Muchalls Castle Provides Accommodations Fit for a Laird

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 nests.

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.

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