Nearly every little girl fantasizes about being a princess. For most, the dream ends when we hang up our toy tiaras, trading it for the stability of ‘real life.’ But what if that dream could come true… even just for a day or two?
When I booked my trip to Scotland, I scoured the internet for a castle stay worthy of a princess-wannabe. Many castles have been so modernized that their insides are indistinguishable from a generic hotel. But then I found the Castle of Park. Voted one of the 10 best castles in Great Britain, the current owners have taken pains to ensure that the interior remains true to its great history.
The best castle accommodation in Scotland
The region of Corncairn (now Cornhill) was gifted to Waleran de Normanville by King Arthur II of Scotland in 1242. Former owner of the Castle of Park, Louis Breckon, says “‘Corncairn’ was possibly a Peel Tower in the 13th century and became a castle called ‘Park’ built in 1530 by the Dowager Margaret, Lady Saltoun. The Castle was known as ‘Park House’ in the 17th century and several architectural styles and additions have been made over the past 500 years. The Castle of Park is a magnificent family home, which continues to delight guests who stay there.”
Today, the Castle of Park in Aberdeenshire is owned by the Campbell Wilson family, purchased in 2007 and is a family home that Becky Campbell Wilson runs as a B&B and wedding venue.
I planned my trip around the castle’s availability, and as the beginning of my roadtrip was a bit rocky, I was looking forward to my castle stay as the thing that would turn my trip around. High expectations are often a recipe for letdown, but in this case, my high expectations were met and exceeded. This is the first stay in my memory where the reality was better than the website (and their website is great!).
Arrival at the Castle of Park
I misjudged the timing of my day as I leisurely explored the kilt museum, Highland House of Fraser in Inverness, learned all about whisky at the Tomatin Distillery, and had an afternoon tea at the Dairy at Daviot, so night had fallen by the time I arrived at the Castle of Park.
I turned down the tree-lined path, parked my car at the wrong part of the castle and hoped that someone was home. Current Laird of the castle, Becky Campbell Wilson, came out to meet me and ensured that I made it to the correct door.
She helped me with my bag and showed me to the Tudor Room, where I’d be staying for the next two nights. Becky’s son told me that I’d booked the most castle-y room of the house, and I agreed… that’s exactly why I chose it! I’d recommend packing light for this trip, since all luggage needs to go up two flights of stairs, one of them being a tight, spiral staircase.
As soon as I entered my room, my Disney princess-heart skipped a beat. THIS was exactly what I’d hoped for… a room fit for royalty. The four-poster canopied bed, made of dark wood, heavy curtains and walls adorned with artwork made me feel as if Lady Mary (Downton Abbey anyone?) could be in the room next door.
Becky asked if I’d like tea, and we agreed to meet downstairs by the fire in a few minutes.
Relaxing in the castle
The Great Hall is my favorite room in the castle… and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say it may be my favorite room in the world. Walls painted a deep burgundy hue, the ceiling’s ornate pattern lightens up the room substantially. The previous Laird was an art collector, and the collection reflects the exquisite taste of Lairds past and present. There’s even a piece formerly owned by the last Queen of France, portraying her patron saint, which played a part in her daily spiritual ritual. On two of the three high windows, unicorns stand on the built-in window seat. Did you know the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal?
The pièce de résistance is the fireplace, presided over by a carved deer head, holding candles in its antlers. The fireplace is warm and cozy, and the red velvet armchairs invite you to sink in and stay a while.
Becky served tea and scones with jam and we chatted about the castle and life. She is warm and well-traveled and I loved hearing snippets of her adventures around the world.
Most of my time at the castle was spent curled up on that red velvet armchair, reading a good book or taking advantage of the excellent wifi (for the first time in a week) to work or chat with friends and family.
When I wasn’t in the armchair, I loved exploring the castle.
Exploring the Castle
It seemed that a new discovery lurked around every corner. Some areas are off limits to the guests, since this castle is a family home, but the open areas have plenty of treasure to discover!
On the ground floor is a chapel, one of the castle’s most recently renovated rooms. It’s hand painted and a nice place for some quiet reflection. The initials above the door point to the Campbell Wilson family, who converted this room to its current use.
The dining room is also on the first floor, and I bet it’s seen some awesome dinner parties!
Each morning, breakfast is held in the playroom, next to the billiards room. Even their pool table is fit for royalty, forgoing the typical green felt for princely purple.
The selection of cereals, fruit, and yogurt are on a help-yourself basis, but Becky cooks a warm breakfast as well. Have you ever eaten breakfast made by a Baron?!
Up the staircase and past another unicorn in a window seat is a library with floor to ceiling bookshelves and a little ladder. I had to leave that room quickly, because once I get started reading, I can’t tear myself away.
Next to the library and across from the living room is the Drawing Room. This airy and light room with its large Georgian windows is reminiscent of the sitting room in Downton Abbey. I half expect to see Carson standing at the door, but the days of valets at Castle of Park are long gone. The baby grand piano on the far side of the room begs to be played and I wished I hadn’t given up on my lessons years ago.
Up the narrow spiral staircase are two bedrooms and a balcony that looks down on the floor below. I wonder who’s used that balcony as a place to listen in to conversations in this great house over the centuries.
Meeting the Highland Cows
If you’re from Scotland, I suppose seeing a Highland cow would be commonplace… but not for me! Next to alpacas, these fuzzy cows with a hairdo reminiscent of Justin Bieber circa 2010 are my favorite animal.
I was so excited to learn that the Castle of Park is also a working farm, and borrowed a pair of wellies to go meet the resident Highland cattle. The cows are cute and curious, stepping closer and closer as I struggled to adjust the focus on my camera as they approached.
If you’re a fan of farm-to-table cooking, you’ll be happy to know that some of the breakfast sausage is sourced from the farm. If you’re like me, and prefer to think of the cows as cuddly pets, let’s pretend that they’ll live forever in the pasture.
Sleeping in a castle with a rich history, as the guest of a warm and kind host, goes down in my books as one of the best stays of my life. Maybe just being me is almost as good as being a princess…