===Getting away from it all===
Christmas 2012 was an eventful day for me. I asked my partner Allan to marry me. Everyone but him knew about it before hand so a few had tailored their Christmas presents to us on the assumption that he would be saying yes. Just as well he did really. Afterwards when we popped round to see my dad and Step-mum they presented us with an envelope within a box within a box within a box within no less than 30 layers of wrapping paper. This is a trick my dad has come to think is hilarious over the years and usually used when he's realised at the last minute that whatever he's gotten me is either pointless or just terrible. Not that I ever let him know it but occasionally I really do wonder what he was thinking. As this present was labelled to both of us we ended up playing a game of pass the parcel with each other getting more and more agitated with each layer till finally we opened up the envelope. Thankfully it was totally worth it. We'd been given a voucher for a two night stay in a hotel from buyagift.com!
===So many choices===
We had a few criteria in our choices when we finally got round to looking at the voucher in January. First of all we didn't want to be driving for hours to get somewhere, partly due to the cost of petrol and partly due to the fact Allan would be bored out of his skull driving for a few hours. Since most of the hotels for the voucher were miles away that left us with about four which were easily accessible. Narrowing it down further was our want of a proper cooked breakfast as some of the hotels were only offering continental breakfasts which neither of us particularly likes. Lastly we'd quite like one with a pool and a gym just in case we wanted to go for a little dip after a hard day relaxing. The winner turned out to be the Windlestrae hotel.
===Keeping it in the Family===
The Windlestrae is situated in the heart of Kinross which is a fairly small Scottish village right on Loch Leven. Not only does Loch Leven have a fascinating history, it has some of the most beautiful and picturesque views. The Windlestrae itself is part of The Greens Golf "Resort" which includes a couple of hotels and restaurants in the immediate vicinity of two golf courses and, of course, the loch, which are owned by the Montgomery Family who recently sold the gorgeous Kinross House (a stunning and huge country mansion in the area) to a private owner as it was costing them too much to keep it.
Before we left I sent off a wee email to them asking if they could have some wine or champagne in the room for arrival since it was a special occasion (obviously I'd be paying for that) and also took the opportunity to enquire about any other upgrades they may wish to throw our way. The next day I got an email back advising they'd put a bottle of Prosecco in our room for £18.85 and as it was a special occasion they'd pop us on the list for any upgrades that became available. They didn't mention it when we checked in and I'm not entirely sure if the room was the one were already going to be getting though which is a shame.
I've never been to Kinross so I was quite glad to have my sat-nav plugged in and on. Once you get to what seems to be the main road in Kinross (the Muirs) simply keep going until you see a sign for the Windlestrae. I managed to drive passed it as I spotted it at the last second but there's another car park about 20 meters up the road that I was able to get turned in.
Turning down to the Windlestrae you will see a sort of porch area with a "Bar/ Restaurant" sign on it underneath the massive "Windlestrae" signage. There are about four parking spots here. Going in through this door you simply walk straight till you hit reception. I didn't actually realise till afterwards but if you go past those spaces and round the corner to the back of the hotel, there is a much bigger car park and a door that opens right into the reception area. It's a bit of a weird layout but it's easy enough to navigate. There didn't seem to be any issues with parking spaces the whole time we were there either.
If you want to get there by train then you may be out of luck as there doesn't seem to be any train station near the place which is a bit of a shame. On the plus there are bus services running into Kinross from most places so you can get in that way if you don't drive.
===Bed knobs and Broomsticks===
Checking in was easy enough. We arrived about an hour early: check in was at three, we got there at two. We were told our room wasn't yet ready but shouldn't be more than half an hour. That was probably so they could go put the Prosecco in the room for us. We decided to go for a wander since the weather was gorgeous. We got back about three and the room was indeed ready. We were given our room key and told how to get to the room. The room key was a real turn-in-the-lock style key attached to a rather large rectangular piece of Perspex with the Greens Hotel logo carved into it. This chunky key ring was a bit of a pain in the backside to cart about as it was big enough and pointy enough to poke into you while it was taking up your entire pocket.
