Craufurdland Castle review: a hidden treasure in rural Scotland
Want to live like a laird or lady after lockdown? Here’s the perfect way to do it…
If you are seeking a post-pandemic off-the-grid staycation, then head to the wild, unspoilt beauty of west Scotland. Here you will find the stunning Craufurdland Castle - one of the oldest in the country and a real hidden treasure.
Travelling north of the border, pre-pandemic, we were delighted by the purple, orange and green vistas that sprung into view as we left England and entered an almost other-worldly landscape.
With a rich and colourful history, exhibited by ancient buildings that remain almost untouched like living time capsules, Scotland is the ideal destination for anyone looking for a “phones off, alarms vetoed and internet patchy” kind of break.
Set in 600 acres of unspoilt Ayrshire countryside, Craufurdland Castle is surrounded by woodlands and even has its own lake. The centuries-old castle near Kilmarnock has been kept in the family for nearly 800 years and is today owned by laird and leddie Simon and Adity Craufurd.
Unique and impressive history
At the end of our long road trip we arrived at the private tree-lined road leading to Craufurdland Castle. Immediately reminiscent of an Austen novel, the imposing property is hidden in the estate and driving through the trees down the long entrance, we caught a glimpse of the turrets.
The Laird’s House entrance is Gothic in style, with a large arched stained glass window above cobalt blue wooden doors. Privacy and peace are paramount here; the Craufurds live in one wing and let the other out as an exclusive self-catering holiday home. We entered via the Towerhouse, a 12th century Norman vault to the right.
Craufurdland Castle has been home to the Craufurd family since 1245. The Craufurd line began with a Danish chief named Thorlongus (Latin for Thor) whose father, Leofwine of Mercia, and grandfather, Edulf of East Anglia married into the Anglo-Saxon monarchy in the late 900s and early 1,000s. Thor and his predecessors were beneficiaries to land grants in the English jurisdiction of Mercia which was known as “the Merse” in Scotland.
As one guest commented: “The Houison Craufurd family is like a thread of tartan through the history of Scotland.” The family has links to William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots and even saved King James III of Scotland’s life. When Prince Charles is crowned king, Simon will ceremoniously wash his hands, as the Craufurds have done for the monarchy for hundreds of years.
A unique and impressive history indeed, but Simon and Adity Craufurd are incredibly down-to-earth. They moved into Craufurdland in 2011 and carried out extensive renovation. Both of them dog lovers, they welcome four-legged furry friends, although canines are only allowed in the cafe and bottom floor of the castle, not the drawing room or bedrooms.
A natural playground
If you stay at the castle, the estate is yours to play in for walks, cycling and more. If you’ve got a head for heights, the destination boasts “tree top trials”, a high-wire obstacle course set at varying heights above the ground. There’s also a trout fishery and 10km of dedicated mountain bike trails, plus another 6km of shared paths.
The castle is self-catering (and houses a modern kitchen), or you can choose to dine at The Laird’s Table, the on-site cafe and restaurant. Before heading off for a morning hike, we stopped by and picked up a Haggis roll (vegetarian Haggis also available) and barista-grade coffee. Or opt to sit in and enjoy warm waffles with bacon and blueberry syrup. All produce is sourced locally and Simon and Adity champion local farmers, even launching a pop-up grocery store in the castle grounds earlier in the year.
Tour the castle and grounds
The castle itself is a history buff’s dream. To have one family linked to a castle throughout the centuries is highly unusual and adds to the historical significance of the property. The castle sleeps 18 guests and has ten bedrooms and three bathrooms, each uniquely decorated. The Georgian drawing room (pictured) is also accessible to guests, with stunning views over Craufurdland Water and - when we stayed - a plethora of birds of prey swooping and diving into the landscape.
The library located in the family’s wing, which can be accessed by ringing the big bell at the main entrance, has more than 3,000 books, the oldest dating back to 1515. The Craufurds recently discovered an epitaph written by Robert Burns here which they are only too eager to show guests. A tour is highly recommended, and Simon will walk you round the castle and grounds, sharing his impressive historical knowledge. The tour takes approximately 2.5 hours and is best done after breakfast.
Glorious escape from modern life
Guests can choose to stay in any room, from the King James suite with the roll-top bath overlooking the castle lawn to the Knights Room with its priest hole. We slept in the Wallace suite, the room above the Laird’s entrance. The suite houses a giant bed on a mezzanine floor, accessed by iron spiral steps with a huge stained glass window. Light from these intricate windows spills into the room at dawn and creates a kaleidoscope of colours. There are shutters if you’d prefer lie-ins, but we opted for rainbow-hued wake-ups.
The newly-installed wi-fi was a little patchy, but it meant a glorious escape from the constant technology always at our fingertips. We replaced the time with long walks in the breathtaking countryside and afternoons curled up reading books in the drawing room.
Whether you want to head off on your own to breathe in some restorative Scottish air, fancy a couple's escape, or a family getaway, everyone is catered for at Craufurdland Castle.
How to book
Craufurdland Castle is available to rent by the week for exclusive holidays in this amazing part of Scotland. The price ranges from £2,370-£5,995 per week, depending on the time of year. To search other castles to rent throughout Scotland and other parts of the UK, see ScottsCastles.com
Glasgow is the nearest large city to Craufurdland Castle, with easy access from Prestwick, Glasgow or Edinburgh airports. If you’d rather drive, the journey will take about seven hours from London and is a few miles northeast of Kilmarnock in east Ayrshire.
Nearby places to visit
Ayr, the birthplace of Robert Burns, is a half-hour drive away. The paddle steamer PS Waverley visits Ayr during the summer months and is worth a journey; it also travels from Clyde North to Loch Fyne and Argyll if you want to venture further out to the islands. Ferries from Ardrossan connect Ayrshire to Arran and the beguiling islands between Ayrshire and Kintyre.
Perched on the Ayrshire cliffs, about an hour’s drive away, you’ll find Culzean Castle. Designed by Earl Robert Adam in the late 18th century, this cliff-top masterpiece rises above a bewitching world of woods, beaches and secret follies. Once the playground of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, the estate is sculpted around miles of sandy coastline dotted with caves. It also houses a Swan Pond, an ice house, flamboyant formal gardens and fruit-filled glasshouses.
The Scottish capital is an hour-and-a-half drive away, with a rich history that dates back to pre-Roman times. Historic fortress Edinburgh Castle is built high on Castle Rock, an impressive 350m-year-old extinct volcano. The quaint medieval Old Town will win you over with its pretty pubs, winding streets and centuries old buildings. In the New Town you’ll find a lively atmosphere, boutique shops, elegant Georgian townhouses and museums. If you’re up for a stunning hike, head for Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. Sitting 251 metres above sea level, it boasts magnificent views of Edinburgh.