Almost as famous as the castle next door
Harpers and Queen
Now in its fourth decade, the Witchery was established by James Thomson OBE, in a historic building at the gates of Edinburgh Castle. At the historic heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, the Witchery takes its name from the hundreds of women burned at the stake at the stake as witches on Castlehill during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is reputed that more witches were put to death on Castlehill during the reign of James VI than anywhere else in Scotland. The area around the Witchery by the Castle remains deep in history.
The Witchery occupies a substantial sixteenth Century building, Boswell’s Court, named after a former resident, James Boswell, the uncle of Dr Johnson’s biographer. It has been in continuous occupation for over four centuries, latterly as committee rooms for the Church of Scotland and as the Rectory of a nearby church. Castlehill has always been at the very centre of Scottish history; The Palace of Mary de Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots, stood on the opposite side of the street, a site since home to the Scottish Parliament and adjacent to some of the Witchery’s luxurious suites in historic Sempill’s Court.
Built in 1595 for merchant Thomas Lowthian, the candlelit Witchery is entered from a traditional close off the Royal Mile. The original carved inscription on the doorway bears his initials and motto ‘O Lord in thee is all my traist’ can still be read. Nearby the ancient stone doorway built into the tower of the Secret Garden features the arms of the Duke of Gordon, Keeper of the Keys to Edinburgh Castle. In the Witchery heraldic painted and gilded ceilings, based on those at the Palace of Holyrood house, reflect the close links of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland. The tapestry-hung walls are panelled with seventeenth century oak rescued from a fire at St Giles Cathedral and panelling is from a Burgundian Chateau. Gilded leather screens, opulent red leather upholstery, tapestries, and antique church candlesticks complete the scene.
In 1990 James opened a second restaurant, the Secret Garden, on an abandoned schoolyard. This soon won an RIAS Regeneration Award so its sensitive rescue of an abandoned space and was recognised as the La Ina Most Civilised Dining room in Scotland.
This enchanting room is entered via a stone staircase from the courtyard above and looks onto a hidden, topiary and urn filled terrace, where guests can dine in the summer. The splendid painted ceiling is in typical Scots vernacular style and was inspired by the famous Rossend Castle ceiling now in the National Museum of Scotland. It portrays imagery from the tarot, and the mischievous bagpipe-playing cherub features among other angels with bagpipes that feature at the Witchery.
The series of painted doors and panels portray elements of Edinburgh’s ancient wine trade with France, a tradition we continue with a cellar running to 900 bins that holds a rare Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence among its many other accolades.
The Witchery remains a destination for many celebrities visiting the city, including Vivienne Westwood, Miranda Richardson, Bernardo Bertolucci, Alan Parker, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jacques Villeneuve, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Dannii Minogue, Matt Groening, Dan Brown, Tilda Swinton, Cameron Mackintosh and many more, with Lord Lloyd Webber describing it as the prettiest restaurant ever!
The Witchery is also home to just eight, uniquely luxurious and fabulously theatrical suites for those looking for a larger dose of Witchery magic than just dining can provide. Located above the Witchery and in the adjacent seventeenth-century Sempill’s Court, they are frequently featured in magazines as one of the world’s most romantic destinations. They were described as one of the seven wonders of the hotel world by Cosmopolitan Magazine and the perfect lust den by Dannii Minogue! Filled with antiques, lavish interiors, opulently draped beds and roll-top baths for two, they are a truly indulgent treat at £325 per suite per night including a continental breakfast served in your suite and a complimentary bottle of Champagne to welcome you.
Each of the Witchery’s sumptuous suites have their own charms and quirks hidden away in such a historic location. All of the Witchery’s suites are lavish, sumptuous, gothic, luxuriously opulent, and very, very romantic. You may be spoilt for choice…
The latest suite to join James’ collection, in summer 2010, is the Heriot, taking its name from the wonderful seventeenth-century architectural gem that it overlooks, George Heriot’s School. Entered from a striking black & gold hallway the Heriot has a sitting room with oak panelling and tapestry covered walls that leads to a dramatic bedroom, dressing room and bathroom. The sumptuous four-poster bed features an antique gothic oak headboard set against a mirrored wall and is lavishly draped with embroidered gold and green velvet hangings. Off of the bedroom is a charming dressing room, with dressing table & masses of wardrobes, and an enchanting chapel-like bathroom with a vaulted gothic ceiling and mirror-clad walls.
