It looks like no more than a scattering of big rocks in a quiet woodland glade. In fact, we are standing at the heart of Fife’s sacred centre, a site where ceremonies have been performed by generations of prehistoric people.
The stone circle – now overlooked by a modern housing estate – is an unexpected bit of history we stumble across during our stay at Balbirnie House Hotel, which is located in the heart of Fife, just a short drive from Edinburgh.
The Grade-A listed Georgian mansion, near the village of Markinch, offers the perfect country house getaway for a long overdue catch-up with a friend from London.
It is impressive arriving at the 18th Century hotel, a glorious pile fronted with classical Greek columns.
Just minutes away from the main road, the journey up the sweeping, tree-lined drive conjures up images of bygone days and horse-drawn carriages.
After a friendly welcome at reception, we’re shown to our home for the night, a spacious twin room.
Huge windows overlook an immaculate garden, and it is furnished with elegant furniture, richly-decorated wallpaper, fireplace, full-length mirror and sumptuous cushions.
It feels like we are hanging out in Downton Abbey, but thankfully with the conveniences of modern life, including a coffee pod machine and flatscreen TV.
When it comes to finding a home from home, sometimes it’s the small touches that stand out.
For my London friend, who considers herself a connoisseur of water, it happens to be a large glass bottle of H2O at Balbirnie House Hotel which makes all the difference. It is filtered on the premises – which makes it environmentally friendly, and she finds it far superior to the stuff out the tap.
The huge bathroom is particularly impressive and nearly as big as some pricey flats in London – so my friend informs me.
With an ultra-deep tub, there’s plenty of space for pampering – but the downside is that the shower is a handheld one.
Maybe it’s just designed to encourage a luxurious soak.
When we explore the rest of the hotel, there’s even more temptation to just sit down and relax with a choice of snug lounge areas, including the Drawing Room, the Long Gallery and the East Room. It feels like a series of homely sitting rooms and an ideal place to enjoy a cocktail or two.
However, we manage to drag ourselves away to explore the surrounding area before dinner.
The hotel, which is also an award-winning wedding venue, is set in a 400-acre estate and country park.
If golf is your thing, there is an 18-hole course right next door. A nearby sign towards a woodland path points us in the direction of a stone circle and, after a pleasant 10-minute wander, we come across the ancient neolithic monument.
Meandering through the quiet woodland on the way back, we hear some strange rustling far off in the trees.
It brings to mind the legendary tales of the Beast of Balbirnie, when sightings of giant paw prints and a black puma-like creature in the park more than a decade ago terrified locals and sparked a big cat hunt.
The animal was later revealed to be a friendly St Bernard dog. Still, we quicken our pace… only because we are running late for dinner, of course.
Dinner is served in the beautiful surroundings of the orangery restaurant, a light and spacious room with a glass roof ceiling and elegant arched windows offering views of the grounds.
There’s a good variety of dishes on offer, many with a Scottish theme. We sample Cullen skink, roast artichoke and balsamic onion salad, followed by main courses of a Hamish (haggis) burger and three-bean burger.
It’s all delicious, though the generous portions means there’s sadly no room for any of the extremely tempting desserts on offer – including a Scottish cheeseboard and ice cream produced by the hotel.
We retire instead to the Library Bar, mainly to contemplate just how nice it would be to live here.
An early start the next day leaves just enough time to sample some of the breakfast menu, which includes cooked dishes, pastries and cereal.
Balbirnie House Hotel, rooms start from £99 per night on a B&B basis. balbirnie.co.uk