I love being taken by surprise. It’s a great feeling when someone surpasses your expectations, or when your misjudged preconceptions of a destination are proven wrong. Perhaps being caught off guard is when you appreciate things the most.
I spent Easter weekend in the sleepy town of Sanquhar, just shy of the boundary where South Lanarkshire meets Dumfries & Galloway. We had no solid plans for our weekend in southern Scotland, all we knew was the weather forecast was particularly promising and a room awaited us in the Blackaddie House Hotel.
Blackaddie House Hotel is no more than a 1.5 hour scenic drive from Edinburgh, an easy distance for an overnight stay. Accessed via a narrow lane with fields of comical looking sheep on either side, the attractive building benefits from a pleasant garden and soothing sound effects supplied by the wide river just over the back fence.
The interior is unpretentious and homely with a fusion of old skool decor and dated charm. A row of tempting single malts peered out from behind the bar and tasteful chairs sat in circles next to the fire in the lounge. The hotel has been gradually upgraded over the 8 years since Jane and Ian McAndrew took ownership, though the common areas retain some of the vintage fixtures and textiles from the hotel’s past life.
Our room was bright with simple decor, a massive bed and a view of the garden. The modern bathroom looked shiny-new and boasted both a jacuzzi bath and separate walk-in shower. I mentally allocated considerable time at the end of the night to enjoy them both. In the meantime, we set off to enjoy a spot of afternoon exploration before dinner.
My first suprise that day came as we slowly approached the 17th century Drumlanrig Castle down the long straight driveway. I hadn’t quite anticipated such beauty and grandeur, nor any blue skies for that matter. The sun lit the impressive facade like a giant stage light, accentuating the stunning Renaissance features of the coral coloured castle. We didn’t venture inside the castle; it was enough to simply wander around the immaculate Queensberry estate with its manicured hedges, wonderful woodland and wee wooden bridges.
I was completely lost in the sunshine and surroundings, stopping every so often to admire each angle of the castle from it’s show-off position. There are no ‘bad angles’ when photographing this castle! The setting was perfect for a Saturday adventure, and it was just a 10 minute drive from Blackaddie House. The £6 entrance fee to the grounds was worth every penny. I only have one gripe – why had I not heard of this castle before?!
Back at the Blackaddie base, I parked myself in the lounge for a pre-dinner tipple of Innis & Gunn. I was blissfully unaware of the culinary magic being conjured up in the kitchen, foolishly thinking I’d had my fill of excitement for the day after my castle shaped surprise. The menu was a sign of great things to come.
This is what you call ‘food porn’.
WOW. Just wow. Each dish was beyond perfect, the product of a highly skilled chef with wonderful imagination and an undeniable passion for food. Michelin thinks so too; Hotel Owner and Head Chef Ian was the youngest chef to be awarded a Michelin star aged just 27. Decades later his passion is still intact, and channelled into each and every thoughtful component of the dinner menu. I’ve never experienced so many varied textures and delicious flavours in one sitting. The meal was exemplary, particularly the dessert which I wished would never end.
I sank into a bubble bath before bed, feeling utterly spoiled and gloriously gluttonous. The same feeling applied when we were served fresh hot cross buns as an Easter treat at breakfast the next morning. Steam rushed from the innards as I coated them in butter and inhaled the freshly baked aroma. Mmmm. This was just the starter, of course. Soon to follow was a plate of locally sourced (well, sparing the Stornoway black pudding) breakfast items, including a flawless poached egg. If I said that I felt guilty for eating so much amazing food, I’d be lying.
The final Easter surprise was courtesy of both Mother Nature and the National Trust for Scotland. It came in the form of the UK’s 5th highest waterfall at Grey Mare’s Tail, found on the stunning drive between Moffat and Selkirk. You can choose between a short walk to the viewpoint at the base of the waterfall, or a much longer, elevated walk alongside the waterfall and up to Loch Skeen. I was intrigued by the loch hidden in the hills, so set off on a wee hike. The sunshine accompanied us the whole way, on what I can gladly say is one of the prettiest trails I’ve had the pleasure of walking.