If you, like me, dislike modern or boutique style hotels, preferring something with a bit of character, perhaps an older coaching inn, with wooden beams and open fires, then you’re going to love the Allan Ramsay Hotel in the village of Carlops near Midlothian.
I say village, but it could equally well be described as a hamlet. A couple of dozen houses, the hotel, a church, a pair of bus stops, telephone and a postbox and that’s basically your lot. Blink and you could easily miss it.
It would not be unfair to say that the Allan Ramsay Hotel is truly at the heart of the community being slap bang in the centre of the village. Interestingly it has a plaque in the bar to prove exactly that point. Places like this are the literal lifeblood of small communities across the country, serving a purpose far beyond that of food and drink. They are a meeting point, an entertainment venue, a ‘local’, a place to eat, and so much more.
Carlops is located in the Pentland Hills, with the nearest town being Penicuik and within a 30-minute drive to the city of Edinburgh, yet is still geographically within the Scottish Borders.
Dating from 1792 this former coaching inn is located in what was originally a weavers’ village. It is situated alongside the A702 which runs between Abington at the M74 in South Lanarkshire cross-country to meet up with the City of Edinburgh bypass. This historic inn retains its 18th Century character with antique decorations, stained glass, nail-studded wooden doors, a small library, charming candle-lit restaurant and real open fires. Run by Kenny Hall and his partner Rosemary, who have had it for the past five years, have an understanding of the need for places like this. They’ve modernised the fixtures and fittings, revamped the foodservice, but I’m pleased to report have done nothing to change the fabric of the building – and neither should they!
You may well be asking, who is Allan Ramsay? Some say he is one of Scotland’s most important historical figures; a founding father of Romanticism alongside the great poets Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron and Burns. A poet; collector of Scots verse and songs; bookseller; and is credited as having started Britain’s first subscription library; founded the country’s first art school and the author of Scotland’s first folk opera – The Gentle Shepherd – which is set in the countryside around the village of Carlops. By all accounts, he was a quite remarkable yet unassuming gentleman.
We arrived at the hotel around 4.30pm. There’s parking at the front of the hotel for approximately seven or eight cars. Disabled access is, for an older building dated 1792, excellent with level access into the reception/bar area. On entering the outer vestibule there is an assortment of visitors guides and leaflets for those who may be new to the area or simply on holiday and want to know what’s available locally.
The first thing to be aware of is that this is an old building, therefore the owners are limited in what can be done to it regarding door widths and such like. Don’t expect a full-blown reception area, it’s simply a small desk next to the bar which doubles up as both the reception/check-in and the coffee station for the dining room and bar.
The hotel features four bedrooms in the main building, all ensuite, as well as an additional three-bedroom self-catering apartment next door. Given its size, you’re not going to find all the amenities of a larger hotel such as room service, a guest TV lounge at the Allan Ramsay. Think more of a country inn with rooms and you won’t go far wrong.
On days when the weather permits, as was the case at the time of my visit, you can sit outside and enjoy a meal or a drink which we took full advantage of.
So back to check-in. We were very efficiently dealt with by a gentleman named Kenny, who was not only serving food but also customers at the bar when we arrived. In fact, Kenny appears to be the barman, waiter, receptionist and the cleaner. The only job I didn’t see him do was cook food, however, that was all to change the following morning as he appeared in his chef’s whites!
We were accommodated in the three-bedroom apartment next door. This appears to have recently undergone a refurbishment as it was spotlessly clean and all the furniture was in excellent order without damage.
This provided us with a large lounge with sufficient seating for seven on two settees and an armchair, a dining table with four chairs, a kitchenette off the lounge with all the usual white goods and sufficient utensils for a self-catering stay. The lounge has what appear to be an original fireplace, but now has a realistic-looking electric fire fitted into the space, a flatscreen TV with sky channels, free Wi-Fi and a selection of books and guest guides.
There is also a twin room located off the lounge. Along the corridor, there’s a large tiled family bathroom with a plain white suite containing a wash hand basin, bath with shower over, shaving point and mirror along with plenty of shelf storage.
