I have happy memories of childhood trips to the Scottish Borders. I’ve always loved the pretty towns, rolling hills and romantic ruins of the region. So, when I was invited to spend a night at Cringletie House – a luxury castle hotel near Peebles I jumped at the chance.
With sunshine forecast for our trip, we were keen to get outdoors and start exploring.
Scottish Borders Highlights – day one
The Great Polish Map of Scotland, Eddleston
Our first Borders stop took us to an unusual visitor attraction.
The Great Polish Map of Scotland is the largest relief map in the world. It can be found in the grounds of Barony Castle Hotel at Eddleston. Hotel owner and Polish veteran of WWII, Jan Tomasik came up with the idea for the map. In the summer of 1974 staff from the University of Krakow’s geography department arrived in Eddleston to bring his idea to life.
A team of volunteers recently restored the map to its former glory.
Having circumnavigated Scotland on foot, we continued our journey south!
Traquair House, Traquair
It was time for a walk, and the extensive grounds of Traquair House seemed like the perfect place to stretch our legs. Traquair House dates back to 1107, and lays claim to being Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. An impressive 27 kings and queens have passed through its door, including Mary Queen of Scots who seems to have lodged at every grand house in Scotland!
We wandered through a pretty walled garden, down leafy lanes, and along the banks of the River Tweed.
The highlight of our visit was meeting one of Traquair’s pigmy goats, who’re named after famous explorers Scott and Shackleton. I’m not sure who we met, but they were having a great time playing on a climbing frame. A goat on a climbing frame – endlessly entertaining!
Not to be outdone by acrobatic goats, the boy dragged us into a beech maze to show off his navigation skills. After 15 minutes of aimless wandering we escaped, but shamefully without having discovered the centre of the maze!
Before leaving Traquair we enjoyed a nice al fresco lunch of soup and scones from the Garden Café.
Dryhope Tower – ye olde neighbours from hell!
Dryhope Tower stands east of St Mary’s Loch in the picturesque Yarrow Valley. Built in the 16th century, towers like Dryhope became commonplace after King James V decreed that “each man with £100 worth of land must build a barmkin (an enclosing defensive wall) for the safety of humans and stock”.
Records tell us that the Scott family who lived at Dryhope were ye olde neighbours from hell! They stole cattle, brawled, and found themselves in trouble with the law on a number of occasions.
The closer you get to Dryhope Tower, the more you feel like it’s watching you. Even in a ruinous state it looks foreboding and impenetrable.
Inside it’s creepy, but impressive too as it still has an intact vaulted ceiling. The boy didn’t like it one bit, and was desperate to get back outside.
We left Mr G to wind his way up a scary looking spiral staircase to the roof.
Paying homage to The Ettrick Shepherd
James Hogg ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ is my favourite Scottish writer. He wrote captivating other-worldly folk tales, and as the name suggests he was a shepherd as well as a writer. It was Hogg who inspired my interest in Scottish folklore. He’s less well know than Stevenson, Scott and Burns, but is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest writers.
An impressive monument to Hogg stands by the roadside near Cappercleuch. It looks out over the landscape that inspired his works. A short distance from the monument is Tibbie Shiel’s Inn, one of Hogg’s favourite watering holes. It’s named after the landlady who used to serve him, and his literary friend Sir Walter Scott.
The boy was happy to pose for a photo beside his Mum’s hero, as he could see he was a dog lover!
St Mary’s Kirkyard
We made one final stop, before heading to our hotel to relax.
St Mary’s Kirkyard is reached via a short hike from the shore of St Mary’s Loch. No trace of the original church survives, but it’s a beautiful spot and a superb viewpoint. There’s a theory that St Mary’s is where William Wallace was appointed as Guardian of Scotland.
In one direction we were treated to a sunny view of the loch, and rolling Borders hills. And in the other, a dark, brooding sky.
Only in Scotland could turning 180 degrees have such a dramatic impact on the weather!
Our Borders base – Cringletie House, Peebles
Pulling up outside Cringletie House it’s hard not to let out a little “wow” when you see it. The mid-nineteenth century Scottish baronial home sits in 28 acres of stunning Borders countryside. The hotel boasts a putting green, croquet lawn, a 17th century walled kitchen garden and loads of leafy walking trails.
The interior is decorated in keeping with the age and style of the building. Sweeping staircases and antique furniture give a feeling of opulence, yet Cringletie House isn’t the slightest bit stuffy.
Our room – Neidpath
We stayed in the ‘Neidpath Room’ on the top floor. Natural light flooded in, giving the room an airy feel. Neutral coloured soft furnishings complimented the dark wood furniture.
We had a huge, en-suite shower, fluffy robes, slippers, human sized bath towels and Arran toiletries. All of the things I love to find in a hotel room.
With the sun shining, we headed to the garden to toast the arrival of spring with a chilled wine and beer.
Dinner at Cringletie House
Later, we left the boy snoozing and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner.
The frescoed restaurant ceiling, commissioned in the early 20th century by Cringletie’s then owner is a work of art. Dining in such stunning surroundings called for champagne – any excuse!
We ate from the new spring 2018 set menu. Everything sounded fantastic, so choosing was difficult.
No sooner had we ordered, than we were offered an amuse-bouche. Salted cod and Cajun vegetables. It was superb.
