As well as ivy-clad turrets and excellent food, there’s one thing Glenapp Castle has plenty of: fresh air. It sits in 36 acres of grounds, all detailed for guests in a beautifully illustrated map. We spent hours watching birds in the Victorian walled garden, admiring views of volcanic island Ailsa Craig, sniffing the candy floss scent of Katsura trees – and chasing the path of a gurgling stream through a wooded glen, rich with deer and the tallest fir trees in Britain.
One of the most romantic spots is by the azalea pond, which reflects the castle’s sandstone battlements in its waters. For lunch, let the team pack you a bespoke picnic (we chose homemade sandwiches and a flask of hot tea) and enjoy it on a bench right next to the pond – if you ask nicely, they might even whisk you down there in a golf buggy. Staff here are friendly and helpful, to the point where they organised a blazing evening bonfire during our wintery stay, laying out marshmallows and hot chocolate for any hotel guest that wanted to join the party.
As such, Glenapp Castle felt like home to us. Despite the grand exterior (it was originally built in 1870 as an imposing family residence for James Hunter, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire), there’s no intimidating reception hall – just a welcoming parlour, with neat piles of wellington boots for guests to borrow, panelled wash rooms, chesterfield sofas and a vintage telephone to use if you need assistance. Up a carpeted staircase and to the left is the drawing room, with stone fireplace and ceiling-high windows that frame a spectacular view of Ailsa Craig (you’ll find granite curling stones from that island propping doors open around the castle).
Guest rooms, especially the master suites, are spectacular. Chandeliers, four-poster beds, huge windows framed by thick drapes, a fireplace surrounded by armchairs and a sofa and, in one case, a curved corner door that leads to a private spiral staircase… follow it down to reach a wooden hatch that opens on to the castle’s forecourt (imagine the trysts!). So big are the suites that guests also enjoy their own walk-in wardrobes, and there’s enough seating for at least a dozen people.
There are two intimate dining rooms, both with Mull of Kintyre views, and the highlight here is head chef Tyron Ellul’s six-course tasting menu. Start with a trio of tiny appetisers – including a pearly white scallop with crisp tempura shell – before a cup of smooth turnip velouté, spiked with truffle. Little cubes of beetroot and soft arborio rice made a light and vibrant risotto, and a translucent fillet of delicately grilled west coast cod came with a bright red pepper emulsion. Turbot was cooked just as well and was topped with a wilted spring onion, vegetal seaweed butter and a rich chicken and cardamom jus. Dessert, a puffy, golden passion fruit soufflé with matching sorbet, was well worth the wait.
The kitchen also does breakfast (continental or a hot plate including Ayrshire bacon, haggis, Stornoway black pudding and potato scone), lunch and afternoon tea. Plenty of fuel for exploring beyond the castle grounds – we took a stroll through the Stinchar Valley, with its oak woodlands and abundance of pheasants, red squirrels, roe deer and otters. For ultimate decadence arrange for someone from Glenapp to meet you half-way with hot soup and crusty bread… they won’t even judge you if you ask for a lift back in their Land Rover Defender (we did!).