A trip to the south west of Scotland proved a welcome break from city life for Rosie Morton…
Carpe diem. Two words we’ve heard countless times, and yet they seem to resonate far more in 2020 than ever before. Having been on our starting blocks since the end of March, all the trips we’ve been plotting during confinement can finally come to fruition – and how exciting it has been to rediscover all that is on our doorsteps.
That’s where my recent road trip to Cavens Country House comes in. Set in beautiful Dumfriesshire countryside, this is no ordinary hotel – just a two-hour drive from Edinburgh, or an hour and three quarters from Glasgow, Cavens Country House feels like a friendly home away from home, but with a touch of luxury thrown in. Built by Richard Oswald – one of the Glasgow Tobacco Barons – in 1752, the house has been lovingly brought back to life by owners Angus and Jane Fordyce.
Driving up Cavens’ private track on a fantastically sunny day, we caught our first glimpse of the striking white house which perches above 20 acres of mature gardens. Taking in our first breath of fresh air, the peace and tranquillity of its setting was immediately apparent – with nothing but the sound of birds cheeping in the distance, this was an idyllic haven in which to recuperate after a busy week in the city.
Almost as soon as we opened the car boot, Angus came out to greet us, having left his station at the AGA where he was preparing our dinner. Running through the new protocols in place for Covid-19 – which were far from overbearing – he showed us the beautiful drawing room with its cosy wood burning stove, the sitting room with its grand piano and large open fire, and the dining room which housed charming trinkets and antiques.
Making our way to our room – Kindar, a light and sunny country room which can be made up as a double or a twin – we couldn’t help but be drawn towards the bay window which looked right down the garden and beyond. The walk-in shower with Penhaligon’s toiletries was wonderful, and the additional seating area with a full-length mirror, sofa and books galore made for a perfect reading spot before dinner. Cavens has six bedrooms, and the house can be booked for exclusive use any time of year, even over New Year.
We worked up our appetite by taking a stroll around the grounds. Happening upon a swing in the wooded area, with towering oaks, Weeping ash, Rowan and yew trees, Cavens’ gardens felt loved and lived in – a place in which to relax and feel at home. A small vegetable garden, kept by Jane and Angus themselves, lay just around the corner. Their homegrown salads and herbs are used in the kitchen, as are a selection of seasonal vegetables which we were to enjoy later in the evening.
After an aperitif from their ‘Honesty Bar’, where guests can ordinarily help themselves to a drink of their choice (this was being monitored due to the current safety measures in place), we were escorted to our table for their set menu dinner. The three-course meal is included in the room rate and is made by Angus every night, whose passion for quality ingredients is undeniable. Using locally-sourced produce from the likes of Loch Arthur and J. B. Houston, each dish was a celebration of the south west of Scotland. And while the dishes were worthy of fine dining status, they felt unpretentious in their presentation.
For starters, it was an opportunity for my plus one to try lobster for the first time – and it did not disappoint. (We had met the rather lively Mr and Mrs Lobster from Barony Country Foods just an hour earlier, so there was no question of how fresh they were!) Served with peach, avocado and rocket salad, it was both fresh and satisfying, and the walnuts added a delicious crunch to the dish.
Next up was a fabulous ribeye steak, cooked beautifully to medium-rare upon request. The meat was juicy and the portion size was generous, while the accompanying greens were cooked to perfection. In my humble opinion, one can never have too much sauce, so I was delighted to be presented with a gravy boat filled to the brim with peppercorn sauce to allow for adequate flooding of the plate.
To finish, my plus one chose Jane’s scrumptious homemade sponge with juicy berries, while I opted for the crème caramel. After our fantastic main, neither one of us needed a third course, but we were glad to have saved just enough room for these delicious sweets which rounded off the evening’s meal on a high. The service was pitched perfectly for the country house setting – slick, relaxed and professional.
We enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep, drifting off to the sound of an owl twitting in the distance, and woke to a wonderful breakfast. Before saying a quick hello to resident Labrador Monty and his two fellow Jack Russell friends, Angus and Jane imparted some top local knowledge about the vicinity’s tourist highlights.
While we chose to head for Rockcliffe’s achingly beautiful coastline, Castle Douglas and Kirkcudbright’s brightly-coloured houses, it was clear we hadn’t even scratched the surface of this stunning area. Cavens would also be a wonderful base for exploring the abundant wildlife and walking routes, as well as nearby Dumfries House and Threave Castle.
If our night away at Cavens Country House reminded us of one thing, it’s to get out and explore Bonnie Scotland as much as you can. You never know the slices of heaven you might find.
To find out more about Cavens Country House, visit their website.