“We rumbled slowly into a land of little wooded glens and then to a great wide moorland place, gleaming with lochs, with high blue hills showing northwards.”
John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps.
Buchan’s thrilling novel, with spies, secrets and a seemingly unending chase, was one of the first things I noticed when we entered Shingle Lodge, luxurious self-catering accommodation in the grounds of Knockinaam Lodge hotel. It was sitting on a shelf in the living room just waiting to be picked up and read. I curled up on the sofa, turned the page, and became absorbed in his descriptions of the Galloway scenery, whilst looking out of the vast picture windows and seeing it all for myself.
Dougie and I had visited Knockinaam Lodge last year, driving across the gentle hills and stunning coastline of Dumfries and Galloway to reach the very western part of the region. We had been so enchanted by the beauty, history and cuisine of Knockinaam that we vowed we would return some day. We hadn’t quite anticipated that we would be back within a year but, by chance, Shingle Lodge was available for a few days following Rory’s graduation and we knew we wanted to share the experience with him.
Whereas Knockinaam Lodge itself is an old beauty, with a gracious, genteel air about it, Shingle Lodge is a brand new, contemporary cottage, cleverly designed so that both parts of it, the living and sleeping quarters, have views across the sea to Ireland. It’s surprisingly well-hidden from the main house so it feels as if you have the whole bay to yourself. I was torn between relaxing with Richard Hannay or just gazing out to sea.
Let me describe Shingle Lodge for you. A large living/dining area with leather chairs, warm touches of tartan and a log burner with a towering flue heading skywards up through the high ceiling above. A fully-fitted kitchen with Neff appliances, Nespresso coffee machine and some provisions including milk, jam and shortbread. Two double bedrooms, bright and airy, again with stylish furnishings. Each bedroom has its own bathroom, one with a huge shower/wetroom making this a great option for disabled guests. Bathrobes are provided and top quality towels too. Between the two sections of the lodge there is a lobby area, with lots of space for coats and boots. There’s underfloor heating throughout which makes this a perfect choice for a summer or wild winter break.
Outside is a large shed piled high with logs, pretty gardens all around and a huge wooden climbing frame for children. The kitchen gardens for the hotel are also nearby. We were constantly distracted by the family of rabbits outside the window and two mating roe deer also added to the entertainment during our stay.
Tempting as it was to shut the door and not surface for three days, the thought of Tony Pierce’s superb cooking lured us from our lair that first evening. We trotted over to the hotel and enjoyed another sublime meal. As we drank G&Ts in the morning room, having sunk into the enveloping sofas, we tucked into an amuse bouche of crispy black pudding and beetroot accompanied by handmade crisps and cheese straws. The rest of the set menu consisted of consommé of cherry tomato with a parmesan crisp; wild trout with olive tapenade; soup of white onion, leek and curry oil; cannon of Galloway lamb with pea and mint puree and potato bonbons; tuile with strawberries, cream and ice-cream. Coffee to follow with handmade petits fours of orange and Grand Marnier jellies, brandy snaps and honey madeleines.
On our second and third nights we made use of the barbecue and the patio furniture and enjoyed some al fresco dining. As the sun set behind the cliffs, we were treated to pale pink skies and then, as darkness descended, we could pick out twinkling lights on the horizon, coming from the towns on the east coast of Northern Ireland.
Shingle Lodge is a superb addition to the Knockinaam experience. I honestly think, if they put it up for sale, we would be tempted to buy it and retire here. At the very least we need regular top-ups of Dumfries and Galloway and this is the perfect place to do just that.
I finished reading The Thirty-Nine Steps during our stay and, as I placed it back on the shelf as we packed our bags to leave, I could see why Buchan decided to use this magical part of Scotland as a backdrop for his tale.
“..every hill showing as clear as a cut amethyst…this blessed, honest-smelling, hill country…”