Stay: Gargunnock House

Near Stirling, Scotland
10.18.2010 | by: Meghan

Every summer Lisa Borgnes Giramonti from A Bloomsbury Life takes a big trip with some friends and their families. This summer, they opted for this nearly 25,000-square-foot Scottish manse. It was their fourth visit. Almost 15 years ago, Lisa and her husband, who were living in London at the time, were invited by friends and shared the house with a bunch of DJ’s, club kids and a fabulous drag queen who dressed up in a Victorian ball gown every evening. This trip was a little different. Cue a bunch of kids sprawled out, playing board games and hide-and-seek in the immaculate, formal rooms, running around the lush grounds and embarking on muddy hikes, jumping fences, crossing sheep pastures and picnicking on mountaintops.

Lisa gives Designtripper a special account:
After a couple weeks of seeing nothing but castles, lochs, sheep and the greenest grass you’ve ever seen, your brain is operating on an entirely different level. It’s even better for kids: my son lives on a pretty tight leash at home [in Hollywood], so being able to nod and say “Go!” when he asks if he can go off exploring is great.

The last owner of the house, a confirmed bachelorette named Viola Stirling, drove an ambulance in WWII and spent her life as gameskeeper of the estate along with her companion Miss Fairlie. When she died, she specified in her will that the house and grounds be preserved for the happiness of others. There’s a photo of Viola in one of the bedrooms—she has wavy cropped hair, a military uniform and a wonderful twinkle in her eye. Many pieces that belonged to her family are still in the house: all the ancestral portraits crowding the dining room walls, the piano in the grand salon that was supposedly played by Chopin, and the library that’s full of Viola’s books on horticulture and Scottish history. Staying at the house is incredibly personal; it doesn’t feel like a rental property at all. When we went on a hike this summer, I grabbed an umbrella in the hall to take with me in case it rained.  When I opened it, it was a bit moth-eaten and rusty, which made sense when I saw the brass plate on it that said, “Viola Stirling, Gargunnock, 1913”! Her spirit is still very much alive there.

More than the scope of the property, it’s the house’s eccentricities which linger in my mind. Gargunnock is slightly mysterious, like the house in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” One hallway has such a sloping floor that marbles roll sideways and you almost have to grab onto the wall. There’s a bedroom on the third floor with signatures etched into the window panes—one reads “Miss Eliza, 1849.” Was she a governess? A young girl? An unmarried spinster?

The Details
The country house is owned and operated by the Landmark Trust—a UK-based company that rescues historic homes from neglect and restores them for future generations to enjoy on holiday. Prices start around $3,400 for a week.

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