Seclusion, classic luxury and exquisite attention to detail makes this country house hotel, tucked away in a quiet corner of southwest Scotland, a destination in itself
While judging a book by its cover isn’t always advised, when you’ve a night booked at a five-star ‘restaurant with rooms’, first impressions count. Fortunately, Knockinaam Lodge in Dumfries and Galloway exceeds expectations with a ‘drive-through’ check in service that requires minimal effort and maximum helping hands, who will sweep your bags into your room before you’ve had time to admire the house’s original set of Victorian servants bells. A welcome drink awaits.
Heritage character has been elevated inside this 19th century country house and history surrounds you. The lodge was in fact one of the secret meeting places that Churchill and Eisenhower used as they planned the D-Day landings.
Now, there are ten rooms; a modest number, allowing guests to get to know each other during their stay – many fascinating stories are shared over a dram in front of the roaring fire in the bar area after dinner, and plans for the coming day exchanged over kippers and hot coffee at breakfast.
A hypnotic ambiance
Beautiful wallpapers, antique furniture and original features shine in all of ten of Knockinaam’s uniquely decorated en-suite bedrooms. In a deliberate step back into a world where convenience wasn’t the be-all and end-all, tea and coffee is available via room service, rather than the usual in-room facilities. It may seem minor, but it feels good to slow down the pace of life a touch. This is just one of the ways this superlative place to stay will make your stay extra special.
Most rooms are also blessed with a sea view, and the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks of the hotel’s private cove provides an enchanting natural sleepscape.
No single beauty brand dominates the immaculate bathroom. A handmade soap and glorious-smelling cinnamon, orange and ginger Ness Soaps shampoo are stand out, while Cumbria’s Bath House products feature elsewhere – a sure sign that husband-and-wife team and owners of Knockinaam, David and Sian Ibbotson, prioritise high-quality independent makers over commercial pizzazz. The same theme continues in the kitchen.
Pristine white table cloths and a full silver service (when the pandemic allows) announce a style of cookery and hospitality that is nowadays hard to find. Yet this is no dusty, behind-the-times restaurant. Knockinaam sticks steadfastly to the best of British culinary traditions while introducing modern, personal touches, such as their charmingly illustrated menus that change nightly.
Its 3 AA Rosette restaurant is the epitome of fine dining. An extensive wine list implies a lovingly curated cellar. There are more than 350 wines sourced from all over the world on offer, with 16 house wines to choose to enjoy by the glass. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, you can purchase a wine flight designed to complement your meal.
Meanwhile, each of the five courses on the set food menu can be customised to the diner’s needs, enabling the team of talented chefs to concentrate on doing a handful of dishes proper justice on any one night. Think slow roast loin of Galloway red deer and caramel panna cotta served with poached William pear and lime syrup.
Meat is sourced from fourth-generation family butchers Griersons in Castle Douglas, also known as Scotland’s food town, while an Ayrshire cheddar and Arran blue make up the cheese board. Many herbs and berries are foraged locally and served as the season permits. And as ever, Knockinaam goes above and beyond to surprise and delight with canapes and other unannounced morsels presented by passionate waiting staff in-between courses.
Retreat to the fire-lit bar area after dinner to browse an endless whisky list and growing gin menu. The night is still young…
The great outdoors
An immaculate lawn stretches from the house down to Knockinaam’s own beach, sheltered by towering cliffs that harbour an array of wildlife. You can’t beat a rippling pink-and-orange-hued view over the Irish Sea towards the setting sun. In the warmer months, this can also be admired from a new outdoor seating area, gin and tonic in hand.
The Rhins, the name of the hammer-shaped peninsula on which Knockinaam sits, benefits from its own microclimate and subtropical plant life flourishes here. This is no more apparent than at Knockinaam itself, whose gardens are tended by owner Sian Ibbotson.
Dumfries and Galloway does gardens very well in general. Logan Botanic Gardens is perhaps the region’s most famous gem, while Castle Kennedy is also on Knockinaam’s doorstep, boasting formal gardens floating dramatically on an isthmus between two natural lochs. In addition, the National Trust own the nearby Threave Gardens (as well as its adjacent wetlands nature reserve and Scotland’s only bat reserve), which surround a Victorian stately home near Castle Douglas. And a visit to the region would not be complete without stopping off at the veritable treasure trove that is Drumlanrig Castle.
Aside from some of Scotland’s best gardens, there are many others sights and areas of unspoiled countryside to discover. The Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s most southerly point and one of the region’s best-kept secrets, is a must-visit. Kittiwakes and guillemots breed here during the spring and summer, and there is a high chance of seeing a peregrine falcon stalking its prey at any time of year – they’re known to nest in the area. Open to the elements, the Mull of Galloway is an impressively atmospheric place, where you can’t help but be in awe of nature. On weekends between April and September you can climb the 26-metre, Robert Stevenson-designed lighthouse tower to admire an incredible panorama – good weather will permit views of Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Cumbria. If it’s a cold day, take refuge in the nearby cafe.
Alternatively, take in all these attractions and more on the South West Coastal 300, a stunning touring route, with Knockinaam conveniently positioned as a halfway point. The SWC300 also takes in the artists’ town of Kirkcudbright; Wigtown, Scotland’s national book town; Castle Douglas, Scotland’s only food town; and Alloway, the birthplace of Robert Burns. There are more than enough castles, abbeys, gardens, beaches, nature reserves and museums to keep you entertained for a week’s holiday or more!
While many seeking a dose of Scottish life will flock to the Highlands, you should feel assured of your choice to opt for the rolling pastures and rugged coastline of Dumfries and Galloway and Knockinaam Lodge, possibly the most refined place to stay in the whole country.
Rates are individual to each suite and season but range between £640-£885 during winter (until 14 April) for two people over two nights. This includes a welcome drink, dinner, bed breakfast, early morning tea and coffee and VAT. www.knockinaamlodge.com