Secluded Scottish Castle
By Shane Mitchell
Any faraway land gets my blood pumping, but if I desire the pleasure of my husband’s company, the choice narrows to the bonny realm of haggis and heather. Nothing in life gives Bronson, who claims Scottish roots, a bigger thrill than checking off another castellated ruin on his annotated map of Scotland. If it sits in splendid isolation, I’ll happily tag along and pack my bodice in hopes of a little ripping. After 12 years of marriage, it smells faintly of eau de mothballs.
So, off we jaunted to the 17-room Glenapp Castle, a 1½-hour drive southwest of Glasgow. Prickly yellow gorse dotted the moorland glens, and we caught tantalizing views of tumbled, lichen-speckled citadels, like Cardoness, Dunure, and Orchardton, that haven’t been occupied since the 16th century. As we drove along narrow lanes, blustery Ayrshire County called to mind the fictional Scottish village in I Know Where I’m Going!, our favorite 1940’s romantic comedy. (Wendy Hiller plays a weather-stranded gold digger. Luckily, she falls madly for the local laird, even though he seems to lack baronial digs.)
Just outside Ballantrae, we pulled up to iron gates, then climbed a tree-lined drive to a 19th-century pink-sandstone manor. Glenapp once belonged to the Earls of Inchcape—their motto is engraved above the oak entrance hall. It’s now owned by the Cowan family, who eschew hokey trappings. No wee ghosties, no bagpipes, no false bonhomie here. From a crest above the rocky shore, the manor commands a tremendous vista of the Irish Sea, punctuated by a distant island, called Ailsa Craig.
Glenapp certainly has all the features a castle nerd like my husband craves, including a spiral staircase, built (expressly) for late-night tomcatting by an aristocratic former occupant, hidden in a corner turret. After a brisk march in mud-caked rubber Wellingtons along the paths of the estate’s walled gardens, we nestled in the tartan-swathed library for steaming cups of Earl Grey and raisin-studded scones. Bronson thumbed through back issues of Scottish Field while I gravitated to Lady Antonia Fraser’s quirky anthology of Gaelic love poems. I was amused to discover that not all of these have happy endings.
The only external distractions were squawking crows among the pines and crunching gravel when a car pulled out of the driveway. At dinner, we minded our manners over linen starched stiff as a Calvinist sermon. The attentive staff delivered a terrine of wild game, Arran langoustines, and fillets of local beef. For a nightcap, Bronson tried the delicate peatless single malt from tiny Bladnoch Distillery, just over the shire border, in Galloway. Then, in the marigold yellow Earl of Orkney bedroom, with silk curtains drawn and a fire in the filigreed grate, we collapsed on a plump damask couch. Bronson pulled out his map, and together we plotted the next day’s hunt for more ancient remnants. It seems Mary, Queen of Scots once lingered during a royal progress at shattered Glenluce Abbey, just 15 miles away. So in the morning, I knew where I was going, too.