Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Broomhall Castle - Menstrie (near Stirling, Scotland)

I wanted to book a castle for D's 30th birthday last year, but unfortunately all the castles I'd looked at were hitting the £250 mark per night. This was a little more than I could budget at the time as we were in the process of buying our first house and everything else to put in it too.To make up for a 30th birthday of unpacking boxes I decided that D's 31st was going to be extra special and I planned a trip away to Scotland. I've been to The Highlands before but D hasn't and I just knew he would love it as much as I do. To make sure we saw as much as Scotland as possible we decided to stay in a few locations, it would also break up the long drive from Leeds. On the way back I was debating whether to stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow. I pondered briefly over Stirling. When D saw a picture of the Wallace Monument (he loves Braveheart) it became set in stone that we would stay in Stirling on the way home. 

I'd already forked out a pretty penny for the log cabin in Loch Ness (half term late bookings will leave you weeping) and so I began scouring airbnb, youth hostels, lastminute.com etc for bargain deals. There was limited availability everywhere, top tip if you're going to Scotland May/June time this is the most popular season so book well in advance. I'm signed up to Quidco, which I almost always forget to use, but on this occasion decided to look at the cashback deals on their website. This directed me to booking.com, where I was presented with a varying list of hotels, BnB's and self catering options. Again, I was limited on choice due to the late booking but up popped a castle. A CASTLE. It wasn't the cheapest option on the website but it was at least £150 cheaper than all of the other castles I had previously looked at around the country. 

Broomhall Castle. It wasn't as fancy looking as some of the other castle hotels in Scotland, the rooms seemed a bit mis-matched on the pictures and there didn't seem to be any grand antique furniture. It was an extra £40-50 for a four poster bed so I ruled that one out thanks to a helpful nudge from a pal who said I could spend the money better elsewhere, i.e. a nice dinner out in the city. I looked at the reviews on Tripadvisor (with caution of course) and there were some 'interesting' reviews. There were some good reviews and some pretty damning reviews, there was plenty of praise for the staff, albeit many were described as a bit kooky. I wasn't getting a bit of a mixed picture. It wasn't until I read one particular review that described their stay as akin to staying a Fawlty Towers that I knew I had to book a room for comedy value. 

Wonky, erm Stag? Goat? Male Sheep? 

I kept D in the dark about the castle booking, when he eventually queried about where we were staying I told him it was just a hotel in Stirling. I knew his initial reaction to rolling up to a castle would be great but I was also fully prepared to set his expectations straight before we walked through the door. Lucky, D has the same sense of humour as me and therefore his hopes weren't too dashed when he found out that it wasn't a luxury castle hotel. 

Everything went to plan. I input the address on Google Maps and we drove to Broomhall Castle, D began to get suspicious as drove past the signs for Stirling city centre and started querying about where we were staying to which I kept saying you'll see in a few minutes... we turned in to the gates and rolled up the drive. "A CASTLE, WE'RE STAYING AT A CASTLE". 

We walked in, D's expectations now set to Fawlty Towers, and we made our way through the main doors to a lobby with no obvious reception, but instead a desk sat awkwardly to one side. A member of staff appeared and greeted us. We used good old paper and pen to check in and were asked for no ID. We were then shown to our room on the top floor (the lift could only be used when accompanied by a member of staff) and were passed our keys which were held together by a teddy bear key ring that wore a Broomhall Castle t-shirt. D joked that he didn't expect to be handed a teddy bear and was more expecting a shield or sword key ring, the staff member laughed and said yes it was a bit timid for a castle and perhaps not on theme. 

The walls of our room were bright blue. The furniture was mismatched just as the pictures on booking.com with a mix of new and old furniture although none of it antique. There was the obligatory kettle with tea, coffee and pots of milk (no fridge, no thank you), a TV, a wardrobe and an en-suite bathroom. I was disappointed that we didn't have a roll top bath as it was advertised on booking.com that most rooms had these but it appeared that we had somehow been given the room without one. In addition to the absence of a bath we also appeared to be missing towel rails and instead our towels were piled neatly on to the top of the toilet. 

