On 6 June 1944 and during the long summer that followed, men from all over the world went to fight in Normandy to defeat Nazism and re-establish freedom across Europe. So, coincident as it was, it nonetheless seemed fitting that 75 years later to the day my wife and I turned up at a remote hotel on the south Galloway coast, Knockinaam Lodge. This was the country house, then a private residence, in which Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Supreme Commander and later the 34th President of the USA, met in secret to formulate plans for what became known as the D-Day landings.
The hotel is alluded to in John Buchan’s 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, said to be the inspiration for Richard Hannay’s hideaway, which begs the question whether the attention is drawn to the property by Buchan – originally built in 1869 as a hunting lodge for the Hunter-Blair family – was instrumental in bringing those two great statements together. For further historical pedigree, the country house was the boyhood home of Royal Navy submarine ace, Lieutenant Commander Malcolm David Wanklyn, one of the most successful submariners in the Western Allied navies, a man who was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order and Two Bars.
We had visited several years ago, and indeed slept in what is now the ‘Churchill Room’ with its 100-year-old enamelled concrete soaking bath. Alas, the stern gaze of Churchill from the painting above the blue-tiled fireplace is not conducive to romantic activity. So, we opted for a local Bladnoch malt and a good book, instead.
On our return, to our delight, very little seemed to have changed…and that’s a good thing. There is a relaxing and agreeable aura about the hotel with its ornate furnishings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and grounds that run down to a private and secluded beach. It is very much the go-to place if you want peace and quiet, or a bolt-hole with style. This is the only boutique hotel in Dumfries and Galloway; in fact, it’s one of few luxury hotels along the west coast of the Rhinns of Galloway, gazing out across the North Channel of the Irish Sea to the northern Irish coast some 21 miles distant.
Stranraer is the nearest town of any size, although the neighbouring Portpatrick, is a village with a history dating back 700 years, and built adjacent to the ruins of 12th-century Dunskey Castle.
Knockinaam’s very remoteness brings a solitude that is companionable, swathed in the sounds of silence…one of those places where you sit on a garden bench or at a convenient picnic table, close your eyes and breathe deeply as you feel your body relax.
With only ten rooms, there’s no danger of encountering the coachload hordes that bedevil larger hotels, and the over-riding sense is that of being part of a bygone era, a time of family manor houses with their ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ regimes. Lush carpets, tasteful wallpapers, panelled bar and an array of service bells by which domestics would have been summoned all contribute to the atmosphere of luxury and elegance, tastefully understated, that permeates the whole hotel.
Quietly modest, head chef Tony Pierce contrives menus of Scottish-based cuisine that embrace the best of local produce and his extensive experience and rightly takes pride in that. When there is Galloway lamb at the chef’s disposal, alongside Luce Bay seafood and Highland venison, there is every reason to stay at Knockinaam for several nights. There are so many tasty dishes you really don’t want to miss. Perhaps surprisingly, you won’t be spoiled for choice…there is no choice! Simply a five-course tasting menu, that changes each day. That’s a smart move because it means the chef has to be freshly creative every day and make the most of the freshest produce available to him.
The wine list is a joy, with no fewer than sixteen wines sold by the glass. The list offers delights such as several Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1er Cru Pauillac that can make a serious dent in your wallet, to the wide-ranging wines of France, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Spain, California, South Africa and Portugal. Quite a few wines are sold in half bottles; you don’t often see that in high-end restaurants, and it’s a great way of sampling more than one wine without having to indulge a wine-pairing selection. In the library bar, you can treat yourself to a post-dinner digestif in the form of one of several fine whiskies, or one of many gins.
This part of Scotland is much less favoured by tourists than the Highlands and city highlights. So, it is a delectable place to visit, and perfect for tours into the Galloway Forest Park, where, in Merrick, lies southern Scotland’s highest peak. Nearby Luce Sands are a great sweep of openness, while the arm that leads to the Mull of Galloway takes you to Scotland’s most southerly point. Whisky connoisseurs will find distraction in the Bladnoch distillery overlooking Wigtown Bay; those who want a game of golf have only to travel to Portpatrick. And if you enjoy strolling around botanical gardens, then the hotel provides vouchers to give free admission to several, including the nearby Logan gardens.
This is a perfect region, a place rich in Nature’s beauty, and Knockinaam Lodge perfectly placed to make the most of it.
Tell Me More About Knockinaam Lodge
Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland DG9 9AD. T: 01776 810 471
Several multi-day breaks are offered throughout the year. Some rooms are dog-friendly by prior arrangement £25.