“ Airth Castle Hotel and Spa Resort / near Stirling / Central Scotland / FK2 8JF / Tel: 44 (0) 1324 831411 / Fax: 44 (0) 1324 831419. „
I should say at the outset that I did not choose Airth Castle for a weekend break. We were attending a wedding reception and it made sense to spend the night rather than drive thirty miles or so back to the Big Smoke.
I should also declare myself as often being accused of being being too critical, a cynic, unable to see a glass half full. I must accept that, on occasion, that is true. But I would say in my defence that you can't blame someone for being unhappy when they don't get what they are promised.
The website for Airth Castle Hotel and Spa is unrestrained in promise, a veritable Scheherazade of self-praise. I feel the need to quote.
"This Resort sits Majestically overlooking the River Forth, and the glorious countryside of picturesque Forth Valley and Central Scotland with much of Scotlands national Heritage and many Treasures sitting on its doorstep."
Not entirely far from the truth. Set on a small wooded hilltop amidst fields and a scattering of houses which compose the villages of Letham and Airth in Stirlingshire, the location IS picturesque...if you discount the march of electricity pylons across the vista and the housing development coming up right opposite the entrance to the hotel. In fairness, not something the hotel could help.
Not easy to access by public transport (best bet is train to Larbert station and taxi therefrom) so drive. From Glasgow it took all of 35 minutes on a Saturday morning. The hotel is easy enough to find and the directions on the website are accurate and adequate.
Slightly confusing is the fact that the imposing Castle bit, the first building you come to at the top of the drive, does not actually house the reception. For this you have to drive further on to a newer construction tacked on to what I believe were the old stables.
"From the moment you arrive at Airth Castle Hotel & Spa Resort a true Scottish Welcome awaits....a team of people so passionate to provide excellence."
Having lived in Scotland for several years, I'm not sure what this means but in Airth it means large dollops of indifference and a pinch or two of impatience. The young
lady behind the counter attending to us could not be faulted: she was efficient and provided the statutory degree of 'welcoming smile' but I couldn't help overhearing
another elderly (overseas) guest struggling to fill in her guest registration form (she couldn't remember the address of the people she was visiting in Scotland) only to be rather rudely corrected:
"No, we don't need someone else's address! We need your address! Where are you from? Right, well that's the address we need!". I leave it to you to inject as much
annoyance into it as you like - you are unlikely to overdo it. Entirely unwarranted and hardly 'passionate' unless you count being surly as passionate. Which I suppose it is.
Regretfully, this is not at all unusual, especially in large hotels staffed by young people doing day jobs with no particular incentive or concept of how to provide 'a true Scottish welcome'.
There was no offer to have our luggage taken up to the room, despite the fact that we were slightly overloaded with suit carriers and the like. Again, sadly, not that unusual the Scots are used to hoofing it.
We were staying in the Spa section, the newer bit of the hotel, in a twin on the second floor.
Décor is largely faux tired Travelodge and more tired than Travelodge.
"Our generous guest rooms and suites are blessed with individuality and style, and we have created 125 in this historic setting, each one capturing the romantic mood of the surrounding countryside."
Nope, no romance here. Just your conventional twin beds with tired TV, wounded writing desk and battered wardrobe. The bathroom was compact but again wearing the marks of time(leaky faucets, squeaky shower) though clean enough.
There was no sign of breathtaking views overlooking the picturesque Forth Valley & River Forth (the view overlooked another wing of rooms), colour flat screen TV (colour but not flat), DVD facilities (nope, definitely not), high speed internet connection, a selection of fine local soaps and bath minerals, fluffy white towels (white but not fluffy), bathrobes & slippers. We must have been extremely unlucky considering that the website claims most rooms offer the latest in room amenities.
Talking to other guests who chose to spend the night in the more expensive Castle bit yielded adjectives such as draughty, worn and disappointing. I wont say more since I didnt stay there myself but there you have it.
Our windows would not close. They were open when we entered the room and refused to close, thanks largely to the fact that someone else had bent the metal catches and not helped by the handles hanging on by two fewer screws than intended.
Reception was informed and service was prompt enough: a young lad with bow tie, officious air and walky-talky. He had a look and then told us the problem was that the catches were bent because you tried to close the windows. I resisted the temptation to reply.
He did manage to fix it though, through innovative use of brute force and a screwdriver. His advice as he left (not to open the windows) fell on deaf ears, largely because it was July and sweltering.
The evenings festivities kicked off with a drinks reception on the lawn. In itself, competently organized: enough champagne, plentiful gloved waitstaff circulating, a three piece jazz band playing in the background, perfect weather and a suitably officious photographer. A nice way to start off.
Adjourn thereafter to the Dunmore ballroom, described as very majestic and visually attractive. Not quite. Perfectly well laid out and equipped with dance floor, DJ and bar, true, but my overwhelming memory will be that it was absolutely stifling due to a lack of air-conditioning and windows that would not open.
The three course dinner was pallid in comparison to its lavish description: entirely forgettable, to the extent that I struggle to remember exactly what it was. Probably just as well.
Service was competent.
All the essentials laid out buffet-style, though only two buffet tables and slightly counter-intuitive arrangement so that you ended up knocking elbows with the coach party that arrived the evening before. Plenty of staff but of the largely disinterested variety, meaning you linger for ages, dodging diners, while trying to figure out whether someone is supposed to seat you or whether you should just rush for a vacant seat.
Fatty pallid bacon, industrial sausages, amorphous scrambled eggs and do-it-yourself toast conveyor belt machine with toast trays on the side for you to take back to your table to stack your toast in. Conventional tinned fruit tipped out into a bowl and conventional bottled fruit juice tipped out into pitchers. You eat because youre starving and because youve paid a lot of money for this stuff. Again, completely forgettable.
Being hairy and rather malleable in parts, I didnt venture into the Cloud Nine Spa but the ladies had a massage or two and described it as adequate. Says a lot in itself.
SO WOULD I GO BACK?
What..cant you guess? Absolutely not. We paid £120 + VAT for a twin room and breakfast which may be pretty typical for places such as this but we certainly didnt feel this was an experience wed care to relive.
Beware websites waxing loquacious.
This Resort sits majestically overlooking the River Forth, and the glorious countryside of picturesque Forth Valley and Central Scotland with much of Scotlands national heritage and many treasures sitting on its doorstep.