Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist - The Royal Oak, Cullen
Done the NC500? The Moray Coast is waiting to be explored
The Royal Oak, Cullen, Buckie
Of the North-east fishing villages, Cullen’s Seatown with its jumble of cottages turning gable end towards the sea to shelter from the spray is perhaps the most picturesque. No wonder Peaky Blinders was heading for the Moray Coast and nearby Portsoy to film the next series, now on hold. Many of the former homes of the fisher folk have been converted and are now available for rent but if you like to settle back and let someone else look after you in comfort, head for The Royal Oak hotel, cosied up under the spectacular viaduct that dominates the village and once ran the railway along the coast.
Originally a temperance establishment in the 1800s, now there are drinks galore and food too, for those who find safe haven in its busy bar, restaurant and beer garden.
Taken over by hotelier Caroline Ronald three years ago, the family-run eight-bedroom hotel is seeking to make its mark as a foodie destination by championing local produce such as seafood so fresh it’s almost still swimming and local farm meat that’s trot to hot.
The 1940s oak-panelled bar with original clock and brick open fireplace has a Brief Encounters feel, while the guest dining room has undergone a sophisticated upgrade. Another dining room serves walk-ins with the same menu which also includes breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks and afternoon tea and a further dining room serves guest breakfasts and is for hire.
Covid precautions include hand sanitisers, cleaning, masks for staff and limited soft furnishings.
Budget or boutique?
Affordable, with singles from £70pp b&b, doubles from £90 and family rooms £135.
The hotel’s bedrooms are being redecorated in turn with touches of seaside and tweed, not twee. Ask for one of the sea-facing rooms for the breathtaking views over the wide bay with its golden sands and big skies, or enjoy views of the Victorian viaduct in one direction and Seatown’s hopscotch of grey and red roofs and alleyways in the other. All rooms have ensuite showers, trays for hot drinks and Dean’s Huntly shortbread, complimentary Scottish Fine Soap Company toiletries, hair dryers. flat screen HD TVs with Freeview and free wifi.
Wining and Dining
Caroline and her two chefs are in the kitchen curating the journey from field to fork of beef, lamb and pork from Glenmor and Saulmore Farms, with back-up from Forbes Raeburn of Huntly while the seafood platter is another speciality (a seafood festival is planned). Venison and game birds also feature when in supply.
Cullen Skink is a must round here and The Royal Oak’s steaming bowls of smoked haddock (from Eat Mair Fish in Buckie) and soft cubes of potato floating in creamy milk was runner up in this year’s Cullen Skink World Championships. So satisfying as a starter, I couldn’t manage a main but squeezed in another starter; twice baked applewood cheese souffle with pear chutney that was a puff of perfection. Other popular mains included a rich steak pie with a massive quiff of pastry floating on top.
Wine with eco credentials from Sea Change leaves a pleasant taste with a percentage of the cost going to marine conservation.
Breakfasts are also a highlight, with praise being heaped by oat aficionados on the porridge that preceded cooked options including Speyside Black Pudding and smoked Buckie haddock.
Worth getting out of bed for
Walking,running and cycling, with golf on Cullen’s own course and watersports from Cullen Sea School. If antiques are your weakness, you’ll find everything from library step chairs to coal skuttles and painters love the light.
Sample Cullen’s ice cream then head to Portsoy for theirs. Ditto fish and chips.
Distilleries, dolphins and Deveronvale’s football ground are all worth a look, as are The Northern Lights if you’re lucky.
There is bike and golf club storage, and you can bring your dog by arrangement.
For sun, sand and staycations, start in Cullen.
Rooms start from £70 per night for a single, doubles from £90, with twins and family rooms available.
The Royal Oak, 34 Castle Terrace, Cullen, Buckie AB56 4SD (01542 842762, www.theroyaloakcullen.co.uk)
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