By Caroline Scutt
Reed Travel Features
STONEHAVEN, Scotland -- Muchalls Castle, an imposing stone
building guarded by a rookery of screeching crows, conjures up
magical (and slightly unnerving) images of ghosts, goblins and
other things that go bump in the night. Nevertheless, our hosts,
Glenda, Mike and Angela, greeted our small group with warm smiles
as we stepped through the threshold into the hall. "Welcome to our
home," said Glenda Cormack, who shares ownership of the castle with
Mike Acklom. And what a home it is.
Although some of the rooms are off limits to visitors, guests
are free to wander through the three main reception rooms, which
are filled with antique furniture, vases spilling over with
fragrant flowers and family pictures. The plaster ceilings in the
reception rooms date to 1624, and the Great Hall features an
enormous fireplace ornamented with Egyptian figures and the royal
coat of arms.
Muchalls Castle was built in 1619 by a member of the Burnett
family, whose ancestral home is the famous Crathes Castle. The
castle is an unaltered example of a Scottish 17th century laird's
fortified house. Of course, modern conveniences like central
heating, electricity and indoor plumbing have been added.
Lured with promises of striking views, I volunteered to brave
the winding, narrow stairs up to a room at the top of the castle
near the turrets. I was not disappointed.
Chosen for its position overlooking the North Sea and
constructed on the foundation of an ancient fortress, the house
today is surrounded by five acres of both untamed and landscaped
grounds. I was assigned to the Tartan Room.
The castle's hosts are responsible for every aspect of
caretaking, from cooking (Mike whips up wonderful gourmet dinners)
to tiling the bathrooms. Roomy doesn't adequately describe the
bathroom adjoining the Tartan Room (only one of the rooms doesn't
have a private bath). The long, deep tub offers a terrific view at
the window, through which a guest can spot crows working on their
Down the hall, the Turret Room, complete with matching turrets
and a large bed canopied with jade silk, should appeal to newlyweds
or couples looking for a little romance. Guests interested in
history might prefer the laird's bedroom, with a gold and crimson
canopy that must predate the castle itself, as it is reputed to
have belonged to James III, who reigned in the 15th century.
As in all fortified buildings of the period, the ground floor
consisted of a series of vaulted storerooms, now transformed into
unusual bedrooms, such as the twin-bedded Blue Room, which offers a
view of the sea. Each of the bedrooms is individually decorated,
and the sizes vary. Telephones and televisions are nowhere to be
found. Guests are lulled to sleep by the wind's gentle rapping
against the windowpanes and are awakened by the cries of crows.
At breakfast, Glenda asked the group, "Did you order the papa
bear, mama bear or baby bear?" She was referring to portions of
porridge, which were served as a first course before the eggs,
sausage, bacon and other breakfast treats appeared.
The original vaulted kitchen is transformed from a warm and
sunny breakfast room to a candlelit dining room at night. A
four-course dinner, which is priced at around $45 per person and
which must be prearranged, features Scottish and continental fare.
Net rates at the property range from about $180 to $230. Credit
cards are not accepted.
The castle also can be rented for small meetings and
conferences. Bookings must be made in advance, and the castle is
closed during January and February. Children under the age of 12
are not permitted to stay at the castle.
Muchalls is 10 miles from Aberdeen and a short drive from the
seaside town of Stonehaven. Local attractions include golf,
fishing, horseback riding and excursions to other castles such as
Crathes, Glamis and Balmoral. To make reservations, the local
numbers are (011) 44-156 973-1170; fax (011) 44-156 973-1480.