A Distant Castle for Happily-Ever-Aftering

Fernie Castle Hotel in Letham, near Cupar, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland

 

Neil Blackburn, the Laird of Fernie Castle, invited us to spend our first honeymoon night in his 450-year-old castle. Not all of the castle is that old; only the “keep” dates from 1353 during the days of Duncan the 13th and the era of warring Highland clans. The majority of the castle is somewhat more recent, being passed down from family member to family member over the centuries, with a spired turret highlighting the south end and the dungeon converted to a cozy bar with an arched ceiling.

We spent the night in one of the castle’s two “monarch suites”. Ours awaited us on the top floor (third floor by American counting, second floor by UK reckoning). White and ivory, highlighted with gold was the theme of the room – a thick white comforter on the white four-poster bed, bolster pillows of white with gold thread, white wallpaper with intricate gold vertical stripes, white wood on the furniture with gold trim — a plush and welcoming bridal chamber if there ever was one.

Our green marble-floored bathroom filled the entire room in the turret, with a long, white claw-footed tub taking center stage. A white pedestal sink and a plant on a stand stood nearby like guards for the tub, or perhaps silent servants.

The windows of our upper-floor room looked out onto the grounds of the castle – wide expanses of green Scottish grass that attracted what seemed to be a hundred “wee bunnies” in the evening hours. The trees enclosed the gardens, opening a gap to the west, where we could see the farms and fields all the way to the distant horizon. It never quite got dark over that horizon – high latitudes and summer season combined to create unbelievably long days.

As honeymooners, the bridal chambers took special significance, but there’s no reason to ignore the rest of the castle. The floors were carpeted with a McFee tartan – chosen for its colors rather than for its historical significance. The walls in the public areas had been hand-painted in a pale fresco style to look like the heavy stone you’d expect in a castle. At the top of the stairs near our room, the walls show a knight on leading his fair lady on her horse. A shining suit of armor decorates the lobby and armor breastplates adorn the walls of the bar.

The dining room, a modern addition to the castle, held a dozen or so tables, set with linen and china. Our table overlooked a tiny courtyard with gnarled vines and a statue of a girl holding a basket.

For starters I had venison and pork liver pâté accompanied by hot pistachio toast and quince, while Linda had honeydew melon shaped into a flower, garnished with berries. Then came a prime Scottish steak for me with a brandy and peppercorn sauce, while Linda enjoyed the Tay salmon with a creamy mussel sauce.

Our dessert was a tray of local cheeses and grapes, which we took up to our room to share before bedtime.

Of course the castle has a ghost; every old building has a ghost if ghost stories will help business. The story of the Fernie Castle ghost is the one of the young bride, married without her father’s permission. In the inevitable disagreement between her father and the groom, complete with swordplay and bloodshed, the bride fell from one of the castle towers. Her ghost is said to visit the castle from time to time, appearing as a sad lady in green, wandering the halls and visiting hotel guests late at night – particularly guests who happen to be judgmental fathers. No ghost for us, though.

In the morning we awoke to the crow of the rooster who lived in the farm next door, on land that was until recently part of the castle grounds. After a hearty Scottish breakfast that included a clove-flavored black pudding, meaty bacon (not the “streaky” bacon Americans tolerate), a fried tomato, and potato scones, we strolled out to see the castle’s grounds.

A loch sits behind the castle. It’s about an acre in size, and at that time the aquatic plants seemed to have an upper hand in the perpetual battle for space, but plans are in the works for a school of carp to munch on the plants and restore order to the pond. But the blue heron that calls the loch home has its own plans for the carp – breakfast, lunch, and dinner to be specific.

Laird Blackburn and his family live in a small house next to the castle. He prefers to treat the castle as a hotel – an establishment with a professional and cultured atmosphere, rather than as a B&B that mixes the family in with the guests. His ancestral castle is a ruin; he purchased the Fernie Castle from the previous owners who had maintained the castle as a hotel, making a considerable effort to enhance the castle “feel” of the hotel by painting a stone motif on the interior walls and removing the stucco-like harling from the majority of the castle’s exterior.

The castle is the area’s prime hotel, used by local companies for meetings and by what must seem like every wedding party for miles around. To accommodate the many patrons, the castle now has a small ballroom in the back of the castle and Blackburn has built a “treehouse” cottage to give bridal couples a place to retreat from their wedding guests.

There is so much about Fernie that will remain in our hearts – a smiling desk clerk named Fiona, the second floor sitting room with its chess set and friendly fireplace, the bronze statues and urns placed around the grounds, the mysterious dungeon-like cistern that hides behind a barred gateway, and the ever-present pot of hot tea.

We will always remember Fernie as our ancient castle in a distant land where we found our happily ever after.


Fernie Castle’s monarch suites go for £238.00 per couple, and dinner is just under £30 apiece. Their address is: Fernie Castle, Letham, by Cupar, Fife, KY15 7RU SCOTLAND. Phone them at 01337 810381 or email at mail@ferniecastle.demon.co.uk You can visit Fernie Castle’s Website at www.ferniecastle.demon.co.uk

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