Great Places to Stay
- Harmony, Melrose, Scottish Borders
National Trust for Scotland Holiday Homes
The National Trust for Scotland is a charitable organisation with the aim to conserve and protect valuable properties, the natural environment and our cultural heritage. There are over one hundred superb historic houses, castles, gardens, battlefields and islands owned or administered by the Trust which are open to visitors. But you may not be aware of another fifty National Trust cottages, castles and lighthouses, which you can rent for a short break or a holiday for a week or two. These self-catering holiday homes offer a range of sizes and facilities, sleeping between two and fifteen people, and as they are historic houses many are furnished with fine antiques and have open log fires. The very best of these properties are known as the Connoisseurs' Collection, which features the finest and exclusive accommodation in fine country houses and ancient castles. These include the Eisenhower Apartments at Culzean castle (see review of Culzean in Great Places to Stay), Fyvie Castle, Mar Lodge - and Harmony.
The History of Harmony
Harmony, located near the Abbey (pictured here) in the pretty little town of Melrose in the heart of the Scottish Borders, is one of the latest properties to open to guests. This classic Georgian mansion was completed in 1807, purpose built for Robert Waugh, a local joiner, who had made his fortune in Jamaica where he owned a successful lime and pimento plantation. On his retirement, he returned to Scotland and commissioned the building of Harmony, named after Jamaican home. Waugh became close friends with the novelist Sir Walter Scott, who lived nearby at his magnificent home, Abbotsford. It is believed that when Scott was experiencing cash flow problems, Waugh immediately offered financial assistance. In 1820 Harmony was sold to the Pitman family who carefully retained the property generation to generation until 1996 when Mrs Christian Pitman died and bequeathed the house to the National Trust. She and her husband Jack had negotiated the bequest for many years beforehand, determined to preserve their gracious Regency home for the nation.
Harmony is one of the most perfect and precious architectural properties owned by the NTS, with a most important Regency interior and original features. The house is surrounded by beautiful, tranquil gardens, a private estate of lawns, herbaceous and mixed borders, vegetable and fruit orchards, completely surrounded by a high wall. Therefore what a privilege it is that now guests may stay in this historic house when planning a holiday in the Borders. The accommodation is perfect for a couple who wish a lot of space, a family or group of friends, sleeping twelve comfortably in 2 double rooms, 4 twin and 1 single room. Children are welcome and there is even a cot provided. You may even bring your well-behaved dog.
So let's take a look around. A steep flight of steps leads up to the front door, framed with two pillars, similar in design to Robert Waugh's West Indian home - the steps designed to keep out the local wildlife in Jamaica. Inside there is a spacious hall with a curving staircase leading up to the bedrooms. To the right is the elegant yet homely drawing room, still retaining the magnificent Jamaican cedar timber doors and wood panelling. Very impressed with this innovative design, Sir Walter Scott decided to panel his library walls at Abbotsford in similar fashion, as he described to a friend:
"The cedar, I assure you is quite beautifulů. Mr Waugh, my neighbour a West Indian planter but himself a joiner, has finished the prettiest apartment with it that I ever saw."
The drawing room walls are painted in a soft yellow and due to tall windows on three sides, this is a very fresh and brightly decorated room. With a couple of sofas and numerous armchairs, there's plenty of space for a large family staying here. Another fine feature is the open fireplace, so that you can enjoy a cosy log and coal fire. When the NTS first took over Harmony there was no central heating - in fact because of this, the Pitmans tended to stay here in summer months only to enjoy the garden and spent the winter at their centrally heated Edinburgh house. But you can be assured that an efficient and warm heating system has now been installed! Logs and coal are not supplied but available locally.
On the left side of the hall is the dining room, dominated by the traditional long table in the centre. The room is delicately painted in soft Wedgwood blue and white, matching the best china in the cupboard. Around the room are some lovely antique sideboards and tables, with a suitable display of candlesticks, portraits and ornaments to give a true sense of what Harmony was like in its heyday as a family home. On my visit to Harmony, there were four of us staying - a small house party - but we certainly enjoyed sitting in grandeur around the mahogany table for meals.
Up the grand sweeping staircase there is a half landing and rather hidden away is a rather cosy sitting room, lined with books and also a television. Perfect for children or other members of the family who wish to entertain themselves here while the adults can socialise in the drawing room. Up again to the first floor and a huge square landing leading to three bedrooms including a pretty double bedded room with en suite bathroom. This master room leads into a small dressing room or this could be a nursery [cot supplied] or child's room. The bedrooms are comfortably furnished, all individually decorated in fresh pastel shades, with bedside lamps, armchairs, pictures and paintings. On this level there is another bathroom and a shower room so plenty of facilities for a large group. Linen and towels are supplied but bring your soap, shampoo and toiletries.
Upstairs again to the top attic floor with two further twin and single bedrooms and a large bathroom.
Dining at Harmony
The kitchen at the far end of the hall is well provided with a large stove and oven, fridge, freezer, microwave, dishwasher, and a vast supply of crockery, cutlery, glasses, pots and pans and cooking implements to cater for a full house. This is not the original kitchen, which would have been downstairs in the basement, but this section of the house was bequeathed separately for community use.
We did find this rather small, long and narrow kitchen rather inconvenient with no kitchen table to prepare food or lay dishes and a lack of worktop space. With only a family of four to cater for, it was still problematic preparing a meal together in the kitchen and then taking plates and dishes through to the dining room at the far end of the hall. It was fun to cater for ourselves but awkward. Therefore I am not sure how the cooks would manage catering for 12 guests for dinner.
The answer is to hire a cook to cater for you. This can easily be arranged in advance through the NTS Holiday department who use a small local company who can provide full board, or breakfast and dinner during your stay.
You may also wish to eat out and Melrose has a wide choice of excellent restaurants all just a few minutes walk away. Highly recommended is Marmions, a lively contemporary bistro and also Burt's Hotel, with a formal restaurant as well as superior bar meals, specialising in steak and seafood.
The beautiful gardens surrounding the house are also preserved and maintained by the National Trust and open to the public during the summer months. The layout of the garden with its fine lawns and borders was created by three maiden aunts of the Pitman family who lived here between 1903 and 1922. A special feature is the bulb lawn with a wonderful Springtime collection of daffodils, narcissi and fritillaries,
There is also a private garden at the back for resident Harmony house-guests as well as parking place for six cars outside the basement entrance.
Touring the Area
Melrose is a perfect village to stay for touring the Borders. Around the corner is Melrose Abbey and a few miles away is Sir Walter Scott's home, Abbotsford, preserved as it was in his day. You can compare the dining room at Abbotsford (pictured here) with that of Harmony. The river Tweed is famous for fishing and every kind of sport is on offer - golf, horse-riding, cycling and walking with some lovely forest trails.
For more information or to make a reservation see the National Trust for Scotland Web site. The postal address is The National Trust for Scotland, Weymss House, 28 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4ET, Scotland and the telephone number is 00 44 (0)131 243 9331.
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