Celtic encounters

30 Sep 2007 by Mark Caswell


Lime Road, Falkirk; tel +44 (0)870 050 0208; thefalkirkwheel.co.uk

Opened in 2002, the Falkirk Wheel is a unique piece of functional sculpture, and the world’s only rotating boat lift. Built as part of a canal refurbishment programme, the novel design was created to join the Union Canal to the lower Forth and Clyde Canal by means of two rotating gondolas. The wheel is 35 metres high – as tall as eight double-decker buses – and can move 600 tonnes of water at a time, carrying up to eight boats.

This unusual construction – which, fortunately, is easy on the eye as well as innovative – provides an interesting backdrop for corporate events. Up to 300 people can be accommodated in the glass-fronted visitor centre at the foot of the wheel, while marquees can be erected on a plateau overlooking the wheel, catering for up to 1,000. There is also a conference room which can host up to 75 delegates theatre-style, 40 for a banquet or reception, or 30 classroom-style. Smaller events can be held on board a flotilla of boats based on the canal network or at the wheel itself.

Other services include private boat trips, the opportunity to have the wheel lit up in corporate colours, and bespoke fireworks. The visitor centre – a mere slice of a building at the foot of the wheel – features an interactive exhibition and viewing gallery, with extensive information about Scottish canals. Falkirk is less than an hour’s drive from both Edinburgh and Glasgow.


Ocean Terminal, Edinburgh; tel +44 (0)131 555 8800; royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

Launched by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, HMY Britannia had an active career as a Royal Yacht before retiring into her current role as an exhibition ship. During her 43 years in service, she carried the Queen, members of the royal family and their dignitaries on no less than 968 official visits, and was used by various royal couples on their honeymoons, the fourth and final being Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981. Decommissioned in 1997, Britannia is now permanently moored at Edinburgh’s Leith harbour.

The yacht provides an unusual setting for corporate events in its State Apartments, which can host exclusive dinners for up to 128 guests or champagne receptions for up to 250. These spacious suites – which consist of the State Dining Room, the State Drawing Room, and the Officers’ Wardroom – are ideal for product launches, receptions, and gala dinners. Tastefully decorated, the rooms have hosted – among their more famous guests – Sir Winston Churchill, Rajiv Gandhi, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela.

Britannia’s corporate package includes a tour of the yacht, which gives guests an insight into life on board and the place that the Queen once called home. Each corporate client is also assigned an event manager to discuss their specific needs, which can range from an ice sculpture featuring their corporate logo to a spectacular firework display over the harbour.


Near Dalmuir, Clydebank; tel +44 (0)1389 878 561; auchentoshan.co.uk

In operation since 1823, and one of only a few remaining Lowland malt whisky distilleries, Auchentoshan is located at the foot of the Old Kilpatrick Hills, overlooking Scotland’s famous River Clyde. The distillery has undergone extensive refurbishment since its acquisition by Morrison Bowmore Distillers in 1984, but has retained traditional methods of production, including its unique triple distillation process.

The distillery has two conference suites, located in quaint white-washed buildings, which are available for both day and evening events. The Kilpatrick Suite looks out over the hills, and can accommodate 80 delegates theatre-style with access to break-out facilities if necessary. With high ceilings, natural light and simple décor, it provides a light open space for conferences, meetings and receptions.

The Lowland Suite is better suited to small gatherings, such as board meetings, training sessions or interview panels, and has access to break-out rooms. Both suites provide plasma screens, a laptop projector and screen, broadband internet access (both wireless and wired), flipcharts and pens, lecterns, radio microphones, TV/DVD/CD and partial blackout blinds.

The distillery has an informative visitor centre, and includes a tour in all of its corporate packages, in which delegates can view the process of scotch whisky distillation from start to finish (and of course sample the Scottish speciality first-hand). Larger “samples” can be purchased from the distillery shop. The centre also offers masterclasses and VIP tours.

The distillery is around 20 minutes west of Glasgow city centre, and can be easily reached by bus, rail or via the A32 Great Western Road.


