PHStobo Castle's refurbishments mean it has weathered the storm of recession
Not a typical Tuesday morning, then, but one that was more than a little intriguing, to say the least.
I’m at Stobo Castle, the renowned premier health spa in Scotland, and I’m presently having my chakras balanced by holistic therapist Shirley Kay.
If you didn’t realised that your chakras need balancing – or indeed that you had any in the first place – this experience will soon teach you otherwise.
However, in my case the gentle Shirley is preaching to the converted as I have long been aware of my chakras – or the body’s energy points – and what they’re up to. As for the healing powers of crystals – well, I’m not so sure about that but keep an open mind, temporarily suspend any sneaking cynical thoughts and it can be pretty amazing what can happen.
By the end of an hour, I certainly feel a sense of serenity and calm and after a pep talk from Shirley am ready to drift off for a relaxing half-an-hour of nothingness and fruit juice before my next strenuous appointment.
This turns out to be a Vinosource anti-oxidant hydrating facial at the hands of Catherine. Yes, it’s a hard life, I know, but there’s more to this than you think. Caudalie use products from their Bordeaux vineyards in skincare products.
PHStobo offers every kind of spa treatment you can think of
Catherine explained that the grape extract – not squashed grapes if that’s what you’re thinking – is used widely to great effect for anything from general hydration treatments to massages during pregnancy.
And so, feeling generally relaxed and hydrated, it was time to enjoy a rather lavish lunch in one of the grand dining rooms that Stobo has to offer. And although the surroundings may be formality itself, the dress code is so casual that dressing gowns are almost de rigueur.
Now, for all those who love a spa, there is no point telling you all how wonderful Stobo is because you already know.
However, for the few as yet uninitiated here are some facts. Stobo Castle is really the only dedicated residential spa in the country. Not only does it offer every kind of treatment you can think of but it also has a gym, steam room, saunas, outdoor hot tubs and, my favourite, a magnificent 25metre ozone pool.
There you can spend hours – and I did – in its warm chlorine-free waters gazing out at the rabbits nibbling on the grass through the huge glass wall. And if that doesn’t relax you, I don’t know what can.
Anyway, back to Stobo facts. Although it has magnificent rooms and beautiful gardens, it doesn’t cater for conferences and weddings. There’s no golf course. And you have to be 14 before you’re allowed in, so the patter of little feet is thankfully absent. Everything is designed around a relaxing spa experience, which keeps the smart phones on silent and the pressures of the outside world far far away.
With continuous refurbishments, extensions and investment, Stobo has weathered the storms of the recession well and, with sales of more than £1million in Christmas gift vouchers alone in 2016, the future looks rosy.
“Of course, we are always adapting to current trends,” owner Stephen Winyard explained. “Since my late parents, Robert and Gaynor, rescued this place from near collapse in the 1970s, things have changed a lot. In the late 70s and 1980s, people would come for a week and calorie counting was all the fashion.
PHThe castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens
It was the old ‘fat farm’ approach. That is now all gone – we live in a cash rich, time poor society, so people want to come for a day or two and just relax and have an enjoyable time. The outlook has changed a great deal.”
Stobo, a few miles outside Peebles, is also a strong local employer and known for its community involvement. From various charity functions, the sponsorship of Peebles’ Christmas lights and of the upcoming Ladies Day at Musselburgh racecourse, the name of Stobo stands for quality and consistency.
“Our staff stay for years,” Mr Winyard said. “That really says something. We are nice people.”
One of those nice people is head chef Teresa Lynch, who gave a most entertaining after-dinner talk in the basement kitchens.
Having been at Stobo virtually since it opened, she has all the gossip you could ever want to know and told a good juicy few stories as we drank some wine and watched her cooking lobster in brandy sauce.
PHStobo is a lovely hotel with great food and wine
Of course, I couldn’t possibly tell you the tales – you’ll have to go there and listen for yourself. Suffice it to say, a lot of strange things go on in hotels and perhaps it is worth bearing in mind, the staff seem to know about most of them.
However, if all this sitting around in dressing gowns covered in perfumed unguents is not really for you, you can enjoy Stobo as simply a lovely hotel, with great food and wine which is set in a beautiful area. For example, at the bottom of the driveway are the exquisite Japanese Gardens, planted more than a century ago and these should not be missed.
If you really want something special you can hire the stunning Cashmere Suite with its very convenient helicopter pad outside but, really, part of Stobo’s ongoing success and lasting charm is that it offers a taste of luxury without you having to break the bank.
And if that’s not the key to health, I don’t know what is.
Stobo Castle: 01721 725300; stobocastle.co.uk; Tickets are still available for the Stobo Castle Ladies Day on June 17; www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk