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Game of Thrones – with mod cons: A review of a Scottish castle festooned with boutique comforts 


A stay at Kilmartin Castle comes with a few warnings.

Check-in and you’ll need to mind your head, watch your step and keep an eye out for the occasional bat – they like it in there.

But if you’re at ease with low door frames, uneven staircases and the odd visit from winged creatures of the night, there is a strong chance you’ll be completely smitten with the place – like I am.

Kilmartin Castle is a formidable fortress home on the outside - and a hipster chic place to stay on the inside

Kilmartin Castle is a formidable fortress home on the outside – and a hipster chic place to stay on the inside

The castle's wonderful living room, where guests can recline on a 70s-style modular L-shaped sofa in front of the fire - and spin vinyl

The castle’s wonderful living room, where guests can recline on a 70s-style modular L-shaped sofa in front of the fire – and spin vinyl

You’ll find Kilmartin Castle, in Scotland’s rural Argyll, listed in Sawday’s, which celebrates ‘special’ places to stay.

Special? This 16th-century castle – set in one of Scotland’s most historically fascinating areas – is extraordinary.

It’s Game of Thrones hipster chic. An imposing, dramatic, thick-walled fortress – but with mod cons, delightful luxury boutique touches and a splash of cool (this is a castle where guests can spin vinyl).

Ted's bedroom - called Speel - features a beautifully upholstered antique double bed and a magnificent copper bath

Ted’s bedroom – called Speel – features a beautifully upholstered antique double bed and a magnificent copper bath

The bed in Ted's room sits beneath a wall with semi-exposed stonework and a vaulted ceiling

The bed in Ted’s room sits beneath a wall with semi-exposed stonework and a vaulted ceiling

Plus, it has laid-back, welcoming, bonhomie-infused owners – Stef Burgon and husband Simon Hunt – who you’ll be chatting to like old friends within minutes.

The fact that Kilmartin Castle, which was built in 1550 during the legendary reign of Mary Queen of Scots, is now a one-of-a-kind place to stay is all their doing.

The property was an abandoned semi-ruin from 1790 until 1990 when a couple spruced it up over 10 years and ran it as a B&B.

Stef and Simon bought Kilmartin Castle for £330,000 and spent seven months renovating it with the help of architects, skilled restorers and builders, and a dollop of determination

Stef and Simon bought Kilmartin Castle for £330,000 and spent seven months renovating it with the help of architects, skilled restorers and builders, and a dollop of determination

Boutique ensuite: The turret bathrooms have heated floors, rain showers and beautiful sinks

Boutique ensuite: The turret bathrooms have heated floors, rain showers and beautiful sinks

Artists and traditional craftsmen were selected to provide exclusive and luxurious details for the castle

Artists and traditional craftsmen were selected to provide exclusive and luxurious details for the castle 

Stef and Simon bought the property for £330,000 in 2014 when they lived and worked in Dubai (Stef as a radio presenter and Simon as an ad agency creative director) and rented it to holidaymakers remotely.

At the end of 2018, they moved in and spent seven months renovating it with the help of architects, skilled restorers and builders, and a dollop of determination.

I was extremely excited at the prospect of checking out the handiwork.

Of course, as with any self-respecting escape to a rural Scottish lodge, the journey is half the fun.

Ours – me, my partner and three-year-old daughter – began with an Avanti Pendolino from London Euston to Glasgow along the West Coast Main Line. This serves up a mouthwatering hors d’oeuvre to a holiday in the wind-ravaged wilds of Scotland by skirting the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and offering up eye-popping views of the North Pennines, too.

There is much to see and explore in the castle's surrounds - but guests will struggle to leave the cosiness behind

There is much to see and explore in the castle’s surrounds – but guests will struggle to leave the cosiness behind

Kilmartin Castle's epic front door

If Stef and Simon need a replacement front door key, Timpson won't be able to help

Pictured left is Kilmartin’s epic front door. And on the right is the front door key. If a replacement is needed, it’s unlikely Timpson will be able to help… 

Within six miles of Kilmartin, over 350 prehistoric and historic monuments have been found. This beautiful picture of the Ballymeanoch stones in the Glen - part of an ancient ritual complex - was taken by Marc Pickering and posted to his Instagram account, @lochgmarcp

