Afternoon Tea at Balfour Castle, Orkney, Scotland
On my final stop of my Northern trip this Summer we stopped off at Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland. However, I did not really explore Kirkwall, instead I headed to the ferry port and caught a boat out to the island of Shapinsay to visit the beautiful Balfour Castle, which while being a family home, hosts tour visitors, guests and serves up absolutely delicious afternoon teas. You can probably guess what I was there for!
Balfour Castle was built on the island of Shapinsay by David Balfour, the 4th laird of Balfour and Trenaby in 1847 as his personal residence. It is a ‘calendar house’, meaning that it has 7 turrets, 12 external doors, 52 rooms and 365 windows. Pretty awesome, right? The architect, David Bryce did a pretty amazing job.
We started in the castle vegetable gardens, designed to be able to feed everyone up at the house and their guests. Shapinsay is pretty remote, if there are no boats there are no supplies, so you can imagine that the gardens would have needed to be full service. The fact the gardens are walled provide a bit more shelter for growing, and the greenhouses meant they could grow things like melons, which you would not imagine being able to thrive off of the North coast of Scotland! I love seeing working examples of kitchen gardens, so it was a great opportunity for a geek out, especially so when we were eating some of the produce later!
Heading back into the castle we started in the upstairs gallery, which is where we got to learn some of the history of the house. All of the paintings are of the original family, and so much of the other artwork, antiques and sculptures in the house David Balfour brought back from Italy with him after his grand tour. I was a particular fan of the little lamps on the ends of antlers; they originally held candles and I can imagine that they would have been quite striking. I also found the library quite fun. While they had become mixed up over the years, the busts of ancient Greek and Roman gods and philosophers above each bookcase used to indicate what genre of books were stored there. So much better than the Dewy Decimal System.
I was simply stunned by the beauty of the drawing room with its ornate wallpaper and ceiling matching all the furniture, and by the beautiful view from the table out the window to sea, but what really captured my imagination was my first glimpse of my absolute favourite room in the house, just through the double doors.
Can someone please explain to me why I could not take this amazing second floor sunroom/ conservatory home with me? This is essentially the ultimate dining room. Can you imagine taking breakfast here on a sunny Spring morning, or holding a late night Summer dinner party in here with the whole thing lit up with candles?
Before tea, we headed out for a wander around the gardens. They’ve only recently started growing their maze, but I like to think that my finishing the whole thing in about two minutes has more to do with my brilliance, than the fact I could see over the top of the hedges! I may have also wandered off and discovered a slightly overgrown pathway that lead to the sweetest little outdoor perch to sit, read and ponder life’s mysteries.
Now, for the food. We settled down in the castles amazing, Italian art lined dining room for delicious little Scottish Smoked Salmon finger sandwiches and sumptuous cakes. While I was a fan of the banana bread, I have to take my hat off to the deliciously dark and moist chocolate cake, with its thick ganache frosting. However, the star of the show were the delectable Scottish raspberries decorating the plate! There is a reason Scotland is one of the best places in Britain to grow them. We moved onto light scones served with lashings of clotted cream and lots of rhubarb jam made from the rhubarb grown out in the vegetable gardens. Not as good as my Mummy’s homemade rhubarb and vanilla, but still pretty damn great.
Amazingly, you can actually hire out exclusive use of the castle and its chef, or just hire it out for dinner. (It is only an hour away from London by helicopter, after all!) They don’t have prices listed on their website, but it is apparently supposed to be quite reasonable. I’d seriously consider renting it out for a weekend with a big group of friends for someones birthday; they also offer things like cooking lessons, fishing and shooting. There is also a billiards room and a big, in house cinema. And a spa. You can contact the castle for more information here.
Even finishing up an amazing trip that included Fjords and Glaciers, island hopping around beautiful islands in Norway and bathing in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, I still managed to find Balfour Castle stunningly beautiful, and one of my favourite days in two weeks away. Now, this is my last destination post from my trip, but I still have one post left to put together sharing a few snaps from out on the ocean and from Iceland that I could not really find space to share by themselves. I 100% promise to make it through the last of my holiday photos get it out to you before I head off on my next adventure in September!