A castle for Christmas? Why you should visit Scotland this festive season

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Winter wonderland: Edinburgh Castle, an actual castle in actual Scotland (Simon Calder)
Winter wonderland: Edinburgh Castle, an actual castle in actual Scotland (Simon Calder)

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

Caution: if you are sensitive about the accuracy of accents and/or geography, the new Brooke Shields movie is not for you.

A Castle for Christmas, just released on Netflix, features the actress as a best-selling author faced with a literary flop who decides to escape to Scotland. The plot is irrelevant (which, at times, appears to be the director’s view too). But at the end of another year in which international travel to Scotland has dwindled towards zero, it is just the present that the inbound tourism industry needs.

The film presents a pastiche of Scotland: every pub scene involves a ceilidh, the stern faces of some locals conceal warm hearts and around every corner lurks another stunning view, more often than not dominated by a castle.

Unbelievably, Netflix tweeted that the film is “the most accurate depiction of Scotland ever seen on screen”. Anyone who makes the journey from Edinburgh airport to Dalmeny House, which pretends to be Dun Dunbar Castle, will discover that the distance from the end of the runway to the front door is exactly two miles and that the journey involves no mountainous scenery.

And the “Duke of Dunbar”, played by Cary Elwes, mangles his “Scottish” accent with as much abandon as Dick Van Dyke destroyed the Cockney dialect.

Who cares? VisitScotland could not have come up with a better advertisement for the nation.

When Americans, Brazilians, Chinese and other visitors finally start boarding planes again in significant numbers, a good few will make their way to Scotland. They will be inspired by this latest Netflix nonsense as well as the true fiction of JK Rowling: after the Universal Orlando rendition of Hogwarts School, next stop the nation that inspired the Harry Potter dynasty.

I will write the word “castlecation” only once and hope that everyone forgets it. The castle will be an important ingredient in reviving the fortunes of Scottish tourism. Demand is likely to surge for stays at Scottish castles. Those offering guest accommodation tend not to be mighty fortresses perched on hills like Edinburgh Castle, but ambitiously turreted baronial residences built in the late 19th century.

Even with almost no foreign visitors, castles and similarly mighty places to stay are in demand this month – especially Cromlix. This might sound like a Harry Potter location (as do the nearby features on the map, such as Dam of Quoiggs, Naggyfauld and Wester Cambushinnie) but in fact it is owned by the tennis star, Andy Murray.

His country house hotel in Perthshire is sold out for Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year). A castle isn’t just for Christmas, but even the weekend beforehand, the only room I can find is £445 double for a night – though reputedly if you’re a fellow pro on the tennis circuit he’ll give you a deal.

Castellated budget options are harder to find since Carbisdale Castle stopped operating as a youth hostel. But I have the answer: Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, in the beautiful borders south of Edinburgh, which looks the part and still has rooms available for Christmas Eve and 25 December, at £330 a double.

To put that rate in perspective: it is a lot less than half the price for the same nights at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh – which is merely named after a majestic castle. Grab it now before international visitors arrive, attracted by Hollywood’s latest tartan travesty.

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