21 August 2014

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Glorious Gosford


Gosford House 2011 - West Wing 1104_Gosford_From_West_low_res.jpgWith its grand columns and neo-classical marble exterior, Gosford House is a staggeringly impressive sight. On a clear day, it can be seen 18 miles away from Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth. However, the 200-year-old mansion, designed by celebrated Scots architect Robert Adam, is just the start of the story on this stretch of East Lothian coastline. 

As you’d expect, the Austen-esque grandeur of Gosford has seduced many a set location scout – most recently, you might recognise it from the BBC’s 18th-century crime series Garrow’s Law. Event organisers seeking similar period drama have plenty of options. Inside the house, the three-storey Marble Hall is undoubtedly the stand-out space for entertaining. The high Venetian windows, ornate columns and intricate plasterwork make an inspiring backdrop for receptions of up to 400 guests. The imposing double staircase leads to a surrounding gallery space where you’ll find one of the largest private art collections in Scotland, featuring works by Rubens, Titian and Tintoretto – just another of the house’s hidden charms.

ESTATE OF PLAY Gosford is full of surprises that extend far beyond its bricks and mortar. Amid the expansive coastal views, acres of woodland and uncluttered scenery, you’d never guess that you were only up the high road from Edinburgh city centre. And the surrounding 5,000-acre estate, suited as much to large-scale activity days as it is incentive trips, has four private golf courses, a boathouse, curling rink – naturally – and the requisite space for some serious caber tossing and other Highland games. The estate’s size also lends it to product launches, particularly for cars, and productions requiring articulated lorries, as well as offering plenty of marquee sites, with a total capacity of up to 2,000 guests. As such, it’s also a popular destination for weddings, especially when brides learn that Seton Collegiate church, a 15th-century kirk, is nestled within the expansive acreage. With all this space, Gosford is a playground for incentive groups. Falconry, clay pigeon shooting and home baking classes are just some of the draws, but even the more sedate elements of a corporate programme can make the most of the surrounds. Summer gatherings are encouraged to soak up the scenery with a barbecue by the boathouse, dinner on the balcony overlooking the Firth of Forth or a picnic by the pond, while the grand Dining Room can hold 100 guests year-round, with two in-house catering teams providing banquets of wild boar, chicken or game from the estate.  1006_Gosford_house.jpg

LOCAL FLAVOUR The Gosford team is resolute in its aim to either grow its own produce or source food locally, and alongside its current commitment to 40% of their goods being home grown, the estate even has its own farm. ‘Scottish food is extremely important to us,’ says Rob Steadman, the venue’s events and marketing manager. ‘We’re not >> small, nouvelle cuisine; we’re well-presented, home-grown country house fare.’ The same goes for their beers – obtained from a Dunbar brewery – and their selection of whisky, including local malt Glenkinchie and blends handcrafted by the local Wemyss family distillery. After a trip to sample the wares of the distillery itself, you might opt for Gosford’s three-course seasonal dinner, which incorporates a help-yourself whisky and liqueur table serving Hodden Grey – a deluxe blend created for the London Scottish Regiment. This strong sense of local flavour and Scottish tradition is embedded into every aspect of Gosford’s hospitality; be it a piper upon entrance to dinner, gifts of homemade shortbread or a Highland games tournament. Dinner can also be followed by an old-fashioned Ceilidh, where guests are taught traditional Scottish country dancing, immersing delegates in Scotland’s cultural customs, and adding an element of interaction to the evening.   Gosford House - Craigielaw golf course 1205_Gosford_House_craigielaw_golf_club_RESIZED.jpg

TIME FOR TEE Given that Gosford has a total of four golf courses, it’s no surprise that indulging in a round (or a pre-round clinic) on the Craigielaw course is among the most popular pastimes for corporate guests. The award-winning course is situated within the private woodlands and with challenging greens, vast bunkers and views over the Firth of Forth and out towards Edinburgh, Craigielaw Golf Club is one of Gosford’s ‘musts’. The course set-up makes it easy to run different competition formats, overseen by an expert team of PGA golfers and hospitality staff. ‘The team makes the planning and running of the event as simple as possible,’ explains Iain Russell, commercial manager of construction company Lend Lease, which has held a charity golf day for 150 guests at Craigielaw for the last four years. ‘The dining facilities within the clubhouse offer great views over the course and created the perfect relaxed atmosphere that we were looking for.’  In keeping with its golfing pedigree, the estate retains three other private courses: the James Braid-designed parkland course of Monktonhall, the links course of Kilspindie and the more challenging course at Longniddry.  

OVERNIGHT OPTIONS When it comes to bunking down for the night, Gosford’s six-bedroom beachfront villa Green Craig is scenically placed, overlooking the Firth of Forth. With its own office, a meeting room with space for 50 and Wi-Fi, it’s great for smaller corporate gatherings. Each of the six en-suite bedrooms can be set up as either twin or double rooms, taking the head count up to 12. The design of each incorporates Scotland’s finest wools, tweeds and cashmeres. A small team of staff is on hand to organise airport transfers, golf tee times, caddies, stately home excursions and dinner reservations for your guests. Rates start at £1,600 +VAT for 12 people for a long weekend.  For now, larger parties can head back down the road to one of Edinburgh’s five-star hotels – The Balmoral or The Caledonian Hilton are fine lodgings – but with a 25-bedroom golf lodge due to open on site in May 2013, Gosford’s stately playground will add yet another string to its ample bow.

This was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, summer 2012

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