Make a break for the Borders to Barony Castle to wine, dine and unwind, writes Barry Anderson
The experience of motoring along the single-track driveway towards Barony Castle is breathtaking in itself. The 16th century tower house is an out-of-the-ordinary hotel, both outside and in, which has been beautifully refurbished and transformed by the Mercure group.
Situated just 17 miles south of Edinburgh, Barony Castle sits in sprawling countryside near Eddleston in the Borders. It’s a Category B listed building and many of the original features have been preserved, including all of the important details that give a place character, including small and intricate doorways, wooden beams and stone walls.
The remains of a tower house, built by the Murrays of Blackbarony in the 16th century, form the oldest part of the hotel. The entrance is modest by today’s standards, however what lies behind the white facade more than does it justice.
The hotel hosts a total of 72 bedrooms, plus a beauty spa and gym facilities, a swimming pool, a bar and restaurant. As is customary these days, wi-fi is available for all guests. The fact the hotel has its own altar, built on the site of an old summer house, makes it a popular venue for weddings and civil partnerships. And the idyllic surroundings certainly help. To the rear are gardens and a river with a waterfall and 25 acres of surrounding land which would make the most fabulous backdrop for wedding photographs.
But it doesn’t have to be a special occasion that draws you to Barony Castle. It is also favoured by couples who want a retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life for the weekend. Families are welcomed, and because of its proximity to Edinburgh it would also suit business people who crave a change from the anonymous hotels of the city centre. Guests can check in from 2pm and must check out by 11am, which allows ample time to enjoy all the facilities on offer.
Rooms are very spacious, bathrooms are well appointed with excellent showers and mini bars are well stocked. Yet most people who stay here wouldn’t want to spend too much time holed up in their room. There is too much to experience nearby.
Located next to the hotel is the Great Polish Map of Scotland – a large outdoor relief map of the country which measures 50 metres by 40 metres. The three-dimensional concrete attraction is popular with tourists in the area. The brainchild of Polish war veteran Jan Tomasik, it was built between 1974 and 1979 and is said to be the world’s largest terrain relief model. It is also known as the Mapa Scotland (derived from Polish mapa Szkocji). Like the hotel itself, the sculpture is also Category B listed.
While the Great Polish Map of Scotland is undoubtedly a unique selling point, the jewel in the crown of Barony Castle would have to be the food. Each dish we sampled was presented thoughtfully and tasted exquisite. Guests can eat lunch in the Blue Dug bar, the conservatory or outside in the courtyard. Dinner is served either in the Blue Dug bar or the slightly smarter Thomson’s @ the Castle restaurant. Various menus are served from 7am through until 9:30pm and afternoon tea is on offer, as is room service and a children’s menu.
During my visit the standout dish on the menu was the woodland-reared chicken and haggis with garlic mash, broccoli and pink peppercorn cream. And I can’t believe that they would ever take off the sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream ice-cream. If so I would like to start a campaign for its immediate reinstatement.
The ten metre swimming pool is nicely heated if you fancy a dip and the hotel’s recently refurbished leisure spa also includes a sauna, Jacuzzi, heated loungers and swan neck fountains. The Barony Castle offers good value in terms of its pricing structure for beauty packages, with options such as an eyelash and eyebrow tint at £20 and special occasion make-up at £30. Also available are waxing and ESPA facials, plus a range of therapies for men, such as a back, face and scalp treatment, aromatherapy massage and a muscle reviver.
If you do wish to venture further afield, a ten-minute drive into the centre of Peebles is a good way to spend an afternoon. The town’s high street is home to the popular Eastgate Theatre, restaurants including Osso and Coleman’s, as well as neat little tourist friendly shops, such as Tiger Lily Gifts and Caledonia Kilts, alongside more mainstream stores. The River Tweed sits just behind the main thoroughfare and is an excellent location for a walk should the weather be decent.
However if the elements are against you, why not just settle down indoors and let the good people at Barony Castle look after you?
• Barony Castle Hotel, Eddleston (01721 730395, www.baronycastle.com). Room rates from £64 per night