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Mince Pie Spy: Stirling Castle’s Unicorn Cafe is a hit, and that’s no myth

© Andrew CawleyWaite, Morgan McKnight serving mince pie slice
Waite, Morgan McKnight serving mince pie slice

Unicorns are one of the biggest trends of 2019. The magical rainbow-haired creatures are everywhere, from key rings, cups and cushions to full-sized electric ride-ons.

But I can only imagine few kids obsessed with the mystical horse actually know where they came from.

The unicorn is actually steeped in history – and, unbeknown to many, it’s the national animal of Scotland.

Unicorns have been linked to Scotland for centuries, as I discover during a trip to Stirling Castle.

The horned creatures are everywhere in this stunning palace, once a favoured residence of Stewart kings and queens.

Stepping inside the castle walls, I find myself transported back in time.

© Andrew Cawley
Inside the cafe

The costumed characters, including Mary, Queen of Scots, really give visitors a taste of 16th Century life.

Mary tells me to make a wish on a unicorn horn – and recalls times when unicorns were kept as pets, as well as cats, dogs, rabbits – and monkeys and bears.

I find myself greeted by horned horses at every turn – they take pride of place on tapestries above fireplaces, they’re painted on walls, epitomised in stone statues, craved into chairs.

It seems our rich ancestors were just about as obsessed with the rainbow creatures as the young girls of today, with the absence of the electrics!

After a grand tour of the castle and the grounds, I decide its time to rest my weary legs and pull up a pew at the onsite café, named The Unicorn Café, of course.

As much as I fancy eating al fresco on the rooftop patio, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and Wallace Monument, temperatures have plummeted below zero, so I opt for inside instead.

© Andrew Cawley
Mince Pie slice

With stone walls and regal purple velvet curtains, the underground eatery, housed in the eaves, is cute and cosy.

The food selection isn’t huge but you’ll still find yourself spoilt for choice. Winter warmers like macaroni cheese or haggis, neeps and tattie pie have our mouths watering. But we eventually settle on fresh sandwiches – cheddar and tomato chutney for me and the New Yorker for my accomplice.

Both are so enjoyable neither of us even leave a crumb on the plate.

Then its on to the main event – the mince pie, or mince slice to be more precise.

Or perhaps its more of a slab? Big and bulging with fruit and spices, every bite is a little slice of Christmas heaven.

The thick pastry is sweet and laced with almonds, which give an added crunchy texture.

A cheery waitress tells me it was baked in the castle kitchen…I hope she means the one in the café, as opposed to the medieval bakehouse across the courtyard!

And with that, it’s time to brace the cold again and head back to my own palace, home sweet home.

It may not be as grand as this one and there isn’t a unicorn in sight, but its magical all the same.


Unicorn Cafe, Stirling Castle, FK8 1EJ

Welcome

A perfect pit stop on a chilly day. 8/10

Location, location

What could be better than teaming a mince pie with a history lesson? 9/10

Score

Truly magical. 9/10