Anyone familiar with this blog will know I’m a history geek with a passion for castles. The Wee White Dug loves a castle too – like mother like son. Even Mr G has come to realise that castles are cool. Gone are the days when he’d drag his feet dejectedly from hill fort to fortalice, with a face as long as a wet weekend. So, you’ll understand our excitement (understatement of the century) when we were invited to stay at a Scottish castle. Better still, we’d have the magnificent old pile all to ourselves. Merrylegs Lord Toby (the Wee White Dug’s Sunday name) would be able to live up to his lordly moniker. The castle in question was Old Newton of Doune, a self-catering let available for exclusive use through Cottage & Castles.
With a fortress to call home for a couple of days, we planned an itinerary that would allow us to explore in and around Doune, while enjoying as much time as possible living like lairds.
Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve
Keen to enjoy some fresh air before we cooried in for the night, we stopped at Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve on our way to Doune. We try to squeeze as much daylight as possible out of the autumn and winter months.
Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve is a raised peat bog that was formed by rotting mosses over thousands of years.
It’s a peaceful spot and a nice place for a wander. A viewing platform on the edge of the reserve gives visitors a bird’s eye view of the landscape.
A boardwalk circles the bog, allowing you to get close to the watery pools to study the flora and fauna living in them. Dotted around the trail are information boards and artworks which help bring the place to life.
I love peat bog. It’s full of colour and life – dragonflies (in abundance during our visit), lizards, birds, bog cotton blowing on the breeze, strange looking mosses and tiny, delicate flowers. It makes me laugh when I hear it described as barren.
The boy’s a fan too. He loves peering into dark peaty pools and would hop in if we didn’t watch him like a hawk.
Time to live like lairds – our stay in a Scottish castle
After our walk we stocked up on provisions in Doune, before heading towards Doune Castle aka Castle Leoch, Winterfell and Swamp Castle. Doune Castle is a popular tourist attraction due to its Outlander, Game of Thrones and Monty Python connections. Most people who visit don’t realise another fortress stands a stone’s throw away. It’s smaller, but equally steeped in history.
Pulling up outside Old Newton of Doune we were awestruck. It was a stunning old building. The history geek in me was screaming “I’M GOING TO STAY IN A CASTLE”.
A welcome tour of Old Newton of Doune.
Owner Vicki greeted us with a warm welcome and lots of attention for the boy. He took an instant shine to her, as did we.
Our stay started with a tour of the castle and a run down of how everything worked. Vicki shared lots of interesting snippets about the castle’s history as we wandered from room to room.
Old Newton of Doune was built in the 16th century, but records suggest there’s been a house on the site for at least 700 years. The fortified tower is a traditional Scottish laird’s house, which has been extended considerably over the years.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Sir Walter Scott and David Hume had all stayed at Old Newton of Doune. In recent years the cast and crew of Outlander have too. The show’s costume designer Terry Dresbach was so taken by the castle when she visited to film scenes in the grounds, that she moved in and lived there for several years.
After our tour Vicki said goodbye and left us to settle in. I was in full on history fanatic mode. Staying at Old Newton of Doune was going to be like living in a museum full of fascinating artefacts.
Sir Walter Scott or Bonnie Prince Charlie?
We wouldn’t be falling over each other either with six bedrooms, five bathrooms, a boot room, scullery, kitchen, chapel (once a dungeon), music room, dining room, drawing room and a large public lounge with a TV and pool table to rattle around in.
It was time to get down to the important business of choosing our bedroom.
I fancied staying in the Sir Walter Scott room (it’s where he wrote ‘The Lady of the Lake’), but Mr G wanted to stay in the Charles Edward Stuart room. Conversations I never thought we’d have – arguing about which historical figure’s bedroom we should sleep in.
Vicki told us the rooms used by Sir Walter Scott and David Hume were known as they’d been documented, however it wasn’t clear which room Bonnie Prince Charlie had slept in. An educated guess would suggest the master suite at the top of the tower might have been considered fit for a prince.
In the end we chose royal lodgings over literary.
One thing we both agreed on, was that we wouldn’t be sleeping in the David Hume room. There was a priest hole in the cupboard of his room.
Priest holes were commonly found in wealthy Catholic households after the Reformation. With Catholicism banned, mass was often held in secret at home. But where to hide a priest if the law appeared at your door? In a secret chamber of course.
My imagination had conjured up images of ghostly clerics creeping out of the cupboard in the dead of night.
The priest hole spooked and fascinated me in equal measure. Despite several visits to it, I never worked out how to open it. Maybe that’s just as well.
The castle grounds
After choosing our bedroom, we headed outside to explore the grounds.
We discovered a walled garden where fruit, vegetables and herbs were growing and large, secure grounds for the boy to run around in.
He was in his element and charged about letting off steam. Castle life seemed to agree with him.
Peeking over the treetops at the foot of the garden we could see Doune’s other castle.
Settling in to castle life
I’d love to tell you I cooked us a banquet fit for a prince on the AGA but I didn’t. I used it to heat up wood fired truffle and salsiccia pizzas from the local Co-op. They were surprisingly good and tasted authentically Italian.
