Little’s – A visit to Borthwick Castle

Borthwick Castle is located just 12 miles south of Edinburgh.

As our chauffeur approaches the large yet unassuming Borthwick Castle, we pause to admire the view. Miles of rolling Scottish countryside stretch out in to the distance, with the Castle, an imposing square block of stone, looming at the end of the secluded road. What a first impression, made even more striking by the large gouge scarring the Castle wall – a remnant of a cannonball tarnishing the otherwise perfectly preserved building – adding character, a story, an immediate talking point. The rugged beauty is admirable and the masonry accurate, the perfect balance between inviting, and intimidating.

The hidden treasure that is Borthwick has been under renovation for a considerable amount of time, every detail meticulously planned and designed to the very highest of standards by the private owners, a family. To give you a rundown of the history; Borthwick is 600 years old, the vision of creator William de Borthwick in the grip of 15th century Scotland. This was no easy time to be alive, the double tower and embattled wall of the Castle testament to this. Perhaps the safety and refuge offered are what drew Mary, Queen of Scots to flee to Borthwick with Lord Bothwell following the death of her husband, Lord Darnley, in Edinburgh for which Lord Bothwell was prime suspect. The Castle is steeped in rich history, and the welcoming staff are only too happy to divulge details of Borthwick’s historical merit.

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The awe-inducing first impression is perhaps doubled upon entrance to the Castle through the (tiny) original entrance. The room opens up to the Great Hall, the centrepiece of this elaborate building. Every corner is utilised to perfection with rich fabrics, warming fireplaces, candelabra and a gothic atmosphere. You are transported back to times of decadent banqueting, jovial dancing and medieval merriment, which is what Borthwick has set out to achieve. Encased in stone walls, a welcome modern touch in the form of underfloor heating warms the room, bringing it to life and adding a homely touch. The Castle can be rented out in its entirety to larger groups or corporate parties looking for an exclusive use of the property. We are treated to afternoon tea, served on a handmade, bespoke tray and the room is arranged beautifully, down to the china and flowers adorning the solid wood table. It is a true glimpse of what is to come.

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As we tour around the Castle, we soon discover that it is very easy to get lost here. Hours can be spent exploring, and each time you would find something new, be it a hidden staircase or tiny alcove gone unnoticed. Borthwick has 10 bedchambers, each uniquely designed yet retaining the original character found back in 1430. Some are named after the historic figures believed to have spent time there, including Lord Borthwick, Sir Walter Scott and Oliver Cromwell – truly special. In fact, Sir Walter Scott once described Borthwick as “one of the most beautiful and entire specimens of castle architecture in Scotland.” It is easy to see why. Each bedroom is scattered around the building, most accessed through winding, secret staircases and the miniature doors that continue to delight and surprise us. As we look around, we notice another novel feature – writing on the stones which, on closer inspection, is revealed as the signatures and initials of those who laid each original stone – equating to the amount of work they would get paid for at the end of each day!

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We reach a room named Red Rose, named to commemorate a young chambermaid and her illegitimate son, murdered in this very room. The haunting story is perhaps complimented by the passion that exudes from this room, with the hand-carved oak four-poster bed and renaissance-style bathroom carved in to the Castle wall. The craftsmanship has been highlighted by the interior designer in an extremely clever way, paying homage to original features including the only medieval ceiling mural in Borthwick. We head towards the most isolated bedroom, known as The Wizard’s Tower – the name adding intrigue to what we soon discover is a private haven of true luxury. The highest bedroom, the small window lends views of the countryside below. The Wizard’s Tower is reached only through a recently restored secret staircase, giving an ambience not dissimilar to a real-life fairy tale. It strikes us that one must always be wary of too much merriment in Borthwick – the narrow stone stairs look terribly unforgiving!

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As we make our way around the bedchambers, each room different to the last but all with equal luxury, we begin to question just how the designer has built what can only be described as an inexplicable link between each strikingly different space. We cannot recall any similarity beside the elegantly carved beds and fireplaces, and since our visit we have been trying to pinpoint the feeling when wandering from room to room – but so far it is inexpressible. Those visiting will be sure to experience this too, and we think it is genius.

Modern amenities are subtly built into each room, including mirrors that light up, adding a soft light and perfectly highlighting the structure of each space, and a wet room shower often tucked into the alcove of each bedroom.

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As we conclude our bedroom tour we visit the  State Room, where guests can enjoy a drink and relax in the informal yet truly grand atmosphere (again, just how does the designer achieve this?). Guests can play the piano, sip a dram or simply sit by the warming fire and admire the surroundings. There are also options for afternoon tea to be served here by the friendly staff who promote a personalised and truly welcoming service to all visitors, and the wine cellar is well stocked with vintage bottlings. As we conclude our tour of Borthwick Castle we look at the Gardens, still in the process of what we are sure will be a completely stunning restoration. We are taken with the versatility of the Castle, not inhibited but elevated through the perfectly executed medieval design and décor throughout. The Castle could be utilised for a wedding, a banquet, a corporate cocktail party, a religious ceremony – truly different uses yet all complimented by the backdrop of Borthwick. A recent partnership with Edinburgh-based Hickory Food, who have crafted a menu inspired uniquely by Borthwick Castle, is tipped to be innovative, imaginative and, above all, delicious.

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Borthwick Castle is located in North Middleton, 12 miles south of Edinburgh City Centre and half an hour from Edinburgh Airport. Little’s are ideally located to transport guests to Borthwick Castle and for any onward journeys, giving you the chance to admire the idyllic scenery in luxurious comfort – a true compliment to the decadence offered by a stay or an event at Borthwick.

Our fleet of Saloons, Luxury Saloons and MPVs can transport up to 7 passengers comfortably and we can also arrange executive coaches of up to 53 seats for larger movements. For any onward journeys, Little’s 50 years of experience in leisure touring within Scotland has resulted in an unparalleled knowledge of the country’s hidden gems and roads less travelled. For more information then contact reservations@littles.co.uk or call +44 (0) 141 883 2111.