The Budget Savvy Travelers

Best Stately Homes | Mount Stuart House Behind the Scenes Tour

The Mount Stuart House is one of the best stately homes we’ve ever had the pleasure of touring. As we explored Scotland’s Argyll region, almost every local we met excitedly asked us, “Have you been to Mount Stuart yet?” The massive Victorian Gothic home is one of Scotland’s crown jewels and lives up to all of the hype as one of the United Kingdom’s best stately homes.

The giant red sandstone gothic palaced that stands today was built after the first Mount Stuart house burned down in 1877.  Work on the new house began in 1880 and was constructed by John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

He’s celebrated for artistically and beautifully incorporating his love of astrology, astronomy, mythology, religion, and family into his massive home. While visiting the house, we contemplated why the Mount Stuart House wasn’t technically referred to as an “estate” or a “palace.”

The rear of the Mount Stuart House.

After touring the home and learning more about the Stuart family, we found out that the mansion was not simply intended to be a status symbol. Rather, the Marquess intended for the house to be treated like any other family’s home, just on a grander scale.

Best Stately Homes | The Mount Stuart House

Although it showcases like a museum, one of the most alluring aspects of the property is how it is so open and accessible to the general public. Wedding receptions take place in the Marble Hall. As a result, brides and grooms overnight in the Horoscope Room and share their first newlywed breakfast in the Conservatory.

The front of the Mount Stuart House and its massive lawn.

Groomsman can play pool in the Billard Room while sipping on their favorite scotch. Overnight guests can use the Lord and Lady Bute’s private bathrooms to see first-hand what it was like to use one of the first indoor rain showers. On private tours, guests can enjoy a traditional Scottish lunch in the Smoking Room surrounded by historic books, family heirlooms, and early editions.

Looking down on the Mount Stuart House.

This is not your typical ‘look but don’t touch’ stately homes experience. As a result, Mount Stuart visitors may immerse themselves in one of the best stately homes to one of the wealthiest families in history.

Mount Stuart House Standard Tour

All standard tickets include a guided house tour and access to the gardens. Adult tickets cost £13. The standard tour begins at the entrance or foyer of the house. Although nowadays it naturally feels like the main entrance, interestingly enough, it was originally the rear of the home. The Mount Stuart House standard tour will allow you to see:

  • Marble Hall
  • Dining Room
  • Drawing Room
  • Blue Library
  • Marble Chapel
  • Marble Staircase
  • Gallery
  • Horoscope Room and Conservatory
  • Family Bedroom
  • Lady Bute Room

Marble Hall

Ascending to a height of 80 feet, the Marble Hall is the heart and soul of the Mount Stuart House. Moreover, the hall combines the features of the most luxurious palaces in Byzantium, Rome, and Greece with the most stunning cathedral of Europe. Much of the home’s architecture was inspired by the 3rd Marquess’s visit to the brilliant Palace Chapel of Charlemagne at Aachen.

The Marble Hall is one of the most captivating spaces.

The greatness of the Hall lies in the 3rd Marquess’s passion for astrology and astronomy.

The ceiling of the Marble Hall is spectacular.

The stars studded with glass crystals adorn the vaulted ceiling and the signs of the zodiac and their corresponding seasons illuminate the stained glass windows. Daylight entering the room has been manipulated to land in specific spots throughout the day.

Dining Room

The Dining Room was used mainly for entertaining and important dinners.

The Mount Stuart Dining Room.

Probably the most significant aspect of the Dining Room is the exceptional collection of 18th-century portraits. As a result, some of the artwork includes pieces by Giorgio Domenico Dupra, Thomas Gainsborough, Allan Ramsay, and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Drawing Room

The Drawing Room is inspired by themes of the natural world, mythology, and the family’s heraldic shields.

The ceiling of the Drawing Room.

The ceiling depicts heraldic shields that represent the family tree for nearly a millennium. Furthermore, each shield intertwines with vine⁠—connecting them all together.

While on the tour, be sure to keep watch for hidden architectural surprises, such as the below-engraved spider. Tour guides like to challenge children on the tour to find certain creatures such as spiders, dragonflies, and ladybugs.

