HAVING spent happy childhood holidays under canvas in Royal Deeside, it was with a sense of some excitement that I returned there to experience the area in the rather more salubrious surroundings of the Banchory Lodge Hotel.
Having negotiated the marvellous drive through Glenshee, we descended into Braemar to witness the splendour of Deeside swathed in autumn shades. Motoring towards Banchory, we were unsure quite what to expect from this secluded hotel perched on the banks of the Dee. A friend, who is a keen angler and had been there on numerous occasions for the sport, had described it as a very traditional family-run establishment with men expected to wear jacket and tie for dinner. Since then the hotel has moved into new ownership, has been refurbished from top to bottom and the dress code has been relaxed.
Nevertheless, as one might expect, there was still plenty of tweed on show – notably the matching waistcoats worn by the waiting staff. A natty pair of plus fours was also spotted in the bar (worn perhaps by an off-duty fishing gillie slaking his thirst after a hard day on the river). Some eccentric but charming décor was evident in the public rooms. Striking portraits of dogs dressed as celebrities added a somewhat surreal touch.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
Although just a stone’s throw from the centre of Banchory, the hotel is very much in the country house style. The proximity of the river, the Georgian building set in extensive grounds, and the fact that it was once a family home, make for an intimate feeling of getting away from it all.
WINING AND DINING
The bar was stocked with an extensive range of real ales and malt whiskies, and catered for both guests and locals – creating a sociable and entertaining mix. Attentive staff, a large wine cellar and a wide-ranging menu resulted in a memorable dining experience. A smoked salmon starter was delicious and my vegetarian dining companion was particularly impressed by the curry she ordered. But for me, just arrived in a part of Scotland famed for its beef, it had to be the wonderfully tender rib-eye steak washed down with a very agreeable red wine.
Our room was a short walk from the main building and was in the part of the hotel where the previous owners had lived, giving it a friendly feel. Extremely spacious with a comfortable bed, the en suite facilities were impressive and there was the most gorgeous view of the river. The luxuriant bath robes and complimentary toiletries made us feel really pampered.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
Although the area is a magnet for anglers, there are a host of other attractions and activities to be enjoyed. For us, a visit to Cambus O’May near Ballater was a highlight. In days gone by, succumbing to peer pressure and jumping off the suspension bridge into the Dee had been a terrifying feature of youthful summer holidays. Now older, wiser and even more cowardly – a gentle riverside walk was the summit of our exertions.
Of the many fortified houses and historic homes in the area, we visited Crathes Castle. Alas, there was no time for golf, but the hotel would be the perfect place from which to explore the many courses in the area.
The tea rooms and bookshops of Ballater were a welcome distraction on the way home, and for those with an interest in the monarchy, there are the obvious attractions of Balmoral and Crathie Kirk, as well as the spectacular countryside of the Royal Estate stretching out beneath the dark peak of Lochnagar.
In a place that was full of little touches that added greatly to its ambience, we were taken by the menus. Each was decorated with a marvellous cartoon depicting classic Deeside features –highland dancers and pipers performing at local gatherings; fishermen catching salmon; local wildlife and scenery. Those of a less esoteric bent than us would be reassured to know that the room had Sky TV.
GUEST BOOK COMMENTS
Banchory Lodge Hotel is a marvellous place to unwind. Incidentally, if guests happen to be foolish enough to drop their house-keys in the car-park, they can be assured that kind and helpful staff will ensure that they are sent back to them forthwith – as I discovered, to my shame.
• Banchory Lodge Hotel, Dee Street, Banchory, Aberdeenshire AB31 5HS (01330 822625, www.banchorylodge.co.uk). Bed and breakfast in a double room starts from around £145, see website for current prices