Turnberry, Ayrshire; tel +44 (0)1655 331 000; starwoodhotels.com/westin

This 800-acre estate is located on the rugged west coast of Scotland, looking out towards the Ailsa Craig and the beautiful Isle of Arran, Scotland’s most southerly island. With two championship golf courses, the Ailsa (three times host to the Open Championship) and the Kintyre (the Open Championship final qualifying course), as well as the Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy and nine-hole Arran course, the resort deserves its reputation as a golfer’s paradise.

The resort’s conference venues include the hotel, Golf Clubhouse and Lodges development, with 14 meeting rooms in total. The main meeting facility, the Caledonia, can host up to 300 guests theatre-style, and has its own office, 12 syndicate rooms and a conservatory, which can be used as a break-out area. The room is spacious, with a light colour scheme and plenty of natural light. Smaller facilities include the Croy Room, which can be split into two equal halves and caters for up to 60 people, and the MacKenzie Ross room, which can accommodate up to 16 delegates, and looks out over the Ailsa green.

The resort can organise team-building events, corporate golf packages and – for major events, such as a product launch or international conference – can offer corporate clients full and exclusive hire of the resort. A private landing strip and helicopter pad are situated within the hotel grounds, or – for those requiring a less dramatic mode of transport – a chauffeur-driven car service is available. Turnberry is less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow’s two city airports and an hour from Glasgow city centre on the M77/A77 southbound.


112 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh; tel +44 (0)131 550 7800; dynamicearth.co.uk

Opened in 1999, Our Dynamic Earth is an interactive science centre located at the base of the Salisbury Crags, next to the Scottish Parliament building. Part of an urban regeneration project funded by the Millennium Commission, the attraction is located within the distinctive William Younger Centre, a futuristic construction consisting of a thin membrane stretched over a skeletal steel dome. With various exhibits promoting greater understanding of the planet, the centre doubles up as an elegant meetings and events venue, offering delegates an out-of-this-world alternative for conferences.

There are conference facilities for up to 2,200 people in five variously themed suites. Choices range from the Stratosphere – a light and spacious hall at the top of the building with a translucent roof and glass walls, which can cater for up to 1,200 reception guests – to the Earthscape galleries, where guests can enjoy pre-dinner drinks in the exotic shade of the Tropical Rainforest, before heading to the Polar Regions for a cocktail on ice.

Included among the general facilities are sound-proofing, black-out options, lighting and full in-house PA systems. One notable feature is the Ozone, which is situated within the Stratosphere (where else?). Holding up to 120 people, this sound-proofed 150 sqm glass enclosure is ideal for use as a conference suite or break-out area, as well as offering views of the Salisbury Crags and surrounding area.

The building’s newest addition, the Salisbury Suite, can be booked as one room or split into two smaller rooms, making it ideal for business events requiring lunch or break-out areas. The Salisbury Rooms can accommodate up to 40 people theatre-style, while two further meeting rooms, the Board Room and the Hutton Room, have respective capacities of 14 and eight delegates.


City Halls, Glasgow; tel +(0)141 353 8000; glasgowcityhalls.com

A fully functioning market until the 1970s, Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket adjoins the Grand Hall of the City Halls development. Re-opened in January 2006 after an extensive refurbishment, the halls are now home to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Scottish Music Centre, with the Old Fruitmarket becoming a favourite venue for performances and concerts.

These Grade A-listed properties include a formal auditorium with top-of-the-range acoustics, along with several smaller rooms for more intimate events. Taken together, the City Halls and Old Fruitmarket can cater for events of up to 1,400 guests, with an overall site capacity of up to 3,000. The venues also provide three bars and an in-house catering facility. The Old Fruitmarket has retained many of its original features, such as its lofty vaulted roof, cobbled walkways and faded greengrocers’ signs; new additions include balconies and a stage area, along with a new watertight roof to protect concert-goers and delegates from the temperamental Scottish weather.

Further conference facilities within the City Halls include the Rehearsal Room, which contains one of Glasgow’s most intricate plaster cornices and caters for up to 200; the Recital Room, which caters for up to 120; and three smaller rooms. The venue’s facilities include technology for live broadcasting and video-link conferencing.


