We were recently invited to visit Floors Castle and Gardens in the Scottish Borders. Floors Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Roxburghe. It’s Scotland’s largest inhabited castle. With me being a history geek, Mr G a connoisseur of soup and sandwiches and the boy a lover of good walks, Floors Castle and Gardens sounded like the perfect day trip destination for us.
Floors Castle and Gardens are located on the outskirts of the Scottish Borders town of Kelso. The drive from Edinburgh to Kelso takes a little over an hour.
The five star visitor attraction is open to the public from Easter until the end of September. Entry to the castle, gardens and grounds costs £15 per adult and children go free.
About Floors Castle
The origins of Floors Castle can be traced back to an early 17th century tower house, known as the House of Floris (flowers).
The castle as it stands today, is an architectural masterpiece, created by two famous Scottish architects. In 1721, William Adam, designed an elegant Georgian mansion for John Ker the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. His design incorporated the old tower house. In 1837, the 6th Duke of Roxburghe commissioned William Playfair to remodel the castle. The building work took ten years to complete and the end result was a huge Victorian mansion.
A Floors Castle tour
We arrived at Floors Castle on a gloriously sunny May morning – perfect weather for country walks, al fresco dining and exploring pretty gardens.
The castle grounds, gardens, gift shops and cafe terraces are dog friendly. The only place dogs can’t go, is inside the castle and cafes.
We were kicking off our visit with a tour of the castle. Since I’m the die hard history geek, I went first for a nosey round the Duke of Roxburghe’s gaff, while the boys explored the castle grounds.
Floors Castle tours are self-guided, but there are guides located in each of the rooms. They’re really knowledgeable and share lots of interesting information about the castle and the people who’d lived in it.
Someone who really left their mark on Floors Castle, was Mary Goelet, or Duchess May, the American socialite wife of the 8th Duke. She was an avid collector of 17th century tapestries and ornate French furniture. Her tapestries are on display in the castle and are one of the highlights of the tour.
The strangest and most unexpected room visited on the tour is the Bird Room, which is full of stuffed birds.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tour. After it finished, I met up with the boys outside. Now it was Mr G’s turn to peek inside, while I basked in sunshine.
The Woodland Walk
Floors Castle has two waymarked trails in its grounds – the Woodland Walk and the Riverside Walk. We had time for a short ramble before lunch, so decided to check out the Woodland Walk. The woodland was a gorgeous, oasis of calm carpeted in bluebells. We strolled amongst giant oak, beech and sweet chestnut trees, enjoying the shade they offered.
The walk led us to The Terrace Cafe, just in time for lunch.
Lunch – The Terrace Cafe
We had an outside table booked on the cafe terrace, inside the Walled Garden. Sunshine, greenery and good company. All the key ingredients were there for the perfect al fresco dining experience. The menu looked good too.
My expectations were high, as The Terrace Cafe sources much of the food featured on their menu from the estate and local producers. There’s nothing to beat locally produced food. Food that travels a short distance to reach the table, arrives fresh and full of flavour. It’s better for the environment too.
Mr G had mushroom soup to start. He loved it.
We both chose the same sandwich – a crispy fried chicken wrap, with garlic mayonnaise, baby gem lettuce and homemade tomato salsa, served with salad, plus a side order of fries. The food was delicious. The highlight for me was the side salad, picked fresh from the Walled Garden. The beetroot was the best I’ve ever tasted.
And to help us cool down – lavender lemonade – Mmmmm.
We might’ve been in the Scottish Borders, but our al fresco lunch felt positively Mediterranean.
The Apple Shed Gift shop & Deli
After leaving The Terrace Cafe, we popped next door to visit The Apple Shed Gift Shop & Deli.
The boy loves visiting shops, so was in his element. His excitement was undoubtedly down to the enticing food smells surrounding him and the fact he was fussed over and given biscuits the second he set foot over the threshold.
I was in my element too. There were soooooo many things I was itching to buy. In the end I chose a pretty, pink blanket, made in the Scottish Borders using recycled materials. It was pretty and kind to the planet. Win – win. I couldn’t resist buying some fudge made in the castle kitchen either. Oh, and a Scotland colouring book for adults. What can I say. I’m like a magpie when confronted with nice things.
Walled Garden and Millennium Garden
Now, it was time to check out the castle gardens. Floors Castle has two gardens – the Walled Garden, which is the estate’s kitchen garden and the Millennium Garden which is a formal French-style garden.
We started in the Walled Garden, where a team of gardeners were hard at work tending to the tasty produce that would soon make its way onto the cafe menu. Produce grown in the Walled Garden is also sold in the The Apple Shed Gift Shop & Deli.
The centrepiece of the garden looked like a giant birdcage. There weren’t any birds inside though, just soft fruits growing.
And for produce that requires a bit more heat than Scottish weather can offer, there were large Victorian glasshouses.
Leaving the Walled Garden, we meandered into the Millennium Garden. The garden, as the name suggests was created to celebrate the new millennium.
The focal point in the garden is some M shaped box hedging. Two large letters represent 2000 in Roman numerals. Beneath the numerals, are the intertwining initials of the 10th Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe – G, V and R. It’s all rather lovely and very Versailles.
We rested in the garden for a while. Us Scots are not accustomed to heat. We spend much of the year moaning about bad weather, then when the sun comes out we moan about that too.
The Riverside walk
Suitably rested, we were ready to tackle The Riverside Walk to round off our fun day out in the Scottish Borders.
The walk is a circular loop, a little over two miles long. We picked up the trail from the castle, then headed through parkland where sheep were enjoying an afternoon nap.
The walk led us gently downhill towards the River Tweed, before turning to follow the course of the river towards the Borders town of Kelso. On the opposite side of the river, we could see a large, grassy mound and some broken, fragments of wall. They’re all that remains of a once mighty fortress.
Due to its strategic location in the turbulent Scottish Borders, Roxburgh Castle was one of the most important castles in Scotland. It changed hands many times over the centuries, as Scotland warred with England – the Auld Enemy next door. Scotland even lost a king, while laying siege to Roxburgh Castle. James II was killed on 3rd August 1460, when a cannon backfired, as the Scots besieged the English held castle. The Scots won the castle back, fulfilling a prophecy which said Roxburgh Castle would only fall to a dead man. A holly tree in the grounds of Floors Castle marks the spot where the king is said to have died.
Our riverside ramble was idyllic. Swans glided, gracefully along the river, passing fly fishermen in the water, as sheep grazed by the banks of the Tweed. It was hard to imagine the place had every been anything other than tranquil.
We finished our walk back at Floors Castle.
It felt like we’d just arrived, yet five hours had flown by in the blink of an eye and it was time to head home.
It’d been a wonderful visit.
Farewell to Floors
Before leaving, we popped into the castle’s Courtyard Gift Shop to buy some yummy Scottish ice cream.
All sunny days out in Scotland should end with ice cream.
Our entry to Floors Castle and Gardens and lunch at The Terrace Cafe were provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are entirely my own.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you may also like this one which features a winter break in the Scottish Borders.
Until next time …