Great Places to Stay
- Philipburn Country House
November's sky is chill and drear,
From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott
November's leaf is red and sear,
Heap on more wood! - the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott
Visting the Borders
No wonder the Scottish Border country has inspired some of our greatest writers and poets. This wilderness of green forested hills, the majestic rushing River Tweed and miles of isolated moors and valleys offers an unspoilt and utterly romantic landscape. Just north of the border with England, a true sense of history, legends of bloody battles and cattle reivers, still echo from the numerous ruined castles and abbeys which are scattered about, all adding to the drama and mystery of the region. Whether you might be interested in touring the ancient churches and monuments, visiting Scott's home at Abbotsford, enjoying the beautiful natural countryside, hill walking or fishing in the Tweed, the Borders with a good network of roads is ideal for motoring around and a relaxing rural retreat.
A recommended place to stay is Philipburn House just outside Selkirk, 45 miles south of Edinburgh, on the edge of the Ettrick Forest, which rises steeply from the Ettrick Water. This charming family-run hotel is celebrating its 250th anniversary, having been founded as a traditional coaching inn way back in 1751. This must have been a very welcome sight indeed for weary travellers arriving after a cold, uncomfortable and tiring journey, either north from Newcastle or London or south from the Highlands of Scotland to find this inn with good home-cooked food, a pint of ale and a warm bed for the night. And stables for the horses.
The stables may have gone by the wayside to make room for the outdoor swimming pool and gardens. Now it is a very attractive and comfortable country house hotel. Philipburn was fully refurbished a few years ago to offer nineteen individually designed rooms with a great deal of attention being given to the design, decoration, furnishings and choice of accommodation to suit your taste and requirements. There are rooms with bunk beds, as well as self catering lodges and a log cabin in the grounds, ideal for families. My partner Ken and I stayed in the Roxburgh Suite on the first floor which is rather unique in layout, perfect for a romantic weekend.
This is a split-level luxury double bedroom: downstairs is a comfortable lounge with sofa and television, and a spacious bathroom featuring a jacuzzi bath and a separate shower and steam cabinet. Then climb the curved staircase up to the bedroom, with a traditional country-pine bed, thick, warm fabrics and curtains for cold winter nights, and also another television for a late-night movie. There is also a private balcony, perfect for summer evenings, with views over the gardens and woodlands.
We had arrived at around 3pm with the winter sunlight still bright warm so we decided to go for an afternoon stroll. We walked into Selkirk - about half a mile - for a browse around this charming, historical town. This had been a busy textile centre since the early 19th century when the growing demand for tweed could no longer be manufactured by the mills of Galashiels. The mills have now closed and it is a quiet and attractive little town with much to see and do in the vicinity. On the market square is Walter Scott's Court Room where Scott served as Sheriff of Selkirk from 1799 to 1832. There is a statue to the great novelist outside. Further along the High Street is also a monument to another famous local hero, Mungo Park, the intrepid explorer and anti-slavery campaigner.
After our afternoon trek into town we were ready for a traditional Scottish afternoon tea. This is quite a speciality at Philipburn House where scones, cream and jam as well as the local Selkirk Bannock is served - a delicious spicy fruit loaf.
5pm and time now to relax in the very comfortable residents lounge with a welcoming blazing fire or upstairs in our very spacious "apartment". A hot jacuzzi bath was just perfect to wind down at the end of the day before preparing for dinner. We even enjoyed a glass of champagne in the privacy of our room, all part of the wonderful friendly, nothing-is-a-bother, service by the staff.
Eating at Philipburn
There are two separate but adjoining restaurants at Philipburn House, in order to offer a choice of menu and dress-style for their guests. There is Charlie's Bistro for relaxed, informal dining, with country pine tables, and a wide choice of superior pub supper dishes for all tastes and ages. The night we were there the two restaurants were fully booked - a very positive sign indeed.
We were eating in the more formal, elegant, 1745 restaurant. First of all we sat in the comfortable lounge bar where we were invited to have a drink while perusing the menu. There is a selection of three or four dishes for each course, all deliciously described. I selected the thick and creamy carrot and lentil soup while my partner Ken very much enjoyed the brie and feta cheese croquettes served with an ingenious apricot chutney. Main courses included the very best of Scottish cuisine, Sirloin of Beef, Roast Partridge, and Aberdeen Angus Beef.
However we both liked the sound of roulade of Sole and Plaice, with smoked haddock and Spinach moussiline which arrived as an enormous platter of imaginatively created rounds of tender white fish, served with a delicate pink beetroot and coconut sauce, together with an accompanying dish of potatoes and fresh green vegetables.
As this is Scotland, rich, sweet puddings are very much part of the menu. There was a hot apple strudel and chocolate truffle torte. Instead we shared a plate of cheese served with celery, apple and biscuits. Terrific. The wine list is excellent with a good range of inexpensive well chosen New World house wines. Very satisfied indeed, we adjourned to the lounge for a coffee sitting on the sofa in front of the fire. What more would you want?
Luxury on a Budget
Philipburn House is a truly wonderful and unexpected find, bang in the middle of the beautiful Borders country. It offers five star service, food and comfort for the price of a very ordinary 3 star hotel. There are various special offers for short breaks, weekend stays, and during this winter they have been offering the very special all-inclusive two day break. All inclusive means just what it says, similar to the Caribbean resorts, including a welcome champagne on arrival and afternoon tea, drinks before and after dinner, wine with your meal, and full Scottish breakfast the next morning. You may need to walk back into Selkirk beforehand in order to enjoy the sumptuous buffet and freshly prepared hot dishes. Porridge, cereals, fruits, yogurt, giant pots of tea or coffee, eggs, kippers, smoked salmon, bacon - whatever you wish - finishing off with toast and marmalade.
Philipburn House is definitely a rather special and unique country house hotel offering quality in its comfort and standard of service with great value for money.
For more information, current costs and on-line reservations, see the Philipburn Hotel Web site.
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