Q My stepfather and I would like to organise a surprise family holiday to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday next year.
Scotland is a possible destination, but finding suitable accommodation is proving difficult since there will be 22 of us – 14 adults and eight children, ranging in age from three to 17. Some of the families live abroad, so the accommodation would need to be within a few hours' drive of an airport.
To cover our varied interests and the Scottish weather, it would be great to have an indoor pool and other activities. We would also like to be relatively near attractions. R King, Suffolk
A There is no shortage of manors, castles and hotels in Scotland; the difficulty, as you've discovered, is finding one that can cater for 22 people in style.
Highland Lodges (01828 640064; www.highlandlodges -scotland.com) lists more than a dozen country houses, mansions and lodges in Scotland, including a former residence of Robert the Bruce. Drumkilbo House is in Meigle, Perthshire, and is set in 12 acres of grounds. It sleeps 20, plus four more in the adjacent Braveheart Cottage, and includes the use of a heated outdoor swimming pool, a croquet lawn and a billiard room. Just 20 minutes' drive from Dundee airport and an hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, the mansion is conveniently situated for your long-distance guests. Nearby is Glamis Castle (01307 840393; www.glamis-castle.co.uk; open daily 10am-6pm; £8), ancestral home of the late Queen Mother, who gave birth to Princess Margaret there. Rates at Drumkilbo start at £210 per person per week, fully catered, bringing the total cost of one week's accommodation to £4,620.
Loyd & Townsend Rose (01573 229797; www.ltr.co.uk) organises upmarket country-house and mansion holidays in Scotland and Europe, and suggests Birkhill Castle in Fife for your party. The large 18th-century family home of the Earl and Countess of Dundee, located an hour from Edinburgh on the river Tay, sleeps 22. The rather extravagant price of £5,000 per day is based on the Party Package, which includes all meals, an open bar and team of staff, and separate dining for the children. Also included in the price is the use of an outdoor heated pool, tennis court and private beach, as well as the opportunity to play golf and croquet, or try your hand at clay-pigeon shooting.
Nearby is St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university town, where you could explore the famous golf grounds or take a trip to St Andrews Castle (01334 477 196; www. historic-scotland.gov.uk; open daily 9.30am-5.30pm; £5.20). Alternatively, you could visit the turreted Falkland Palace in Fife (0844 493 2186; www.nts.org.uk; open daily 10am-5pm, Sunday from 1pm; £10), a magnificent hunting retreat built by Kings James IV and V, which also boasts the oldest tennis court in Britain.
Should Birkhill be a bit extravagant, then The Big Domain (01326 240028; www.thebigdomain.com) lists Ormidale House in Argyll, close to the island of Bute. The house lends itself well to big family celebrations and sleeps up to 30 guests. With an indoor pool, a 10-person sauna, football pitch and play area, even the worst of weather scenarios are catered for. A week's stay costs £3,895, with the option of catering adding approximately £1,000 on top. Ormidale is an hour-and-a-half drive from Glasgow airport.
Finally, if the idea of taking over a hotel for a week appeals, you might consider the Ashtree House Hotel (0141 848 6411; www.ashtreehousehotel.com), within the Oakshaw Conservation area of Paisley. Just 10 minutes' drive from Glasgow airport, the hotel provides an ideal base from which to explore central Scotland, Loch Lomond and the Arrochar Alps, as well as the historical sites in Paisley itself. A week's "takeover" would cost from around £4,500 for bed and breakfast.
Children of all ages will enjoy Scotland's Theme Park (01698 333 777; www.scotlandsthemepark.com), a 30-minute drive from Paisley. Wristbands cost £15.45 for those over 4ft, and £11.45 for those under, with group discounts available in advance.
For a more relaxing day out, visit the 13th-century Bothwell Castle (01698 816894), a 35-minute drive from Paisley, or do the 10-mile trip into central Glasgow to visit the cathedral (0141 552 8198; www.glasgowcathedral.org.uk).
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org