The real deal

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Some hotels’ claims to a colourful historical past may prove tenuous, but David Knight can’t help but be impressed by a country house which dates back, in part, to the 13th century and the Knights Templar.

Men in white tunics and women in white dresses are threads which are interwoven in the past and present of Maryculter House Hotel, near Aberdeen.

Many country hotels like to trade on their historic past, with varying degrees of authenticity, but Maryculter House has something right from the top drawer.

As soon as you see the 1225 date engraved above its entrance you realise it has something different from the rest.

It sits in a charming, secluded spot alongside the River Dee which also happens to be the ancestral home of a Scottish contingent of the famed Knights Templar.

These were fearsome fighting Christian knights with various strongholds around Europe spanning two centuries, who fought in the Crusades and protected pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.

A mere 80 knights once challenged an army of 26,000 Saracens to a scrap on the road to Jerusalem – and eventually won, according to my research.

Apart from their fighting prowess, they were also distinguishable by their white robes and vivid scarlet crosses. You feel their presence everywhere here, and it is not every hotel which can list in its range of activities the chance to stand in a field at midnight in the hope of seeing a knight’s ghost charging past on horseback.

With a surname like mine, I wondered if I, too, might have had ancestors who were Knights Templar. Very fanciful, I know, and on checking the meaning of names, I discovered that the name, Knight, was also granted to domestic servants or soldiers in the pay of real knights. My lot probably had the contract for cleaning the gents for the Knights Templar.

They are now outnumbered here by an equally formidable and unstoppable force also dressed impeccably in white – an army of brides.

With more than 100 weddings a year, Maryculter House is up there with the best around Aberdeen for staging nuptials.

It is easy to see why: it is beautifully picturesque and the River Dee ripples just feet away from the actual place where couples tie the knot under an arch outside, weather permitting.

The views in both directions down and upriver take some beating. You can see the attraction for wedding pictures with such an idyllic background.

It is not compulsory to get married before you stay here, of course. It has plenty to offer everyone else as well.

Apart from being pretty to look at, the Dee also offers up its bounty of fish and the hotel boasts its own beat with various packages tailored to the fishing fraternity.

Golf abounds everywhere in these parts, of course, and from some of the rooms, you can gaze across the river and see golfers ambling up and down Peterculter golf course.

From the South Deeside Road, it is possible to drive past and not actually see the hotel as it is tucked away from view. New sections have been added over the years, but at its centre, the architecture remains distinctly mediaeval.

Its showpiece is the residents’ lounge, set in an ancient hall dating back to 1225 which would not look out of place in any castle, with huge exposed stone walls and a beamed ceiling so high it almost disappears from sight.

It is a perfect room in which to relax with a drink in its luxurious leather sofas and soak up the historical atmosphere. The knights’ stables were supposedly beneath this very room.

The rooms were nicely appointed and, for my wife and I, there was a view across the Dee which ran just past our window. A 32in flat-screen TV and a walk-in stone-floor shower were other pleasurable extras.

We sampled room service and ordered ham and cheese croissants. These proved to be quite a sumptuous affair with deep, delicious fillings, tomatoes and cucumber dressed in a tasty balsamic sauce and accompanied by crisps.

Outside, and opposite the reception, there are the remains of a large Knights Templar chapel and cemetery, which is well worth a visit. From its gates, we could spot deer in the distance.

It’s an ideal base to strike out for other activities and visits in the area, but this is also a great place just to get away from it all, relax and do nothing in particular, or perhaps some walking, eating and drinking in very pleasant surroundings. That would be perfect.

Maryculter House also offers one luxury city dwellers crave – peace and quiet. There is no traffic and no noisy drunks outside, as often happens around city hotels. We were there for only 24 hours, but felt our batteries had been recharged by the time we left.

The Priory restaurant offers an excellent a la carte menu choice, with special theme nights now and again such as murder-mystery dinners, wine-tasting and mediaeval banquets.

Gourmet menus are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, at £32.50 a head when we visited, and that was a superb special treat. Various discounted room offers also accompany a number of the meal options. A good selection of meals and snacks is also served in the Poachers Pocket bar.

A full traditional breakfast awaits guests in the morning in a dining-room just off the bar.

The staff were friendly, helpful and very approachable throughout our stay, but we gave one special attraction a miss. There is a field nearby where, legend has it, a knight rides out at midnight and a ghostly Saracen woman can be seen floating about the woods.

I decided to stay safe close by the bar.

It is said that the Knights Templar were not allowed to retreat in battle, even against ridiculous odds, which probably explains why their life expectancy was so short.

Maryculter House Hotel is a special retreat of another kind which even the knights would have had trouble resisting.

Maryculter House Hotel, South Deeside Road, Maryculter, Aberdeen. Phone 01224 732124, or visit http://www.maryculter househotel.com