Clare Kelly enjoys a break at historic coaching inn at a convenient location
When one thinks of rural Scotland, the Munros and the Highlands, the islands and the lochs may all spring to mind, but there is beautiful countryside nearer to England.
And if the gentle farming countryside - complete with romantic medieval castle - isn’t all that far from the bright lights of Edinburgh, so much the better for those who want ‘the best of two worlds’.
The Stair Arms Hotel, just outside Pathhead, in Midlothian, is one such location. The Victorian coaching inn dates from 1831 and was commissioned by Lord and Lady Stair - hence the name. It is very handy for those of us who live in England. Pathhead village, a conservation area, is located a mere 12 miles south of Edinburgh.
We came by train for a one-night stay. Our relatives lived nearby so it was a useful stop-over. From Preston, the trains to Edinburgh go frequently and from there it was a train to Eskbank and a taxi ride on to the hotel.
There is also an hourly bus from Edinburgh to Pathhead.
If you go by car, then it is easily found on the A68, a main road which takes you from the North East of England to Edinburgh.
There are 12 rooms in all, with a family room and two suites. Our twin room was elegantly and smartly furnished with a calming grey shade.
It was clean and had everything you would expect from a hotel room - tea, coffee, TV and so on. The bathroom, in the same style as the bedroom, was roomy with all the facilities needed.
After our train journey, we were famished so it was pleasing to hear we could choose our time to dine in the restaurant. We decided on 6pm, a good choice considering how ready we were to eat.
The comfortable and recently refurbished restaurant boasts a roaring log fire in winter. There is also a cafe area with a range of home baking.
The menu offers an ample selection of locally sourced dishes, some with a distinctive Scottish flavour such as Cullen skink, Lady Stair - bread of chicken stuffed with haggis - and haggis fritters.
We were given a tasty pre-starter of warm bread and dips. Mum chose scotch broth for her starter and I opted for a Cullen skink. This dish was made with potato, cream and smoked haddock. I hadn’t heard of this creamy soup-like starter before but it was delicious. Haddock and chips and a steak and ale pie were our main courses. They were big meals, scrumptious, but we were both very full by the end. Too full for a dessert unfortunately. The following day, breakfast was a choice of cereals and then a waitress took our orders, there was a good choice but after our large evening meals, poached egg on toast seemed a fairly light option. Crichton Castle is the nearest tourist attraction to the hotel and is within walking distance.
Handily, after checking-out, we were able to leave our luggage behind at the hotel for this walk.
The route to the medieval landmark is along a country road and, according to the sign, it is two miles from Pathhead.
The castle, which overlooks the Tyne Valley, is certainly worth a visit. It is both historical, as all castles are, and very unusual.
Architecturally, the castle has a number of notable points. The courtyard, when remodelled in the 1580s, was inspired by Italian buildings and is decorated with diamond-shaped stonework. It is very Mediterranean looking and unique for a Scottish castle.
The first known scale-and-platt stair (straight staircase) in Scotland is also found here, again dating from the 1500s. Up to this point, castles had spiral staircases.
Historically, the castle was begun in the late 1300s/1400s and was first lived in by the Crichton family, later passing to the Hepburn earls of Bothwell.
Mary Queen of Scots celebrated her brother’s wedding at Crichton in 1562. Five years later, she married the castle’s owner.
The castle has also found fame within the lines of the poem Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott.
The nearby church was founded by William Crichton in 1449.
After our morning of medieval time-travelling, we ventured back to the Stair Arms where we had lunch - fishcake and haddock goujons and a lovely big pot of tea. Haddock appears a popular option here!
The Stair Arms is a small family-run hotel, run by the Ramsay family for the past 25 years. We found the service warm and helpful.
The hotel also has two function rooms and caters for weddings.
One of the function rooms opens out to a picturesque garden - perfect for wedding photos.
But if you’re just looking for a place to stay while exploring the attractions of Edinburgh and the wider Midlothian area - including the Pentland Hills, Vogrie Country Park and Rossyln Chapel - the Stair Arms is a very handy and comfortable place to stay.
The Stair Arms Hotel
The hotel has 12 bedrooms, including a family room and two suites.
For more information, ring 01875 320277 or visit: http://www.stairarmshotel.com/