We ate them in the castle kitchen, while the boy snoozed in a bed Vicki had kindly left for him.
After dinner we headed to the Victorian wing of the castle to relax in the Long Room.
I lit a fire and we watched TV and chatted, as Mr G played a few games of pool.
It was a lovely, relaxing evening.
At home we climb a flight of stairs to reach our bedroom. At Old Newton of Doune we had an epic journey ahead of us.
Down a flight of stairs we went, through the scullery, then kitchen, up a flight of stairs into the tower. In one side of the drawing room and out the other, then spiralling up a turnpike staircase to reach the top of the tower.
Phew – we were exhausted. Our bed was super comfy and the linen smelt lovely and fresh. It wasn’t long before we were sound asleep.
Day two at Old Newton of Doune
Once we were up and ready the next morning, I made us a hearty bowl of porridge each with banana, coconut and chocolate. We washed it down with a strong pot of coffee and were ready to spend the day exploring in and around Doune.
Walk – Kilmadock old churchyard (3 1/4 miles)
We started the day with a walk to the old churchyard at Kilmadock. The walk followed a marked trail of sorts and led us along the wooded bank of the River Teith. It was muddy in parts and covered in tree roots which made it difficult to get up a good pace.
After a while the path petered out, but we found a faint trail that climbed up through the trees.
We emerged from the woodland onto a grassy path which skirted the riverbank.
A short while later Old Kilmadock Churchyard came into view. It was surrounded by a field full of turnips.
It’s thought the church and graveyard at Old Kilmadock could date back as far as the 9th century. The cemetery contains some wonderful old gravestones, many carved with work tools to indicate the profession of the deceased.
The church at Kilmadock was abandoned in 1756 and much of the stone was taken to Doune and used to build a new church.
We retuned to Doune along the A84, which was less peaceful, but far quicker than our walk to the churchyard had been.
Time for lunch
We’d worked up an appetite on our ramble, so grabbed a takeaway lunch from the Buttercup Cafe to eat back at Old Newton of Doune.
The cafe’s dog friendly, but there’s no point staying in a castle if you’re not going to make the most of it.
After devouring milkshakes and some delicious homemade quiche, it was time to spend some time apart. I’d encouraged Mr G to book a tour at Deanston Distillery as I’d gone on one a few weeks earlier and loved it.
Mr G toddled off to learn about whisky, while the boy and I enjoyed some alone time in our fortified house.
We visited the chapel, then reclined on a day bed in the music room like a couple of dandies.
Despite its dark interior, there was something really calming about the music room.
When Mr G returned from his distillery tour we headed out to visit another local attraction.
Argaty Red Kites
We were off to spot some birds of prey at Argaty Red Kites.
At 2:30 p.m. daily you can watch the birds being fed from the comfort of a hide. The birds are wild, so they’re only fed a small snack to stop them becoming dependent on humans.
We’d booked online as feeding time tends to be popular.
Besides birds of prey, Argaty is a great place to watch a variety of native birds feeding.
Before feeding time we were given a short talk about the Red Kite. It was interesting and good to learn about the birds we were (hopefully) about to see.
The kites were true to their scavenger reputation. At 2:30 p.m. they were circling the hide looking for food.
We watched twenty of them, swooping for scraps and sometimes colliding in mid-air. It was amazing.
Our visit to Argaty Red Kites was £14 well spent. Since we visited they’ve built a red squirrel hide, so we’ll definitely be returning again soon.
Another night of castle life
It was our last night of lairdly living, so that called for a dinner fit for a prince. Only the formal dining room and finest tableware would do.
As luck would have it, we were a short distance away from the town of Callender. Somewhere we knew we could lay our hands on one of our favourite delicacies from the Western Isles.
A Stornoway white pudding supper from Mhor Fish. And what better wine to accompany it than a bottle of Dom Perignon. We’re not completely lacking in class you know.
After dinner we retired to the music room to finish our bottle of fizz.
We spent another lovely, relaxing night chatting by the fire, before tiredness got the better of us and we made the epic journey back upstairs to bed.
Our stay in a Scottish Castle – the verdict
What can I say about our first stay in a Scottish castle other than WOW. We didn’t want to leave. It was such a privilege to have the opportunity to spend a weekend somewhere so steeped in history. As a lifelong history geek, Old Newton of Doune, with its links to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Sir Walter Scott and David Hume was the stuff of dreams for me.
Besides being a historic gem, the castle was also cosy, homely and comfortable. It had a lovely peaceful atmosphere too. We’d been worried it might be cold, stuffy and spooky, so were glad it wasn’t.
A week at Old Newton of Doune in low season, costs less than we spent on a hotel room in New York this summer to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Suddenly, staying in a castle doesn’t seem quite so extravagant for a special celebration, or a holiday with friends and family.
Thanks to Cottages and Castle for arranging another fantastic pet-friendly stay at one of their amazing self-catering properties. Thanks also to Vicki for hosting us in her beautiful home. Although we stayed at Old Newton of Doune on a complimentary basis, all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……