Children enjoy a Mount Stuart scavenger hunt by finding hidden creatures, like this engraved spider.

Blue Library

There are three connecting libraries. They are named after the color of the walls: Blue, Red, and Purple. The standard tour will allow you to walk through the Blue Library. All three libraries are the same size so by visiting the Blue Library you will get a good idea of how the other two look and feel.

The manuscript describing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots written by Sir Robert Wingfield in 1587 is held within the collection.

All combined, the three libraries house about 25,000 books. Furthermore, a few of the most noteworthy books include Shakespeare’s First Folio, handwritten annotations by Robert Burns, and a manuscript describing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots written by Sir Robert Wingfield in 1587.

Marble Chapel

Similar to the Sistine Chapel and Westminster Abbey, the floor of the Marble Chapel is in the Cosmati style and is symbolic of the elements of earth, wind, water, and fire.

The Marble Chapel walls are ice cold to the touch.

The chapel combines facets of Italian Gothic, Spanish, and French architecture. The lantern in the ceiling, a replica from La Seo Cathedral in Saragossa is illuminated by the ruby red glass in the clerestory.

Sunlight pouring through the red glass in the Marble Chapel’s clerestory.

Most impressively, the walls are lined with white Carrara marble and are consistently cold to the touch.

Marble Staircase

The Marble Staircase is easily one of the most impressive aspects of the house.

Looking down the Marble Staircase.

The windows are in heraldic form and inspired by the Marquess’s devotion to his family tree.

The Gallery

The Gallery is the square-shaped hallway surrounding the Marble Hall on the second floor.

Even the gallery/hallway is a work of art in the Mount Stuart House.

The detail added to the walls and ceiling along the gallery is overwhelming when considering the number of hours it must have taken to complete. Make a special note of the bronze railings, they are exact copies from the interior of the Palace Chapel of Emperor Charlemagne at Aachen.

Horoscope Room and Conservatory

The Horoscope Room is now a bedroom. As a result, today it is used as a wedding night suite for brides and grooms. It was originally the 3rd Marquess’s sitting room.

The ceiling of the Horoscope Room illustrates the planetary alignment on the day of the Marquess’s birth.

The Conservatory features the most charming fireplace that depicts the Bute family cat and a mouse on the other. The reason for this playful depiction is a fun story. Be sure to ask about it during a tour.

A mouse on the left side and a cat on the right side of the fireplace in the conservatory.

Also, most newlywed couples will enjoy their first breakfast as husband and wife here.

Family Bedroom

This was the bedroom of the 3rd and 4th Marquess.

The Family Bedroom.

Decorated with heraldic shields, the ceiling illustrates the marriages of the Bute family. Above all, a rope carved in wood joins the shields.

Lady Bute Room

This was originally Lady Bute’s sitting room. One of the most pleasant themes in the room is the depiction of the foliage and birds in the walnut frieze.

Looking out the window of Lady Bute’s Sitting Room

Mount Stuart Experience | Behind the Scenes With a Private Tour

For an additional cost, Mount Stuart is open for private tours. However, most visitors agree that it’s well worth the price. This behind the scenes excursion will allow you to see rooms, artwork, and artifacts that you can only experience on a private tour.

The entrance to the dining room.

Pre-booking is essential with a minimum of 24 hours notice. During our private ‘behind the scenes tour,’ we ate brunch in the Smoking Room, swam in the Swimming Pool, toured the Billiard Room, and walked through the spectacular Burges Chapel.

Private Lunch in the Smoking Room

About halfway through our tour, we enjoyed a private lunch with dessert in the Smoking Room. Lovely wooden bookshelves line the walls of this cozy den. Also, the embellished ceiling features a zodiac and nature theme.

We’re enjoying a private lunch in the Smoking Room.

The room has a hidden doorway that leads to the Horoscope Room directly above it—it’s the only hidden doorway in the house. The lunch included a selection of cheeses, haggis sausage rolls, crab cakes, salmon, and oat crackers. Also, the dessert includes scones, torts, and chocolate cake.

Mount Stuart Pool

Among the home’s other architectural feats, is the Mount Stuart Pool. Considered the world’s first domestic indoor heated swimming pool, it’s one of the home’s most notable pioneering claims to fame. This is in addition to other innovative technology advances for the time such as electric lighting, an elevator, and telephones.

