Kings for a holiday: Scots castles attract record rental numbers

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A decade ago, renting a tiny Highland cottage with a small group of friends was considered the ideal new year getaway; now the average reveller's expectations have grown.

A record number of people looking to escape the traditional frivolities with the in-laws have been flocking to Scotland to take up temporary residence in turreted castles and grand stately homes, which can now be rented by the week.

For less than the price of an average family holiday on the crowded beaches of Benidorm, visitors canplay the Laird to their heart's content.

Throughout Scotland, estate agents and owners of stately piles have reported an upturn in the number of visitors - many from England - looking to escape in style.

"People have discovered that if four couples split the cost of rent between them, then even £4,000 is as cost-effective as booking into a hotel at Christmas or New Year," said Marjory Gibson, of letting agents CKD Galbraith in Perth.

"There has been an astonishing growth in Christmas castle hire this year, as well as parties wanting to take over a castle for a week at New Year."

Fuelled by the popularity of such television programmes as Monarch of the Glen and romantic depictions of Scottish history in films such as Braveheart and Rob Roy, the letting market is in overdrive. Many castles are now proving an attraction even at prices of up to £4,500 a week.

Many of the properties on offer can accommodate up to 16 people, so for the likes of Boturich Castle on Loch Lomond, near Glasgow, the £4,500 a week rent works out less than a cheap hotel per person. The 19th-century castle, where Sir Walter Scott stayed to research his novel Rob Roy, comes complete with two games rooms, two bedrooms with four-poster beds, one twin room and one double bedroom, plus accommodation for a nanny, and children's quarters - all set within 140 acres of secluded woodland.

Other examples include Dalcross Castle in Inverness-shire, where the Duke of Cumberland rallied his troops before Culloden. Complete with five bedrooms, three reception rooms, a games room, two cloakrooms, a dining room, bar, kitchen and card room, it sleeps 12, and costs from £4,500 a week.

For younger members of the family there is also the chance to rent Archie the inventor's castle from the television series Balamory.

Under its proper name of Fenton Tower the castle, used for filming, can accommodate 11 people and is actually located just 20 miles from Edinburgh, set amid 20 acres of private grounds.

"We now have 300 properties on our books," said Marjory Gibson.

"The properties we let are one-offs and that individuality appeals to many people who are fed up of hotel chains. They want a traditional Scottish experience in an unusual setting, whether with the whole family, just as a couple, or with a group of friends."

Over the past 12 months the company has reported a 20 per cent increase in bookings and is already taking reservations for next Christmas and Hogmanay.

"A lot of parties enjoy going to these properties for Christmas and New Year. Families and groups of friends want to experience the large house, enjoy the grandeur and the tranquillity as they live like a Laird for a week," said Ms Gibson. Throughout the year there is a great growth in people wanting to book for weddings, birthday parties or other special events, she added.

"If a group of people get together it works out cheaper than a holiday hotel and they get the whole house to themselves along with the privacy you won't get in a hotel."

'There is something very special about being here for Hogmanay'

Sightseeing in Dubai, beach-combing in Barbados, or a ranch in Arizona are all appealing, but when it comes to the New Year Deirdre and Mark Johnston prefer to do it in style north of the border.

The couple, who run Mark Johnston Racing, one of the UK's top racehorse trainers, prefer to spend time with family and friends renting a country house in Scotland.

This year they are hosting a get-together for 14 of their friends and family in Perthshire at Edinchip House near Lochearnhead.

Edinchip House was built in 1830 and was the home of the chief of Clan Gregor. Set in extensive, private gardens, the house provides a high standard of accommodation, with the hills of Breadalbane as a stunning backdrop.

"We all love the outdoors. We will go riding, and I'm bringing three of my own horses for anyone who wants to ride during the week. There's nothing to compare with Scotland at this time of the year - if it snows, so much the better!" said Mrs Johnston.

"We have been to exotic destinations in the past but there is something very special about being in Scotland, especially for Hogmanay. It's all about tradition."