Just a stroll away from the majestic Kelpies, Graham Brown spent a weekend in a Grangemouth country house with a proud history.
With absolute certainty I can say that their attraction will, for me, never diminish by even a horse hair’s breadth.
Indeed, as the years go on, I expect Andy Scott’s best-known creations will take on an even greater majesty, their patina reflecting to increasing effect the character of the magnificent living beasts on which they were modelled.
From the news of the project, to the appearance in Dundee of the 1:10 scale maquettes and then that breathtaking first encounter with the 30-metre high horse head sculptures alongside the Forth and Clyde Canal, the Kelpies have had me hooked.
At less than an hour and a half away from home they are easily accessible, and whenever the opportunity presents itself I’ll make the effort to at least pass by and, if time allows, drop in to The Helix on which they stand and gaze in awe from beneath.
But each visit leaves a sense of longing – and a wish that they were just that little bit closer to allow their uniqueness to be enjoyed at each different hour of the day in every light of all the seasons.
The opportunity to spend a relaxing couple of nights in nearby luxury was therefore, too good to miss.
A short canalside walk away sits the four-star Grange Manor Hotel, built in the late 19th century as a rather grand house for the factor to the Earl of Zetland’s local estates.
And, almost 150 years on from his death, it’s safe to assume that Thomas Dundas, the second Earl would have heartily approved of the equine-themed tourist attraction which now dominates the local lands he once owned.
He was, after all, a senior member of the Jockey Club and won both the Derby and St Leger with his horse, Voltigeur in 1850.
Tucked into landscaped gardens, the hotel is ideally placed for exploring this attraction-packed part of central Scotland, and is in high demand as an award-winning wedding venue. It has also added another delightful string to its bow, to which we’ll return later.
Accommodation is in both the main house – where our elegant, high-ceilinged and beautifully decorated room was situated – and the Garden Wing, with more than 30 rooms available.
After settling in we enjoyed a drink in the downstairs bar before making the short walk from the main hotel to Cooks Bar and Kitchen, situated in what was the 19th century coach hosue.
It promises a relaxed and informal dining experience, and absolutely delivered on that front, along with superb fare, the emphasis firmly on local produce.
Well rested, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast served in the main hotel before setting off on the short journey to a pre-booked tour of the Kelpies, an unmissable chance to learn more about their story and see inside the structure of those majestic beasts.
At just £7.50, the 30-minute walking tour around and then inside the sculptures is a bargain, the vision and story of the project brought to life with an enthusiasm which kept our fully-booked party of all ages enthralled and eager to know more.
The value of the tour also extends to the visitor centre and café, where fleecing visitors has been eschewed, and we were able to sit protected from the elements as cloud and rain closed in, watching them envelop the striking pair as we digested hearty, delicious soup and the remarkable story, facts and figures relayed by our exuberant guide.
Of course, the Kelpies are star attraction of The Helix, but here is very much more to the park and just a few miles away is the other mechanical marvel that is the Falkirk Wheel.
Still on the engineering theme, I’ve fond memories of a trip with a train-loving son to the Bo’ness and Kinneil railway, but have yet to tick the box of the Bo’ness motor museum. Maybe next time.
Instead we had a date with Rosie, and more particularly her tea room within Grange Manor. Afternoon teas have become the big thing, whether sweet or savoury and with or without some Prosecco sparkle, and a full house confirmed the venue’s popularity.
We skipped on the fizz, but the array of everything from haggis bon bons to dainty cakes was a treat for eye and taste buds.
However, the stand out feature of our stay was the friendliness of the Grange Manor staff – every one engaging, helpful and a credit to the venue.
All in all, a highly enjoyable stay virtually in the shadow of those magnificent equine monuments.
Little did he know he was backing a surefire winner for the future when the Earl of Zetland chose that spot for his manor.