Swimming at Mount Stuart, in the world’s first indoor heated swimming pool, feels like being transported to some far-away mystical fairy-tale lagoon.

In the original 1905 design, the pool connected to a Turkish bath adorned with decorative mermaid tiles. Lord Bute’s daughter Margaret learned to swim in the pool.

As a result, she enjoyed spending endless hours here with her younger and older brothers. Subsequently, the Turkish bath portion of the home has since been removed and replaced with a sauna. With time, however, the pool fell into disrepair.

The pool in the Mount Stuart House is probably the most unique in the world.

However, in the 1970s, John Bute’s first wife Nicola had the pool restored. Remarkably, the majority of the original circulation system remained intact and is still used today.

Swimming in the Mount Stuart Pool

Swimming at Mount Stuart, in the world’s first indoor heated swimming pool, feels like being transported to some far-away mystical fairy-tale lagoon. This magical place is where we celebrated Harry’s 40th birthday. 

Underwater in the Mount Stuart Pool.

In anticipation of our own Mount Stuart pool experience, we attempted to look for photos of the historic pool but had a difficult time finding some. It only added to the mystery and allure.

Swimming at Mount Stuart, in the world’s first indoor heated swimming pool, feels like being transported to some far-away mystical fairy-tale lagoon.

We were escorted to the basement when it was time to partake in our private swim. Luxurious bathrobes and soft bath towels were provided. In addition to the heated pool, there is a sauna, shower, changing rooms, and a lovely sitting room. A private bathroom is also available.

Find Relaxation and Rejuvenation

Just as anticipated, the pool water was wonderfully warm and the pool room was delightfully steamy. For us, it was the perfect way to find rejuvenation and relaxation on a chilly, Scotland afternoon. Subsequently, we spent the majority of our allotted hour swimming and capturing breathtaking photos of the three majestic columns placed in the middle of the pool.

The lovely sitting room next to the pool area.

When English writer and architectural historian Lucinda Lambton described her experience, she compared it to swimming down the aisle of a church. As we floated around, letting our bodies become engulfed by the warm of the pool water, we couldn’t believe that we had first-hand access to this marvelous piece of history in one of the best stately homes in the world.

The cathedral-like ceiling in the pool area.

The swimming experience in the Mount Stuart pool starts at approximately £500 + VAT. Pool hire is subject to availability due to the nature of the Victorian plumbing system. This means it can become unavailable upon short notice.

Billiards Room

Accented by a sports theme, the Billiards Room features two large billiards tables. There are portraits on the walls that highlight famous boxers from the 19th century.

Billiards room in the Mount Stuart House.

Nowadays, this room is most commonly used as the gathering area for groomsmen prior to a wedding.

Burges Chapel

The Burges Chapel was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As a result, to visit the small private chapel you must wear provided slippers to enter the glass-floored sanctuary.

The glass floor in the Burges Chapel is absolutely pristine.

The ornately decorated altar sits on a pedestal that’s painted with maps of the Holy Land. In addition, it contains stones that the 3rd Marquess gathered while visiting the Holy Land.

Parties interested in any aspects of the private tour should contact Mount Stuart directly to customize an itinerary. The staff will assist in personalizing any visit to the house based on your passions and desires. Arrange private packages and events by emailing [email protected]

Where to Stay

Heather Lodge on Mount Stuart: The Heather Lodge is the original gatehouse for the Mount Stuart Estate. This charming Scottish cottage makes for the perfect home base when touring the Isle of Bute.

The Heather Lodge at the Mount Stuart Estate.

The property is ideal for family holidays, wedding parties, relaxing breaks, and corporate weekends. The lodge features two bedrooms and can sleep up to four people. The home does not have Wi-Fi, making it the perfect place for a business decelerator vacation.

It’s only about a 10-minute walk to the Mount Stuart House! Also, the stargazing is stunning here and we loved the cozy indoor fireplace and the ideal location on the island.

Have you or are you interested in visiting the Mount Stuart House or other stately homes? If so, share your tips and questions in the comments section below.

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