I tucked into my starter of roulade of salmon wrapped in seaweed, with pickled Asian vegetables and apple and wasabi sorbet. The flavours worked remarkably well together.
Mr G’s starter of Inverlochy goats cheese bon bons, with spiced puffed wheat, beetroot and micro leaves was light and tasty.
For main I went veggie with woodland mushroom risotto, charred asparagus, spinach and poached egg. I love asparagus and mushrooms, so it was the perfect dish for me.
Fish lover Mr G had a colourful dish of lime and chilli peppered sea bass fillet, gingered prawns and cous cous with lemongrass and coriander dressing. It was sweet, spicy and I was delighted that he didn’t finish his veggies as I devoured what he’d left, mopping up the remaining dressing too.
Wow – what can I say about dessert? It sent us into raptures. We love nutty, chocolate puddings, so hazelnut delice, peanut butter ice cream, hot chocolate and cinnamon doughnut and dulce de leche had our name all over it. It was a rich and heavenly concoction.
Throughout our meal the restaurant staff were a delight. Their friendly manner gave the place a nice, relaxed vibe.
If this blog makes your mouth-water so much that you decide to book a stay at Cringletie House, please quote ‘the wee white dug’ when booking dinner and you’ll receive a complimentary bottle of pink fizz (subject to availability). This isn’t a commission earning code, it’s just an opportunity to enjoy some fizz beneath the fresco like we did.
Food eaten, it was time to take the boy out for his evening jaunt.
We went for a stroll in the walled garden. Once a kitchen garden for the ‘big hoose’, ingredients are still grown there for the hotel kitchen. Today, the walled garden also houses a children’s play area, a giant, outdoor chess game and a trampoline. Was the lure of a trampoline too much for me to resist after a few glasses of fizz? My lips are sealed!
We went to bed full, but really looking forward to breakfast!
Breakfast at Cringletie House
The next morning we were the first to arrive for breakfast. Mr G had his usual smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. The verdict was good.
I had ‘The Neidpath’. I wasn’t sure sweet Scotch pancakes would go with bacon, eggs, tomato and mushroom, but they did.
It was another gorgeous day outside, so we had a game of putting before checking out. Mr G measured his putts with military precision, acting like he was competing in the Ryder Cup! The boy was delighted to find himself part of a fun new game. Putting is a tad challenging when it involves chasing a mischievous Westie around to retrieve your ball!
We loved our stay at Cringletie House. The stunning location, beautiful old building, friendly staff and delicious food made it a truly memorable trip. Cringletie was also a fabulous base for exploring the many delights to be found in the Scottish Borders.
Scottish Borders Highlights – day two
In no hurry to head home after checking out, we set off in the direction of Melrose.
Abbotsford – home of Sir Walter Scott
Abbotsford House, the Borders home of Sir Walter Scott, began life as a piece of farmland known as clarty (dirty) hole! Looking at it today, it’s hard to imagine that it was ever anything other than a beautiful home. It’s a magical and enchanting place that looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a book of fairy tales.
A statue of a wolfhound sits by the front door. It’s a poignant reminder of man’s bond with his four-legged friend. Scott’s favourite dog Maida is buried underneath the statue. The boy lingered with Maida a while, paying his respects to the literary hound.
We picked the perfect time to visit Abbotsford as the garden was a riot of tulips – the colours and smell were incredible.
The magic of Abbotsford House increases further when you step through the front door. Inside, it’s full of historic artefacts collected by history lover Scott in his lifetime. Gargoyles pull faces from hidden nooks and crannies, rows of ancient tomes line shelves, and armour clad knights stand nobly in the lobby.
It’s delightful, and for a history geek like myself it’s close to heaven.
House and garden explored, we enjoyed a coffee and scone at the dog friendly visitor centre café. As the sun was beating down we ate our elevenses outside on the terrace. Our scones arrived warm from the oven and were delicious.
Jedburgh – a historic Borders gem
From Melrose we wound our way to the royal burgh of Jedburgh. Once famous for sprawling orchards, the town is now best known for its abbey.
Although Jedburgh Abbey steals the show, it’s also worth visiting Mary Queen of Scots House, if you find yourself in town. Mary is thought to have lodged at the house when she visited Jedburgh in 1566. It’s now a free museum dedicated to the ill-fated queen.
There are several historic abbeys located in the Borders, but Jedburgh Abbey is by far my favourite. Established in the 1100s, it took over 70 years to build.
The scale of the abbey and ecclesiastical buildings surrounding it are hugely impressive, and remind me a bit of Pompeii – another of my favourite history geek sites.
Rows of perfectly symmetrical arches look like they belong in a classical painting. When you consider the age of the building, and the methods used to construct it, the craftsmanship is truly remarkable.
Although much of the interior is now an empty shell, a narrow turnpike staircase still winds up one of the towers. It’s worth the claustrophobic climb as there’s a great viewpoint at the top.
Chippy chips with lashings of Edinburgh chippy sauce, and bright blue raspberry slush puppies were consumed for lunch, then and it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful Borders. We left vowing to visit more often in future.
Thanks to Cringletie House for hosting our Borders stay. Although our food and accommodation were provided on a complimentary basis, all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……..