The window looked out on to an outhouse and trees that stood about 5 metres away. Not really a room with a view but as it was towards the back of the building I hoped it would be quiet. We had to put the freeview box on top of the wardrobe to make the telly work and if you happened to walk in front of it the screen jumped around like crazy. 

We were informed that unfortunately due to the thick walls of the castle the wifi could only be accessed from the bar or lounge area. This was reiterated in the handbook in our room photographed below:

"due to the ridiculously thick walls our wifi connection can be temperamental from time to time (a bit like our staff really!!)  The best place to use wifi within the castle is either in the bar or lounge areas (you can then send all your pennies at the same time!!)" 

I'm sure a wifi extender or two (few) couldn't resolve this problem (as we have in our old home with thick walls) but I was slightly baffled by the thick walls comment after I was awoken in the morning by the sound of hearing every single sound that came from our neighbours bathroom and their coughing in bed.

I'd booked dinner in the castle for 8pm, we might as well have the full experience after all and I couldn't be bothered ordering a taxi for the 20 minute ride in to Stirling. Having an hour or so to spare we decided to head down to the bar to make use of the wifi and have a couple of drinks to wind down after another full on day of travelling. 

We arrived at the bar and the wifi was still none existent, I'd look again when we sat down, we had no cash on us so we asked if we could pay on card. We were informed that we could pay on card but we would then have to go back out to the hallway as that was where the only card machine was and if that was the case we'd have to wait a few minutes until someone else came back to the bar. Or, we could set up a tab and pay when we checked out. We set up a tab. 

The alcohol selection wasn't grand, unless you're looking for whiskey but then again this was fairly small in comparison to some of the other bars we'd been to in The Highlands. D queried about the beers on tap, the descriptions weren't grand and I wondered at one point if they were making things up and eventually D settled on a local ale. The lady behind the bar (the same one that had checked us in) was struggling to pour a pint and asked another member of staff to check the barrel, meanwhile she continued to pour frothy pints and chuck them down the sink. The young fellow returned and said there wasn't nothing wrong with the barrel, she continued to pour pints down the sink. D said he'd have a bottle instead to which she obliged and then managed to pour a half decent pint and said he might as well as have that now too seen as it was poured. 

I asked which wine was available by the glass. I was met with a face of shock as if I had just asked her what the square root of 3027856 is. The barmaid/concierge/checking-in-lady swizzled round and looked at the open bottle of red behind the bar and read from the label. I asked her what the white option was and she swizzled to the other side and opened the fridge "I don't know how to pronounce it, sav-ing-on blank". I replied with a correct pronunciation and said a glass of that would be fine. 

Whilst we were standing awkwardly at the bar watching her pull pints and then pour them down the sink D attempted to engage in conversation, we'd read the history of Broomhall Castle in our handbook upstairs and told the lady behind the bar we were shocked about some of the stories of the castle, most notably about when it was used as boy's grammar school and during in WWII how the headmaster who was German evacuated the boys out of the hall and then set it alight to create a beacon for the German planes looking to bomb Scotland. She didn't have a clue and joked that should really seen as she worked there, um yeah probably. 

Full copy of the history if you're interested is below. 

There appeared to only be three members of staff that evening who did everything from checking in, to serving at the bar, to waiting on tables in the dining room. 

The view from the conservatory (extension on the side) was of a food manufacturing plant. At least the sky was a romantic pink. There was still no wifi in here and in fact the only place I could find wifi was in the dining room. 

The options on the dinner menu were interesting. Scotland gets a lot of Chinese/Japanese tourists and so most places we visited tended to cater for an Eastern palate too (in the Pie Cafe in Skye I heard one person make an off the menu request for a stir fry which they gladly obliged to). In Broomhall this option was chicken wrapped in parma ham with stir fried veg and curry sauce. It was such an odd mix of flavours but I knew that it was widely ordered option as the stench of the curry sauce permeated the dinning room. 

