Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending a Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

I’ve always been a little obsessed with staying in quirky places. Lighthouses, churches, treehouses, giant hammocks – you name it, I’ll sleep in it. But spending a night sleeping in a castle tops them all.

It’s a dream I imagine many people share: being tucked up in the top of a tall tower, listening to the wind howl around the stone ramparts outside and the rain pouring down on the windows. Preferably lying in a four poster bed, complete with swishing curtains.

So when the guys at Visit Scotland invited me to spend the night in Culzean Castle, I basically passed out from the excitement.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Culzean Castle sits on the cliff edge of Scotland’s Ayrshire coast; a sheer drop leads straight down to the choppy waters of the Firth of Clyde. The castle is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa, head of an ancient Scottish family named the Kennedy Clan who are descended from Robert the Bruce and who have owned the building in its various conversions since the 14th century.

Amazingly enough, it’s also been kept in rather wonderful condition – mainly because the castle and surrounding grounds were handed over to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945 by the 4th Marquess of Ailsa, who owned the place until then.

Although why on earth someone would willingly give up ownership of their very own castle is beyond my comprehension.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Our arrival at Culzean Castle

When we left Glasgow it was under a huge storm cloud of rain, but the weather had brightened up considerably by the time we reached the Ayrshire coastline, and could see Culzean Castle’s elegant stonework in the distance.

As our cars pulled up at the castle entrance, the clouds were held at bay and I was chomping at the bit to get outside into the beautiful late afternoon light spilling over the castle grounds.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

I walked towards the castle entrance, and immediately felt like I was being transported back in time. There were no other vehicles to be seen; just worn-out brickwork, narrow arches and twisting pathways leading down towards the shoreline.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle
Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

My friends soon disappeared as I stumbled around in open-mouthed wonder, snapping photos in every direction. Just like all the best castles, there seemed to be a ton of nooks and crannies just begging to be explored – and I hadn’t even made it into the castle building yet!

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Eventually I caught up with the others inside the castle’s doorway and met David, the young caretaker of Culzean – who seemed just a little unnerved by the loud arrival of a group of women into the quiet spaces of the castle.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

David led us through a narrow corridor to a tiny lift, complete with two sets of sliding doors made from creaking, folding metal, and as we rose upwards in the lift, he remained mysteriously quiet. It was only when we stepped out onto the oval balcony that he began to speak about the castle in more depth.

At that moment, though, I was somewhat distracted by the inside of the place: the portraits of past generations lining the walls; the ram heads on the bannisters; the grandfather clock ticking sombrely away above the incredible sweeping staircase.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

The history of Culzean Castle

The six bedrooms on the top floor of the castle make up the Eisenhower apartment, presented to President Eisenhower in 1945 for his personal use as a gesture of Scotland’s gratitude to America during the Second World War. The Eisenhower apartment isn’t open to the daily visitors who throng the lower floors of the castle – but we were lucky enough to be spending the night in those rooms.

I watched everyone surreptitiously eying the closed bedroom doors while David talked. The one directly behind him was marked ‘Eisenhower’s Suite’. No prizes for who usually slept in there, then.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

I was staying in the Kennedy Suite – not the biggest room on offer, but I was more than happy with the stunning views of the castle grounds outside and the churning seawater beyond. And as soon as I spotted the tartan throws across both armchairs, I immediately promptly put one around my shoulders.

Perhaps it was my one-eighth of Scottish ancestry shining through?

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Once we’d all settled into our rooms (and I’d reluctantly dragged myself away from my new favourite window-side view), our group reconvened in the beautiful circular Drawing Room for a drink before dinner.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

But alas, the light outside was still so beautiful that it tempted us back on the castle walls once again.

Our usually dour and sarcastic driver got overly excited about an old cannon that sat facing the chilly waters of the Firth of Clyde, jabbing his finger eagerly at the numbers that dated it back over two hundred years.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Eventually the sun approached the horizon with increasing speed, and we sipped on glasses of champagne while we watched it fall below the surface.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Dinner, drinks and a murder mystery

We spent the first part of our evening in the State Dining Room: a space with high ornate ceilings, Corinthian pillars and portraits of the Kennedy family all over the walls. Despite having a capacity for 72 guests, it was just the nine of us for dinner, sitting comfortably around the castle’s original oak dining table and enjoying haggis, fresh salmon and quite a few bottles of wine.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Afterwards, we retired to the Drawing Room upstairs for an impromptu murder mystery party, complete with accented character voices and a great deal of pantomime-style miming.