At the end of the corridor, there are two further rooms: a double ensuite and a second double. All towels and toiletries are provided in the rooms as well as a starter pack of tea coffee etc in the kitchenette area.
This would be – and I suspect is well used by such – ideal for larger family groups with the two settees morphing into beds when required. Marketed for six people, but with the bed settees, it could sleep a couple of extra children if need be.
The apartment is centrally heated throughout and warms up very quickly as we found out as the day we visited a heatwave hit Scotland.
The hotel offers the apartment for hire on either a self-catering or bed and breakfast basis as required.
We used the double ensuite room which had ample storage space, and while the ensuite is on the small side, it is certainly functional. All bedrooms have been fitted with new fire doors and self-closing mechanisms which need a little redecoration around the door frames since these had just been fitted quite recently.
As I mentioned earlier, the place warms up fairly quickly, which would certainly be ideal during the winter months, but, being an older stone-built building it retains its warmth for quite a time. We had to sleep with the window open in the back bedroom, unfortunately, a compressor outside cuts in and out throughout the evening, but it was a small price to pay for a more comfortable sleep. One of the radiators in the lounge had no heating valve fitted but they all appeared to be on a centrally controlled system.
So, having settled ourselves in after a tour of the flat by Kenny, we headed next door to the hotel for a drink. Inside, it’s a bit of a rabbit warren of rooms with mixed furniture, wooden flooring, rugs, but this all adds to its unique quirkiness and character.
The back room features a historical display of the poet Allan Ramsay after whom the hotel is named, as well as forming a function space for the many events the hotel runs throughout the year. The central section of the ground floor contains a seating area with a large open fire showing some of the original stonework still in existence. The bar is located in the same area, while at the other end of the building the dining room which features yet another open fire can be found along with a bookcase containing a fine selection of tomes, some dating back to the 1800s. A bibliophiles heaven! Behind the bar area is the tiny kitchen where, if you’re so inclined, you can watch the chef at work.
The hotel’s four rooms are located on the first floor and reached by stairs only. Therefore, if you have mobility issues bear this in mind. The apartment is fully accessible and disabled-friendly.
The hotel, being located midway between the Borders of Scotland and Edinburgh would make a fine stop-off point for those tourists travelling further afield, or for those that just want to get away from the rat-race for a weekend.
Waking up the following morning, both my wife and I had enjoyed a good sleep. This is always such a subjective opinion. One mattresses style or firmness will not always suit everyone. Most hotels have to go down the ‘middle of the road’ in terms of a mattress which will have longevity but also a certain level of comfort. All the bedding was white cotton, clean and unmarked. For those who are used to sleeping in a larger bed than a standard double, such as ourselves who have a super king, then you may find that this is more of a “cosy” fit. Some might also say that’s no bad thing!
For me, a “larger” individual then the family bathroom with a power shower over the bath was a perfect place to start the day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stayed in hotels where showers don’t work efficiently as they drip lifelessly from the showerhead, however that’s not the case at the Allan Ramsay. This shower supplied an excellent flow and plenty of hot water with simple controls even I could operate. The bathroom had a plentiful supply of white fluffy cotton towels and free toiletries.
As I mentioned earlier the one member of staff we dealt with named Kenny, actually turned out to be the hotel manager who seems to run it on a 24/7 basis without a great deal of assistance, other than Susie the chef and a KP! He’s definitely what could be termed a “jack of all trades”, quite literally! But this is no easy gig for one person, after telling me his part-time staff had returned to University, and due to Scottish Borders Council cuts to the local subsidised bus service, staff couldn’t get home after a certain time in the evening. A common problem in small areas like this.
So, to recap, the Alan Ramsay hotel is a delightfully quaint Scottish country inn with rooms, bags of history, a hugely friendly and welcoming manager who couldn’t do enough to help, and is perfectly located for those touring either the Scottish Borders or the City of Edinburgh. The hotel does exactly what it says on the tin, and it does it very well indeed. In fact, if it were shortbread, it’d be flying off the shelves. Staying here, you won’t be disappointed.
For bookings visit the hotel website at: Allan Ramsay Hotel