Scotland is a land overflowing with bed and breakfast-style accommodation. I wished I’d counted how many B&Bs I passed on my five-week trip. Hundreds? Thousands?
There’s no question that it can be a comfortable way to spend your time after rambling around the Scottish countryside. In fact, on each of my trips to Scotland, B&Bs have been my primary accommodation. I’ve seen the good, I’ve seen the bad, and I’ve seen a whole lot of unremarkable places. The bell curve is ringing.
But the truly great B&Bs are rare, fae places (usually without the satyrs). The accommodation during my Best Holiday in the World week in MoraySpeyside was set up by Rene Looper, and I was both anxious and excited to see what was in store. We spoke at length about the hospitality industry, how there’s often a sweet spot where proprietors’ spirit and passion and energy is going full bore into their accommodation. It’s when those elements start flagging that the customer experience deteriorates; the finest furnishings and accoutrements can’t make up for bad or just plain weird vibes from a B&B host. Rene would know. He used to own and run the gorgeous Cluny Bank Hotel, which is now in the equally skilled hands of Julia and Lloyd Kenny.
Accommodation is the most important piece of the travel puzzle for me. I need to have a comfortable, welcoming place to return to at the end of the day (or to hang out in if the weather’s awful). It’s even more important when I travel solo. I’m not much for roughing it, in case that was in question, so when I arrived to Trochelhill Country House B&B and Cardhu Country House on nights during the Best Holiday in the World, I was greeted with two of the very best places I’ve stayed at in Scotland. I knew everything was going to be alright. Great even.
Trochelhill Country House B&B
I spent the first night of my Best Holiday in the World week at Trochelhill, a stately Victorian country house on more than an acre of impeccable gardens just outside Fochabers. As I drove through the front gates, I remember thinking “this place is going to be good.” Iain and Diane greeted me warmly at the door and led me in for afternoon tea, which also consisted of a delicious array of scones, pastries, and jams.
The inside of Trochelhill is clean with traditional decor, but, much like everything at Trochelhill, it has an updated, modern feel with luxury accents. Take Ordiequish, my room, for example. Richly-hued wooden furniture, bright picture windows, and a king-size bed that makes me drowsy just looking at it anchor the space. I even found a hot water bottle tucked under the covers when I retired to my room that night. The bathroom is a work of modern art composed of marble, porcelain, and slate. The freestanding roll top bath and slate-sided Jetsons-inspired shower were especially impressive, though the floor of the shower was a bit slippery. With the free wifi available I actually didn’t want to leave my room. The other two rooms, Aigen and Balnacoul, don’t stray from the formula but do contain unique flourishes.
Breakfast was an escalation of deliciousness from afternoon tea the day before. It was served on a massive Queen Anne dining table with bright views onto their grounds and contained a morsel I’d never heard of before: Lorne (it’s a type of sausage).
Iain and Diane bought the house from an ex-MP and spent 18 months renovating it. They knocked down walls, created new rooms, and tended a yard that now looks like a botanical garden. Recently, they received Gold status from VisitScotland, Scotland’s tourism board. It’s a new designation that means you can expect excellent customer care, hospitality, and commitment.
The accommodation is nearly flawless, but what sticks with me is the warmth and friendliness of both Iain and Diane. They invited me to treat Trochelhill as my own home and they meant it. The three of us had tea later that night, after I returned from an amazing ride in a Caterham 7, and we were joined by their sweet three-legged cat Toes. This is a lifestyle, Iain said, and you can’t do it if you don’t love it, if you don’t love people. It’s clear they’re in the right line of work.
Cardhu Country House
I was toward the tail end of my Best Holiday in the World week when I arrived at the Cardhu Country House, just a short walk to the eponymous distillery in Speyside. I drove through the bucolic landscape and pulled through the gates of a stunning stone country house. I was greeted at the door by name by Norman and lead inside the airy yet cozy house. Norman ushered me into their massive kitchen where I had tea with him and his wife, Tina. It felt like I was visiting my Scottish aunt and uncle, and that’s a good thing. A really good thing.
Amazingly, they’d just opened two weeks earlier though they seemed like old hands at running a B&B. I suspect they were just being themselves: open, friendly, and inviting. They graciously invited me to eat dinner with them and their daughter and I eagerly accepted. Norman took me up above the Cardhu Distillery to get some eggs and we hiked to the reservoir where Cardhu’s water of life is still just water.
Norman and Tina had completely renovated the house, which was apparently a ruin before they took it over. It has six rooms and the entire place can be booked as self-catering, though Norman and Tina can cater for you as well. My room had the same high ceilings and cozy atmosphere as the rest of the house. All the conveniences of a luxury B&B were available to me, but with an attractive rustic charm that evokes the countryside.
Dinner was a win with succulent scallops on top of black pudding and fresh seabass. The four of us chatted, wine in hand, and I marveled at how I could feel this integrated after having only known them for a few hours. After dinner I brought down a bottle of Benromach 10 gifted to me by Keith Cruickshank, the Benromach distillery manager, and Norman and I proceeded to put a sizable dent in it. It was a memorable night in that I had such a good time I don’t remember much about it.
In the morning, Norman and I ate breakfast before Tina kindly showed me a hike along the River Spey.
I was drawing out my departure. After all, passion pulls.