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Issue 24 - A labour of love

Scotland Magazine Issue 24
January 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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A labour of love

Castle Venlaw is a fairytale hotel a few miles south of Edinburgh. Sally Toms stayed there

Twenty three miles south of Edinburgh, in the beautiful and quiet border country, lies Peebles – an ancient and Royal Burgh in the valley carved out by the river Tweed.

On a hill overlooking the town is Castle Venlaw; a four star 18th century hotel. It’s a small fairytale castle with a little round turret and an excellent example of Scottish baronial architecture.

This castle is owned by John and Shirley Sloggie; hoteliers with a great deal of experience in the Scottish hospitality industry. They bought it in 1997, after a long period of searching for the perfect place that would become both first class hotel and family home. They found it in Peebles, as John reminisces: “When I walked into Venlaw it just felt right. It felt like I had been here before.”

Romantic nonsense? Not so, indeed John had been to the castle before, aged just five years old.

“It turned out that my grandparents stayed in this hotel back in 1963, when it was known as Venlaw Castle Hotel. My parents, my sister and I came to visit them. There is even a photograph of my sister and I standing by the ornamental pond.”

That portrait now hangs proudly in the hotel’s reception area.

The hotel was originally built in 1782 but various wings and storeys were added on later. It has changed ownership several times over the years but has been transformed in the hands of John and Shirley.

Admittedly, some of the furnishings will not be to everyone’s taste, but the overall effect is traditional and homely. There are rich fabrics and polished wood throughout, and very fine quality in the details. It has that four star comfort without any of the starchiness found in some hotels.

There are 12 bedrooms, each named after a malt whisky (which is not an unusual trend in Scotland). Two of which are new ‘romantic rooms’ – large suites with a very comfortable four poster bed draped in heavy fabric, and a beautiful view of the trees on two sides.

There is a chez-lounge, television, DVD player and the usual tea and coffee equipment. But it is the bathroom that makes these rooms extra special. Under a simple archway – effectively part of the same room – there is a deep, sunken bath tub just the right size for two people (the tap is placed conveniently in the middle).

Like everywhere in this hotel there is a fantastic view; you can lie in the bath and look out at across trees to the hills in the distance. Privacy is not a problem, unless you feel shy in front of the owls.

There is underfloor heating, Champagne and two glasses in a cooler, and blinking fibre optic lights directly above the bath. There is also a fitted speaker system to play some tinkly piano music while you soak. This must be what bathrooms are like in heaven.

The rest of the facilities are hidden away in a separate room, so as not to spoil the mood.

“It was important for us to seperate the bathroom from the toilet, shower and sink,” says John. “We wanted to create an oasis away from the toothbrush!”

Thankfully, these romantic rooms have not been overdone with too much of the honeymoon stuff. There are no heart shaped cushions or oil paintings of cherubs. Just peace and quiet and a gorgeous bed and bath so you can create your own romance (or just spoil yourself rotten).

These rooms would be just as suited to a couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary as well as a pair of newlyweds. Perhaps more so.

If you can tear yourself away from your room, the hotel has other delights to offer. The small library bar is absolutely charming for a predinner drink, or a whisky by the log fire after a long winter walk.

The dining room is immaculately presented with a grand fireplace, high ceilings and original polished floor, but it is just small enough to be cosy. Sit in the bay window in between the heavy curtains, look out at across the valley and spend some time choosing from the impressive wine list. The excellent menu has been awarded with two AA rosettes for four consecutive years and changes daily.

Outside Castle Venlaw, a secret little path winds down the hill through the woods to the town further emphasising the hotel’s ‘tucked away’ feel. Should you get lost in Peebles’ winding streets, you can use the hotel’s round turret sticking out of the trees above you as a landmark to find your way back again!

Spend a morning browsing the gift shops with your loved one, and pause to have a cake and a cup of tea in one of the many little tea rooms.

In the afternoon, head out past the parish church and the town’s swimming pool and pick up the path that runs alongside the picturesque River Tweed. It is a popular river for trout fishing, and is absolutely alive with wildlife.

About a mile down this path you’ll come to Neidpath Castle posing dramatically on the hillside; a tower house dating back to the 14th century. It is well worth a visit, though check the opening times before you go to avoid disappointment.

If, after a while, you feel you have exhausted all that Peebles has to offer, hop on the bus that picks up outside the hotel and 40 minutes later you’ll find yourself in Edinburgh.

But don’t feel too obligated, the real reason for coming to Venlaw is to get away from it all. You don’t even have to leave your room. The Sloggies’ attention to detail and attentive, but not intrusive service has created a perfect romantic hideaway – great for long walks and even longer baths.

Contact details:
Castle Venlaw Hotel,
Edinburgh Road,
EH45 8QG
Tel: +44 (0)1721 720 384
Fax: +44 (0)1721 724 066