Our room happened to near the restaurant that we parked at first of all up one flight of stairs. The door was right at the top of the stairs which meant that anyone in the other 10 rooms in that section had to go past our door to get to theirs. More on that later.
First impressions upon entering the room were not terrible. The room was massive, light and airy. Directly in front of us, the wall had a large set of windows facing out into the grassy area and the gorgeous private house that practically shares its entrance road with hotel out the front where we drove in. There were also two smaller, higher windows that looked out to the left and right of the room. They both had their own little roller blinds on them too. To the right was a double bed, freshly made and very comfortable looking; to the right was the door to the bathroom. The room continued down the side of the bathroom and this is where the kettle, tea and coffee were situated on a table next to a couple of old looking chairs (a two seater armchair and a single armchair) and a flat screen TV. On the wall to the right was a giant floor to ceiling mirror that made the room look even bigger. Storage space was plentiful with drawers in both bedside cabinets and the desk nestled to the left of the window. On the same wall as the entrance door there were built in cupboards. One side was made up entirely of drawers to the point it looked vaguely comical to open. The other side had a hanging rail and some hangers along with a trouser press in the bottom of it. There was no iron in the room at all which was a bit annoying. There was however a hairdryer hidden in the bottom drawer of the bedside cabinet.
===On Second thoughts===
The only real thing that we both noticed was that the room did look quite sparse and like it had been around for a while. The carpet wasn't incredibly thick and you could hear the floor creak and groan with every step. The chairs were grey and looked like they hadn't seen the light of day in about 40 years but were otherwise in a decent state of repair if you discount the red stains on the arms of one of them. The curtains were yellow and flowery and screamed of needing updated, but were the only real colour in the room. When we closed them we noticed they hadn't been hung properly, leaving a sagging section that looked quite untidy.
On closer inspection the room wasn't incredibly clean either. Along wall that the bed was on there were stains that looked like someone had thrown a cup of tea at the wall. The same stains could be seen next to the kettle. When opening the windows we were met with a cluster of well formed cobwebs and over the course of the next day or two we spotted a few more hanging from the roof. Strangely there wasn't a lot of dust anywhere so I'm not quite sure how they managed to clean the room and miss the cobwebs and various other stains. It quickly became clear that while it wasn't the nicest hotel room on the planet, all that was really needed was a bit of an update. Some fresh paint and some colour in the room would have done it wonders. Instead it was quite dull with white walls, grey seats and a tired brownish carpet.
===Drip, drip, drop===
The bathroom was suffering the same acceptable-but-dated look. Marble effect panels lined the wall, picking up on the gold colour of the taps on the sink, bath and matching showerhead. In the corner there was a modern looking heated towel rack which would have looked lovely if it wasn't for the bulky black wiring and plug at the bottom being on full display. There was soap, body lotion and shampoo provided along with some rather rough and uncomfortable toilet paper. There were plenty towels provided though they weren't incredibly soft but they weren't rough enough to be an issue.
The water flow in the sink was a bit wonky but thankfully the shower was good. The only problem I had was that it took about five minutes for the water to heat up and as I had been slowly turning the tap up and up and up in an attempt to get hot water, when it did finally come through it was scalding. A little bit of patience was the order of the day and after about 7 minutes of faffing I managed to get a temperature that didn't burn or freeze me. The toilet was uncomfortably close to the door to the room and so I'd be concerned about passers by hearing any toilet activity since, as we later found out, the doors were pretty much paper thin.
