Every once in a while my husband Dougie has a hankering to return to his homeland and soak up a healthy dose of Scottishness. While our son Rory was heading off on a 10-day tour of European cities with his girlfriend, his empty nester parents had a spare week available and the lure of Alba was inescapable.
Scotland is a long way from South Lincolnshire, it has to be said, and we couldn’t face the idea of several hours driving to the highlands and islands . Why not just hop over the border instead? Neither of us had ever visited Dumfries and Galloway before but if you look on a map, it’s on a similar latitude to the North East of England. Heavens, we visit my mum in Newcastle all the time – this would be a breeze.
We decided on a romantic road trip around the region and agreed we should do this in style. I popped the word ‘luxury’ into Google and chanced upon the Luxury Galloway website which featured just five country house hotels, all of them rather special. I couldn’t find anything else which suited us better so we booked four out of the five on the site – with a thousand apologies to Kirroughtree House, the remaining hotel – I assure you, it was nothing personal, it just didn’t quite fit with our route and timings.
The four hotels were very different from our usual choice of contemporary/minimalist accommodation. In truth, we weren’t sure if they would be a bit too chintzy and old-fashioned. But I was convinced that if we were going to do the Grand Tour of Dumfries and Galloway then a little touch of traditional comfort and attentive service would be just the thing.
The Luxury Galloway website is run by Angus Fordyce, owner of the Cavens Hotel. Each hotel was wonderful in its own way: one might have had the best views, another the best food but all of them had something extra to make our stay truly memorable.
Although this was the last stop on our trip, I’d like to start with Cavens and show you what true hospitality is all about.
A stunning white hotel, set in its own 20 acres of grounds, a stone’s throw from the Solway coast. When the owner of the hotel greets you in the drive and invites you into his home, you feel very welcome.
Cavens is the home of Angus and Jane Fordyce and their children. Proud to call himself an old-school hotelier, Angus is passionate about providing a place for people to relax and unwind. There are only six bedrooms but you would think there were more as the public rooms are so large, with several sofas and chairs that were made for snoozing in. Within five minutes of settling down with a book on our first afternoon there, Dougie had started to gently snore. No-one else could hear him apart from me, so I let him slumber on, especially as I was making use of the free WiFi to quietly catch up on my emails.
I had to wake him at 4pm when afternoon tea was served: a complimentary cuppa is brought to guests in the lounge alongside a couple of slices of home-made cake. That kept me going until pre-dinner drinks, though I didn’t notice the fabulous assortment of gins at the bar when I ordered my G&T so only quaffed a plain old Gordon’s.
Guest bedrooms are large and designed for comfort. We were staying in possibly the loveliest of them all, Criffel, named after the majestic hill nearby. A vast room, with a super-king bed, sofa, two comfy chairs and two sets of bookshelves, crammed full of the family’s favourites, collected over the years. The bathroom was spacious and fresh with smart Penhaligon toiletries and fluffy white towels warming up nicely on the heated towel rail.
Angus, now with his chef’s hat on, describes his food as ‘high-quality dinner party fare’. Using local suppliers, the menus are uncomplicated, featuring hearty beef and venison steaks, whopping scallops and an excellent range of cheeses. The dining room is quite beautiful, like the rest of the house, capturing that authentic country house style so well. It’s amazing to think that when the Fordyces bought the building it was decorated in 1960s/70s style. They started from scratch, lovingly returning the house back to how it used to look, adding cornices, antiques and old portraits to complement the design of the building.
The history of Cavens is worth mentioning here. The house was built in 1752 by Richard Oswald, a transatlantic merchant, one of the Glasgow Tobacco Barons. In America he became friends with Benjamin Franklin and was appointed the British representative at the end of the American Revolutionary War, signing the treaty to bring it to its end. Oswald’s neighbour, half a mile from Cavens, was William Craik , a pioneer of modern agriculture, also a friend of Benjamin Franklin. The son of Craik’s gardener was John Paul Jones, who went on to become head of the American Navy. The cottage he grew up in can be visited nearby.
History lesson over – let’s talk about breakfast which was delicious with a locally-made granola, berries and an excellent full Scottish assortment on the menu. During our trip around D&G I ran a competition, based purely on my own taste, as to which hotel made the best porridge. Like Goldilocks herself, I was very picky. One was too watery, another a tad salty but here it was just right and with a jug of cream to accompany it. The golden spurtle* award therefore goes to Cavens.
One other thing to add – one of the features of the hotel is that it can be hired for exclusive use. I think this would be the perfect place for a large family or group of friends for a special occasion. Imagine playing croquet on the lawn, having a day’s fishing arranged or some whisky-tasting but not having to self-cater. Check the website for details for rates for a group of 10 people. And just think – you could snore on those sofas to your heart’s content.
*spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen utensil designed for stirring porridge.