeliers permeate the castle, opulent furnishings at every turn, exquisite dining in the Earl of Thomond restaurant and enjoy wondrous cocktail creations in the Library Bar.

Dromoland has its own renowned golf club and after 18 holes of challenging activity you deserve to relax and pamper yourself in the spa with a full range of treatments including the ‘Fairway to Heaven’ which includes a specific golfer’s massage.

What about that fantasy of a bird of prey on your arm? H is for Happiness with your Hawk in Dromoland’s on site falconry where you will also meet species of falcons and owls. Horse riding, fishing, pony and trap rides, walking and cycling, clay shooting and archery are also available here. Dromoland certainly offers guests a royal time within lavish surroundings and will never disappoint.  Expect professional service and five star accommodations throughout your stay at this Irish castle.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #2

Lough Eske Castle

Onwards to Lough Eske Castle , winner of so many accolades the space here is too limited to mention all of them! This five star lakeside estate is spilling over with luxury in a sublime setting less than 5 miles from Donegal town. The style here is a contemporary, classic country elegance hugged in a friendly embrace.

Lough Eske Castle

Although the option to linger and enjoy the Castle’s Solis spa with it’s wide range of therapies is certainly tempting and must be indulged in during your stay , the wider landscape of sublime Co. Donegal can also be easily explored from Lough Eske. Visit the Slieve League cliffs, Glenveagh National Park , Donegal Castle and the many unique villages and towns along the coastline which adds to Donegal’s character.

Activities such as horse riding, hill walking, archery , kayaking and climbing are all available nearby and bikes are available to rent from the Castle. Donegal is famous for it’s surfing and  two of Ireland’s best surfing beaches are close by – Rossnowlagh and Bundoran. It is quite rare to be able to say that you will return to your castle stay after a day’s surfing!

Rare indeed is the wonderful experience of staying in Lough Eske – one of the top 10 castles to stay in Ireland in 2017. All who stay in this classic Castle will undoubtedly include it as a firm favorite for the future.

TOP 10 CASTLES TO STAY IN IRELAND 2017 – #1

Ashford Castle

It seems like ages ago but we did start off with a list of individual fantasies you might hope to see if lucky enough to stay in a castle in Ireland. Roll all of these into one and you get the sublime Ashford Castle. This Castle is the one to measure all others. Nothing is understated here – it is majestically and unashamedly a Castle which deserves it’s capital C. Faultless, breath-taking, indulgent, incomparable – the list of superlatives might be longer than the list of accolades but it would take too long to go through them all.

Ashford Castle

All of the rooms are designed to perfection, nothing is spared in their luxury. The food is exquisite wherever you choose to treat your tastebuds – finer dining in the George V, less formal in Cullen’s at the Cottage and a whole other indulgence of Afternoon Tea in the Connaught Room.

The list of activities available here also ensures that you will not want to wander off. Falconry deserves a special mention as the experience of a ‘Hawk Walk’ is truly unforgettable. Fishing, clay shooting, archery, horse riding, golf , traditional boat trips, tennis and lake cruising are all on site. Keep in mind if exhaustion sets in you have the Spa at Ashford to revive you which is so special it deserves a separate article, however space and time is precious.

Indeed this is where the list of top castles in Ireland must end ,but how fitting to leave on a high. Ashford is a spectacular , proudly luxurious Castle – perhaps more an experience than a place.

Choose any of these 10 top options and you will have no doubt that you are staying in the best of castles in Ireland.

When I was a child we used to dress up for Halloween however here in Ireland this behavior was seen as a little odd and only tolerated as my Mother was Canadian. I remember going trick or treating only once and the reaction I received at most doors was a little bemused and I came home with more money than sweets. In those days Halloween was more commonly known as All Souls Eve and was a religious holiday first and foremost. How things have changed! Already there are decorations up everywhere, the kids are making jack-o-lanterns at playschool and chocolate, candy and costumes are flying out the doors in all the shops. If you want to experience Halloween in Ireland at it’s best there is nowhere better than the City of Derry in Northern Ireland. Their Halloween Carnival is the best I’ve seen – if you want to feel strange at Halloween in Derry DON’T dress up. Seriously the whole town is in costume! As I mentioned in a previous post, Derry is the 2013 European City of Culture so no doubt this year will see the Carnival bigger and better than ever. I can’t wait to see the fireworks display which takes place on the Foyne River making it easy to get a spectacular view from anywhere in Derry. Check out their facebook page to keep up to date with all the spooky goings on in Derry.

