British Travel | 18th August 2023
Town & Country: Multi-centre staycations with PoB Breaks
Double your pleasure with a twin-centre hotel stay
Sarah Bailey and her son find their north star together on a long-awaited slow travel adventure by train to three PoB Hotels in Scotland and the Lake District.
I first took my eldest son on a trip back when I was frantically juggling life as a glossy magazine editor, with the even more frantic (and far less glossy) job of raising two young kids; the youngest only a baby. Setting off for a long weekend with my six-year-old (“Just the two of us…” as Bill Withers once sang…) made us feel like intrepid explorers navigating the world together. Transported from our quotidian routine (print deadlines and fashion dramas for me, ‘Jolly phonics’ learning for him), we let ourselves wallow in life’s little indulgences: eating room service in our pyjamas and playing Uno while listening to our favourite Rolling Stones tracks with no one to please but ourselves.
Fast forward ten years or so and of course little Uno players grow up to be hulking, great 16-year-olds, seldom seen during daylight hours outside their GCSE revision dens/gaming station cocoons. But this summer, as exam season started to recede, it felt like the right time to reboot a mum-and-son trip to celebrate that school’s out feeling and to unlock the door to inspiration again.
For all the travelling we have done over the years, the 16 year old and I had never been to Scotland together, and a city break in Edinburgh seemed like the perfect choice. As the purpose of the trip was to spend quality time with my son and treat him to some luxury travel experiences, as well as my undivided attention, I wanted a holiday that would allow us to take our time rather than rush around like crazed tourists.
Enter PoB Breaks. This new service, launched by PoB Hotels in response to a growing demand for slow travel experiences, provided the ultimate solution: the ability to plan an immersive journey to discover the British Isles from a fresh perspective and go at our own pace, visiting the places that we wanted to explore and how we wanted to journey from England to Scotland and back.
Using the interactive map on the PoB Breaks website, which showcases all the PoB hotels around the British Isles, we plotted an itinerary that would take us from London to the heart of Edinburgh, then a little further north to the Port of Leith, before journeying west to the Lake District to indulge in some seriously indulgent spa time before making our way home again. And in the spirit of truly savouring the pleasures of slow travel, we decided to make the journey by train.
The first rule of a successful mother and teenager trip is an itinerary elastic enough to allow you both to do the things you love. In my case this means bingeing on museum shows: ‘Beyond The Little Black Dress’ at the National Museum of Scotland (until October 29th) is thrillingly curated. And if you have time, I cannot recommend a trip to V&A Dundee too highly - you will recognise the show stopping Kengo Kuma Associates architecture from that episode in Succession when Logan goes back to his Scots roots. The ‘Tartan’ exhibition (until January 2024) is truly a stand out - radical and unexpected. For my son, the pleasure of discovering a city is more about mooching, soaking in the vibes of the street performers, or climbing the vertiginous cobbles to Edinburgh Castle to marvel at the views.
Our accommodation in Edinburgh is the sumptuous Prestonfield House (our taxi driver tells us he’s picked up Jarvis Cocker from here before). It comes as no surprise to hear that the Sheffield balladeer and art aficionado would favour the place, it’s a sensory feast. At dinner, we sit at a window table in the hotel’s destination restaurant Rhubarb, gazing in awe at the volcanic hill that is Arthur’s Seat. In the gardens below, a rhubarb patch is purportedly grown from the very first rhubarb ever to be imported into Scotland from China (hence the hotel restaurant’s moniker ‘Rhubarb'). For breakfast: My cup of three soft boiled eggs, mashed with Scottish butter and chives is comfort fare par excellence. The 16yo opts for steak Lorne sausage morning rolls. Our verdict? Simply sublime.
The next door we go through in our adventure-for-two is in the Port of Leith, a short tram ride north of the city, an area that was once Edinburgh’s industrial hub that was home to glass-making, shipbuilding, and flour milling. Though Leith has had its hard times (as any reader of Trainspotting knows), the neighbourhood is enjoying a spirited renaissance: Think the ‘Shoreditch of Scotland’, all hipster bars, cool, creative start-ups and laid-back venues.
Our bolthole for the night is as magical as it is unexpected: The good ship Fingal, a former ‘Aids To Navigation Tender’, built for the Northern Lighthouse Board, which now retired has been transformed into a floating luxury hotel moored in Prince of Wales Dock. The Tender’s makeover has bestowed an Art Deco glamour to the accommodation below deck and our pristine cabin is very handsomely appointed. Guests can view the ship’s mighty engine room and leaf through the original leather-bound engineers’ logs, all slightly surreal and wonderfully enchanting, like stepping into the frame of a Wes Anderson movie.
From Edinburgh Waverley Station, we train to Penrith, then continue our journey by taxi to Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa, which overlooks the serene and majestic Bassenthwaite Lake. Staying within the wood-panelled walls of 16th century hall is seriously sybaritic and there’s something deliciously fun about padding in our gowns and slippers to take a plunge in the pool, before dressing up for dinner in the Lake View restaurant, where the cooking and the service are superb. The hall’s expansive grounds are also home to the Lake District Wildlife Park, where we enjoy watching the charismatic lemurs and languorous red pandas (the take on conversation and animal welfare is impressive).
By Day 3 of proceedings, the quality one-to-one time has successfully cast its spell. The 16yo’s air pods are no longer perma-fixed to his skull, also my scrunched-up writer’s shoulders have fallen a good few centimetres. Creating our own itinerary, moving from one characterful, independent hotel to another has given the trip its own rhythm of anticipation, excitement and discovery and the shared pleasure of doing something that feels absolutely unique to us. “I’ve loved this trip Mum,” says my fellow traveller (unprompted!). “Same here,” I reply. In opening up the door to an adventure together again, we have also opened up our hearts and our imaginations. Slow travel - it’s the fast track to bonding with your loved ones.