Prince Charles’s luxury bed and breakfast venture at his darling granny’s favourite castle, where for £160 (R3 000) a night, you can enjoy peat fires, yards of chintz and her treasured doggy knick-knacks
For three weeks every August, the Queen Mother would decamp to the Castle of Mey, her beloved Scottish retreat near John O’Groats. ‘One feels so beautifully far away,’ she said of her ‘dear little castle by the sea’.
Bought for £100 (R1 900) in 1952, after the death of her husband, George VI, the place had the ability to lift her spirits like no other.
She enjoyed taking her meals in the dining room, which offered her stunning views, and traditional Scottish fare such as ‘clootie’ dumpling (‘cloot’ being the Scots for the cloth in which the suet is boiled) and foil-wrapped ‘dishwasher salmon’ (one cycle has a similar effect to poaching and delivers perfect results, apparently) were among her favourite dishes.
Since her death in 2002, Prince Charles, who was so close to his ‘darling grandmother’, has faithfully kept up the tradition of summer sojourns at the Castle of Mey, set in spendid isolation in 18,000 acres.
It was not a place to everyone’s liking, though. For one thing, it was exceedingly draughty, prompting some members of the Royal Family to describe the ‘dear little castle’ as ‘the fridge’.
Now, the rest of us have a chance to discover who was right as the Castle of Mey acquires a more modern nickname — ‘Heir B&B’, a jokey reference to the online rental outfit Airbnb.
An adjacent granary has been converted into a ten-bedroom bed & breakfast with the first guests paying from £160 a night, and checking in from today.
The castle has actually been open to the public since 2002, but visitor numbers have been dwindling — hence this new venture spearheaded by the Prince of Wales.
An extension, in pinkish local slate stone, seamlessly blends with the original 17th-century grain store.
The result, to quote one expert visitor, is ‘traditional Scottish country house with a newish twist’, comprising peat fires, chintz sofas, floral cushions — and a cabinet full of the Staffordshire dogs to which the Queen Mother was partial.
The walls — featuring Landseer dog prints, Scottish landcapes and coastal paraphernalia, from barometers to a ship wheel — are painted in ‘chalky’ shades of Farrow & Ball, and every fabric is by Colefax and Fowler and was approved by the Prince.
There are certainly plenty of talking points. In the dining room, for example, there are six grandfather clocks — especially prized by the Queen Mother.
‘When they all go “ding ding ding”, it makes you laugh,’ says Michael Fawcett, Prince Charles’s former valet who remains a vital part of his office as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation, the charity that managed the project.
‘The trick was to make the rooms feel as though they were part of the castle — to give it a patina of the Queen Mother and the Duke of Rothesay [the title Charles uses in Scotland], to make something they would recognise as home.’
The royals would certainly feel at home in the bedrooms, which have been furnished with luxurious coroneted canopies.
The Queen Mother’s presence at the castle is evident, from the 1954 fridge and the pile of Dick Francis novels on a table, to a telegram sent to the Royal Yacht Britannia asking for urgent supplies to be sent to the castle. ‘There is a grave shortage of lemons,’ she wrote. ‘Could you please bring a couple with you. M.’
According to her official biographer, William Shawcross, nothing gave her more pleasure in Scotland than picnics. ‘And they happened almost every day, rain, snow or shine,’ he noted.
So, £160 a night for a room is cheap at the price. And perhaps the menu will even include Stornoway clootie dumpling and foil-wrapped ‘dishwasher salmon’.