I recently stayed at the newly refurbished Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside. Under the new ownership of London based private club owner Piers Adams the hotel, which had reached the sad and forlorn stage with an indifferent reputation, is enjoying a fresh rush of investment and enthusiasm. That manifests itself throughout the operation, for it is a drilled operation, in a designer-evident interior rebuild, menu’s and service. All though, is not yet perfect.
Without wanting to be trite or sour one or two pretty fundamental issues quickly came to light on arrival. No television in the room, (“awaiting delivery” although a small one was later found), only one bathrobe in the bedroom, sketchy and intermittent WiFi, ("persistent BT problem, we’re using a dongle,”) nowhere for guests to relax before dinner, (“the refurbished whisky bar will be opening soon), a fine 2 metre view of a skip from the “garden bedroom,” and a radio with Chris bloody Evans blaring away every morning at breakfast, (although the staff did kindly turn it off when I objected to listening to the traffic report from Uxbridge while enjoying my bangers & bacon.
The staff seem to have been almost entirely recruited from Glasgow. No doubt some hospitality consultant has stuck his oar in about the highlander and the highlander’s approach to service. They may or may not have a fair point but it’s a bit of a central belt cliché and it would be good to have more local staff to inculcate a local feel. Nonetheless, the well rehearsed staff are trained, hard working and anxious to please if somewhat uncertain when hit with something non standard but issues are dealt with very quickly and efficiently so. In fact, the guest ends up hoping for them that quick resolutions are found to small problems and that’s good because it creates a “can do, will please,” atmosphere from both sides.
There was no fine dining room when I stayed and I understand that options for that remain under consideration. Eating then was in the ground floor “Copper Dog,” which is best described as “gastro pub,” dining. Nothing wrong with that when done well and its done very well here. The menu is simple, fair value and in their words, (locally sourced, sustainable etc etc). The wine list mirrors the food and is perfectly acceptable. The average table is goiing to do far more damage to their credit card with over effusive ordering of obscure whiskies than they will with the wine. Dining there is very casual and very busy, (160 covers one night we were there which is pretty extraordinary locally). Indeed, the Copper Dog is so popular with locals that guests would be advised to book before arrival. Inviting the ghillies from the river can’t have harmed the cause and echo’s the inviting London cabbies to new clubs and restaurants thing to jack up referrals. On one evening a live country singer started belting out some songs of the seventies and initially I contemplated stabbing myself with my fork or applying for an emergency ASBO. Actually, a couple of hours later I’d made some new best friends with some bearded Austrians and was well on the way to drinking too much Aberlour and starting a new chapter of the Dead Country & Western Singers Appreciation Society.
Despite a few odds and ends of fishing paraphernalia on the walls, the hotel isn’t really a fisherman’s hotel in the style of Burt’s and the Townhouse in Melrose or the Ednam House in Kelso; at least not yet. Its somewhat understandable given many, if not the majority, of rods on the Spey rent houses or lodges, (many having done so in the same spot for generations), although they frequently eat out. The hotel’s real economic market is the Whisky Trail market. That is the earnest American, Japanese and European tourists tramping up and down Speyside visiting the distilleries, which are quite flash these days and fully geared up for the sector, and tasting. I could tell them that many of those distilleries add caramel colouring to the whisky to make it more appealing to what their eyes think a good whisky should look like but why spoil their fun.
Rods looking for a fisherman’s rest to repair to for a blether and dram really need go no further than the Fiddichside Inn at the other end of the village. Run by Joe, an ex ghillie on the river, the place has been in his family for about 100 years. It’s small, with no music, no machines well actually, not much at all apart from the booze, Joe and a wealth of dubious tales of fish, fishing and fisherman. The Fiddich is easily, one of the top ten pubs in Britain and if you happen to have caught a salmon that day, probably the best pub in the world. Unfortunately, some dullard has added the Fiddich to a Whisky Trail app so you are actually just as likely to see the bearded Austrians there as you are at the Craig.
Back to the hotel and all in all, there is little significant criticism and one can see they have the will and drive to iron out teething problems, “it’s not the problem, it’s how you react to it.” There is a lingering thought though that by booking over the web without knowing these niggly things one is somewhat oversold the value proposition. Mr Adams is no Mrs Carmichael (previous legendary proprietor of old), and they haven’t got it quite spot on but they will do and I expect in twelve months’ time, if not before, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get rooms there. It’s professionally managed and run, the Craigellachie now just needs to discover it’s own charm and soul and that only comes with time. There you go, who needs TripAdvisor?