As the clues pointing to our elusive murderer grew more pronounced, I tried not to think about the extensive weaponry in the armoury below. On display, yes; deactivated, most likely; but that didn’t take away from the century-old scratches embedded deep in the sword blades, or the sunken pistol mouths from countless bullets, or the metal worn smooth by hundreds of thumbs gripping tight.

In the silent lulls between our words, it was all too easy to imagine life in the castle when those guns were still in common use.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

What’s it like to wake up in a castle?

If I’d been concerned about any paranormal activity during the night (a staple part of an old castle, surely?), there was nothing to suggest that ghosts were around. The next morning, I awoke to the sight of clear seas and a pink-tinged sky through the window opposite.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

With the rest of the castle’s inhabitants seemingly still sleeping I went for a wander by myself, padding across the carpets in bare feet and stealing glimpses at the sunlight that flooded in.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

I was still deeply entrenched in the castle’s past, and it felt slightly bizarre to be eating bowls of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in the little breakfast room.

From the window, I watched David clamber into his little golf cart in a car park only big enough for ten vehicles and disappear down the path to another, unknown part of the castle.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

As I walked back to my room to pack my case, I heard a strange sound. Looking down the grandeur of the Oval Staircase, I saw a man in a National Trust for Scotland jacket busily hoovering the plush red carpets – and just like that, the timeless spell of the castle was broken.

Behind the noise of the hoover, I could already hear the faint murmurs of the castle’s first visitors for the coming day, and once I took a last lingering look into my room before closing the door (leaving the big key still in the lock) I was essentially just another visitor.

Exploring the rest of the castle

At least there were more of the castle’s rooms that I hadn’t yet seen. The areas of Culzean kept perpetually on display to the public include bedrooms, bathrooms, drawing rooms, a library and a Georgian kitchen way down in the basement, complete with a row of bells along the ceiling to alert the servants.

It also comes with a wonderfully British attempt at creating atmosphere, with platters of artificial food laid out along the old table.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

My wanderings took me through a number of rooms and past some bizarre features (the boat-shaped bed and the bathtub built into the wall were just a few of my favourites) but I was eventually halted by an extremely chatty volunteer guide who stood in the music room.

He clearly felt very strongly that I needed to know all the stories he had to offer about Robbie Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet who was born in 1759 in a small house not far from the castle. I listened politely while time ticked away, measured out by the music of a harp player and guitarist, and watched the elderly visitors in anoraks who peered around the curtains to the sea outside.

Perhaps they were hoping for a glimpse of the Irish coastline in the clear, early morning air?

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

When the Robbie Burns stories were over, I made my excuses and ventured out into the castle’s grounds for a brief look at the Fountain Court, the glass-walled Orangery and the crumbling garden walls.

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

I didn’t want to leave Culzean, but the choice wasn’t mine to make. As we jumped into the car and I looked longingly back at the ramparts and turrets, I noticed the clouds beginning to gather ominously overhead.

Just in time for our departure, the rain was about to begin again.

Where’s the most bizarre place you’ve ever slept? Would you ever stay in a Scottish castle? 

Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending the Night in a Scottish Castle

Disclaimer: I stayed at Culzean Castle as a guest of Visit Scotland, but I would’ve done everything in my power to spend the night in this place regardless. Come on, wouldn’t you?!

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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31 Responses to Sunsets and Sleepovers: Spending a Night in a Scottish Castle

  1. Jenia July 9, 2015 at 11:07 am #

    I have never stayed in a Scottish castle – nor any other castle for that matter, but I am pretty sure I would pass out with excitement if I were able to! Whenever we travel, if there is ever a tour advertised for the “gran ol’ mansions of so and so’ I am the first in line — and i follow the guide very closely to make sure I don’t miss out on any historical details. So to wonder the castle by yourself – that’s just awesome! To go to sleep and wake up and explore the grounds, ack! Your photos made my morning today 🙂

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      I know the feeling, Jenia – I think I usually annoy the guides with all my questions! So glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  2. polly July 9, 2015 at 8:35 pm #

    Love the photo of the winding pathway to the entrance! And of course I’ve always wanted to stay in a castle, but now I think I have to participate in a murder mystery game at one as well, as that sounds amazing.