Ireland is a great destination for a Family Vacation. One of the great things about Ireland is there is much less age segregation here than in many parts of the Western World so you will regularly see family groups out and about together. Family Vacations in Ireland can be for just the nucleus family or why not bring the extended family along for a trip of a lifetime that the whole family can remember. Babies, Toddlers, Children, Teenagers, Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc can all be accommodated with plenty of attractions to entertain the whole family. From Dublin Zoo to the Aillwee Caves, from Blarney Castle to the Titanic Exhibition, the country is covered in family friendly attractions. Kids and adults alike will love taking a Viking Splash Tour in Dublin or exploring the Muckross Farms in Killarney. Once we know the age range and interests of your group, we can customize the trip to suit everyone’s needs. While it’s rarely warm enough for swimming in the sea in Ireland lots of hotels have indoor swimming pools so if your kids love to swim do let us know. There are also lots of activities in Ireland for the whole family to enjoy. Hiking, biking, horse riding, falconry, fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting and kayaking to name but a few. Children are welcome in pubs in Ireland up until 9pm so with plenty of afternoon sessions taking place (especially on Sundays) you will still get to experience a traditional music session which the children are also sure to enjoy. Most family friendly hotels also have babysitting services available so just ask if you’d like to include some adult time on your Family Vacation in Ireland and we will take care of it for you.

As I sat and watched the Rose of Tralee 2013 being crowned last night I got to thinking about how much this festival has been a part of Irish Life over the last 50+ years. It’s the TV event of the summer and children all over the country are allowed to stay up late to watch the Rose of Tralee. I think every girl in Ireland at some point aspires to one day compete in the Rose of Tralee – a more attainable dream than that of popstar or princess perhaps? For the girls that do get to live the dream it is a whirlwind week of fun and a chance to meet with girls from all over the world, all with roots on our small island of Ireland. I love to hear the stories of how the girls have ended up in far flung corners of the globe. Some are studying and working abroad while others are second and third generation Irish for whom this can sometimes be their first trip to Ireland.

If you are lucky enough to attend the Rose of Tralee Festival don’t expect to get much sleep. There is always an exciting and full program of events with live music and dancing on the streets of Tralee, a food and craft market, workshops, roadshows, sessions and much much more. For more information about next years Rose of Tralee Festival visit www.roseoftralee.ie

 

Sunny

Well I guess it’s weather and we’re in Ireland but it’s certainly not Irish Weather as we know it! This heat wave we are experiencing in Ireland has us all hot and bothered. And our guests on Vacation in Ireland even more so, even though many are used to much hotter temperatures than those we have been experiencing this summer in Ireland so far. Let me explain…

This can really be done in two words – Air Conditioning! Or lack thereof…

As temperatures in Ireland rarely go above 70 this is normally not an issue – maybe we suffer one weekend of discomfort in the year but as we Irish are all rushing about trying to squeeze a whole summers worth of activities into one weekend we don’t have much time to notice. And we daren’t complain as it may bring back the ever present Irish rain (or mist, fog, drizzle, well you get the picture) and then where would we be? This year however the one obligatory weekend has now stretched to weeks and the novelty is beginning to wear off. Irish Hardware Stores are sold out of fans, water reservoirs are running low (unheard of in rainy Ireland) and we are even daring to start to complain!

We Irish love our bit of sun and most of us travel abroad to get our annual fix as it’s normally the only way we’re guaranteed more than a weekend of continuous sunshine. Spain, Portugal, France and the Canaries top the favorite holiday spots for the typical Irish sun seeker. However I have come to realize while we love the sun we also love returning to the lovely Air Conditioned apartments and Hotel rooms and getting a good nights sleep.

Which leads me to the point of this little entry…

If you are traveling in Ireland this year do be prepared for the fact that most Irish Hotels do not have air conditioning. Some do but it’s definitely something you need to request if it’s important to you. And while prior to this month I would have advised it as being a non-issue I am having to eat my words and suggest that it may be worth requesting if traveling to Ireland in July or August. No doubt by September we will be back to our usual typical Irish Weather and it will be another 20 years before we see a summer like this one! But at least we can go back to complaining about the rain and normality will be restored.