Since the A-roads in Scotland can be so narrow that they have crossings, you can imagine how rustic B-roads can be there.
I passed one in Cairngorms National Park on a Friday night recently and didn’t see another car for half an hour.
Our destination was Banchory Lodge, a hotel located just beyond the eastern border of the park, in an attractive location on several levels.
Banchory Lodge sits on the banks of the River Dee, just beyond the eastern border of Cairngorms National Park
First, the Georgian lodge is enchantingly located on the banks of the River Dee, facing the town of Banchory and towards the wooded hills.
Then there is the proximity to a multitude of sensational sites.
For starters, Balmoral – the Scottish home of the Royal Family – is just a 45-minute drive west in the Cairngorms National Park. My partner, three-year-old daughter and I spent a wonderful afternoon there, strolling through the surrounding woods – where we spotted a red squirrel – strolling through the beautiful vegetable garden, which was almost cartoonish, and to take a peek inside the sober castle ballroom, the only room you are allowed inside.
Ted’s room was an “upscale terrace room” (pictured) – “and there was a lot that was really top notch”
The Sitooterie terrace, which unfortunately partially blocks the view of the river from the ‘Top Notch’ rooms on the ground floor
Ted enjoyed the “top quality fish and chips” at the Banchory Lodge restaurant
Balmoral – the Scottish home of the Royal Family – is just a 45-minute drive west of Banchory Lodge
THE PLEASURES OF TRAVEL IN SCOTLAND
Without a doubt, the most exciting way to reach Scotland from England is by train. Our trip to Banchory Lodge begins with LNER Azuma at 9am from Kings Cross in Edinburgh.
The Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed
Along the way, we take in incredible views from our seats – the awe-inspiring York Station, magnificent Durham Cathedral and the striking Angel of North, just before Newcastle. The arrival at the station is breathtaking, with sweeping views of the city and the River Tyne as the train crosses the mighty King Edward VII Bridge.
An LNER Azuma passes Alnmouth
As the train heads further north, we look up the coast at Alnmouth, spot Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island, and then are mesmerized as the train crosses the Royal Border Bridge (which is actually three miles south of the border) before stopping at Berwick-sur-Tweed station. After that, a breathtaking view of the rugged coastline keeps us in suspense before the train arrives at Edinburgh Waverley. Six minutes early.
We reach Perth (where we collect a rental car) via a ScotRail HST service via the towering Forth Bridge. Unforgettable. On the way back, we take a direct LNER Azuma service from Perth to Kings Cross, which does not follow the Forth Bridge but bypass the impressive Stirling Castle.
Other nearby attractions include Crathes Castle and Craigievar Fairytale Castle.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, is just 30 kilometers to the east. Here you can spot dolphins from the harbor and admire the works on display at Aberdeen’s famous art gallery.
We refueled for our excursions with breakfasts at a table overlooking the river. The view was great and the dish was filling, although the rustic factor was lowered by the gas station-style packages of honey that came with the porridge.
Lunchtime refueling came thanks to the hotel’s outdoor dining concept – La Sitooterie – which features patio seating and four funky wooden sheds for private dining experiences.
These are really a lot of fun and the barbecue style grills, salads, tacos and flatbreads served by the outdoor kitchen are really filling.
We ordered chilled crayfish and lobster tacos, “togarashi” chicken and lemon pepper mackerel with apple, cucumber and watermelon and we could barely move afterwards.
On the flavor side, it was a bit two-dimensional, but there was no need to discuss the price. Most of the dishes were under a tenner.
The main building restaurant which cooks in the evenings impressed, however. I had top quality fish and chips and my partner loved his Shetland scallops. Also, the service was incredibly quick and cheerful despite the restaurant being packed.
Our room was a ‘top notch terrace room’ and there were a lot of things that were truly top notch. But some items were more “middle to lower-middle”.
The first order bits? The extremely comfortable bed, especially the luxurious pillows, the funky flamingo wallpaper, the Art Deco drink cart, the distressed industrial-chic TV cabinet, and the sheer space of it all.
And there were sockets near the bed. Reflexive.
But the entrance to the room was a bit dark and the bathroom feng shui looked misaligned – while lying down the toilet was in my line of sight if the bathroom door was open and in line of sight with French doors.
The shower, on the other hand, had a slow-draining plug and while using the rain shower was nice, the hose couldn’t collect much more than flowing water.
The main room had a boutique feel to it, but the bathroom, while clean, was bland and economical in comparison.
The billing for the room on the website also left me a little offended. “Great views of the River Dee” are promised and patio doors “open to your patio directly overlooking the River Dee”.
This may have been written by a real estate agent, as the “your patio” part of the equation was actually an open patio shared with three other rooms (although each room had its own table and chairs) and the view. a hedge between it and the Sitooterie, its parasols and the cars in the parking lot beyond. (When we visited it was full – Banchory Lodge is very popular.)
La Sitooterie has patio seating and four funky wooden cabanas (two pictured here) for private dining experiences
For breathtaking views of the bubbling streams, book a first-floor room with a river view, recommends Ted
Craigievar’s fairytale castle is one of the many local attractions
16th century Crathes Castle and its beautiful gardens are minutes from Banchory Lodge
We could see the river, but just barely.
For a breathtaking view of the bubbling torrents, book a first-floor room with a view of the river.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed our stay in a reasonably priced hotel and, without a doubt, one of the brightest places in the country.
Ted was hosted by Banchory Lodge, Dee Street, Banchory, AB31 5HS. Rooms start from £ 125. Visit banchorylodge.com for more information, call +44 1330 822 625 and email [email protected]
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – medium; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
LNER offers departures every half hour between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh, in both directions, during the day. The journey from town to town takes just over four hours. When booking direct online at lner.co.uk, advance fares start from £ 54 round trip standard and £ 136 round trip first class. A return family ticket costs £ 169 for a maximum of two adults and four children (all subject to availability).
LNER also operates a daily direct service between London and Inverness via Perth.
For more information on ScotRail services, visit www.scotrail.co.uk.
Booking.com offers car rentals in over 160 countries around the world, with 60,000 pickup locations in the UK. For more information, visit www.booking.com.
To find out more about things to do in Scotland, visit www.visitscotland.com.