===Bump in the night===
So, you can probably tell that we weren't exactly bowled over with the room, but we also weren't bothered too much about it. The main test would be how we slept. When we turned the lights out, I had pangs of horror when I realised that neither the curtains nor the blinds were made from anything that remotely blocked light out. I'm usually one of those people who can't sleep if there is even one spec of light in the room. I groaned big style. It also became quite obvious that the windows were not double glazed and we could hear people outside the restaurant/ bar area and a couple of inconsiderate people with spruced up, hole filled car exhausts racing past on the main road. Much to my surprise, however, we both slept fairly well only waking occasionally and going right back to sleep. The bed was incredibly comfortable and the sheets were quite obviously clean and soft. The morning was a bit of a chore for me due to the light filled room, however, I had still had a decent sleep!
The next night was much the same though we had been very tempted to beat some children up that had arrived that day and spent it running up and down the hollow, creaky, wooden staircase right outside our room, screaming and shouting while their parents stayed in their room ignoring them. Thankfully they wore themselves out just before we went to bed so no-one had to have a two-by-four to the head.
This is one thing I really didn't like about the room. Due to the amount and clarity of the noise coming IN through our door, it felt a little bit like we couldn't get any privacy and when you are on a weekend get away to celebrate your engagement, there may be some private things you want to get up to without being heard, like a good, long, deep conversation. It didn't stop us but it certainly made us quite aware that we might be overheard easily.
===Make a Splash===
The whole resort comes with complimentary access to the Gravity Fitness Suite. That means that anyone staying in the Windlestrae and the hotel across the road (The Greens) can come in and use it. The fitness suite is very good. It has sun beds, a gym and a sauna, steam-room and Jacuzzi right next to a 20m heated pool.
The entrance is right next to reception and you just need to pop down your room number on a sheet and you're given complimentary towels. These towels have never seen a tumble dryer or softener in their life and almost hurt to dry your self with. But it's better than a kick in the face! The men's changing rooms are a bit strange with urinals in full view of where you get changed and no shower gel or shampoo pump bottles anywhere. Make sure you bring your own if you want a proper shower after your work out/ swim. The showers here are infinitely better than the ones in the rooms so I tried to shower there when I could.
The pool has sun loungers around the edge and even tables and the whole area is nice and cosy. The heated water means it's not a shock getting into the water unless you've just came out of the steam-room. The deep end of the pool isn't overly deep, it comes up to my shoulders and I'm about 5'9". The sauna and steam-room were clean and big enough for about five or six people comfortably and more if you want to start squeezing up next to strangers. The only problem I had with the pool was that the chlorine was quite strong and actually started making my skin feel a bit raw. I go swimming all the time and that happens to me very rarely. It might be a good idea to bring goggles as both mine and Allan's eyes were stinging after each swim we had. Overall, however, it was a nice relaxed area which was open late and never overly busy.
If your idea of leisure isn't all that hard work, the hotel has a little book swap area just passed the restaurant area where you can either swap books for the ones on the shelves or leave a little donation in a money box on the shelf. There are a few sofas in the area so you can sit and chill out with your new found book!
===Start the day the Scottish way===
The restaurant in the Windlestrae is called Monty's and at night they are an Italian restaurant. In the morning, however, they open up to those staying within the hotel to provide them with a full cooked Scottish breakfast. It's a help yourself deal which is great as sometimes I find a cooked breakfast to have too much to eat on the plate and other times I want to stuff my face. The bain-maries are all neatly lined up and being constantly refilled by the kitchen staff. Both mornings we were there they had the same food in the same spaces so I don't imagine it will change. They had bacon, sausages, fried eggs, fried mushrooms, baked beans, black pudding and fried tomatoes. I was a little surprised they didn't have any potato cakes or hash browns but I didn't mind that much. Another area is set up with cereals, milk, fruit juices, jams and some baked goods that look like croissants but aren't. Near the entrance they have a pile of bread and a toaster which there seemed to be a constant queue for.
The staff were all quite helpful and they offer you tea and coffee right after you sit down and always had it out before we were back to the table with our plates so the service was very quick. The food was also lovely. Perfectly cooked, not swimming in grease, nice flavour and, almost miraculously, the bacon was cooked to a standard that Allan could eat. Even I can't get that right sometimes!
