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Issue 38 - Wherever I lay my hat

Scotland Magazine Issue 38
April 2008

 

This article is 9 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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Wherever I lay my hat

There are countless guesthouses around Scotland, offering bed and breakfast for weary travellers, but what are they like? Richard Goslan reports

Finding the right bed and breakfast (B&B), in the right place at just the right time, is guaranteed to give you a travelling memory which you’ll hold dear for the rest of your days.

My own came in Fort William, at the end of an arduous five-day trek along an unrelentingly wet West Highland Way. As poor students at the time, we’d done the trip with the bare minimum of comfort, camping for free along the way and feeding ourselves from a mixture of unappetising meals cooked up over a primus stove.

The last day was particularly tough. It’s a gruelling slog from the Kings House Hotel in Glen Coe over the Devil’s Staircase, and then a long descent down to Kinlochleven. But that’s not even halfway to the finishing line.

From there, you’re faced with another climb out of town to get up to Lairig Mor and the interminable, exposed path leading to Glen Nevis. Add a relentless drizzle to the picture, and you can imagine how we must have looked when we finally staggered off the hill into Fort William.

Bedraggled doesn’t do it justice.

Our plan was to hop straight on the bus back to Glasgow, but the last one had left for the day. The hostel at Glen Nevis was full to bursting, and our camping gear and sleeping bags were still soaked through from the previous evening.

That’s when we found our B&B… Now you have to give the owner credit – here she was, faced with five young men who hadn’t washed properly in almost a week, standing there in filthy boots, dripping wet and lugging huge mud-spattered ruckacks.

She would have had every reason to politely send us on our way.

But instead, we received the warmest welcome you could imagine, and in that moment, our day – maybe even our entire week – was saved.

With our boots and waterproofs stowed at the door, we were shown to our rooms and given access to fluffy towels and as much hot water as we wanted. I’ve never appreciated a shower so much in my life. Or a firm mattress. Or crisp cotton sheets. Or, the next morning, a life-affirming fry-up.

I wish for the life of me I could remember the name of that B&B, or the name of the landlady who rescued our trek from ending in the most miserable circumstances. It was a long time ago, but I still think about it whenever I find myself passing through Fort William.

A good B&B experience is dependent on many factors, of course, but the warmth of the welcome from the landlord or landlady is the key to making it an experience to treasure.

A good host can offer the visitor an experience which just isn’t possible in a hotel, or hostel or other form of accommodation.

The owner, whether they are local to the area or not, is bound to be a fantastic source of knowledge about where to go and what to see, what’s a hidden gem or what’s overrated.

Due to the intimate nature of most B&Bs, hosts usually have plenty of time to pass on as much information as a visitor could wish for.

The best places also pay close attention to the two Bs which make up the name – a comfortable bed, and a hearty breakfast.

The importance of the bed, as anyone who has ended up on a lumpy mattress with scratchy sheets can testify, cannot be underestimated. A well-ranked B&B will have invested in good quality mattresses and high thread-count cotton sheets to help ensure a cosy and comfortable night’s sleep.

The days of the frilly pink comforter are, thankfully, well in decline, and many B&Bs nowadays could pass themselves off as boutique hotels.

And breakfast should also consist of more than just a standard fry-up: look out for locally-sourced specialities such as black pudding, haggis, oatcakes, kippers, seasonal berries or homemade preserves or honeys.

The fact that it’s still not unusual to find B&B accommodation from around £20 per person per night makes this a reasonably inexpensive – and social – way to see the country.You can also find B&Bs everywhere you go in Scotland, with a wide range to choose from in the cities and main towns, right down to isolated homes in the farthest flung reaches of the countryside and the islands.

Of course, if there’s a B&B you particularly want to stay at, it’s advisable to book ahead to guarantee a room. But one of the pleasures of travelling is stumbling upon an unknown gem, and it’s usually easy to find somewhere late in the day which will be happy to offer you a room for the night. If it’s full, you can be sure the host will do whatever they can to find alternative accommodation from their contacts in the area.

The personal touch goes a long way and, wherever you end up, the fact that it’s the owner’s own establishment means the level of service is often higher than in a hotel, where some members of staff are just going through the motions of another shift.

Receiving a warm welcome into someone’s own home can add a special resonance to any holiday, and give the visitor the incentive to revisit not just the location, but the landlord or landlady – if only you could remember their name.

Ten to try
Tigh an Dochais, Harrapool, Isle of Skye
Tigh an Dochais is a stylish, contemporary B&B just
outside Broadford on the Isle of Skye, designed by
local award-winning architects Dualchas. It was
voted best B&B 2007 at the Skye & Lochalsh “Taste
of Local” Food & Drink Awards
Tel: +44 (0)1471 820 022 or visit
www.skyebedbreakfast.co.uk

The Shieling, Ullapool
Situated by the edge of Loch Broom on the outskirts
of Ullapool, The Sheiling is set within one acre of its
own grounds and enjoys spectacular
views of mountains and lochs
Tel: +44 (0)1854 612 947 or visit
www.thesheilingullapool.co.uk

Straven Guest House, Portobello, Edinburgh
This Victorian guest house offers B&B in a quiet
leafy street leading to Portobello’s sandy beach
and promenade
Tel: +44 (0)131 669 5580 or visit
www.stravenguesthouse.com

The School House, Edgerston near Jedburgh
Aprevious winner of the Scottish Thistle Award for
Customer Care, this converted schoolhouse dates
back to the mid-19th century. Each bedroom has a
unique theme and has been furnished with antique
and period furnishings
Tel: +44 (0)1835 840 627 or visit
www.theschoolhousebedandbreakfast.com

Ardconnel, Inverness
Amuch-recommended B&B in the heart of
Inverness, which goes the extra mile for
breakfast with servings of Stornoway black
pudding and haggis
Tel: +44 (0)1463 240 455 or visit
www.ardconnel-inverness.co.uk

Drumskeoch Farm, near Girvan
All the food served at Drumskeoch is vegetarian or
vegan, and is also organic and grown on the farm itself
as far as possible
Tel: +44 (0)1465 841 172 or visit
www.drumskeoch.co.uk

Braefield House, Portpatrick
This imposing Victorian home sits above the
picturesque fishing village of Portpatrick in the far
south-west of Scotland. It’s well worth a visit for
the views over the harbour, and for the warmth
of the welcome
Tel: +44 (0)1776 810 255 or visit
www.portpatrick-braefield.co.uk

The Old Church of Urquhart, Elgin
If it’s character you’re after, the Old Church of Urquhart
has it in spades. The converted church dates back to
1843 and is a ‘B’-listed building now offering B&B with
a difference
Tel: +44 (0)1343 843 063 or visit www.oldchurch.eu

Ladywell House, Falkland, Fife
Ladywell House Bed and Breakfast is a former manse,
built in 1804, and is surrounded by an acre of beautiful
walled garden. It was previously owned by Francis
Shand-Kydd, the mother of the late Diana, Princess of
Wales, and is believed to have been visited by Diana
and her sons, Princes William and Harry
Tel: +44 (0)1337 858 414 or visit
www.ladywellhousefife.co.uk

Lethamhill, Helensburgh
This grand old villa has been rated one of the top
B&Bs in the country. As well as its fine views of the
Clyde Estuary and Arran, the house also has a
fascinating collection of memorabilia, from old
typewriters to slot machines – and its very own red
phone box
Tel: +44 (0)1436 676 016 or visit
www.lethamhill.co.uk