An opulent, rich and gothic Library-styled suite on the first floor, the Library has a dramatic book-filled bathroom with its hidden secret door and heavily draped bed. Filled with books, antiques and richly coloured textiles, the Library overlooks the Royal Mile. The Library’s unique features include Gothic oak bookcases, walls upholstered in Paisley fabrics, rich red antique velvet drapes, oak and tile floors, and a seating area with Victorian sofas from Taymouth Castle.
A very theatrically Gothic and romantic second floor suite, decorated in camply-ecclesiastical red, gold and black fabrics and furnishings. Overlooking the Royal Mile, the Vestry is also filled with antiques and features a theatrically draped bathroom that is passionately red, red, red! Other features include French gilded sofas furniture, ecclesiastical vestments and a huge roll-top bath and shower in the marble-floored bathroom.
This very large and spacious first floor suite is panelled throughout and hung with huge tapestries. Features include a dramatic black & gilt salon with theatrical purple drapes, an oak-panelled bathroom and an opulent four-poster bed in the blood-red bedroom. Looking onto the Old Town courtyards and closes in four directions, the Armoury also features historic portraits, a marble-floored bathroom, and polished antique floors.
THE GUARD ROOM
A very large and spacious panelled second floor suite featuring a great tapestry hung bed, and views over the Old Town rooftops in four directions, including views to Princes Street and the hills of Fife in the distance. Other features include a spacious bedroom with panelled walls, a marble-floored bathroom and a red and gilt sitting room off of the dramatic black and gold dining hall.
THE INNER SANCTUM
The very first suite created by James Thomson at the Witchery is exceptionally romantic and Gothic with a four-poster bed, a raised dining area and a separate study/sitting room tricked out in tartan. A favourite with visiting celebrities this suite features a wonderfully restored Victorian bath and shower and a mass of antiques in the lacquer-red bathroom. Other features include a tapestry draped four-poster bed, and window seats overlooking the Royal Mile together with masses of antiques, military uniforms and collectibles.
THE OLD RECTORY
A very large and theatrically decorated suite overlooks the Royal Mile and over the coast of Fife in the distance from bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. The dramatically red bedroom has a huge Gothic bed and several seating areas and there is an adjacent sitting room with a large Empire-style day bed and a quirky collection of gothic artefacts. The bathroom, with red and gilt leather walls, a polished bateau bath, twin sinks and separate black marble shower room was previously James Thomson’s study and is the Witchery’s largest.
THE SEMPILL SUITE
This suite is named after Lord Sempill, who purchased the property in 1743 as his Edinburgh residence. In the Witchery’s trademark style it is full of interesting antiques, objects and fantastically indulgent finishes such a velvet-upholstered bedroom and leather panelled walls. finishes. The Sempill Suite has a similar layout to the Guard Room and Armoury suites, with a dining hall, galley kitchen, sitting room, and bathroom with a large bedroom at the rear. The décor includes a gothic panelled hall with Paisley-lined walls, a sitting room panelled with antique leather, and an oak four-poster bed in the romantically dark and dramatic red bedroom hung with masses of antique velvet.
THE TOWER RESTAURANT
On St Andrew's Day 1998 James opened Edinburgh’s first and finest rooftop restaurant, the Tower. It has since won great critical acclaim, gained a clutch of awards and created many fans as a much-loved Edinburgh institution and must-see destination restaurant. Entirely contemporary in style, this contemporary, sleek and elegant restaurant and terrace located above the landmark National Museum of Scotland boast similar levels of service and style as you would expect from the Witchery and features stunning views of Edinburgh Castle and the city skyline. It also makes a great destination for a renowned afternoon tea!
2003 saw James achieve a long-held dream of owning Prestonfield House, a 17th-century architectural gem that had previously been home to the city’s Lord Provost. Lavishly restored, its exceptionally vibrant and historic interiors provide the setting for James’ most recent destination restaurant – Rhubarb.
Whilst the Witchery offers the most indulgent suites, James Thomson’s hotel at Prestonfield is equally historic. Located in a 17th-century mansion adjacent to Royal Holyrood Park, it was built in 1687 as the grand baroque home of Edinburgh’s Lord Provost. Packed with all of the fun, drama and character of the Witchery, Prestonfield has just 23 individually decorated rooms, 4 decadent suites and one historic Owner’s Suite.