As for the surroundings, it was much the same as the rest of the Hotel, perfectly acceptable but in need of a bit of sprucing up. Even getting the chairs in the restaurant to match would probably make it look a lot nicer. I can't comment on the food the restaurant served when it opened at night as we didn't eat there but it seemed to be quite busy both nights we were there.
Obviously our stay was a gift so we didn't pay anything for it. A two night booking with breakfast included is currently coming up for around £105. I think the gift was about £190 on buy a gift.com though currently they are doing the same offer for almost half price at £99 though the Windlestrae is no longer included in the participating hotels. Either way that comes in at about £26 each per night. Cheap as chips no matter what way you look at it.
If you've never been to Kinross before, there are a few things that may grab your interest and its all within a five minute drive of the hotel. The main attraction for a lot of people will be the golf courses. There are at least two right behind the Windlestrae (The Bruce and The Montgomery courses) so if you like that sort of thing then I'd imagine Kinross will be right up your street. There's even a tiny golf putting course in the gardens of the Windlestrae. We were there on Thursday Friday and Saturday and the course car park (which was the one I ended up turning in when we got there) was completely packed on Saturday but almost empty on Thursday and Friday. There may even be a couple more golf courses kicking about but I didn't spot them myself.
The thing that I had my heart set on was a visit to Loch Leven. It's beautiful. On the way to Edinburgh from the motorway I've always seen a range of mountains that I've just been itching to stop the car and take photos of. I hadn't realised till we got into Kinross that these mountains are right on the edges of the loch which meant, finally, I'd get to take some pretty pictures of them without having to risk life and limb on a motorway! In the centre of the loch there is a castle which takes about ten minutes to get to by boat. The castle has a lot of history being that it was where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a year.
Further round on the far side of the loch and probably a bit of a drive away is Vane Farm which is an RSPB reserve. I've not been myself but I know a few people who have as my Primary school used to take school trips out to it which tells me it's probably great for kids.
Kinross house is no longer open to the public but you can take a wander around the walls and stare in at the new owner with beady thieving eyes like Allan and I did. There is a trail right around the loch that takes you past a play park and a grave yard with some war memorials. Further round is what looks like the Montgomery family's private plot though it isn't very private at all. There are a few good viewing points for the loch and the mountain on this trail and you can rent bikes from the boathouse café where you catch the boat across to the castle.
If you want you can take a wander up the main street (The Muirs) and marvel at the houses as they are mostly all huge, old and gorgeous. There are even a few for sale!
===Our stay in short===
So just to run it all down:
Bedroom: 3 stars out of 5: The bed was brilliantly comfy and the room was huge. It was let down by the shabby look of the place and the light streaming through the curtains in the morning.
Bathroom: 3 stars out of 5: Again the look was a bit tired and the water taking ages to heat loose points.
Restaurant: 4 out of 5: The service was quick, the food was lovely, just the looks bringing it down again.
Cleanliness: 3 stars out of 5: Cobwebs all over the bedroom but no dust. Stains all over the walls and chairs.
Location: 5 out of 5: If you like Golf and or scenery, this is right next to some great stuff to see. It's easy to get to by car but a bit of a pain if you don't drive.
Price: 5 out of 5: For what you get, it's quite fairly priced.
Overall experience: 3 out of 5: Overall it wasn't terrible. The room was a bit naff and I feel like the whole place could have easily scored 5 if they had just taken a bit of care to keep it fresh and tidy.
The hotel was decent. The Windlestrae is only a three star hotel anyway and I would say that it definitely meets that expectation. The surroundings are great for a nice quiet get away if not a little bit of a pain to get to by anything but a car. We still had a good nights sleep despite the curtains and slight noise issues and the breakfast definitely hit the spot. I can only give it 3 out of 5 stars but not in a terrible way. I just feel a bit bad for them because if they just took a little bit of time to update the furnishings and paint the walls it could probably reach a much better rating. Still a nice, cheap place to visit with some lovely surroundings to take in.
The Windlestrae hotel