Review by Fiona Duncan, published 23rd April 2003.
For a memorable hotel in the middle of nowhere, for utter peace, a warm bed, good food and attentive service, surrounded by mile upon mile of empty sandy beaches, or majestic hills perfect for walking – look no further than the British Isles. The British have always been adept at creating oases of comfort in far-flung places, and today there are no lack of hoteliers willing to carry on the tradition. They must work extra hard for success; hotels that are a trial to reach have to be special. Some of the addresses listed below are in the remotest corners of our islands; others are much closer to civilization, but they still feel lost. All budgets are catered for, and every season: indeed this selection of simple guesthouses, luxury hotels and cosy pubs almost improve in a howling gale.
Baile-na-Cille, Western Isles
“A beach for every guest”, say owners Richard and Joanna Gollin, whose laid-back guesthouse in a distant corner of the Isle of Lewis can accommodate a maximum of 20 people, while there are 24 sandy beaches in the area. The restored 18th century manse overlooks a stunning two-mile stretch of Uig Sands, backed by mountains. Baile-na-Cille is not for everyone: a sense of humour and a relaxed attitude are an advantage, and you must be happy to eat the excellent home cooking at a communal dining table. Children and dogs are made to feel very welcome. Timsgarry, Uig, Isle of Lewis HS2 9JD (01851 672242). Doubles from £87 per night including breakfast and dinner. Closed mid-Sep to mid-Mar.
The White House, Channel Islands
The only hotel on the tiny island of Herm stands amid palms, tropical plants and green lawns above the harbour and a sandy beach, and makes a perfect base for a family holiday. No cars or television to disturb your peace, and once the summer day-trippers from Guernsey and Sark (a 20-minute ferry ride away) have gone home, there are just 95 residents with whom to share this enchanting Channel Island, ringed by sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and crystal clear waters. The white-painted, family-run hotel, modest but comfortable, offers swimming, tennis, croquet, snorkelling, fishing and boating. The cooking aims to be a cut above – just as well, because there is nowhere else to dine. Herm, via Guernsey, GY1 3HR (01481 722159; www.herm-island.com). Doubles from £128 per night, including breakfast and dinner.
Scarista House, Western Isles
On the Isle of Harris’s western shore, this Georgian manse stands alone overlooking a wide stretch of tidal sands. Inside, the decoration is elegant and quite formal, with many antiques, but the atmosphere is relaxed and, by open peat fires, conversation replaces television. One of Scarista’s great attractions, particularly rewarding after a long walk over the sands, is the food. Local produce is imaginatively prepared and served in the candlelit dining room. Bread, cakes, jams and yoghurts are all home-made, and breakfast is a feast of kippers, kedgeree, Stornaway black pudding and Ayrshire bacon. Bedrooms are cosy and well-equipped. Scarista, Isle of Harris, Western Isles HS3 3HX (01859 550238; www.scaristahouse.com). Doubles from £200 per night, including breakfast and dinner. Closed Christmas.
Kilcamb Lodge, Highland
The sense of adventure mounts as soon as you board the Corran ferry en-route to Kilcamb Lodge. Next comes a 12-mile journey, first along a loch and then over a pass through a steep-sided glen. Drop down through the glen, pass through the small village of Strontian, and there, in a romantic setting on the shores of Loch Sunart, is this handsome part-Georgian, part Victorian country house. Today, it’s in its prime, garnering awards both for enveloping accommodation and for chef Neil Mellis’s sophisticated cooking. Set amidst lawns and woodland running down to a private beach, this is a romantic, calming bolt-hole, the perfect choice for nature lovers: sea otters, seals, pine martens, red and roe deer, golden eagles and many wild flowers can all be seen. Strontian, Argyll PH36 4HY (01967 402257; www.kilcamblodge.co.uk). Doubles from £145 per night including breakfast and dinner.
Perfect for walkers
Amerdale House, North Yorkshire
The setting of this hotel is perhaps the most seductive in all the Yorkshire Dales: on the fringe of a village untouched by time in lonely, lovely Littondale, wide meadows in front, high hills behind. Superb walking is on hand, and you will return to dignified, unfussy rooms, and the imaginative cooking, calmly presented, of owner/chef Nigel Crapper. Prices are very reasonable, and the top-floor four-poster bedroom is particularly romantic, with stunning views.Arncliffe, Littondale, Skipton, North Yorkshire BD23 5QE (01756 770250; www.amerdalehouse.co.uk). Doubles from £148 per night including breakfast and dinner. Closed mid-Nov to mid-Mar.
Wasdale Head, Cumbria
England’s deepest lake, Wastwater, lies just below; its highest peak, Scafell Pike, towers above. The setting of this famous climber’s inn is bleak – reached at the end of a nine-mile road from the nearest village – but magnificent, and the traditional interior, though fairly simple, is more comfortable than you might imagine. There is a heavily panelled dining room, decorated with willow pattern china and a pewter jug collection, two bars adorned with a fine collection of climbing photographs, and a cosy, family-style sitting room. The food suits hearty appetites, especially the breakfasts. Wasdale Head, Gosforth, Cumbria C20 1EX (01946 726229; www.wasdale.com). Doubles from £80 per night including breakfast.
Another pilgrimage place for climbers, this is where Edmund Hillary and his team set up their training base before their assault on Everest in 1953. Still in the same friendly family, the charming old coaching inn, set high in the desolate heart of Snowdonia, is just the sort of place you dream of returning to after a day outdoors: simple, unsophisticated, warm and welcoming, with good plain home cooking, including wickedly calorific puddings. Bedrooms are simple, not all with en suite bathrooms, but with fluffy towels and warm bedding; the best room, in the annexe, has a four-poster. Nant Gwynant, Gwynedd LL55 4NT (01286 870211; www. pyg.co.uk). Doubles from £94 per night including breakfast and dinner. Closed Nov, Dec; mid-week Jan, Feb.
