Hotel Review: Scotland’s Banchory Lodge is on the banks of the River Dee east of Balmoral

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Given that the A-roads in Scotland can be so narrow that they have thoroughfares, you can imagine how rustic B-roads can get there.

I recently turned into one in the Cairngorms National Park on a Friday night and saw no other car for half an hour – traversing forests so ancient and pristine that I wondered if we had moved to Middle-earth.

Our destination was the Banchory Lodge, a hotel just across the eastern boundary of the park in a multi-tiered location.

Banchory Lodge is on the River Dee, just across the eastern border of the Cairngorms National Park

First, the Georgian lodge is beautifully situated on the banks of the River Dee, looking out from the town of Banchory towards the wooded hills.

In addition, there is the proximity to a multitude of sensational sights.

First off, Balmoral – the Scottish home of the Royal Family – is just 45 minutes west in the Cairngorms National Park. My partner, my three-year-old daughter and I spent a wonderful afternoon there, frolicking through the surrounding forests – where we spotted a red squirrel – strolling through the fine vegetable garden, which was almost caricaturally lush, and peered into the simple castle ballroom, the only room that you are allowed to enter.

Ted's room was a

Ted’s room was a “Top Notch Terrace Room” (pictured) – “and there was much that was top notch indeed”

The terrace of the Sitooterie, which unfortunately partially blocks the river view from the 'Top Notch' rooms on the ground floor

The terrace of the Sitooterie, which unfortunately partially blocks the river view from the ‘Top Notch’ rooms on the ground floor

Ted enjoyed gold standard fish and chips in the Banchory Lodge restaurant

Ted enjoyed gold standard fish and chips in the Banchory Lodge restaurant

Balmoral - the Scottish home of the Royal Family - is just 45 minutes' drive west of Banchory Lodge

Balmoral – the Scottish home of the Royal Family – is just 45 minutes’ drive west of Banchory Lodge

THE JOY OF TRAVELING TO SCOTLAND

The most exciting way to reach Scotland from England is without a doubt by train. Our journey to Banchory Lodge begins with the LNER Azuma at 9am from Kings Cross to Edinburgh.

The Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed

The Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed

On the way we enjoy some incredible sights from our seats – the impressive York Railway Station, the magnificent Durham Cathedral and the striking Angel of North just outside Newcastle. Arriving at the station is breathtaking, with breathtaking views of the city and the River Tyne as the train crosses the mighty King Edward VII Bridge.

An LNER Azuma passes Alnmouth

An LNER Azuma passes Alnmouth

As the train races north, we gaze out over the coast of Alnmouth, discover Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island, and then are mesmerized as the train crosses the Royal Border Bridge (which is actually three miles south of the border) before arriving in Berwick drive in. on-tweed station. Then the breathtaking views of the rugged coastline keep us in suspense before the train arrives in Edinburgh Waverley. Six minutes early.

We reach Perth (where we pick up a rental car) via ScotRail HST service over the impressive Forth Bridge. Unforgettable. On the way home we take a direct LNER Azuma service from Perth to Kings Cross, which does not go over the Forth Bridge, but passes the impressive Stirling Castle.

Other nearby ancient attractions include Crathes Castle and the fairytale Craigievar Castle.

Aberdeen is only 30 km to the east. There you can watch dolphins from the harbor and admire the works on display at the renowned Aberdeen Art Gallery.

We recharged our batteries for our excursions with breakfast at a table overlooking the river. The view was great and the food was hearty, although the rustic factor was toned down by the gas station-style honey wraps that came with the broth.

The lunch break was made possible thanks to the hotel’s outdoor dining concept – The Sitooterie – with seating above a terrace area and four fancy wooden sheds for private dining experiences.

These are really fun, and the grills, salads, tacos, and flatbreads served by the outdoor kitchen are really filling.

We ordered chilled crayfish and lobster taco, ‘togarashi’ chicken and lemon pepper mackerel with apple, cucumber and watermelon and could barely move afterwards.

In terms of taste, it was a bit two-dimensional, but the price was not to be argued with. Most of the dishes were under a ten.

However, the restaurant in the main building, which cooks in the evening, is impressive. I had gold standard fish and chips and my partner loved her Shetland scallops. In addition, the service was impressively brisk and cheerful, even though the restaurant was packed to the limit.

Our room was a “Top Notch Terrace Room” and there was a lot that was really first class. But some items were more like “middle to lower middle notch”.

The first class bits? The extremely comfortable bed, especially the luxurious pillows, the funky flamingo wallpaper, the Art Deco drinks trolley, the TV cabinet in a used look in industrial chic and the sheer spaciousness of the whole.

And there were sockets by the bed. Pensive.

But the entrance to the room was a bit gloomy and the feng shui of the bathroom felt wrong – lying down, the toilet was in my field of vision with the bathroom door open and in line of sight with the French doors.

The shower now had a slow draining plug and while the rain shower was comfortable to use, the hose couldn’t hold much more than dripping water.

The main room had a definite boutique feel to it, but the bathroom, while clean, was bland and cheap by comparison.

The room billing on the website annoyed me a bit too. “Great views of the River Dee” are promised and French doors “open onto your terrace directly onto the River Dee”.

Perhaps this was written by a real estate agent because the part of the “your patio” equation was actually an open courtyard shared with three other rooms (although each room has its own table and chairs) and the view has a hedge between this and that Sitooterie was, his umbrellas and the cars in the parking lot behind. (It was full when we visited – Banchory Lodge is very popular.)

The Sitooterie has seating above a terrace area and four fancy wooden sheds (two shown here) for private culinary experiences

The Sitooterie has seating above a terrace area and four fancy wooden sheds (two shown here) for private culinary experiences

For an unobstructed view of the gushing torrents, book a river view room on the first floor, recommends Ted

For an unobstructed view of the gushing torrents, book a river view room on the first floor, recommends Ted

The fairytale Craigievar Castle is one of the many local attractions

The fairytale Craigievar Castle is one of the many local attractions

16th century Crathes Castle and its magnificent grounds are minutes from Banchory Lodge

16th century Crathes Castle and its magnificent grounds are minutes from Banchory Lodge

We could see the river, but only barely.

For an unobstructed view of the gushing torrents, book a room with a river view on the first floor.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay in a hotel at reasonable prices, which is undoubtedly in one of the most luminous places in the country.

TRAVEL FACTS

Ted was hosted by Banchory Lodge, Dee Street, Banchory, AB31 5HS. Rooms from £ 125. Visit banchorylodge.com for more information, call +44 1 330 822 625 and email [email protected]

Valuation:

Evaluation key: one star – bad; two stars – average; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.

LNER runs every half hour between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh in both directions during the day. The journey from city to city takes just over four hours. If you book direct online at lner.co.uk, advance fares start at £ 54 return in standard class and £ 136 return in first class. A return family ticket costs £ 169 for up to two adults and four children (subject to availability).

LNER also offers a daily direct service between London and Inverness via Perth.

Information on ScotRail services can be found at www.scotrail.co.uk.

Booking.com offers rental cars in over 160 countries around the world with 60,000 pick-up locations in the UK. More information is available at www.booking.com.

For more information on activities in Scotland, please visit www.visitscotland.com.

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