Floors Castle in the Borders
Despite holding the distinction of being Scotland’s largest inhabited castle among its claims to fame, Floors Castle in the Borders has a very homely feel, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.
There’s something very special about Floors Castle – and, at first, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes it different. It could, for example, be the fact that it’s Scotland’s largest inhabited house. It could be its beautiful setting on the Roxburghe estate in the Borders, overlooking the River Tweed and across to the Cheviot Hills. Or it could be the sprinkling of celluloid magic that has led to the castle being used as the backdrop for everything from Tarzan films to Ferrari photoshoots.
Yet it’s something far simpler that makes Floors so special. Despite its massive size, the castle has a very homely feeling to it.
That’s perhaps because it’s remained in the same family since 1721, when Edinburgh-based architect William Adam drew up the designs for the original castle for John Ker, the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. It was remodelled and extended between 1837 and 1847 by William Playfair and is now the home of Guy David Innes-Ker, the 10th Duke of Roxburghe, and his family.
And that continuous ownership is apparent as soon as guests begin their tour around the castle. Being occupied by a single family for nearly three centuries allows for a strong narrative, with visitors learning more about the family as they pass from room to room.
Instead of following a tour guide around the fortress, guests can make their way through the public spaces at their own pace. Members of staff are on-hand in each of the main rooms to tell the stories about the fixtures and fittings – and the Roxburghes behind them.
Perhaps the most important character in the story of Floors Castle is Mary Goelet, an American heiress who married the 8th Duke of Roxburghe. The pair met in 1895 at the wedding of the duke’s cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, to Consuelo Vanderbilt, for whom May was a bridesmaid.
May redecorated the castle to display her collection of fine art, including the 17th century Gobelins tapestries in the ballroom and the Brussels tapestries known as the “Triumph of the Gods” in the drawing room. The Belgian tapestries had to be cut to fit into the available space, though it’s hard to spot the alterations.
The house is full of interesting objects, from a commode that came from the bedchamber of the Comtesse d’Artois at the Palace of Versailles to paintings by Gainsborough and Turner. Yet some of the most intriguing exhibitions relate to the members of the family, including a display dedicated to the Duke of Roxburghe’s “Attraction”, hailed as one of Scotland’s finest racehorses after becoming the first steed to win both the 1,000 Guineas and the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Floors Castle is about much more than simply history though. The gardens and grounds offer something for everyone, including a riverside walk, plenty of forest paths, and formal gardens, complete with greenhouses that are open to view.
If all that walking has helped to build-up an appetite then both the terrace café and the courtyard café offer food cooked on-site, including charming wee loaves of bread baked in flower pots. The delicatessen’s shop in the terrace café also gives visitors the chance to take produce home.
Food is also foremost on the mind when it comes to The Roxburghe Hotel, the estate’s 22-room, four-star establishment located just a short drive from the castle. The hotel is run by Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI) – alongside other properties including Sir Andy Murray’s Cromlix in Dunblane, Crossbasket Castle near Glasgow and the Rocpool in Inverness – while its restaurant is operated by Albert Roux under his Chef Roux brand.
After a recent visit to Crossbasket – check-out issue 28 of BQ Scotland from summer 2017 for the full review – the excitement was mounting over dinner at The Roxburghe and the kitchen didn’t disappoint. Highlights included a classic cheese soufflé, salty with cheddar and pairing beautifully with a Highveld chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc blended white wine from South Africa, with enough acidity to cut through the soufflé matched by green apple, peach and lemon fruit flavours.
A bottle of the Château Mont Redon Côtes du Rhône Reserve matched as well to a roasted rump of Orkney beef as to a roasted flat iron steak from Campbells Prime Meat, with the well-balanced tannins helping to ease through the juicy and tender cuts of steak. Sticking with the savoury side, the handmade breads are always a highlight in Roux’s restaurants, with the multi-grain sourdough especially worthy of a mention this time round.
It was the desserts that brought the meals to life though; something as simple as an apple crumble was elevated to new heights thanks to the contrast between the sharp fruit and the sweet crunchy topping, while a caramelised “pain perdu” – or posh bread and butter pudding – with cinnamon ice cream and vanilla-poached apricots hit the same balance between textures and sensations. The deconstructed goat’s cheesecake also defied its appearance as a collection of blobs and crumbs on a plate to deliver some magic flavours.
Following a week in the hustle and bustle of London, it was the grounds at the hotel that offered the most relaxation. Early-summer bird song rang out so clearly and crisply while walking through the gardens and then on past the trout pond and up onto the hill behind the hotel, overlooking its golf course.
Barely an hour and a quarter south of Edinburgh, the estate’s castle and hotel make for an ideal weekend away, whether it’s to explore the history of one of Scotland’s major landmarks or to relax and unwind with food, drink or sport. Offering a family-style welcome in such grand settings is no easy feat, but Floors Castle and The Roxburghe Hotel strike the perfect balance between grandeur and intimacy.
Find out more about Floors Castle at www.floorscastle.com
Find out more about The Roxburghe Hotel at www.roxburghe-hotel.net, where bed and breakfast starts from £247.50 per room per night.