Spend your special day at Edinburgh’s fairy tale castle

Harry, Lord Dalmeny, with Barnbougle Castle in the background
Harry, Lord Dalmeny, with Barnbougle Castle in the background
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THE view from the terrace of Barnbougle Castle on the banks of the Forth is as dramatic as it is breathtaking.

With the tide out on a calm June day it is a magical sight, the mudflats glistening as they reflect the clouds and sky in what little water remains.

Barnbougle Castle

Barnbougle Castle

Suddenly the Capital, off in the distance, seems very far away.

Despite the peaceful nature of this scenario, it’s equally easily to imagine the 13th century stronghold being battered by the wind, lashed by rain and stoically withstanding the crashing waves on a dark winter’s evening.

It was one such wild and terrible storm that inspired the Earl of Rosebery and his family, led by his daughter Lady Jane and son Lord Dalmeny, to restore the building and open it to the public as a fairy tale venue for special occasions.

My guide today is Harry Primrose, Lord Dalmeny himself, “Just call me Harry,” says the 51-year-old who, one day, will inherit his father’s title to become the Eighth Earl of Rosebery.

Harry, Lord Dalmeny, on the balcony of the Great Hall in Barnbougle Castle

Harry, Lord Dalmeny, on the balcony of the Great Hall in Barnbougle Castle

As he shares the castle’s story, it’s clear he is passionate about the landmark building, which was his playground as a child.

“The castle sits on the site of an incredibly ancient house, built in the 13th century by a Norman family called the Mowbrays,” he says, opening one of the ornate ‘patio’ doors leading onto the terrace.

Looking out over the Forth, he observes, “It’s quite a good defensible site, you can see all the way up and down the Forth, from Hound Point Oil Terminal to the left, over to Fife, Inchcolm with its abbey, Carncross island, which looks like a submarine, Inchmickery, which looks like a battle ship, and Cramond Island, which my grandfather bought.”

The original owners were Crusaders, Harry explains, revealing, “One went off to the Crusades and left his dog behind.

“The dog ran away and went to live out on the Point. About a year later, a ghastly howling was heard - it was the day his master died. The dog knew.

“Ever since, there’s been this legend of this ghostly dog that howls when a castle laird dies.”

It is believed Conan Doyle got his idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles from this story.

“Under here are lots of old vaults and cellars,” says Harry, leaning over the balustrade that separates the terrace from the rocks and the water of the Forth.

“At one time you could sail your boat into the basement of the castle and unload stuff you had definitely paid all the tax on,” he laughs.

After the Mowbrays, the castle became home to the Hamiltons who owned it until the Primrose family bought it and the estate in the 1660s.

“One of the reasons my family don’t live here anymore is that in the late-18th century, when we did still live here, the Lord Rosebery of the day was a bit mean.

“He would never agree to build a new house until one day he was apparently washed off his feet by a wave as he stood in the dining room.

“Then he built the new house and the old house was allowed to become derelict, before being used to store gunpowder... it blew up and burned down.

“This is the castle that has survived everything.

“In 1897, my great grandfather, a wonderful man - he won The Derby while he was Prime Minister, can you imagine? - decided to rebuild the castle.”

While doing so, the fifth Earl set a stone high in the wall declaring, ‘Remove not the ancient landmark which they fathers have set’.

“His quote from Proverbs is our mission statement really,” says the father of five.

Uninhabited from 1929, after the death of the fifth Earl, Harry would play in the castle as a child.

“It had been my great grandfather’s library and retreat but in 1929 was shut up with just a caretaker.

“When I was a boy, two marvellous ladies were caretakers, Mrs Jo and Mrs Swanky.

“Mrs Jo made the best scones on the planet and always had a bag of mint imperials, I literally learnt to bicycle so I could come down and visit her.

“Mrs Swanky took over when Mrs Jo retired and was a radio ham.

“On the roof she had these huge aerials, she used to talk to the King of Jordan on the ham radio - we all thought she was a spy,” he laughs.

It was a violent storm in 2010 that led to the castle’s current lease of life as a fairy-tale venue.

“Terribly strong winds destroyed the balustrade, ripped up the terrace, left two feet of water in the cellars and the roof leaking,” Harry recalls, “We thought, ‘What do we do? We’ve got this one-bed room castle with six libraries and 10,000 books, it’s no good on Air B&B’.”

As we gaze over the wood-panelled Great Hall with its vintage painted leather ‘wallpaper’, Harry explains, “One of the reasons we have done what we have done is that this was where our family always held their big parties, often with a tent on the lawn and the castle as a backdrop.”

Indeed, the castle is where Harry himself celebrated his 21st birthday and wedding reception. With so much tradition, it’s easy to see why it is now the ideal banqueting hall for any special occasion.

“Our other guiding principal when refurbishing the castle was, ‘Change everything and change nothing’,” he says.

“The result we wanted was that the Fifth Earl could walk back in here and not go, ‘My God what have you done?’ but would walk in and go ‘This is the house I know’.

To have your celebration in this rather splendid ‘house’ will cost from around £6000 but then, “What you have is a modernised version of what the fifth Earl built, a house not for living in but for entertaining in,” smiles Harry.

To book or for more information visit roseberyvenues.co.uk/venue/barnbougle-castle