Great Places to Stay
- Auchen Castle, Beattock
"This is the night mail crossing the border,These are the opening lines from "Nightmail" the classic W.H. Auden poem, written to promote the famous Royal Mail train which travelled north from London overnight so that the post could be delivered at breakfast time the next morning. Beattock Summit is just over the Scottish border in the South west county of Dumfries and Galloway, near Gretna Green and Moffat; while the mail train does not zoom past any more, the old railway line is still there with trains en route to Lockerbie, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This tranquil rural countryside on the site of the original 13th century castle is the setting for Auchen Castle, a Victorian shooting lodge (1849) the former home of Sir William Younger. During his residency there was the Auchen Castle Halt, where the train would stop. Now a charming 4 star Country House hotel, it is surrounded by magnificent formal terrace garden and 40 acres of wild natural woodland with a private lake.
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop on the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb,
The gradients against her, but she's on time"
Le Roi de le Chateau Ecossais
The King of the Castle owner since 2008 is a Frenchman, Pierre-Alban Guy, who seems to have fallen in love with the Scottish countryside and historic castle hotels. He also owns another fine country house, Castle Venlaw in Peebles, near Edinburgh (featuring fabulously romantic 4 Poster suites) and is keen to build up and create his unique, personalised PAG collection of homely, relaxing, affordable luxury hotels. Monsieur Guy is not just an astute entrepreneur and property developer. He is professionally trained in the hotel business having graduated from the prestigious Les Roches, Switzerland with background in Marriot, Intercontinental and Accor hotels.
The entrance to Auchen Castle is very attractive, with pink clematis covering the grey stone walls. Walk in through the porch, passing a selection of green and pink Wellington boots, and into the hallway. To the right, a bright and welcoming bar, and further on the comfortable drawing room, stuffed with armchairs and sofas - ideal for morning coffee, afternoon tea or a G&T before dinner. And next door is the elegant dining room - bright, light and airy due to the high, wide picture windows with fine views over the gardens and lake.
Upstairs there are fifteen classic bedrooms and Four Poster suites, in all shapes and sizes and individually decorated with sumptuous curtains, furnishings and fabrics in rich shades of purple, royal blue, gold and cream. Room 11 is a luxury feature room with a replica of Anne Boleyn's bed in rich dark mahogany with fantastic views of the lake and mature woodlands. Room 16 is a fabulous bedroom with a surprise in the bathroom - a classic-look roll top, claw foot bath.
Our less glamorous room (18) has a 4 poster bed and two small chairs at the window overlooking the terrace. The bathroom is dated in terms of the old suite, tiles, flooring, with a shower over the bath. There were no washcloths and the only toiletries supplied are two budget hotel-style shower gel dispensers screwed to the wall beside the shower and the basin, so impossible to use when having a bath! However, under current renovation under the new owners, Castle branded soap, gel and shampoo are in development and bathrooms will be redecorated. Champagne, on request, can be stocked in your mini bar. I personally feel that for guests booking a 4 poster bedroom for a romantic weekend that a bottle of bubbly should be in an ice bucket waiting your arrival.
A modern wing around the side, hidden among the trees, has ten contemporary, smart bedrooms with new power shower wet rooms and used when the hotel is full to capacity, especially for a wedding when all twenty five bedrooms are required.
Wining and Dining
The Hairy Bikers visited Auchen Castle in April 2009 to record one of their entertaining cookery programmes, working with the hotel's chefs. (It will be shown on BBC in the autumn 2009). Their visit illustrates only too well the high standard of cuisine and superb local produce on offer here, to entice these world travelling chefs to make the journey to S.W Scotland.
In charge of the kitchen is James Hanningan who is an exceptional rising star. Our dinner experience was truly inspiring and impressive. The dining room is elegant and in romantic mood with rose stem in a tall vase and soft bluesy tunes/ Ella Fitzgerald songs on the soundtrack. We started with a most original amuse bouche: on a long narrow platter was an espresso cup of creamy seafood soup beside a small slice of truffle-scented brie. The distinctive flavours of these two tiny morsels were divine. For his Starter, my partner selected Trio of Salmon: home cured beetroot gravelax, smoked salmon and salmon tartar with a walnut and caper dressing, a colourful platter of three distinctive styles of salmon. I chose the Orkney crab and langoustine, served with guacamole and celeriac rémoulade, all very fresh with the taste of the sea. Both dishes were complemented by a small mound of micro-herbs, sweet baby salad leaves.
Continuing the fishy feast, we both sampled Fillet of West Coast Halibut served with fennel purée on a bed of wild mushroom risotto. Persil white soft flaky fish combined spot on with the texture of rice. The portion size was perfect, not overly large after two courses already. Other choices included Confit of Duck leg with fig tart tatin, local Spring Blackface lamb and sirloin steak. The menu changes every night - ideal if you are staying for a few days, as many guests do. To finish, we by-passed the enticing chocolate desserts or bread and butter pudding, to share a platter of fine Scottish cheese.
Many a hotel presents a 5 star dinner experience - both in food and service - to be followed the next day by a mediocre breakfast cooked by the trainee chef and served by local schoolgirls taking a holiday job. At Auchen Castle, James is in the kitchen to cook the eggs. We started with strawberries and melon fruit salad, and then scrambled egg with smoked salmon - a generous portion, beautifully presented with the eggs wrapped up in a salmon parcel; Strong coffee, croissants and soft classical music in the background all made it perfect.
Pleasure, leisure, romance and business
While Auchen Castle has long been a specialist Wedding hotel, Pierre-Alban Guy is keen to move away from a themed romantic hotel and create an upmarket welcoming leisure and business destination hotel for a wide range of guests. While weddings are more than welcome - and there can be no better ambience with its fabulous gardens for your special day - now this hotel attracts all kinds of leisure visitors, family and friends celebratory parties, private dining as well as corporate guests wanting a hideaway venue for team building, small conferences and product launch events.
All manner of leisure and sporting facilities can be arranged: a Falconry Centre "the Sport of Kings" is already established on the estate, fishing on the lake, walking and biking around the forest trails. Monsieur Guy has a long list of exciting plans to implement in the near future to offer guests a luxury stay, such as Classic Car day trips and the Gatehouse along the drive may be turned into a Spa for pampering beauty treatments. Something for the boys and girls. !
In a nutshell, Auchen Castle is an enchanting aristocratic mansion. We sat on the garden terrace in the late afternoon with a warm summer sun, sipping an ice cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Located near the Scottish/English Border, the location is very accessible from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Border country, Carlisle and Cumbria, amidst lovely rural countryside to explore nearby. But with such a tranquil setting, woodland walks, fine food and drink, and romantic suites, you may be tempted, as we were, to sit back, relax and enjoy such fine French-inspired hospitality.
The postal address is Auchen Castle, Beattock, near Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, DG10 9SH Scotland. For more information see the Auchen Castle Web site
Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
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