Travel: Macdonald Cardrona Hotel, Golf and Spa, Peebles
He strode into the churchyard with the air of a man approaching familiar – if consecrated – ground. Ian Walker paused at the entrance to 15th-century Stobo Kirk to show us the “jougs” – the iron collar once used to restrain sinners for public ridicule – but he was itching to take us to the rear of the honey-coloured church.
But first, the peaceful, calm and empty interior, where ornate brass lamps, donated by the wealthy Balfour family from Stobo Castle in the 19th-century, hung from the roof beams. The lamps brought a warm glow to our visit to one of the quietest spots in the Borders.
Back outside, the warm glow was all Ian’s. “I love coming here,” he said. “It’s where a lot my family is buried.”
It’s a treat to share in someone else’s life story and Ian is now trying to make a living out of this novel approach to tourism by hosting visits to his native land. A former civil servant, he left public service to launch Border Journeys and now takes tourists by minibus to both the well-kent sights of this easy-to-neglect part of the Borders and many others well off the beaten path.
He had picked us up that morning from our comfortable berth at the Cardrona Resort between Peebles and Innerleithen and headed back west to our first stop, Neidpath Castle. If there is a more evocative castle in the Borders, I have yet to find it. It has stood on its perch above the River Tweed since the 14th century and the last great refurbishment was done by its then-owner, Lord Hay of Yester, in the 16th century.
Barring an unsuccessful seige by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 which knocked a few stones off walls up to 10ft thick in places, it’s hardly changed since. Neidpath is now owned by the aristocratic Wemyss family and its vaulted chambers, state rooms and steep staircases provide an atmospheric venue for special occasions, as well as being open to the public on request.
Peckish at the thought, help is close at hand at Cocoa Black, one of the best additions to the foodie scene in Scotland in recent years. It’s prominently positioned in a Victorian building in the centre of the bustling town and inside is the pleasant fug of satisfied customers tucking into platefuls of chocolate confections.
Back on the bus, Ian headed east and then south towards St Mary’s Loch, that little slice of typically-Highland scenery on the edge of the once-great Ettrick Forest. On the way we passed the farm where Ian’s mother was brought up and got her enjoyment as a wee girl by waving at the charabancs of Edinburghians as they made their way to the banks of the Yarrow Water at weekends for a break from Auld Reekie’s smog. In the days before package holidays, this was, apparently, the go-to destination and tented villages – supplied by fresh milk and eggs from the nearby farms – were a regular sight.
Further upstream there’s still a grandeur about St Mary’s Loch, even on a dreich day, and the steep hills rising from its banks provide a happy hunting ground for walkers and mountain bikers. It also remains farming country and motorised visitors will still find themselves stuck behind flocks of sheep on narrow single-track roads. We spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a Border Collie display his skills, almost a show worth paying for. Timed to perfection for our trip back towards Traquair House, it was almost as if it had been stage managed. Ian smiled and denied it.
Traquair, just south of Innerleithen, is another great house and still owned by the same family – the Jacobite-leaning Maxwell Stuarts – who closed the famed Bear Gates when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his army off to England in 1745 and vowed not to reopen them until a Stuart was on the throne. There will be no change any time soon, but Traquair is still going strong under Catherine Maxwell Stuart. Visit if only to stock up on produce from the in-house brewery.
Cardrona is an ideal, inexpensive base for any of these sorties into the central areas of the Borders, on its Tweed-side site amid rolling hills. Taking afternoon tea there was a delight after a hard day’s sightseeing and the champagne dinner was also a treat. Renwick’s Restaurant delivers a range of competent, well-executed dishes from mainly local ingredients best consumed in one of the window seats overlooking the golf course and the hills beyond. There’s a leisure centre and swimming pool to work off any excesses, and that 18-hole golf course, that winds along, over and back around the Tweed for amusement. Spend some time here and there is no chance that the Borders will ever be unappreciated again.
Rooms start at £75 per night at the Macdonald Cardrona Hotel, Golf and Spa, Peebles. The hotel’s Autumn 3 for 2 package costs from £89.50 per person per night – stay a third night for free. It includes accommodation in a classic room, full Scottish breakfast, dinner, £10 drinks voucher and spa voucher per stay per person, 18 holes of golf for £15. Valid 1 September-31 October, subject to availability. Tel: 0844 879 9024 or visit
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 10 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West