Scottish Borders – Travel Review
Scottish Borders – Travel Review
Stobo Castle & Roxburghe Hotel
By Richard Jones
There’s something magical about a Scottish Castle – perched on a hill among rolling grounds, beside a picturesque loch.
But despite its grand exterior, the real charm of Stobo Castle is inside its stone walls, and nothing could have prepared my wife Rachel and I for the sheer indulgence they had in store for us.
“You’re in the Cashmere Suite,” said the receptionist. “You’re in for something very special.” And she wasn’t wrong – when we set foot in “Scotland’s most luxurious hotel room”, we were speechless. The suite which was created in 2004 at a cost of around £350,000, is a destination of choice for honeymoon and anniversary celebrations. Its name comes from the walls which are dressed in rich claret-coloured wool, while in the bedroom, integrated his-and-her plasma screen televisions face two double hand-painted beds from Italy, with an adjoining dressing room panelled in black walnut.
On arrival, we popped the cork on our complimentary bottle of Bollinger, and munched on chocolates and fresh fruit. There is also the option of dining in the suite – the chef prepared a delicious menu sourced from the finest Scottish produce for us to enjoy without having to leave the room, or change out of our fluffy white bathrobes and slippers. Stepping outside the patio doors, we had a private terrace, with sun loungers looking out onto the rolling gardens.
However, the Cashmere Suite’s pièce de résistance is the bathroom, with its focal point a breathtaking cream bath handcrafted from one piece of Turkish limestone and weighing over a tonne. Amber and aubergine up-lighters, under-floor heating, a flat screen television, Molton Brown bathing products (we counted 23 bottles) and the softest of towels complete the indulgence.
Stobo Castle is regularly named ‘Best Spa in Scotland’, so if you can manage to drag yourself out of the suite then head over for one of their 80 treatments. We were booked in for an Oriental Harmony his-and-hers ritual. The relaxing full body massage is performed with rich, creamy balm enhanced from the rejuvenating properties of black tea, Shea Butter and Macadamia oil with bamboo extract for soft exfoliation; the treatment is rounded off with a chromo energetic hydro bath.
We were actually in the Scottish Borders for a long weekend to celebrate our friends Jimmy and Lindsay’s wedding at Cocksburnpath near Dunbar. And getting around the area was a pleasure. Gentle valleys and picturesque coastline in the east, and rolling hills and moorland in the west, it was easy to see why Sir Walter Scott was so enamoured with this peaceful region that he chose to build his beloved house, Abbotsford, in Galashiels.
The Borders’ many stately homes, haunting castles and magnificent abbeys are testament to its rich and occasionally turbulent history. None more so than in the royal town of Jedburgh 10 miles north of the English border. Up to the 17th century, Jedburgh’s position as a frontier town placed it in the midst of cross-border battles and raids, and the red sandstone abbey founded in 1138 by David I was pillaged and rebuilt many times. Mary Queen of Scots also stayed in Jedburgh in 1566, and now the house tells her tragic life story, and with free admission it is a must for all visitors to the area.
Of course, Edinburgh is only a short drive away too. But our recommendation for visitors would be a stop off in Peebles. It has spectacular scenery, shopping, cafés, events and activities. You wouldn’t be the first to feel inspired by the artsy town. Many notable residents, including The Thirty-Nine Steps author John Buchan, have chose to make their home here.
Kelso is another memorable place to stop off at, lying at the junction of the rivers Tweed and Teviot. The nights before and after the wedding we were booked into The Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course. Formerly known as Sunlaws House Hotel it is just 10 minutes down the road.
While Stobo is very much about opulence and the spa, the Roxburghe is steeped in history. There are outdoor pursuits on your doorstep and gourmet cuisine served day and night. The origins of Sunlaws House can be traced as far back as the 12th century. A few hundred years later, legend has it Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the night here. He planted a white rose bush in the grounds. Then during the 1960s, the estate was acquired by the Duke of Roxburghe. He turned the centrepiece into a gracious country house hotel fit for Britain’s aristocratic travelers.
Sport also forms a big part of the Roxburghe culture. The magnificent buildings stand in their own wooded grounds alongside the Teviot. There’s a golf course, fishing lakes and shooting ranges available for guests. The hotel itself has a private house feel, with family portraits, books, ornaments, sofas, tartan carpets, collections of whiskey and gin, and roaring log fires churning out the homely smell of woodsmoke.
Each of the 22 bedrooms, many of which feature four-poster beds, are unique. They include personal touches, including the furnishings, books and paintings from the Duke’s own home.
And then there’s the food…
As we walked from the Library Bar to the Chez Roux restaurant, we knew we were in for some very fine dining indeed. The menu is inspired by one of Britain’s finest chefs, Albert Roux OBE. The restaurant looks out over the gardens, with flowers in spring, croquet in summer, and log fires burning in the winter. The chef works closely with local suppliers. They provide butter, honey, fresh scallops, smoked salmon, wood pigeon, deer and steaks from farms, often within the Roxburghe estate. There is a big enough selection to please all palates. Even in the morning when breakfast arrives in the form of smoked salmon with eggs, kippers and grilled haggis.
After our evening dinner, we saw a familiar looking chap in the corner of the bar with his black Labrador. It was none other than three-Michelin starred Mr Roux himself who was at the hotel for a barbecue event. And as he was dressed in his chef whites, we like to think he had a hand in preparing and cooking our delectable evening meal.
In a weekend of surprises in southern Scotland, this Bordered on the ridiculous (pun intended). Not that we were complaining
Richard Jones and his wife Rachel stayed in the Cashmere Suite at Stobo Castle in Peebleshire. Prices start from £598 per room per night. Other packages are available. See stobocastle.co.uk
They were also guests at The Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course in Heiton by Kelso. They offer rooms from £247 per room per night on a bed-and-breakfast basis. Go to roxburghe-hotel.net
For information about breaks in the Scottish Borders, please visit visitscotland.com