Scotland’s Charming Bed and Breakfasts

Scotland's innkeepers make guesthouses the way to go.

Courtesy Istock

The screen said “restricted number,” but it was such a cold January morning in Denver, there was nothing to do but answer the phone. That’s how I ended up giggling through a rambling conversation with one Ian Devenish, a Scottish innkeeper who would leave me on the floor with his imitation of a Texas accent. Devenish’s Cruden Bay Bed & Breakfast was one of four guesthouses we booked for our tour of Scotland, ditching hotels for a more familial experience in a country where we were strangers.

Of course we saved money, spending only about half of what it would have cost to stay in hotels of comparable comfort and views. Ultimately, however, we added immeasurable value to a trip we will never forget.

I’m still missing Lorena, whose Seaholm Bed and Breakfast in North Berwick set an impossibly high bar for the rest of our trip. We arrived tired, and Lorena insisted on carrying all of our (overpacked) bags upstairs to our room.

She chilled the bottle of champagne we’d brought, and we saw we had more to celebrate than my husband’s 60th birthday: Our big bay window overlooked Milsey Bay Beach, with stunning sunsets in view of the couch set in the alcove.

Photo by Paul Tomkins

The next morning we indulged in Lorena’s cooked-to-order breakfasts, accompanied by beautiful fresh fruits with yogurt, and met Penny, a woman from South Africa traveling alone. “I’ve stayed at other B&Bs, and there is no place like this,” she told us. “The breakfasts…and Lorena. She will do anything for you.”

Lorena was part chef, part innkeeper, and mostly that relative you always loved to visit. She magically knew when to appear or disappear (video cameras?) and managed to inquire about our plans while seeming helpful and not nosy. On the day we took the train into Edinburgh—an easy 25 minutes— we were equipped with maps and tips, everything except defenses to the wind whipping down the Royal Mile that day. Luckily, Scotland prides itself on its wool, and a lined tartan hat there joined the journey.

We were sad to leave Seaholm. In St Andrews, the home of golf, we stayed more anonymously in a “guesthouse” without a Lorena, but only about a 3-wood from all of the golf attractions of the St Andrews Trust. Nowhere did we sleep better than at this guesthouse, because we exhausted ourselves walking, from breakfast to the castle at one end to the golf courses at the other, playing the Himalayas, a famous putting course, and even making it onto the Old Course through the daily ballot.

Courtesy Cruden Bay Bed & Breakfast

But we couldn’t be sad about leaving St Andrews, because we couldn’t wait to meet Ian. We rented an automatic Superb through Arnold Clark and headed north (on the wrong side of the road) along the lush green countryside full of sheep making that wool. North of Aberdeen, we turned east to tiny Cruden Bay, known mainly for its seaside golf links and for Slains Castle, which inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

At Cruden Bay Bed & Breakfast, just a short walk from the golf club, we again had a huge room, bed, bathroom, and view. And we had a huge personality as host. Ian isn’t an innkeeper by trade so much as a riveting show. That evening, he poured us whisky and told us about his life as a butcher who made good by investing in properties and became rather well-known on the golf circuit for his hospitality (and Texas accent with a brogue). The bed and breakfast had once housed a popular nightclub —the disco ball still hangs in what is now a storage room—but as their children grew and went off to the States, Ian and his wife, Lorraine, scaled back. To book here, you must email and inquire about availability. Don’t be surprised if Ian responds with a phone call.

We had only one night in Inverness, where we found yet another beyond-the-call-ofduty innkeeper at Craig Villa Guesthouse. Alison had situated us on the first floor so we wouldn’t have to carry our golf clubs upstairs, and her breakfasts were made to order off a menu.

On our way back to Denver, we spent a night at the Gatwick Airport Hilton. The Hilton was perfectly fine, but it could have been anywhere. And there was no Lorena.

Visiting Scotland

We’d been told to expect bad food and uncomfortable beds. We loved our food, especially soup and toasties in pubs as well as fresh produce, seafood, and beef for finer dining. Our beds were awesome. As for the weather, well, it’s moister than Denver, regularly defying the forecasters and changing at whim. Most U.S. flights connect to Edinburgh through NY Kennedy; for the best fare and an uninterrupted flight over, we took Norwegian nonstop to London Gatwick and EasyJet from there.

Lodging

Visit Scotland defines a Guest House as having at least four bedrooms and making breakfast available. B&Bs, normally in a private house and run by the owner, have at least six “bed spaces.” The star ratings for non-hotel accommodations reflect their offerings. For example:

One Star: The guesthouse or B&B makes available a cooked breakfast or substantial continental; has someone available for guests’ arrivals, departures, and meals; gives guests access at all times; and meets detailed minimum quality standards.

Five Stars: As above, plus there’s access to both sides of all beds for double occupancy (Two- Star generally means a double bed is against a wall), and all guest bedrooms are en-suite or with private bathrooms. If you want a king-size bed, you need to look for “super-king,” generally two twins zipped up together, because Scotland’s king is the size of our queen. If you must have a bathroom in your bedroom, you need “ensuite.” However, a private bathroom—all yours, but in the hall outside your bedroom—may give you more elbow room.