2 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow; tel +(0)141 353 8000; grch.com

A fortunate by-product of Glasgow’s 1990 City of Culture status, the Royal Concert Hall stands as a major symbol of a deprived city getting back on its feet. Located on the corner of Sauchiehall Street and Buchanan Street, in the heart of Glasgow’s main shopping district, the hall is one of Scotland’s primary concert venues, hosting around 400 concerts and over 1,000 corporate events every year. With a large main auditorium and four smaller conference spaces, the hall can cater for up to 3,400 delegates, and is suitable for dinners, product launches, exhibitions and award ceremonies.

The main auditorium – which can seat up to 2,475 – has an adaptable stage which can be set at different depths and levels (including fully-flat) using a hydraulic lift system. The front seating area can also be removed to create a standing area large enough for 700 people. The auditorium is grand in appearance, with plush red seating, and is fitted with recently upgraded state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.

Other areas include the Strathclyde Suite, which can cater for up to 500 delegates theatre-style and has its own sound and lighting systems, and the Exhibition Hall and Buchanan Suite, which can be provided with sound equipment if required, and have top table, lectern and delegate seating. Four light, spacious foyers surround the main auditorium, providing convenient areas for catering or break-out facilities.


1 Princes Street, Edinburgh; tel +44 (0)131 556 2414; thebalmoralhotel.com

The Rocco Forte Collection’s Edinburgh showpiece is located in the heart of the city, and offers a total of ten conferencing and banqueting suites, all with stunning views of Edinburgh’s historic old town and castle. Known as “the grand old lady” of Princes Street, this luxury venue started off as a railway hotel, and has been one of Edinburgh’s most distinctive landmarks for over a century.

The latest of the hotel’s refurbishments took place in 2004, with the revamp of the building’s signature Sir Walter Scott suite. Suitable for banquets and receptions, the suite includes an expansive ballroom, catering for up to 450 cocktail guests, 280 for a dinner dance, or 350 theatre-style. Its elegant décor includes two specially-commissioned murals featuring Scottish landscapes, decadent gold leaf detail and 15 original chandeliers, dating back to the hotel’s grand opening in 1902.

Seven further conference and banqueting suites were given a facelift in 2003 as part of a £7 million project, in which Sir Rocco Forte’s sister, Olga Polizzi, personally selected the new fabrics and furnishings. The hotel’s six banqueting rooms on the second floor are suitable for conferences, meetings and breakfast or lunch-time presentations. All conference and banqueting suites are kitted out with the latest audio-visual technology, which can be adjusted to suit each client’s requirements.

Overnight accommodation is available in the hotel’s 188 suites and guest-rooms – all refurbished in 2003 – which offer views of the castle, old town, or stylish internal courtyard. Harry Potter fans will be interested to know that it was here that J K Rowling put the finishing touches to the seventh and final volume of the series earlier this year.


Near Maybole, Ayrshire; tel +44 (0)870 118 1945; culzeanexperience.org

Built between 1777 and 1792, the massive pile of Culzean Castle was constructed at the order of David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis, as his principle residence. It remained in the Kennedy family until 1945, when it was handed over to the National Trust for Scotland.

Situated on a cliff top on the Ayrshire coast, within the Culzean Castle Country Park, the castle – which includes a large drum tower containing a circular saloon, a soaring oval staircase and a suite of apartments – now functions as a visitor attraction.

Conference facilities consist of the Ailsa Room, which caters for up to 60 theatre-style, the Stone Barn, catering for up to 80, and the Auditorium, which can accommodate 90 delegates. All three suites offer fantastic views over the Firth of Clyde, towards the mountainous Isle of Arran.

For corporate events and receptions, marquees can be set up in front of the castle, catering for up to 200, or the on-site restaurant can be used to accommodate up to 100 dinner guests. The entire Castle can be hired out for larger functions, enabling a cocktail reception for up to 150 guests within the castle itself.

Castle tours can also be arranged, including special viewings of the Eisenhower exhibition, which is situated in an apartment at the top of the castle. The Kennedys dedicated this apartment to the former US Commander and President in recognition of his role in the Second World War, and the exhibition contains mementoes of his lifetime.

Culzean Castle is located 12 miles south of Ayr and four miles west of Maybole, just off the A719.

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