In less than four hours you could be living the idyllic British sporting life. In less than four hours, a sleek train could whisk you from the bustle of central London to the quiet green banks of the crystal clear River Tweed, where the only sounds are the swish of your salmon line and the gurgle of clear water. Whether you are a city worker looking to find your inner sporting gentleman or a grand-tourer craving a taste of idyllic country luxury, the Scottish borderlands are where you’ll find green fields, clear rivers, world class golf and renowned chefs happy to cook up whatever fish and game you manage to bring them. Surely it’s time you took a long weekend (or heck… a full week) donned your tweeds (or fitted new ones) and got back to nature… nature done in luxury.
Luxury lunch on the lawn and an afternoon of expert tutelage at the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course
Sit back with a tea and watch the country transform as the East Coast train whisks you from London to the quaint, walled border-village of Berwick upon tweed. The legendary Norrie will be glad to pick you up from the tiny station (or even from Edinburgh!) and fill your head with local lore and top game tips on the quick drive past the ruined abbey of tiny Kelso, down the long driveway to the warm welcome that awaits within the crenelated Georgian opulence of the Roxburghe Hotel and Golf Course.
Set a dinner reservation and freshen up in your stately room overlooking the smooth green of the croquet lawn and the forest beyond. The bright white, palatial rooms with their four-poster beds, high ceilings and period furniture will help you get into the mood of luxury Border-Country life.
Wander through the reading room to the conservatory or out onto the lawn and peruse the lunch offering of locally-sourced sea trout, treacle smoked salmon and seasonal game bird washed down with a house made raspberry cordial, or a tipple of sherry from the extensive wine menu. Chef Neville will be glad to tell you the heritage and story behind every dish on the menu (most of the ingredients –including the game, specialty cheeses and seafood – are sourced within a 10 mile radius).
Once you’ve had your fill of fresh flavours and clean country air, it’s time to brush up on your sporting skills. Whether it’s golf, shooting or fly-casting – whether you are a novice or seasoned expert – the Roxburghe has friendly expert tutors on hand to help you refine your game. An hour on the driving range, the shooting range or the serenity of the practice pond will give you the confidence you need for the adventures ahead and help you work up a thirst for that first evening aperitif.
Fishing the Duke’s beats at Floors Castle and a round of golf on the world famous Roxburghe course
Start the day with a leisurely cooked breakfast in the sunny sitting room. Don’t miss the haggis and black pudding from the local butcher and the perfectly-poached farm eggs. The staff knows how to pamper with pots of freshly-brewed tea and carafes of strong coffee. You’ll need them to gear up for the action ahead.
First stop is the palatial sprawl of Floors Castle, the home of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe and the largest inhabited castle in Scotland. You can’t miss its elegant turrets on the horizon framed by the confluence of Europe’s two greatest salmon fishing rivers. After a wander through the elegantly furnished rooms hosting a world class art collection (spot the Matisse!), stroll over to the walled gardens where The Duke grows much of his own produce and chat with the royal gardener before taking elevenses of tea and cakes at the Terrace Café.
Then it’s off to the river for the best salmon fishing in Europe. The three “beats” at Floors Castle boast a long trophy list of 40-plus pound monster salmon. River Ghillie, Collin Bell will spin legendary fish stories while he kits you up, refines your form and guides you to the best spot on the banks to land a keeper. The swift tug on the line when you hook up is simply exhilarating, but the meditative effect of the rolling water, the silver clouds racing overhead and the rhythm of your casting are reward enough even if the fish aren’t nibbling.
If the season allows (and you’ve got the stamina) catch a sunset round of golf on the rolling hills of the course back at the Roxburghe. Designed by golfing legend Dave Thomas, the long, rolling fairways dip and rise over a landscape of golden barley fields, and thickets of swaying trees. Don’t miss the view from the tee of the 14th, the famous “Viaduct”.
The feast and a guided tasting of Scotland’s finest single malt whiskeys
Whether you’ve been reeling in fish, reeling off long drives, or both, you’ve earned a world class dinner cooked up to your specifications by Chef Neville and his world-class kitchen brigade. The Roxburghe kitchen turns out flawless twists on classic French preparations featuring the local game, fish and fowl. Try the seasonal Eyemouth lobster with drawn butter or the perfectly grilled Barnsley lamb chop or 35-day aged fillet of beef. Let knowledgeable, friendly General Manager Duncan choose the wines for you (the Roxburghe cellar holds some gems) and don’t skip out on desert, especially the chocolate cheesecake, a decadent ganache as creamy as you can make it and still call it solid.
With the feast finished, and your exaggerated fish story perfected, head across the tall foyer to the Library Bar and sink into a deep leather armchair amongst tall wooden shelves of classic books. Let the house spirits expert Andrew guide you through a bespoke tasting of Scotland’s most prestigious single-malt whiskeys. With 109 on offer, you’ll appreciate his tutelage and may be compelled to take notes.
When you finally succumb to the warm exhaustion of the day and the haze of the malt, you have the sumptuous bed in your suite to look forward to. Crack open the window and let the quiet buzz of the Scottish night drift into your room as you drift off to sleep.
If you’ve ever had even the slightest inkling to try your hand at shooting, fishing or golf, you owe it to yourself to book a few days in the wild green of the Scottish Borders… And if you are an aficionado and know you love the sporting life, you won’t find a more luxurious way to enjoy the great British countryside.
Sage Russell is Editor of Food Pilgrimage.