Hotel Review: Windlestraw, Scottish Borders
Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist - Windlestraw, Borders, hotel review
Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders
When John and Sylvia Matthews bought Windlestraw, an Edwardian Manor in the Scottish Borders in 2015 and were considering what changes they would make to the existing small hotel they asked themselves what they looked for in a luxury stay. With their extensive experience from a lifetime in hospitality, latterly in the Middle East - they knew instinctively what they would do. “Our benchmark is what we enjoy as independent travellers,” says John.
So at Windlestraw you will find top class food, personal service, touches of luxury, fast wifi, oh and kettles that fit under the tap in the room. It’s the details that make the difference.
Now with the award of three AA rosettes for their dining experience to add to their five star gold award for accommodation, as well as five stars from the Scottish Tourist Board, the Matthews, head chef Stu Waterston and housekeeper Lizzy Frazer feel their hard work has been recognised.
Set in ten acres - “seven for sheep and three for people”, Windlestraw was built in 1906 for the Ballantyne family who owned the local textile mill. John & Sylvia set about upgrading the category 2 listed Edwardian building, preserving the historic original features such as the Austrian oak panelling, refurbishing rooms and installing contemporary showers and baths, and restoring the kitchen garden, greenhouse and gardens.
Dedicated to attracting visitors to a part of Scotland often overshadowed by the Highlands and Islands or the cities of the Central Belt, the Matthews are keen to promote the South of Scotland as a destination in its own right.
“We are working with the South of Scotland Destination Alliance to raise awareness of South of Scotland as a luxury hospitality destination. Scotland starts here,” says John.
The six original bedrooms of the Edwardian house make for six unique guest rooms. Keen to avoid too much of an overdone boutique velvet and gilt mirror look, Sylvia has transformed each with a redesign to celebrate their individual charms, size and shapes, using a relaxing palette of taupes and greys. Think modern Scottish meets Edwardian style. Clean crisp textiles, carpets, curtains and etchings of local landscapes give a reassuring and relaxing vibe, while White Company amenities, robes, locally made fudge, Nespresso machines, fast free wifi and smart TVs provide the contemporary technology and comfort today’s travellers appreciate. As part of the refurbishment showers and baths were upgraded and include walk-in facilities.
Occupancy was reduced from six to four rooms and tables to four with a maximum of eight diners. With a large lounge, a sun room, a bar and the restaurant in the original billiards room, the house has space to maintain a pre-covid ambience yet keep visitors safe.
Government guidance is followed throughout with temperatures taken on arrival, the wearing of masks and washing of hands and surfaces.
Rooms are still cleaned during the stay, observing precautions, to keep guests enjoying the pampering that a hotel stay promises.
Budget or boutique?
Neither. It’s Edwardian country house elegance with a Scottish touch of luxury and service - a small independent hotel with fine dining restaurant, or restaurant with rooms.
Wining and Dining
With three AA rosettes on the table, you’re talking quality. The chef, Stuart Waterston was born and raised in Innerleithen, learnt his skills in kitchens in Edinburgh and has developed his own style and is now adding a personal twist.
“People might come to the Borders expecting traditional cuisine but we neither want to be predictable or to follow trends,” says John. “Our food could be described as Modern Scottish. Stu has a great deal of freedom with the cuisine and should take full credit for the standard achieved. Our carbon footprint is very small, we go for four or five quality ingredients on the plate, using locally-sourced produce, such as venison from Traquair and vegetables from our kitchen garden.
A five course set menu that sits between a la carte and a tasting has seen the hotel introduce guests with a more traditional palate to modern Scottish cooking, with all dietary needs catered for.
Typical dishes are cream of neep soup with black pepper and burnt onion followed by Borders Lamb with jerusalem artichoke and wild garlic or mushroom porridge with variety of fungi including girolles with homemade ricotta, pulses and grains, with a deep mushroom jus, or for fish lovers, salted hake with parsnip, spring onion and seaweed beurre blanc, while dessert could be chocolate custard with beetroot, cherry sorbet and pistachio.
And for those bemoaning the loss of the breakfast buffet, fear not for it lives on at Windlestraw - the only difference being staff serve it to you - yes, you will have to own your appetites, but that bread is homemade, along with hot dishes.
At the moment alcohol is allowed with meals but lockdown saw the creation of a Liberated From Alcohol list that includes a cocktail using Windlestraw fermented kombucha, mixed with Feragaia and ginger, and Atopia, non-alcoholic sparkling wine.
Windlestraws’ Special Picnic with secret ingredients is available upon request.
Worth Getting Out of Bed For
The Tweed Valley has world class muddy shoes and mountain bike activities. There are historic houses, abbeys and gardens aplenty, including Traquair, Melrose Abbey (with the heart of Robert the Bruce) and Abbotsford. Walk along the River Tweed from Walkerburn to Peebles or the Borders market towns - Kelso, Galashiels, Hawick (40 minutes), are all worth a visit, especially if cashmere and tweed are on your shopping list.
When the distilleries are open, Borders and Glenkinchie Distilleries are worth a tour and if fishing’s your angle, ghillies and fishing lessons on the River Tweed can be arranged. There’s clay pigeon shooting at Bowhill and mini Highland Games have run in the grounds.
Check out the Scotland Starts Here App, for South of Scotland activities.
Newspapers are complimentary, delivered to the room, and there is home-made shortbread on check in and complimentary during your stay, along with muffins and tea. For dog lovers there is Bramble, the working cocker spaniel, who is being trained to help check-in guests - but ignore those big eyes and don’t feed her the shortbread.
Windlestraw doesn’t dumb it down due to covid. It won its AA rosettes during coronavirus, which tells you all you need to know about commitment to keeping up standards.
Rooms from £200 per room per night (single rates available).