Within six miles of Kilmartin, over 350 prehistoric and historic monuments have been found. This beautiful picture of the Ballymeanoch stones in the Glen – part of an ancient ritual complex – was taken by Marc Pickering and posted to his Instagram account, @lochgmarcp

The Ballymeanoch stones again, this time captured at ground level in sensational fashion by west coast of Scotland native Eilidh Cameron, who posted it to her Instagram account

The Ballymeanoch stones again, this time captured at ground level in sensational fashion by west coast of Scotland native Eilidh Cameron, who posted it to her Instagram account

A mouthwatering hors d'oeuvre to the wind-ravaged wilds of Scotland is served up by the West Coast Main Line, which skirts the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and offers eye-popping views of the North Pennines, too

A mouthwatering hors d’oeuvre to the wind-ravaged wilds of Scotland is served up by the West Coast Main Line, which skirts the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and offers eye-popping views of the North Pennines, too

The castle is a beguiling blend of 'visible history', cosiness and eclectic quirk

The castle is a beguiling blend of ‘visible history’, cosiness and eclectic quirk

From Glasgow, it was a memorably thrilling hire-car drive along roller coaster roads that dipped and swooped past lochs Lomond, Gilp and Fyne (where we stopped for oysters and fish and chips at the excellent Loch Fyne Oyster Bar & Deli) – and between immense mountains.

Kilmartin Castle lies just north of Loch Gilp in the enchanting Kilmartin Glen, nestled in the hamlet of Kilmartin.

Within six miles of the village, over 350 prehistoric and historic monuments have been found, including Dunadd Fort, where Scottish kings of old were anointed.

The hill it once stood on – a big lump in an otherwise flat expanse of fields – makes for an arresting sight on the approach to Kilmartin from the south.

Tantalisingly, you can’t see the castle from the road – at least not clearly. Instead, it springs forth like a cut-out in a pop-up book as you enter a gap in a wall of trees on a gravel driveway beyond a cluster of cottages.

Stef, 41, and Simon, 38, haven’t altered the building’s fantasy kingdom looks and structure – the walls are as chunky as they were over 500 years ago, the fairy-tale turrets remain in place and some of the windows sport original defensive metal bar shields.

It’s still a home that could withstand a (medieval) attack.

But inside, it’s a beguiling blend of ‘visible history’, as Stef and Simon put it, cosiness and eclectic quirk.

Ted loved the details, which included fresh ground coffee presented in a paper bag, clipped together with the handle of a metal scoop

Ted loved the details, which included fresh ground coffee presented in a paper bag, clipped together with the handle of a metal scoop

Shampoo, soap and conditioner are stored in little refillable painted ceramic pots by artist Claire Henry

The narrow spiral stairs leading up to the Speel bedroom

Shampoo, soap and conditioner are stored in little refillable painted ceramic pots by artist Claire Henry, pictured left. On the right are the narrow spiral stairs leading up to the Speel bedroom 

A £40,000 state-of-the-art mini pumping station ensures Speel's huge William Holland copper bathtub fills rapidly with piping hot water

A £40,000 state-of-the-art mini pumping station ensures Speel’s huge William Holland copper bathtub fills rapidly with piping hot water

Medieval authenticity abounds, yet you’ll be as comfortable here as in a five-star hotel.

After Stef had given us a quick tour of the castle vegetable patch, explained that we might hear the neighbour practising his bagpipes, told us that bats got in from time to time and showed us the key to the front door – which is almost as big as my toddler – it was time to see our lodgings.

We ascended uneven steps up to the living room (the medieval builders deliberately made them idiosyncratic so that attackers would fall over on the way up, the idea being that the occupants learned the pattern) and then up a spiral staircase to our bedroom – one of four, called Speel – which was too narrow and steep to negotiate with our huge suitcase.

Each bedroom in the castle is unique, with bespoke, handpicked furniture and artwork

Each bedroom in the castle is unique, with bespoke, handpicked furniture and artwork

The drive to Kilmartin Castle from Glasgow is exhilarating, along roller coaster roads that dip and swoop past lochs Lomond, Gilp and Fyne

The drive to Kilmartin Castle from Glasgow is exhilarating, along roller coaster roads that dip and swoop past lochs Lomond, Gilp and Fyne

Speel, it turns out, is an old Scottish word for ‘the climb’. The reward for the ascent? An utterly wonderful room.

