Glenapp Castle review: Scottish luxury with a streak of adventure
Wild and wooly or cosy and refined - it’s up to you at Ayrshire’s castle for all seasons
If there’s an upside to the uncertainty surrounding international travel, it’s the opportunity - or obligation - to explore our own islands.
Among the smallest of them is Ailsa Craig, a steep-sided wedge of granite off the shore of south-west Scotland. It may be little more than half a mile across, but it has an outsized presence in history - and in the geographical present. In fact, it will seem to follow you down the coast road to Glenapp Castle, where it will remain your serene and constant companion.
Why come here?
Carpeted in forests and fringed with gravel beaches, this stretch of South Ayrshire feels a lot more than 60 miles from Glasgow. Hikers, golfers and bird watchers will be suitably entertained, as will those drawn to the ruined abbeys and fortresses that punctuate the coast.
For many, though, the principal attraction will be Glenapp Castle itself. With its Gothic turrets and prominent battlements, the hotel’s commanding silhouette is warmed and softened by the Scottish sandstone used in its construction. Inside, the castle is divided into just 21 generous bedrooms, all richly furnished and each with a view of either the sea or the gardens.
The top two floors of the castle are given over to the Endeavour penthouse suite. Its lucky residents have at their disposal four bedrooms, a games room and library, a media room, a kitchen, a private sauna, a spa treatment room and a spacious dining room and lounge with seating for 16 - all richly carpeted and opulently furnished. They also have sole use of a rooftop terrace with unrivalled views of Ailsa Craig, Arran and the Mull of Kintyre.
Effectively a hotel within a hotel, the Endeavour is served by a private chef and personal butler, who will mix cocktails, retrieve wine from the cellar or deliver a six-course meal prepared to your specifications. As self-indulgent experiences go, it’s hard to beat a private dinner served amid such splendour as the late summer sun streams in through the western window.
What to do
Glenapp Castle’s 36-acre grounds, encompassing untamed woodland and carefully tended gardens, may be enough to keep you occupied. Don your boots and set off on the Glen Trail, which takes you through the pine forest, along a tributary of the unflatteringly (and inaccurately) named Stinchar river and past great banks of rhododendrons - in full glorious bloom in the middle of June. Longer walking routes extend along the Ayrshire coast and through local villages (the hotel can provide picnics, jackets and boots).
Walking aside, Glenapp lays on plenty of other activities to suit all tastes - from croquet and quoits to archery, clay pigeon shooting, cabre-tossing and mountain biking. Or you can join a professional tracker for a day of deer-stalking, then head into the woods with a hawk for a falconry display.
If the alluring vision of Ailsa Craig tempts you away from the mainland, you can charter Glenapp’s impressive 33ft boat for the ten-mile journey across the Firth of Clyde. The knowledgeable two-man crew will tailor the trip to your interests, providing an overview of the unusual geology of the island - and an entertaining commentary on its history and mythology. Once home to smugglers, monks and religious refugees, it is now uninhabited.
From afar, the island may look barren and rocky, but up close it’s a surprisingly verdant outcrop, one side of which is home to tens of thousands of gannets. Puffins are beginning to repopulate the cliffside too, and you will see them bobbing on the water and skimming through the air, along with Manx shearwaters, guillemots and kittiwakes. Once ashore, you can climb a steep path to a small ruined castle, and wander among the more recently abandoned lodgings of the island’s lighthouse. Built in the 1880s by Thomas Stevenson - father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson - it is now automated and solar-powered.
For anyone who has spent the past year pining for a far-flung canvas-and-campfire adventure, Glenapp’s Hebridean sea safari offers the perfect domestic alternative. Accompanied by a private chef, you will travel from island to island, spending the days seeking out birds, sea life and remote islands - as well as the occasional coastal inn or restaurant - and the nights in luxury tents, replete after a sumptuous dinner and a dram to send you off to sleep.
When to go
Each season brings out a different aspect of Glenapp Castle’s charm. Hunker down in winter and make the most of the tasting menus, wine cellars and the whisky collection, or wait for early spring, when bluebells carpet the woodland. Rhododendrons take over for late spring and early summer, before handing the baton to the heather on Ailsa Craig. Outdoor activities are easiest over the summer, but possible all year round - the far west of Scotland rarely has harsh winters. The darker months also provide the opportunity for stargazing either at Glenapp or in the nearby Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park - a refuge from light pollution.
How to book
Rooms are available on the Glenapp Castle website from £251 per night in the winter or £395 per night in the summer, both including breakfast. The Endeavour Suite starts from £2,750 per night in the winter and £3,950 per night in the summer.