I HAVE a confession to make. Despite spending the majority of my life in the North-East of England, I have only recently discovered the wonders of the Scottish Borders. Previously, my experience of Scotland was limited to city breaks in Edinburgh and camping trips in the Highlands.
However, earlier this month, I set this right and headed across the border with my mum, Alice.
Our destination was the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course, an aristocratic retreat near the market town of Kelso. A labour of love by the Duke of Roxburghe, the 22-bedroom hotel boasts a championship golf course and an impressive range of sporting pursuits.
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Our journey, along the scenic A696 and A68 from Newcastle, was filled with excited chatter about the delights awaiting us. Our anticipation grew as we drove along the tree-lined driveway and caught our first glimpse of the Roxburghe Hotel.
Inside proved equally impressive, with magnificent carved fireplaces, rich tartan carpets, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, packed full of historic volumes. Yet, despite all this grandeur, the hotel radiates warmth and comfort.
The welcoming staff, cosy sitting rooms and roaring fires create a homely ambience and we instantly felt at ease. In fact, I am sure I could have curled up in an arm chair and taken a nap and no one would have batted an eyelid.
Our bedroom combined period features with modern gadgets. Large windows looked out across the gardens and the cream decor created a light and elegant feel. The bathroom, with its large mirror and marble, waslarge and luxurious.
We arrived around midday and, after scoping out the hotel gardens, drove the ten-minute journey to the majestic Floors Castle, in Kelso, which has been home to the Roxburghe family since the early 18th Century. The castle and grounds are closed over the winter, but the plant centre and Terrace Cafe are open all year round. In the cafe, we feasted on tasty pea soup, Floors Castle pheasant pate, creamy kedgeree, ham on the bone salad and fresh home-made bread, which was baked and served in a plant pot.
Our afternoon of indulgence continued when we returned to the hotel and visited the health and beauty suite. We were greeted by the enticing smell of aromatic oils and our friendly beauty therapist Jodie Hay. The suite offers an array of tempting treatments, and we opted for the heavenly Elemis skin booster facials.
Jodie also conducted a lifestyle consultation to offer advice on our skin concerns.
While day one was calm and relaxing; day two was action-packed. There are lots of rural activities to choose from at Roxburghe, from fly fishing and grouse shooting to croquet, cycling and walking. So, after a scrumptious breakfast of creamy hot porridge and smoked salmon with poached eggs, we joined gamekeeper and shooting guide Alistair Ferguson for clay pigeon shooting.
Alistair has worked at the hotel for 20 years and is one of the best shooting teachers in the country. Yet, if there is one thing he loves as much as his sport, it is jokes. From the outset, he had us in stitches.
Neither of us had tried clay pigeon shooting before, but with his expert tuition, support and encouragement, our nerves evaporated and the buzz of hitting the target was truly infectious.
After lunch, we swapped guns for golf clubs at the hotel’s 18-hole championship golf course. This was another activity that was new to us so, instead of hacking up the immaculate greens with our inexperienced swings, we took a golf buggy and some clubs to the driving range. There followed a fun hour which saw my mum discover a hidden talent.
Both nights we dined at the hotel’s awardwinning restaurant, which prides itself on sourcing local, seasonal ingredients. Among the tasty dishes to pass our lips were a rich parsnip veloute, served with truffle honey and croutons; queen scallops and pancetta, and Roxburghe estate pheasant, served with pearl barley and red wine risotto. Presentation was immaculate and the waiting staff were friendly and attentive.
On our final day, we returned to Kelso to visit the ruins of its grand abbey. The town also offers a good selection of independent shops, including an excellent butcher where we picked up a haggis for our tea.
The nearby town of Jedburgh is also well worth a visit, boasting its own impressive abbey and one of the former residences of Mary Queen of Scots.
Other nearby attractions include: Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott, in Melrose; Melrose Abbey, the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart; Teviot Smokery and Water Gardens, in Eckford; and Bowhill House and Country Estate, in Selkirk.
As a first time visitor to the Scottish Borders, I would highly recommend. In fact, my mum and I are already planning our next trip.
- Bed and breakfast at the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course at Kelso costs from £135 per night. W: roxburghe.net; t: 01573-450331; E: firstname.lastname@example.org