A beautifully upholstered antique double bed sits beneath a wall with semi-exposed stonework and a vaulted ceiling.

Upcycled vintage travel trunks form one of the side tables, there’s a hipster floor lamp with an exposed retro bulb and in the adjacent tower, accessed via a huge step, a bathroom with a rain shower in the middle of the ceiling and a beautiful earthenware sink.

This turret ensuite even has a heated floor, as do the other turret bathrooms and the entire ground floor.

Kilmartin Castle was an abandoned semi-ruin from 1790 until 1990 when a couple spruced it up and ran it as a B&B

Kilmartin Castle was an abandoned semi-ruin from 1790 until 1990 when a couple spruced it up and ran it as a B&B

The castle's dining room, with its lordly table and dramatic stonework, has a marvellously medieval vibe

The castle’s dining room, with its lordly table and dramatic stonework, has a marvellously medieval vibe 

The Snug is the castle's smallest and cutest room. The exposed original vaulted stone roof, constructed in 1550, still stands

The Snug is the castle’s smallest and cutest room. The exposed original vaulted stone roof, constructed in 1550, still stands

Ted was given a tour of the castle garden and learned that he might hear the neighbour practising his bagpipes

Ted was given a tour of the castle garden and learned that he might hear the neighbour practising his bagpipes

The original flagstones in the ground-floor hallway were lifted and relaid over underfloor heating

The original flagstones in the ground-floor hallway were lifted and relaid over underfloor heating

I loved the details.

Shampoo, soap and conditioner are stored in little refillable painted ceramic pots by artist Claire Henry and there was ground coffee presented in a paper bag, clipped together with the handle of a metal scoop.

And a jet-black designer kettle.

Fancy a medieval-style getaway? Rooms for two at Kilmartin Castle cost from £200 per night

Fancy a medieval-style getaway? Rooms for two at Kilmartin Castle cost from £200 per night

Which is your favourite room? All the Kilmartin Castle sleeping quarters are fitted out to royal standards

Which is your favourite room? All the Kilmartin Castle sleeping quarters are fitted out to royal standards

Sight to behold: The scene when Ted and his brood arrived at the castle in bright August sunshine

Sight to behold: The scene when Ted and his brood arrived at the castle in bright August sunshine

Simon and Stef hard at work preparing food in the castle's country-style kitchen

Simon and Stef hard at work preparing food in the castle’s country-style kitchen

Tantalisingly, you can't see the castle from the road, writes Ted – at least not clearly. Instead, it springs forth like a cut-out in a pop-up book as you enter a gap in a wall of trees on a gravel driveway beyond a cluster of cottages. Pictured is Simon surveying his kingly domain

Tantalisingly, you can’t see the castle from the road, writes Ted – at least not clearly. Instead, it springs forth like a cut-out in a pop-up book as you enter a gap in a wall of trees on a gravel driveway beyond a cluster of cottages. Pictured is Simon surveying his kingly domain

TRAVEL FACTS 

Ted was a guest of Kilmartin Castle, with the stay arranged by Sawday’s. Rooms for two cost from £200 per night. For more information visit www.sawdays.co.uk/britain/scotland/argyll-bute/kilmartin-castle.

Visit the castle’s eye-catching Instagram page here. 

Rating:

On a typical weekday Avanti West Coast operates 31 trains between London and Glasgow. Typical journey time between London and Glasgow: four hours 33 minutes. Single first class fare available from £62. Single standard fare available from £33. Return first class fare available from £124. Return standard fare available from £66. Visit www.avantiwestcoast.co.uk for more information and to book. 

Car rental was arranged through Booking.com and cost £290 for five days. Rental started and ended in Glasgow. Booking.com arranges car rental cars at over 60,000 locations in 160 countries.  

 

But the piece de resistance is the gigantic handmade William Holland standalone copper bathtub at the end of the bed.

We wondered if creaky, ancient plumbing would render the shower and bath redundant, but then learned that Kilmartin Castle has a £40,000 state-of-the-art mini pumping station designed to provide instant high-pressure hot water to every pipe in every room.

We put it to the test and weren’t disappointed.

