Thirlestane Castle trustees hoping new cafe will be planners’ cup of tea

Hopes of turning around a trend of dwindling visitor numbers at Thirlestane Castle are lying in the hands of the region’s planning chiefs.

Thirlestane Castle at Lauder.
Thirlestane Castle at Lauder.

The Lauder visitor attraction believes the creation of a new tea room at the 16th century castle will help turn its fortunes around, should Scottish Borders Council planners give it the go-ahead.

The historic seat of the Earls and Duke of Lauderdale, Thirlestane has been home to the Maitland family since 1590, and run by a charitable trust since 1983.

The castle is open to visitors from May to October and year-round for exclusive-use private functions, but visitor numbers have remained stagnant of late.

David Willis from Edinburgh architect firm Crichton Lang, Willis + Galloway explained: “Visitor numbers have fallen from a peak of around 16,000 annually in 1999 to around 5,800 in 2012 which was the last full year the castle was open before closure due to dry rot.

“The castle was closed for the 2013 season for extensive repairs to be carried out and there was limited opening of two days per week in 2014.

“In 2015 the number of days open was increased to 65 and since 2016 the castle has been open 92 days.

“There has been no measurable improvement in daily visitor numbers during this recent three-year spell.”

The firm’s latest management report in 2014 suggests essential long-term maintenance of the castle will cost around £660,000.

Mr Willis added: “Over the years the trustees have considered a number of ways of complementing the visitor attraction business model in order to increase revenue.”

Now trustees want to remove and relocate an existing kitchen there so that they can create an extended tea room that will join onto the south courtyard.

They say a current cafe available to visitors at the end of a 10-room tour is “outdated”.

In 2017 Lauderdale Estates landowner Edward Maitland-Carew revealed plans to turn 50 hectares of agricultural land at Thirlestane into a holiday park. That bid, for 500 static caravans, lodges and eco-cabins, a caravan sales centre, shop and cafe, was met with some opposition and was withdrawn in March.