Tucked away in the Lanarkshire countryside near Biggar is Shieldhill Castle Hotel, a luxury hotel suitable for weddings, corporate events and special weekends. Room prices range from £95 to £300 a night including breakfast.
Finding the hotel was a little tricky as it didn't appear to be signposted from the route we took (M8 to Happendon services and then along the A70 and A73). Eventually we found a sign for Quothquan, a strange sounding name for a town but apparently from the Gaelic for "the beautiful hill", and at the top of this nearby hill is said to be a large stone given the name "Wallace's Chair," as Sir William Wallace was alleged to have sat here before a battle in Biggar that may or may not have taken place...I digress, we followed the sign to Quothquan and it took us right to the hotel, which from the onset looked impressive, a large historic castle house with spacious green lawn, pond, historic dovecot and even a helipad!
An interesting feature when you enter the building is a tiny secret staircase up to the old library which was decorated with melting atmospheric candles. I know people were smaller back in those days but this way really small, more pet-sized than human friendly, and right on cue Oscar, the hotel cat made his appearance.
A really friendly and stunning orange tom. He checked us out, whilst his human companion checked us in, and as we filled in our paperwork, some returning guests also came in, a good sign we hoped!
Our room was up a large carpeted staircase through a door and into a small corridor which ensured that we wouldn't get any hallway or bar noise from other guests.
Inside, the room was dressed in a mixture of modern and antique furnishings, complete with large comfortable bed with 2 pillows and 3 cushions each and an extra one in the middle for good measure! Extensive storage, a flat screen TV, a good selection of tea/coffee making facilities (including cappuccino, hot chocolate) and a feature fireplace, sadly not lit. Our window looked out onto a large marquee tent.
The bathroom had a bath/Jacuzzi with a shower inside. Plentiful towels, an area for toiletries (as well as some provided), shower mirror and an slightly unusually situated toilet, up a step and in a recess. The window looked out onto the marquee again. Our only gripes were some loose paintwork/paper at places and the length of time it took for the Jacuzzi to fill up (enough to brew and drink a cup of tea!). The shower worked fine.
We ventured down for dinner and were just being pipped to grabbing the seats by the roaring fire in the sitting room. More candles illuminated the room. We picked our choices for the evening meal and ordered La Vedette French Shiraz £14.95. After a few minutes wait, we were shown into the dining room (The Chancellor restaurant).
Immediately on the right hand side is another door that staff were coming in and out of with the food and drinks which wasn't ideal but the room was luxuriously decorated with more candles and another fire.
Water was provided for the table but unfortunately the wrong wine was brought out (a white!), however this was quickly changed. As we awaited starters we tasted the wine, quite sweet, medium bodied but light and easy to drink and well-priced. We asked for bread as others had received some but we hadn't. The white roll was fluffy, fresh and the butter delicious, however the brown roll seemed less fresh.
Salmon - a plentiful portion for a starter, non greasy with lemon wedge, tomato, rocket, leaves. It looked and tasted pretty good.Chicken liver pâté Strong flavour and smooth, with sweet beet root(?) and rocket salad. Very nice but as is oh-so-common with pâté, only a couple of oatcakes were provided.
We had a bit of a wait for our next course as service was somewhat disorganized, some people who had arrived after us received their mains while we were still waiting for empty plates to be taken away but then it was a busy Friday night and the waiting staff were quite young.
Our mains arrived! Beef Roasted then sliced, outside crispy, nice gravy which soaked into the creamy mash, lovely, carrots perhaps a bit overcooked but green beans done nicely and the veg was definitely fresh not frozen.
Mutton stew with rosemary dumplings - we could see the rosemary in dumplings but didn't get the taste at all. Like the dish above the carrots were a bit overcooked again but the green beans were crisp with a lovely creamy smooth mash, yum!