Seatoller House, Cumbria
Several times a year, this convivial guesthouse plays host to members of the Lake Hunts, who enjoy running up and down the surrounding fells in pursuit, not of foxes, but of one another. It’s tailor-made for walkers and climbers, a long, low traditional Lakeland house amid dramatic scenery. Bedrooms are plain but warm, with a cosy panelled sitting room and library, and a slate-floored dining room with two communal tables. Food is hearty, if unremarkable. Seatoller, Borrowdale, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5XN (017687 77212; www.seatollerhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £92 per night including breakfast and dinner. Closed Dec to mid-Mar.
Isle of Eriska, Argyll and Bute
Accessible seclusion is the key to the appeal of this baronial island mansion, linked to the mainland by a short road bridge. You need never leave: though small, and entirely private, it takes two hours to walk round the island, and there is a leisure centre as well as a six-hole golf course and driving range, clay-pigeon shooting, croquet and tennis. The family-run hotel is both formal and relaxed, like staying in an old fashioned grand private house, complete with enormous guest bedrooms. Dinner (jacket and ties are worn) is elaborate, with seven courses. Eriska, Ledaig, Oban PA37 1SD (01631 720371; www.eriska-hotel.co.uk). From £240 per night including breakfast. Closed Jan to mid-Feb.
Summer Isles, Highland
There’s a marvellous amount of nothing to do at Summer Isles. The emphasis is on eating well, sleeping well and relaxing in wild and romantic surroundings. “Take your wellies, your sunglasses, your dog, walking shoes, insect repellent, camera, paint boxes, binoculars and comfy clothes,” advise Mark and Geraldine Irvine, whose family have owned this remote, cottagey, civilized hotel since the late 1960s. The views across Loch Broom and the Summer Isles are riveting, and the Irvine’s must be holders of one of the furthest-flung Michelin stars in the country. Achiltibuie, by Ullapool, Ross-shire IV26 2YG (01854 622282; www.summerisleshotel.co.uk). Doubles from £112 per night including breakfast. Closed mid-Oct to Easter.
Ynyshir Hall, Powys
Blow away the cobwebs at this elegant and secluded country house set in 12 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens next to the Dovey Estuary. Though the predominantly Georgian and Victorian house dates back to the 16th century, it is no fusty time-warp inside: owner Rob Reen is an artist, and the gracious interiors are brought alive with a vivid Mediterranean colour scheme and his own bold paintings. The equally stylish food garners great praise – and a Michelin star.Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA (01654 781209; www.ynyshir-hall.co.uk). Doubles from £160 per night including breakfast. Closed Jan.
Inn at Whitewell, Lancashire
Past and present come together with great effect at this welcoming inn with a glorious situation, on a river bank (with seven miles of fishing) plumb in the middle of the Forest of Bowland. In the 14th century, it was a small manor house, home of the Keeper of the Forest. Today, some of the original architecture survives, and rooms are furnished with antiques, but modern comfort is the order of the day, with, for example, videos and high-tech stereo systems in the spacious bedrooms; some have cosy peat fires too. Food is traditional, including cream teas and picnic hampers. Whitewell, Forest of Bowland, near Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 3AT (01200 448222). Doubles from £87 per night including breakfast.
Applecross Inn, Highland
The local hostelry of the 200 or so friendly residents of the wildly beautiful Applecross Peninsula, this simple waterfront inn, is also the goal for intrepid visitors, having braved the exhilarating Bealach na Ba mountain pass, Britain’s highest, to get there. The two mingle happily, and tuck into excellent food, especially the squat lobsters, prawns, scallops and crab. The good value bedrooms are gradually being upgraded, and all enjoy stunning views across to Skye. Shore Street, Applecross, Wester Ross IV54 8LR (01520 744262; www.applecross.uk.com). Doubles from £95 per night including breakfast and dinner. Closed Christmas, New Year.
Sun Inn, Shropshire
In a secret corner of Shropshire, the lovely Onny Valley below the Long Mynd, this 16th century inn, full of old beams and antiques, is everything a low-key, unpretentious country pub should be, offering a cosy ambience, good food and a warm bed, nothing more or less. The three bedrooms, with a separate entrance, are in the converted Coach House. They are plain, but freshly painted and spotlessly clean, with neat little bathrooms tucked behind folding doors. The beds are inviting, dressed with plump, prettily covered pillows and duvets. The friendly owners cook traditional dinners and bar meals in the evenings (except Mondays) and splendid Sunday lunches.Norbury, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire SY9 5DX (01588 650680; www.freespace.virgin.net/suninn.norbury). Doubles £60 per night including breakfast.
Ramsholt Arms, Suffolk
Formerly a farmhouse, a ferryman’s cottage and a smugglers’ inn, this is one of only a handful of buildings visible for miles around on the shores of the Deben Estuary. It lies at the end of a long, flat road which cuts through the Suffolk Breckland, a lonely expanse of heath. The pub is right on the water, and at low tide, waders walk the silvery, mirror-like surface of the mud. The interior is decorated with artful simplicity, with brown sailcloth blinds and blue-checked upholstery. It’s well kept and attractive, but the kind of place where nobody frowns at people wearing Wellington boots or sailing clothes, or bringing wet dogs into the bar. The four bedrooms are very simple, but prettily painted, each with a separate bathroom. Guests wake up to the call of curlews and the slapping of halyards against masts.Dock Road, Ramsholt, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3AB (01394 411229). Doubles from £70 per night including breakfast.