For a grand dining experience, try a Scottish castle

November 03, 2004|DONNA CLORE

There are many beautiful places to visit when on holiday, or vacation as we say here in America. And I recently found yet another one of those special spots in Scotland.

The "Castle of Park" is located about one hour north west of Aberdeen and five miles from the Moray Coast off the North Sea. It is owned and operated by Bill and Lois Breckon.

It was even more stunning than the brochure or Web site portrayed. A real 16th century Scottish castle, hidden away in a tree-lined park with a rich history, beautifully restored, modern conveniences and affordable. Yes, affordable.

I was there for a week of watercolor painting instruction with 10 others from various countries. The all-inclusive price included not only tuition for the class, but also the accommodation of staying in the castle and glorious gourmet meals - all of them - breakfast, lunch and dinner with afternoon tea and "biscuits." We call them cookies. The price included transfers from the airport and all local transportation to most fishing villages and other castles.


What a grand experience to gather in the Georgian drawing room each evening before dinner for chatting and drinks. The Scotch whiskey, of course, was available as were other selections - even orange and cranberry juices for the non-alcoholic palette.

Lois Breckon, the lady of the castle, and her staff prepared a kind of eclectic blend of four- to five-course candlelit dinners, served in a large dining room where everyone gathered.

Haggis for breakfast

Some of the foods were traditional Scottish ones, particularly the "Haggis" and "Black pudding" served at breakfast. It is not really a pudding in the American sense of puddings, but composed of blood and other ingredients I can't remember, but definitely an uncommon dish for Kentuckians.

If only Lois Breckon would offer cooking classes mixed in with their 12 summer weeks of other art and writing courses, it would be a fantastic experience.

Lois Breckon says that, "Bill likes to be thought of as an international man-about-town and intellectual punch-up expert but he's actually a laird-cum-writer specializing in all things medical."

Lois Breckon is chatelaine and mother of Lydia, age 8, and Lara, age 6. She abandoned a career in corporate marketing and electronic investor relations in Central London to take up the keys to the castle, a move she has never had time to regret.

"I read natural science at university and, on graduation, led a corporate life, so moving to Northeast Scotland to run a castle was a complete change for me," she says.

The property was listed in a front-page editorial in the property section of The Saturday Times (The Times being one of the leading national newspapers in the UK) and they were immediately drawn to it. It is a Gordon castle, close to the seat of the Gordon clan in Huntly.

Lois Breckon's maiden name is Adam, a sept of the Gordons, so she felt she returning to her roots. She says, "In reality, if we were to draw a family tree, I would probably be several twigs short of a forest from the Gordons who had lived at Castle of Park for 400 years. But I like the thought that there is some sort of connection."

Park, part of an ancient Fife granted to a Norman Knight in 1242, was bought by the Gordon family in 1605. The Gordons of Park married into the Duke of Fife's family, the Duffs, in the mid-18th century. During the 18th and 19th centuries the castle was transformed from a baron's fortress into an elegant country home.

The Gordons of Park were active Jacobite supporters and Sir William Gordon joined Bonnie Price Charlie's 1745 rebellion for the march on England and the subsequent retreat and ultimate defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The Duke of Cumberland's men later encamped at Park and sacked the castle, but they failed to capture Sir William, who hid in the area - possibly in secret rooms in the castle itself - for two years before escaping to France.

In earlier times Robert the Bruce, victor over the English at Banockburn (1314), is likely to have stayed at the castle.

"The basic tenet is to provide well-balanced meals with lots of variety to keep those tastebuds tingling."

Slow Food Movement

The Breckons are great followers of the Slow Food Movement in Scotland which aims to use, where possible, only the best local produce in season, cooked to perfection and then presented so that it's as pretty as a picture.

Much of Lois Breckon's cooking skills were honed in Italy, where the couple own a watermill in Tuscany, and so many of the dishes have an Italian flavor. But other than that she has no formal training.

"I just love eating, which means I cook as well as I can so that I can enjoy the results," she says.

Her guests give her plenty of practice.

"We usually cater for between 12 and 18 people who might be staying with us for up to two weeks, so we work quite hard to keep the ingredients and menus as varied as possible. Fresh fruit and vegetables, well-hung meat, and delicious bread, although we regularly bake our own as well, is delivered from local producers. Basic ingredients such as flour and butter I order online from the local supermarket and they are usually delivered next day."

Recipes come from all sorts of sources. Often they have been tried and tested - and adjusted - over the years, many taken direct from her mother's knee (Lois Breckon's mum was a professional caterer). But Lois Breckon says: "I just love cookery books and I will read them like novels."

Her inspiration is often Delia Smith or Josceline Dimbleby, big names in the UK for preparing good food at a domestic level.

Donna Clore is Boyle County extension agent for family and consumer sciences.

Central Kentucky News Articles