Chocolate cheesecake - I was excited about this one as I love chocolate and I love cheesecake but what came wasn't really a cheesecake at all but a tart, I'm sure cheese was still in there but the base was a regular pastry base and not a crumbly cheesecake base. Cheesecakes are usually moist and creamy but this was very dry but it came with some Crème anglaise to moisten it up. Pretty good and chocolaty but a bit disappointing as it wasn't quite what i was expecting.
Crumble - we could taste the cinnamon, which was good! But the crumble topping wasn't the best and the fruit was a bit pulpy. It was cooked warm and had kept its shape. This also came with Crème anglaise, more of it this time and served in a separate ramekin.
After dinner another couple grabbed the best seats by the fire (again!) so we intended to go to the bar for a drink, we peeked into the room; a few men were having a conversation which we seemed to interrupt. It was bright and not so couple-friendly; given all the candles in the other rooms the bar at night could do with some mood lighting to make it a bit more inviting - though you are welcome to take your drinks back through to the sitting room with the fire. Worth noting is that the ladies' toilet on the ground floor has some nice perfume and toiletry supplies which you can use. No such luck in the mens' though. As if we were being stalked Oscar appeared again, he'd been out in the rain (insert joke about wet cat here!). He quickly found a spot to settle in the hallway and started snoring.
It was our time to do the same and we slept soundly in the huge bed. Zzz...
The following morning we made our way downstairs for breakfast, which comprised of a selection of cereals, apple and orange juice, yogurts and was served in the same room as dinner (Chancellor restaurant) so watch out for kitchen staff coming through the side door with hot plates. Mixed toast at a ratio of 4 white slices to 2 brown was brought to the table. We managed to dribble coffee just by lifting up the teapot, the coffee was weak and there was just milk and no cream. Also provided was a selection of condiments and portions of strawberry jam and marmalade in little plastic containers. For a 4 star castle hotel the presentation could be upped here - how about jam in Kilner jars or something similar?
The cooked breakfast options are limited, no fish etc. We ordered 2 full breakfasts, one with scrambled egg, the other poached, they came with beans, grilled tomato, nice bacon, meaty sausages, Scrambled egg which was creamy not watery, a hand-cut slice of quite salty black pudding. The meat items were all grilled and were a bit crispy around the edges as if everything had been cooked in one batch and was then kept warm in the oven. Tattie scone yay - good to see as it is so often an omission in a "full" Scottish. Nice runny poached egg as well.
Before we checked out we popped into the bar again and sunshine was pouring in through the windows.
This time the bar looked quite inviting in daylight, probably due to the choice of paint with the sunlight reflecting off the walls, this time we noticed some sconces and smaller lights but they couldn't have been used the night before, either that or the bulbs are too bright and the wattage needs brought down.
Outside are a number of picnic tables for summer and a nearby pond. We ventured out for a look and were met by Oscar again who seemed to want to show us something and took us past a gravestone(!) towards the pond. We clapped him for a bit and then he wandered off to greet another couple - if you like cats you'll love Oscar, he's stranger-friendly with a confident "I'm the boss here" cat swagger.
We got talking to another returning guest who told us that there are 2 other cats but we never saw them, but as we were leaving we did notice 2 lovely dogs...and a helicopter also made it's way into the grounds. We believe the pilot popped in for a cup of tea!
Overall, the hotel is a lovely historic building in a beautiful part of Scotland within easy reach of Edinburgh and the borders, and they seem to have a lot of returning custom which is surely a good sign. The rooms are grand and spacious but there were a few minor issues with ours, such as the bath taking forever to fill up and the view being a bit of a letdown for such a romantic destination. The level of food served and some final touches are required to make this up to the level that the house aspires too as while the food is good it is just that - good. All nicely cooked but nothing amazing, with a little more style and a few special touches things could be great! This wouldn't take much work and would reap rewards. The house and grounds are a great asset and just a little more work would make this an ideal getaway. One other thing to mention is the hilarious 1 star reviews on TripAdvisor. Worth reading for a laugh but not worth paying too much attention to.