Taking the gamble out of choosing somewhere to stay is always tricky, writes Keith Allan.
For my part I nearly always thumb through the Relais & Chateaux guide to see if there is anything listed in the area I intend to travel. Most of the properties are small and very beautiful. What’s more they are run by dedicated owners who offer the highest level of service, amenities and furnishings.
There are no R&C establishments in the Borders. But when Linda Chapman stepped into our coffee shop for the first time, and we got talking about food and her ideas on hospitality, we sensed she had something special to offer her guests.
The following Monday we drove up the Tweed valley to Galashiels, looking for a large Arts & Crafts house on the outskirts of town. As if by magic we came straight to it, turned into the meandering driveway and drew to a stop in front of an oak front door gleaming with leaded glass.
Having decided to open a guesthouse, Linda and her husband Derek bought Maplehurst, a neat villa built a hundred years ago by a local mill owner dripping with money. The result is a fabulous Arts & Crafts house dotted with oak furniture and copper, some of which Linda and Derek have picked up here and there to complement the lovely rooms and windows.
The hard part was turning it all into a welcoming home they could be enormously proud of while at the same time creating a viable business.
Three and a half years down the line and the house has come alive with their personality and passion,
We slept like babies in our large, comfortable bed and revelled in the original design features – handsome tall doors, oak floors and windows full of coloured glass.
At last it was time for breakfast. Linda’s speciality is compotes, lovely fruity concoctions such as her apricot with vanilla compote. She lays them out in the oak-panelled dining room on a buffet sideboard. You don’t need to taste them to know they’ll be delicious!
I also wanted her porridge, which I have a thing about. And how do I like my porridge, Linda wondered. “Exactly how you make it,” I replied. It came just the right thickness and smoothness. This was followed by a Maplehurst fry-up made on, and in, Linda’s Aga, the like of which I have rarely experienced.
Scrambled eggs are a good test of any cook. More often than not they are served like a chopped-up omelette. The secret is to cook them slowly and gently, perhaps in a bain-marie, but a shallow heavy pan or saucepan with a generous knob of butter is easier.
They should be stirred gently and continuously with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes (a lot longer in a bain-marie) and when the eggs are silky smooth and done to your liking, add a little cream and season with salt and pepper, and waste no time in serving them.
I needn’t have worried. They came in a neat circle on the plate, perfectly cooked, along with tender bacon, black pudding from Stornoway and Linda’s home-made sausages.
My wife had French toast with maple syrup and thinly-sliced, crispy pancetta with a pot or two of excellent coffee, brown nutty toast and comb honey.
A so-called English or Scottish breakfast is not easy to get right; it requires a certain level of culinary skills to bring it off. Pushing it on to a higher plane calls for even more ability, not to say dedication, and the fact that the Chapmans rise with the lark every morning to do just that should be celebrated to the high heavens.
Maplehurst Guest House, tel: 01896 754050, www.maplehurstguesthouse.co.uk
Keith Allan is a freelance travel and radio journalist. Together with his wife Lynne, they run a country concept store and Coffee Shop at the Old Dairy in Ford (opposite Ford Castle) where they specialise in artisan roast coffee and fresh baking. There is a champagne bar with a choice of wines, fruit ciders and beers and they offer high teas from 4.30pm on Friday and Saturday. It is advisable to book. Tel: 01890 820325/01289 302658.