During the meal one of the waiters scurried back to the kitchen from the dining room knocking a young lady's bag off of the back of her seat, he stopped briefly, looked alarmed and then instead of apologising and retrieving said bag he ran even faster in to the kitchen. I couldn't help but giggle. Perhaps it was the pre-dinner wine. 

Both D and I ordered the deep fried Brie for starters. the breadcrumb was slightly overdone but inside the cheese was cold, perhaps they needed to turn down the temperature of their oil and leave it in a little longer. The pea shoots served with it were soaking from the rinse in the sink they had clearly had. (The Eastern option, in case you're interested, was light curry battered vegetable fritters). 

For mains I opted for the Pan Seared Wild Venison Loin served with chive clapshot, Haggis Bon Bons and honey and thyme jus. I had to Google was a chive clapshot was; it is a Orkney Island dish of essentially boiled veg and tatties. What was offered to me was more of what I would describe as ratatouille that was overwhelmed by thyme. Literally all I could taste was thyme. The Haggis Bon Bons were beyond dry with a poor quality haggis (despite being reassured it was sourced locally). In my experience you can either do haggis really well or get it completely wrong. I have to hand it to them that the venison was done really well and I did enjoy my medium cooked circles of loin a lot. 

D ordered 6oz Orkney Fillet Steak served with black pudding mash, cabbage and bacon and a mushroom jus (sauce). D really enjoyed his meal and they managed to get his medium-rare request spot on. The black pudding mash wasn't overpowered by black pudding either, something which I often find a bit too rich for my palate. 

We decided to share a dessert of Cinnamon Doughnuts, which were exactly as described, two doughnuts accompanied by butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream. 

Following dinner we retired to the lounge area which had cabinets full of retro kitchenalia from the 50/60s and came complete with a mural on the ceiling. I think they're supposed to be angels and cherubs. I'm not sure who they commissioned to paint it but I think they need to work on their perspectives a bit more. It was funny to sit and admire it above us. 

In the morning there were a couple of new members of staff serving breakfast and checking people out (at the same time). There was a small timid lass and a taller more dominating lady who yelled at all their foreign speaking visitors in a thick Stirling accent. "YOUS READY TO ORDER" which filled the dining room with each new foreign visitor. If she was asked questions her volume rose, because clearly speaking louder is how people who do not have English as a first language understand you better. A French lady dinning behind us enquired in to the sweet breakfast options they had, to which the reply was "WE HAVE SCOTTISH PORRIDGE, YOU COULD PUT JAM ON IT". It was hard not to cry with laughter at my table, unfortunately the French lady wasn't impressed and when the more timid waitress asked her how her breakfast was she replied sternly "NON" and stormed off. I thought she might cry. 

The full breakfast menu is below, who knew guests could be awkward hey? 

D and I opted for the 'Broomhall Breakfast' but without haggis (probably best considering last night's dinner) or black pudding. 

My sausage was so anaemic I didn't dare eat it, I was further put off when on it's own spirit it squirted out some white fluid. 

I'm finding it hard to convey how truly fabulous this place and how it was so slap stick it was funny. I was exactly as I hoped it to be and more. I booked it for comedy value and that's what we got. I can imagine that if you thought you were booking a romantic Scottish castle with a backdrop of hills and rolling fields you would be truly disappointed to find it wasn't the 5 star accommodation you were expecting. Saying this, I don't think we could have stayed more than one night! I do regret not taking more pictures to show you how spectacularly awful the decor was; I've put this down to exhaustion from all our travelling! 

If you have a similar sense of humour to me and decide to book a visit make sure you pay a visit to the Wallace Monument which is only a 5-10 minute drive away, then drive in to town and take a look at it from a far from the walls of Stirling Castle. 

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