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

      Honestly, a murder mystery in a Scottish castle will probably stay at the top of my ‘awesome experience’ list for a long while!

  3. veen83 July 11, 2015 at 6:52 am #

    Looks amazing! I would definitely try my best to stay in a Scottish castle — the history nerd inside me would explode with happiness and wonder. Gorgeous photos!

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

      Thanks so much!

  4. The Guy July 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    Wow Flora this is like a dream come true. Such a beautiful castle with stunning scenery. The National Trust have done a top class job in preserving such a wonderful building inside and out.

    How fabulous as well that you were able to experience the accommodation of past US Presidents. Exclusive indeed!

    I’m not too clear on how many castle like hotels I have stayed in. I do particularly remember the Youth Hostel in Ayr, west Scotland though. That was a stunning seaside building with turrets. I highly recommend it to any hostelers going to Scotland.

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

      Ahh great tip dude – I’d love to try staying in a turreted hostel! Next time I’m in Scotland, perhaps…

  5. Chella July 17, 2015 at 7:45 am #

    Spending a night sleeping in a castle is certainly adventurous people and travel-lovers wish to experience. I wish to experience being like a princess as well who stays in an elegant and luxurious castle like this. I wonder what it is like to wake up in a castle.

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

      Well I definitely felt a bit like a princess when I woke up, Chella..!

  6. James McBain July 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    My wife and I were married in the green house and stayed 2 days at Culzean. She is Scottish and I am from the U.S. It was s spectacular time and it is a wonderful place. There are even caves below you can explore during low tide. I had my groomsmen pictures taken in those caves. Everyone should try to see the castle. And we met David. He was great.

    • Alistair Shand July 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      What James did not mention is that he also had drinks with the son of the last factor (Manager) of the Culzean Castle.

      • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

        Wow, I didn’t even know about those caves! I’d have loved to explore them too. Glad you had such a great time!

  7. Lorna Sloan July 22, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    I grew up a few miles from Culzean and spent many happy days there, I have never stayed in the castle but I have sang in it with the school choir. Its a fantastic place and seeing the pictures where I walked my dog and took my children to swim in the ocean has made me very home sick. Its a shame we cant share this on facebook I would like my american friends to see it lol

    • Lorna Sloan July 22, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

      oops I was finally able to post it! 😀

      • Flora July 22, 2015 at 5:43 pm #

        Great stuff, Lorna – I was going to say that there’s a Facebook sharing button up at the top :p And lucky you for growing up so close to such a gorgeous building!

  8. Gemma July 22, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that after dinner you are left in the castle with no staff or night porter should an emergency arise.
    You are also left to pour your own drinks at the bar surely at £500 per night you are entitled to a barman and a night porter.

    • Flora July 22, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

      I think David did leave us his phone number in case we had issues. I agree with you about the barman though!

  9. Leigh July 29, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    That is beautiful, I would definitely stay there!

    • Flora August 1, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

      Glad to hear it Leigh!

  10. Travelistasink August 11, 2015 at 2:19 am #

    Flora,

    It looks like an amazing experience – I too would have jumped at the chance!

  11. Mary Mack August 24, 2015 at 12:56 am #

    what an awesome experience!

    • Flora August 24, 2015 at 8:09 am #

      It really was Mary!

  12. Daniela Frendo @ Grumpy Camel August 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    This looks amazing! Heading to Scotland next weekend, but no castles for me I’m afraid – will be camping instead.

    • Flora November 9, 2015 at 12:01 am #

      I’m sure camping out in the Scottish wilderness is just as exciting Daniela :p

  13. Katie Featherstone September 1, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    My family lives i Scotland now, but I still can’t help falling in love with their castles!

    • Flora November 9, 2015 at 12:01 am #

      They’re pretty spectacular, Katie!

  14. Amy (Two Drifters) October 29, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

    Oh my goodness, what a DREAM! I would get so wrapped up in the history of the place and would feel like I’d stepped back in time. Those bedrooms ahhhhhhh…man, I miss Scotland

    • Flora November 9, 2015 at 12:04 am #

      Aww Amy! As a Scotland lover I’m sure you’d adore spending a night in Culzean. Maybe it should be part of your wedding/honeymoon plans..?!

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