CENTURIES of history, elegance, fine dining, tranquillity, character, romance – and a friendly ghost to boot. The Busta House Hotel promises a lot, but aside from the absence of any noticeable apparitions it’s hard to argue with most of those claims.
Thanks to the recent BBC crime drama Shetland, visitors in future may be more concerned, or curious, about seeing a body than a ghost. As I sit in the Long Room, bathed in sunshine and listening to a grandfather clock tick tock unevenly in the corner, it’s hard to imagine anything untoward in this perfectly positioned white country house on mainland Shetland. More interesting to me is the chance to see the Northern Lights, the solar storm phenomenon that is due to reach its latest cyclical peak from 2013-14. Shetland is one of the best places in the UK to see them, especially in spring and autumn. We are unlucky this time, but we meet some German photographers who witnessed the show here the night before.
WINING AND DINING
The slightly wordy, though possibly tongue-in-cheek, hotel guide in our room invites us to head downstairs to the Long Room or the bar when we are ready for dinner to enjoy a “refreshment” while we “peruse the day’s fayre”. As we sit in leather armchairs, Veronica Rocks – who runs the hotel with husband Joe – is chatty as she takes our drinks order and discusses island life. There is the Pitcairn Room table d’hôte menu for £35 per person, or the equally tempting bar menu, both compiled daily with most dishes cooked to order using fresh ingredients, including plenty of seafood.
I have the Shetland smoked salmon with brown bread and butter starter (£6.25), which is light and tasty. My friend goes for fresh pears poached in a vanilla and cinnamon syrup served with fruit sorbet (£4.95), which she likes but feels might have made a better dessert. We’ve both been dreaming of fish and chips, so we’re glad the fresh Shetland haddock fillet deep-fried in local Unst ale batter (£11.95) is on today’s menu. It is beautifully cooked though we are defeated by the generous portions.
Breakfast is served by a friendly Spanish waitress who has just moved to Shetland from the Basque country, and seems as happy to be here as we are.
BUDGET OR BOUTIQUE?
The hotel’s 22 rooms start from £99 for an en suite single with shower, free wi-fi and flat screen TV/DVD, rising to £115 for an en suite double/twin with the same facilities, £125 for a double/twin featuring a bath and sea view, and £160 for a suite.
Each room is named after one of the many smaller isles around the coast of mainland Shetland. Ours is called Papa Stour, and has a fantastic view out to the village of Brae across Busta Voe, one of many fjord-like inlets in Shetland. The bedroom is nice and light, though if you wake easily you might want to bring an eye mask as the curtains are quite thin. The complimentary wi-fi works well though, as the hotel admits, mobile phone reception can be limited in some areas due to its sheltered location. We get a signal leaning out of the window, which on a sunny day isn’t a bad place at all to make a call from.
WORTH GETTING OUT OF BED FOR
A walk along the clifftops at Esha Ness watching seabirds fly past at eye level is a popular jaunt in the northwest of the mainland when it’s sunny, which it is every day during our visit. Shetland is a pretty vast collection of islands and it’s difficult to get around without a car, but it’s easy to hire one from the airport when you arrive (www.boltscarhire.co.uk). The islands are also rich in culture and the original reason for my visit is to see a unique new community production exploring people’s bittersweet relationship with the automobile. Called Ignition, it produced some unusual results, from a knitted car to a parkour display on a Volvo. Shetland’s capital, Lerwick, has a new arts centre, Mareel, including a cinema and a lovely cafe, both potential refuges if the weather turns. There are plenty of shops selling the ubiquitous Fair Isle jumpers. For something more unusual (though not cheap) try Nielanell’s designer studio at Hoswick, near Sandwick.
The hotel guide also invites guests to consider reception as both a resource for any inquiries and bookings and somewhere to go for a chat. Manager Grant lives up to that promise as well as the owners.
A genuinely warm welcome from all staff, wonderful location and great food.
• Busta House Hotel, Busta, Brae, Shetland (01806 522506, www.bustahouse.com)