Sometimes you just need to get away from the city.
Luckily, Scotland is one of those countries where sanctuary is never that far away, wherever you are living. For my weekend break from urban life, we’ve chosen to head 25 or so miles south of Edinburgh to the historic market town of Biggar.
My home for the next few days is the Elphinstone Hotel, an old coaching house right in the town centre. It’s family run and has been going strong for more than 300 years. As soon as we step through the door, we know we’ve made the right choice. It’s one of those village hostelries that’s got a rustic, welcoming feel to it. The bar is old-fashioned and the smile from behind it is genuine. Locals are milling around as well as tourists, so it’s plain to see that this is the place to be in Biggar. But with just 11 rooms, there’s no chance of it getting too noisy or too crowded.
Budget or boutique?
This three-star hotel is more on the budget side but offers excellent value. A room for the weekend comes in a shade over £80 per night and the accommodation is more modern and better equipped than you’ll find at most coaching inns. However, you’re not going to find a Jacuzzi or a steam room hidden away.
We stayed in a family room, which comprised a double bed and bunk beds. The room was extremely spacious and the bed very comfy. A large flat-screen TV was perfectly positioned on the wall so that both beds could view it – a nice, thoughtful touch. The bathroom had a shower and a bath. Despite it being a muggy summer’s evening, it never got too warm. Tea, coffee and a delicious array of biscuits are on offer, and there’s a fine selection of brochures to make you aware of what there is to do in Biggar and the surrounding area.
Wining and dining
For me, this is where The Elphinstone comes into its own. The mainly Scottish-themed menu is substantial – and sometimes I’m a little wary of a restaurant that tries to do too many selections – but we weren’t let down by the quality. All the produce is sourced locally and everything tasted very fresh.
For a starter, I had Cullen skink. Even though we were a fair distance from the sea, the smoked haddock was delicious and the chowder was creamy and tasty. My main course, though, was the winner. The Elphinstone looks like the sort of place that would serve up the daddy of all burgers, and it sure did that.
The local beef patty was large, succulent and delicious, plated with a generous helping of chips, onion rings and a side salad. By this point a dessert probably wasn’t necessary, but I indulged in a salted caramel and chocolate brownie and wasn’t disappointed. A word too for the house red wine, which again belied a coaching inn in the Southern Uplands – extremely drinkable.
Breakfast – not that I needed it after my three-course odyssey the night before – was just as good. Full English or cereal, pretty much whatever you desire is provided. It’s fair to say the food here would put many a more lavish hotel to shame, and at much better prices too.
Worth getting out of bed for
Biggar is small, but there’s plenty to see and do. The local shops aren’t what you’d find in the city and are well worth a browse. The Victorian puppet theatre is a must-see for those with kids, while the gasworks museum at the foot of the town is very interesting. If you enjoy the great outdoors, you can stroll along the burn that intersects the town, or you can move slightly further out and walk along the Clyde.
On the landing outside our room, there was a selection of board games. In an era where such things are being eclipsed by the smartphone, it was refreshing to sit and enjoy working out whether Professor Plum committed the murder with the lead piping rather than being glued to a mobile phone – Although there is an excellent wi-fi connection if you just can’t live without it.
A great way to take a step outside the hustle and bustle of city life, while enjoying hearty, fabulous food.
• The Elphinstone Hotel offers single rooms from £56-£59, double rooms from £79-£82 and family rooms at £92 for two sharing (an extra £12 for each person thereafter). 145 High Street, Biggar ML12 6DL. www.elphinstonehotel.co.uk