Does anywhere in the world do castles like Scotland? They are everywhere—even ‘normal’ houses tend to include the odd turret. Fabulous. While we drove around Scotland, we would turn a corner, and there would be a castle, sitting atop a hill or rising from the mist in a loch. I would shout ‘Stop!’ and we would park somewhere and look. Often we knew a photo would never manage to capture the scene: those turrets reaching to the sky, the walls stark against the water, mist swirling around the base. I am not much interested in the history of tribal wars or the dates of battles, but castles make you remember stories of princesses and sea monsters and dragons. I love castles, especially ruined ones.
We left Balintore Castle and drove north, on the snow road, to Balmoral Castle. We thought it would be interesting to see the castle built by the royals. There was a car park, with a £3 charge, and a short walk over a bridge spanning the River Dee to the gift shop and entrance gate. That’s it. The grounds were closed, and from the road we couldn’t see anything—not even a turret. The £3 charge was basically to enter the gift shop!
Instead, we went to Ballatar (where the Queen pops to the Co-op when she runs out of teabags—there’s even a bus stop right outside Balmoral, which is handy for her). There is the ‘royal station’ where the Queen’s train used to arrive, but it’s not used today and the rails have been removed, which sort of fitted with our experience of the whole day.
Of course, I still had no idea where our final location was going to be. I was hoping it would be less cold than Balintore Castle—and it was. Husband had booked another castle for us to stay in, and this one was very comfy. We arrived at Thornton Castle about 4pm, and to my relief, this one was not derelict.
Our host welcomed us, and gave us a tour of the grounds from the battlements. I pretended to be completely comfortable with walking along a narrow walkway 4 storeys high with only a low parapet between me and certain death. Our host pointed to a round tower, which dated from about 1200’s, and a square tower with dated from about 1500’s, and the remainder of the house which was added much later. Thornton Castle has been in the same family for many generations, and is full of family paintings and artefacts (and not so many stuffed animals as the last castle!)
Our Airbnb was in the square tower, and it was magnificent. We had a beautiful bedroom with a little adjoining sitting room. Above was another bedroom (which we didn’t need) and a bathroom, and there was a kettle and fridge so we could make our own drinks. We also had use of the billiard room, which was very grand, but I preferred our little sitting room. The rooms were reached by a spiral staircase (a bit dangerous if very tired or drunk). Breakfast was included in the price, and this was served in the dining room.
Breakfast was amazing, and deserves its own paragraph. We were shown into the dining room, where the long table was set with two places opposite each other. The sideboard was laid with cereals, and juices, and fresh fruit, bowls of yogurt, bread and a toaster. Our host offered us a range of cooked food, so Husband had a full Scottish breakfast each day, but I was happy with yogurt and fruit and cereal. We had a big pot of good coffee (very important) and I sat there, feeling like I was living in Downton Abbey, and loving it. It was such a treat. Our host was very friendly. It was slightly odd being waited on by the owner of the castle, but I managed to cope! It was perfect.
Thornton Castle is near the coast, so we had some lovely meals in little fishing villages. We also visited Dunnottar Castle, but I will tell you about that tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x
If you fancy staying at Thornton Castle, the link is here: