Travel: Enjoy a hotel stay steeped in 400 years of history at Elphinstone

Elphinstone Hotel.
Elphinstone Hotel.
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Just off the foot of the High Street, at the bottom of an assuming road leading to the town park, a surprise lies in store for the curious visitor with an interest in Scottish history.

The Cadgers Brig is less than a minute’s walk from Biggar’s tasteful gift shops and delicatessen and easily missed on a drive through the quiet market town. On foot you might stop for a moment to enjoy the tranquil spot before setting off again on your walk.

The tasty fare on offer.

The tasty fare on offer.

Unless you turn to spot the discreet brass plaque on the wall behind, you could easily pass by without ever learning of the bridge’s connection with one of our great national heroes.

According to local legend, William Wallace sneaked across the bridge, dressed as a travelling tinker, or Cadger, to spy on the English troops ahead of one of his famous victories in battle.

His wife - the one brutally murdered at the start of Braveheart for those familiar with the story through a Hollywood lens - was a Lanarkshire lass who grew up nearby.

Discovering these stories is one of the many rewards of spending some time pottering on Edinburgh’s doorstep rather than driving past en route to Cumbria or the Lake District.

Among the others are Atkinson-Pryce Books which one online reviewer described as “the friendliest book shop in the world”. Yes, the owner is extremely friendly and helpful, but don’t worry, you can still browse undisturbed for just as long as you want.

The friendly welcome is there too at the Elphinstone Hotel overlooking the market square in the middle of the High Street.

The 400-year-old coaching inn has been run by the Allen family, owners Robert and Janette and their son Michael, for the past quarter of a century. As you step inside, you are greeted by a cosy log fire on the one side and a bar on the other with a good selection of Scottish gins and real ales. That, you might think, is a warm enough welcome in its own right.

But it is the staff, with a ready smile and a helpful word always at hand, who will really make you feel comfortable at the Elphinstone.

The lounge bar, which serves cocktails as well as gin and ales, is a cosy snug for pre or post-dinner drinks.

The restaurant menu makes Scottish and local produce the star of many of its dishes. With traditional favourites such as cullen skink and Stornoway black pudding lining up alongside international dishes such as chilli and mango king prawns.

The meals are hearty and tasty and the wide choice on the ‘something for everyone’ menu helps make it a clear favourite for family occasions as well as couples on a night out.

Biggar may be just 30 miles from Edinburgh but the more relaxed pace means it feels as though you are ten times as far from the bustle of the Capital.

With five museums in the town, including Scotland’s last gasworks dating from 1839, the celebrated puppet theatre and an arts festival - the Biggar Little Festival in October - there is no shortage of things to do, provided you check ahead for opening times.