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Mary Queen of Scots wasn't the best when it came to choosing prospective male partners. She discovered they were arrogant, ruthless, disloyal or wedded to a bottle - you name it, she fell for it. Me, too.
But the Scottish ruler was more discerning when she selected the venue for romantic assignments with her Italian secretary/lover, David Rizzio. Sitting on a terrace outside Melville Castle, as I took in the vista of pastures and pine forests, I imagined the young queen and her paramour on horseback, galloping through the 50 acres surrounding this castle, which was rebuilt in the 18th century. The couple also planted trees, which survive today, to mark the site where they shared precious, secret moments.
Corner-turreted, grey-stone Melville Castle, which has also played host to Queen Victoria, George V1, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, and is just seven miles from Edinburgh, is accessed via a long, sweeping drive, lined with tall trees which fringe the River Esk and lush woodland. Over five years, the Hay family have refurbished and restored Melville House into a stylish country house hotel, with beautiful paintings, furnishings and rugs.
Friendly, welcoming staff greet visitors in the huge entrance hall. There are several reception rooms, so you never feel crowded, plus a library and a dining room. Unsurprisingly, haggis was an option at breakfast and dinner. Our pleasant suite was on two floors. It comprised a sitting room and bathroom with a huge floor to ceiling window and a mezzanine sleeping area.
The nearby park and ride facility provides easy access to the city. A hop on hop off guided tour bus is a great way to get an overview. There's so much to see, but it provides a taste of the city's attractions. The famous castle dominates Scotland's capital, from its great rock. It's home to Scotland's crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny, traditionally used in the coronation of Scottish rulers. Our guide highlighted the gold-topped windows of the suite where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future James V11 of Scotland, who became James 1 of England. From the castle, the world's oldest canon booms out at 1pm daily.
Holyrood House, the British Royal Family's official Scottish residence, was the former home of the ill-fated Queen Mary. The medieval old town contrasts with an elegant Georgian new town, with its gardens and neoclassical buildings. Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in Holyrood Park, affords sweeping views from the peak. In this vibrant city, the glorious Princes Street Gardens provide a restful refuge from sightseeing and mandatory shopping in Princes Street, behind which is a labyrinth of interesting bars and bistros for al fresco drinking and dining.
The Real Mary King’s Close is buried deep beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. This, the city’s deepest secret, comprises a warren of hidden streets, frozen in time since the 17th century, and shrouded in myths and mysteries, with blood-curdling tales of ghosts and murders.
The former Royal Yacht Britannia, build on Clydeside, now moored permanently in front of the Ocean Terminal, was the British Royal Family's floating holiday home during their foreign travel from her launch in 1953 until her de-commission in 1997. Look out for the mahogany windbreak, added to the balcony deck in front of the bridge, put there to prevent wayward breezes from blowing up skirts and inadvertently revealing glimpses of royal underwear.
After a tour of the bustling, colourful city, where we heard bagpipes, admired men in kilts, tasted haggis and quaffed a dram of whisky it was oh so nice to come home to the tranquil elegance of Melville Castle, where we enjoyed dinner in the Cellar Bar and Brasserie - by the light of a crackling log fire. Our Scottish sojourn gave us the best of both worlds.
Melville Castle, Gilmerton Road, Edinburgh
tel: (0131) 654 0088
From £149 for one night B&B classic room (based on 2 adults sharing)
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