I visited Biggar, South Lanarkshire, for the first time only a couple of months ago, when my cousin Amy got married there. I may only have been passing through, but the historic town made quite an impression on me – so much so that, when the opportunity arose to spend the night at the town’s historic Elphinstone Hotel I was quick to say yes.
There was only one problem. Biggar, as I remembered from the wedding, hasn’t had its own train station since the 1950s, meaning that it’s not the easiest place to get to for non-drivers like myself. Since my sister was home for the summer, we thought we’d hire a car and make a bit of a road trip out of it – which would have been fine, had I not reserved one with Easirent, who were anything but. Despite holding themselves out to be Glasgow Airport-based on their website, they’re actually based out of a portacabin on an industrial estate in Paisley and, as such, subject prospective renters to all sorts of convoluted security checks the likes of which it is impossible to meet when you’re a UK driving licence holder who isn’t actually living in the UK at the moment. So big thanks to our mum, who drove back to that industrial estate to rescue us and then drove us all the way to Biggar (50 miles from Glasgow) so that we could still have a sistah weekend together. We didn’t even invite her in for a coffee. Sorry mama.
A former coaching inn with over 400 years of history, “The Elph” is a family-run business whose current owners, Robert and Janette Allen, describe themselves as the “custodians” of a Biggar institution that will be there long after they are gone. Located right in the middle of Biggar High St, the hotel is ideally located for visitors exploring the town on foot and its central location mean the bar and restaurant are comfortably bustling in the evenings.
The hotel has 11 bedrooms ranging from single to family size, and while the age and structure of the hotel mean that no two rooms are alike both the one we stayed in, and the ones we peeked into in the morning on our way down to breakfast are spacious, comfortable and far more modern-looking than you’d expect from a centuries-old hotel. MC and I were assigned one of the three family-sized rooms and we were really impressed by it: it had a double bed and a set of bunk beds, each with its own TV screen (so those travelling with kids could perhaps get away with an extra hour in bed!); an en-suite bathroom with high quality shower; spacious wardrobe; hairdryer; and tea and coffee-making facilities – with biscuits, which we both felt you see so rarely these days they deserved a mention in the review.
We quickly dropped off our bags and headed out, determined to explore the cute gift shops and ice cream parlours I had spotted from the bus window on my way to the wedding a few months ago – only to discover that, as city dwellers, we had over-reached somewhat. After our car hire woes, it had taken us so long to get to Biggar that everything was already closed by the time we were ready to go out! No matter: we made the most of the golden, Sunday evening night and wandered the picturesque streets of the town, taking advantage of our first proper opportunity for a good ol’ sistah catch-up after a summer full of partners and family.
Although we had been tempted to ditch dinner at the hotel for the tempting-looking traditional fish and chip place on the corner of the High Street, we headed back in time for an early dinner. The Elphinstone prides itself from sourcing as much of its food from local suppliers, then those from elsewhere in Scotland, as possible, which means lots of fresh, seasonal produce. Although the hotel boasts a lovely, quiet restaurant, we opted to have dinner in the lounge so we could watch the comings and goings of the town – which was an excellent choice, a really cosy, casual atmosphere and just the right side of busy, as the hotel’s central location tempted in travellers and locals for a bite to eat.
The menu is what can only be described as eclectic, with traditional Scottish fayre such as cullen skink and steak and ale pie listed along with pub classics, pastas, grill options and “fusion” dishes such as curries and the intriguing-sounding chicken fajita burger MC very nearly ordered. It’s the sort of varied selection that would have made me feel a little nervous if the place wasn’t so obviously popular with the locals – but both the fillet steak MC eventually chose, and my cheese and bacon burger, were cooked to perfection.
But the best thing about The Elphinstone’s commitment to local suppliers? This girl, who was gutted about missing out on a trip to the ice cream parlour, got the next best thing: the opportunity to order from the hotel’s extensive ice cream sundae menu, laden with tempting-sounding creations made using Taylors of Biggar ice cream. Even my sister, who’s not much of a dessert person, let herself be talked into a Maltesers sundae, while I opted for one based on what I think was apple pie (the sundae menu sadly doesn’t appear on The Elphinstone website, so I’m having to go from memory here).
After dinner, we retired to our room where – despite the fact that it was still daylight – we couldn’t wait to get changed into the pyjamas I had bought us in Primark in anticipation of our weekend. So much so that we were ready for bed before we remembered that we had meant to ask for some ice to have with the drinks we had brought with us – meaning that, as the resident Big Sister, I was forced to the lounge bar in Aristocats pyjamas to get some. So thank you, staff and customers of The Elphinstone, for not remarking on it.
Along with our new pyjamas, I had brought a backpack full of all of the essentials: playing cards (so we could play Shithead); Korean foot peels; sparkly nail polishes I knew wouldn’t be coming home with me; bottle of peach Absolut. MC also found a pile of board games on one of the shelves in the hall of the hotel which included my childhood favourite, Frustration. Sure, all the counters were missing, but the selection of bottle caps in the box made a decent substitute (apart from the fact that I lost every. single. game, which couldn’t have possibly been my own fault).
After we were finished playing,
because there’s only so many times it’s fair for your big sister to lose, we snuggled up in the comfortable bed where we finished painting our nails and watched some trashy TV on the big screen. The rooms have the full range of Freeview channels, so I got my introduction to Don’t Tell The Bride (set in East Kilbride!) and Tattoo Fixers while curled up next to my favourite person.
The next day being Monday meant an early, but hearty, breakfast in the restaurant (cereal, yoghurt, juice and a choice of freshly-cooked breakfast items), before we checked out and headed for the bus stop. It turns out Biggar isn’t actually as difficult to reach as you think it is, so long as you time it right: there’s one local bus per hour, timed to arrive at Lanark station in time for the train to Glasgow, and everybody on it knows everybody else by name. Handy information to have, as I don’t think this will be my last visit to this charming part of the country.
We received dinner, bed and breakfast from The Elphinstone for review purposes, but all views are my own and unbiased.