There’s a rich history attached to some of the more imposing architecture in the Scottish Borders; most of it’s even true! The ethereal Melrose Abbey was rumoured to have had Robert the Bruce’s heart buried there, it still has its own resident vampire and, of course, it provided the name and inspiration for Melrose Place (Heather Locklear – a suspiciously Scottish name if ever there was one).
The Mercure Peebles Barony Castle hotel has an equally colourful past. A building has stood on the site since the early 1400s, provided a military stronghold and was used at one stage to conduct witch trials. The current façade dates from the early 18th century and was built to resemble a French chateau…successfully.
While there is no longer room at the Abbey (with most of it being in ruins, the central heating bills were a nightmare) the Barony Castle hotel provides travellers with a real Franco-Scotch castle of their own from which to base any adventures around the Scottish borders region. It’s a rare treat when your accommodation is one of the most iconic buildings of the whole region.
The food is delicious and pleasingly healthy: no deep-fried stereotypes here. The rooms were comfortable and casual. But it’s the outside that really makes this hotel …well that and the indoor pool.
While French inspired, the front of the building resembles nothing so much as a Swiss Castle: gleaming white, square shouldered and politically neutral. It overlooks a classical wedding venue setting – a vast expanse of lawn, leading to forest walks and a wedding photographer’s dream of a tree-framed avenue. Add to this the ravine, a gazebo, numerous waterfalls, the sunken and hidden gardens and the place is just begging to play host to a murder mystery or muse to a children’s author.
If the 100 (or so) acre wood isn’t enough for you then the beautiful medieval market town of Peebles is only five miles away. Running quickly through the middle of town is the so-called “Queen of the Scottish salmon rivers”, the quintessentially British-named River Tweed, which draws in much of the outdoorsy tourist pound to the town.
Once you’ve had your fill of rugged country-file activities the town has plenty of shopping, a growing café culture and nearly a millennium’s worth of history – from the impeccably manicured Kailzie gardens to the Old Parish Church to the considerably more rugged, Highlanderesque Neidpath castle.
At the end of the day it’s back to the castle for another look around this grand building. It’s a great place to base yourself for travels around the Scottish Borders or to honour the old building’s heritage: barricade yourself in, not move off the property for a few days and add your own chapter.