Bushmills Inn

“Famous Northern Ireland hostelry on the Causeway coast: plenty of atmosphere, but adventurous prices.”

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th November 2007.

Sit in a rocking chair in front of the fire in the hallway of Bushmills Inn, look up at the creaky double staircase, half-close your eyes, and you could imagine - or at least I could - Diamond Lil, dressed in black-fringed red satin, sweeping down the stairs, fan in hand.

There's a swaggering cowboy at the foot of the stairs and he escorts her past a warren of tiny, stone-walled or pine-panelled snugs - one an old kitchen with smoke-blackened walls - into the gas-lit Victorian Room at the back.

Standing at the bar, they down a few shots of the local hooch (Bushmills, the world's oldest distillery). Being the Wild West, the place is, naturally, teeming with fellow Americans.

And indeed it is, because although we are not in 19th-century California but 21st-century Northern Ireland, Bushmills Inn is sufficiently historic, old-world and close to some serious golf courses (as well as to the Giant's Causeway), to gather more US visitors in one place than you'll find anywhere outside the Cotswolds.

Not that there aren't locals too. The Inn is one of the few pleasant places to eat round here. It's also genuinely welcoming, staffed by locals and full of atmosphere.isemeDespite its shortcomings, it's still one of the most memorable places to stay in Ulster.

The feeling of being on the set of a Western didn't leave us. Meals are served in wooden booths lit by brass hanging lamps.

On the way to the bedrooms in this 400-year-old inn, brought back to life in the 1980s after falling into disrepair, you pass a quaint wooden shack with rockers and old hardback books, and the bedrooms themselves do much to keep up the impression.

Walls are panelled in varnished pine, and ours had a big old clock, just right for the period, and a Windsor chair. Even the choice of passé fabric is fitting.

Doubtless it's to one of the three four-poster rooms that Diamond Lil and the cowboy retire after their whisky shots.

Dinner was a happy affair, the maze of rooms that make up the restaurant full of people enjoying themselves, with kindly waitresses tending to our every need. But it was one of those meals that you guzzle rather than remember, a bit like reading a pot-boiler.

The wine list, however, was a cut above, with a good choice offered as bottles, large or small carafes or by the glass.

And the local bacon next morning was absolutely delicious (the famous Ulster Fry, a heart attack on a plate if ever there was one, is alive and well, by the way).

All well and good: a simple, old-fashioned place with a great atmosphere. Then it's time for the bill, which might just persuade you to stage a hold-up.

Bushmills, it's plain, can't help cashing in on the tourists. This is a modest three-star hotel (at best), charging four-star prices.

The rooms and bathrooms, though perfectly clean, feel tired and well used, as do the "snugs". Compared with what you'd pay for one of the bedrooms at a privately run guesthouse such as Whitepark House down the road, they are a rip-off.

But you don't get cowboys at Whitepark House, or the Irish craic.

Bushmills, County Antrim (02820 733000; www.bushmills-inn.com) Doubles from £98 to £268 per night, including breakfast. For information on Ireland contact Ireland Tourism (0800 0397000; www.discoverireland.com)

The Hotel Guru verdict

3 out of 5

Avoid budget rooms. those in the mill house extension are adequate but no more

5 out of 5

That rare thing, an engaged, all-local staff who contribute hugely to the atmosphere

5 out of 5

An institution; certainly one of the most characterful hotels in ulster

Food and drink
3 out of 5

Breakfast aside, this is the sort of food you happily wolf down but don't recall

Value for money
2 out of 5

Adventurous prices for a tourist magnet that needs upgrading

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