Review by Fiona Duncan, published 25th June 2011.
At last we have made it to the Collingwood Arms. Firstly, we were prevented by the fishing season, when it was fully booked for weeks on end, and then by two-and-a-half feet of snow that blocked our progress up the A1 last November.
This time, our journey was laughably easy, and a more relaxing, solid, reassuring and unpretentious hotel in which to while away some time would be hard to imagine.
It stands on what used to be the main road to Edinburgh, with the River Tweed glinting below. A tollgate once stood opposite, and the Collingwood Arms, named after Cuthbert Collingwood, one of Nelson's great admirals, still bears the words Post Horses beneath its name on the façade, announcing the coaching inn it once was.
But one of those rambling, awkward coaching inns it most certainly is not. A plain, reassuring, stone-built Georgian edifice, with two rows of elegant sash windows, it feels more like a gentleman's residence, with a wide central hall and a well-proportioned library/sitting room leading off.
It has always had a place in the local community – my friend Chris remembers coming often as a child for Sunday lunches – and locals still prop up the bar, though since a recent sympathetic makeover, the bar is now part of a contemporary, wood-floored brasserie where light dishes are served.
I don't know who was responsible for the transformation (the hotel was bought by John Cook, a Tweed fisherman, and is run by jovial Scotsman Kevin Kenny), but it's plain that the work was carried out with proper deference to the building's fine heritage.
The interior decoration fits perfectly. No one, mercifully, has been along and decided that it all has to look like a Moroccan souk or a Zen zone; instead, you'll find antiques, newly covered (but traditionally shaped) sofas and armchairs, Persian rugs and soft, muted colours for curtains and fabrics. Bathrooms are mostly large and stylish, painted in duck-egg blue or sage green.
All 16 rooms are named after ships in Vice-Admiral Collingwood's "van" at Trafalgar. We had to force ourselves to leave the library, where we had flopped after an excellent breakfast (featuring a honeycomb from Chain Bridge Honey Farm; see "Fiona's Choice", right), and walk along the river.
Best of all is the dining room. Edginess makes for poor eating; how much more satisfying food seems to be when you're on comfortable seats in a relaxing room, and here we tucked into locally sourced dishes that were as sound as the hotel itself. One of us, the cookery expert and teacher Jane Lovett, declared her food excellent, and she should know. I certainly loved my grilled black pudding and leek starter and my chicken was pretty good, too.
But it's the presence of the Tweed, one of the world's great salmon rivers, protected by Act of Parliament and administered by a board of commissioners, that adds special character to the Collingwood Arms. Perhaps it's the patient nature of the fishing community that gives the place its benign feel; certainly for anyone wanting to cast a fly here, it's perfect.
- Main Street, Cornhill-on-Tweed (01890 882424;www.collingwoodarms.com). Doubles from £118 per night, including breakfast. Ground-floor room for guests with disabilities. Jane Lovett (www.janelovett.com). Trains to Berwick: East Coast (08457 225225;www.eastcoast.co.uk). Car hire: Europcar (08713 849847;www.europcar.co.uk
Anyone interested in fishing on the Tweed should visit the Fish Tweedwebsite at www.fishpal.com for all information, including seasons to fish, booking and prices.
WHERE TO EAT
Best bets are No 1 Sallyport, Berwick-on-Tweed (1 Sallyport Off Bridge Street; 01289 308827; www.sallyport.co.uk), and the Allanton Inn, Allanton (01890 818260; www.allantoninn.co.uk), though generally there is not a great choice; better to stay put or take a packed lunch on a long walk.
WHAT TO SEE
Northumberland and the Borders are rich in things to see and do, from the natural beauty of the landscape to great houses such as Floors Castle, Alnwick Castle and Garden, or Mandeston, with its famous silver staircase. Recommended is the Hirsel Garden at Coldstream (just down the road). The home of former Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home, it is especially noted for its rhododendrons and azaleas.
Also consider Abbotsford, near Melrose (01896 752043;www.scottsabbotsford.co.uk), also on the banks of the Tweed, the home of Sir Walter Scott, who designed it, and WS Robson's Chain Bridge Honey Farm, the most comprehensive beekeeping exhibition in the UK (Horncliffe; 01289 382362; www.chainbridgehoney.co.uk).