In the evening we sipped wine on the living room’s comfy L-shaped 70s’-style modular sofa and let our surroundings sink in.

My eyes flitted from the wood-burning stove in the humongous fireplace to the record player to the Chesterfield Armchair, then to the eccentric paintings and up to the wooden-beamed ceiling – and I concluded even at this early juncture that a return visit would need to be scheduled.

This feeling was reinforced at dinner time as we ate tasty soup cooked by one of the guests in the farmhouse-style kitchen and the next day as our hosts served us big pots of proper coffee and top-end home-made porridge in the breakfast room at a lordly wooden table.

Outside a storm was raging, but we couldn’t hear a thing. We were in our own little medieval wonderland.

Stef and Simon – I absolutely love what you’ve done with the place. 

Thanks to Marc Pickering and Eilidh Cameron for their breathtaking landscape photos. 

BEACHFRONT RESTAURANTS, MYSTERIOUS STONE CIRCLES AND A MONTY PYTHON MUST-SEE:  AMAZING THINGS TO SEE (AND EAT) NEAR KILMARTIN CASTLE

Kilmartin lies within easy reach of beautiful beaches, superb restaurants and fascinating historical sites. 

DUNADD FORT

A few minutes’ drive south of Kilmartin Castle lies the remains of Dunadd Fort, one of the most important early medieval sites in Scotland. 

A jaw-dropping picture of Dunadd Fort by @lochgmarcp. It's one of the most important early medieval sites in Scotland

A jaw-dropping picture of Dunadd Fort by @lochgmarcp. It’s one of the most important early medieval sites in Scotland

Visitors can climb to the top of the Dunadd Fort and step in a replica 'inauguration stone' (pictured) - then survey their land as the king of Scotland

Visitors can climb to the top of the Dunadd Fort and step in a replica ‘inauguration stone’ (pictured) – then survey their land as the king of Scotland

Over 1,300 years ago Scottish kings were anointed here in a ceremony that involved them placing one foot in a foot-shaped hole carved into an ‘inauguration stone’. 

Visitors can do the same – though it’s a laser-scanned replica stone now – and take in the awe-inspiring views of a landscape little changed since the days of yore.

TEMPLE WOOD

The Kilmartin Glen 'Stonehenge': The mysterious Temple Wood stone circles are a local 'must-see'

The Kilmartin Glen ‘Stonehenge’: The mysterious Temple Wood stone circles are a local ‘must-see’

Two mysterious stone circles dating back 5,000 years, set in a tranquil wood just south of Kilmartin.

KILMARTIN CHURCH GRAVEYARD

An extraordinary cemetery containing decorated grave slabs of medieval warriors and clergymen.

KILMARTIN MUSEUM

Ancient artefacts a go-go in a museum that’ll take you on a tour across 6,000 years of history. Visit www.kilmartin.org. 

OBAN

Oban has a stunning harbour with views across to the islands of Kerrera and Mull. And you can take them in from the excellent big-windowed Ee-usk restaurant, which sits right by the water. Order the oysters. They are truly epic. Visit www.eeusk.com. 

CASTLE STALKER

This castle is a must-see for Monty Python fans. It runs tours by appointment - though these are currently suspended due to Covid-19

This castle is a must-see for Monty Python fans. It runs tours by appointment – though these are currently suspended due to Covid-19

A coastal mecca for Monty Python and the Holy Grail fans set on a tidal island 25 miles north of Oban. The final scene was shot at this jaw-dropping 14th-century fortress. Visit www.castlestalker.com/wp. 

TAYVALLICH

A pretty village surrounded by stunning ancient native woodland on the banks of Loch Sween that harbours a great value restaurant – The Tayvallich Inn. Visit www.tayvallichinn.com. 

CRINAN CANAL

Enjoy a peaceful walk along this beautiful 19th-century nine-mile waterway, which has 15 locks and links Loch Fyne at Ardrishaig with the Sound of Jura.

ISLE OF GIGHA

You’ll think you’re dreaming as you sit eating the freshest of seafood right by a perfectly formed beach, courtesy of Gigha’s marvellous The Boathouse restaurant (MailOnline Travel can recommend the fish burger). There are regular cheap ferry crossings to the tiny island from Tayinloan on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsula. It’s also a great spot for walking and cycling. 

 



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