Take one spa-loving woman, one seriously spa-sceptic husband and the hottest spa north of the border and you have a spa weekend made in err comedy heaven. In the name of research, freelance writer and editor Emily Murray lies back, relaxes and even licks the walls of Archerfield House‘s Sunday Times and Tatler-approved spa…
Since having kids, I’ve always known what I want for Christmas: a break. But not just any break: specifically, a break involving at least one night away from the little pink dictators. And, because I’ve been spoiled from years of working for shiny London magazines, a break which also involves a posh hotel room, a picturesque location, and, most importantly, a perfect spa.
Before I became a mum and moved back to Edinburgh to be close to the babysitters grandparents, my idea of spa heaven was Babington House’s Cowshed in Somerset. I love the walled garden view, the rustic glamour, the bliss-inducing massages and the aromatic plant-based products. Sadly, Somerset is a little far from Edinburgh for regular Cowshed access (though I have squeezed in a couple of sneaky visits), so ever since I moved north of the border I’ve been searching for the Scottish version, without really expecting to find such a thing.
During my search (a hard job, but someone’s got to do it) I’ve discovered that Scotland is home to some world class city spas. There’s One Spa at Edinburgh’s Sheraton, with its rooftop hydropool and dinky bento boxes that look healthy but taste amazing; the faultlessly slick ESPA at Gleneagles; and PURE Spa, which offers Elemis facials, hot stone massages and eyelash extensions from its Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen salons. All great, but none quite matching my rather narrow Caledonian Cowshed brief. But, after my spa weekend at the Fletcher’s Cottage Spa at Archerfield House, I completely relaxed as I realised that I’d found it: my search for the ultimate Scottish spa was over.
After leaving our mini-mes to bother the sheep at my in-laws’ farm, Ginger Husband and I drove the 40 minutes from Edinburgh to Archerfield, on the East Lothian coast. We’d booked an overnight spa package, which included accommodation, treatments and use of the spa facilities, and came in at a very reasonable £130 each.
Our accommodation was in a Pavilion Suite adjacent to Archerfield House, a handsome 17th century mansion which has sheltered the likes of Winston Churchill and Mary Queen of Scots in its time, and can now be booked for weddings or any other private event of your choosing. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse inside – opulent doesn’t begin to cover it. I’ve seen marquees smaller than the bedroom chandeliers.
Huge and grandly decorated, our suite also came equipped with a mini kitchen-in-a-cupboard (nice touch), and complimentary wine, drinks and snacks (even better). The Pavilion Suites are a few minutes’ walk from Fletchers Cottage Spa, but this weekend was all about doing as little as possible, and so we eschewed the exercise for an even shorter chauffeured drive; just call Club House reception and they’ll send a driver to take you anywhere on the estate for free.
Walking into the spa felt like entering a posh, fragrant barn, and I mean that in the best possible way. We were greeted by a girl proffering small sherry glasses full of carroty juice, and a hot flannel for wiping away your pre-spa self. And in true spa fashion, we were also invited to ditch our shoes in favour of puffy white slippers.
“It’s like walking on small fluffy clouds!” I exclaimed.
“Hmm,” said GH, a spa sceptic, peering suspiciously at his carroty juice.
Following a sip of the aforementioned juice, we turned our attentions to the spa’s consultation form. A seasoned spa pro, I was done in no time, ticking the boxes that needed to be ticked and enlightening my masseuse on exactly how I wanted to feel (relaxed yet energised) after my treatment. GH was left sniggering.
“What is it?” I hissed.
“They’re asking, ‘What would you like to achieve with your skin.’ I just want it to remain on the outside of my body. Gnnnnhuhuh!”
One sharp elbow later, our forms were completed and we were given a tour of the spa. And, what a beauty it was. Many of the materials used to create the building have been reclaimed (think beautiful French vintage mirrors and weathered timber cladding) and these authentic touches, along with the wood-burning stove, furs and cowhides, give the spa that rustic-yet-luxurious Cowshed feel I’ve been hankering for. The bathhouses, located in the middle of the walled garden adjacent to the main spa building, can be booked by the half hour and allow you to indulge in a fragrant soak in complete peace. True to form GH grimaced every time the words ‘holistic’ ‘meditate’ or ‘aromatherapy’ were used, although he did seem interested in one particular treatment room, the walls of which are made entirely of salt bricks. Our tour over, we were left to relax in the steam room, where he leaned over and whispered to me…
“I licked the wall.”
“In that salt brick meditation room place. I licked it.”
“Oh my God you didn’t.”
“So how did it taste?” In spite of myself, I had to know.
Silence descended and after being suitably steamed, we headed back to the squashy sofas and garden view to await our masseurs, passing through the now-infamous salt room again.
“Go on,” he urged, a mischievous glint in his eye. “I dare you.”
“What’s the matter? You scared of a salty wall?”
This is where everything went wrong as unfortunately, there’s a touch of the Marty McFly about me. And so, I ducked back into the room and gave the brick a good lick.
“Euuugghhhh! Pppttt!” It felt like emptying a salt cellar into my mouth. “You could have told me it was that salty,” I complained, trying to spit and swallow simultaneously.
“No, I couldn’t.” He looked suspiciously pleased with himself. “I never licked it!”
After that, I for one, was in need of a relaxing/energising massage, which is exactly what I got. A potentially perfect treatment can be ruined just because you’re too hot or cold, or simply uncomfortable. But the pre-heated bed, which I requested to have switched off before I got in, warmed me nicely, the facehole (is that a spa thing? Let’s say it is) was thoughtfully padded, and when it was time to lie on my back, the bed moulded itself to my form at the push of a button. The therapist let me inhale a few different Aromatherapy Associates oils, from which I chose Revive, a blend of grapefruit, rosemary and juniper so invigorating it made me want to jump up and do twenty burpees. I managed to restrain myself in favour of the massage, but afterwards I treated myself to the Revive body gel and scented candle from the spa shop, to inspire future workouts.
Afterwards, I drifted out and joined GH on the sofa, where our mini fruit platters and smoothies awaited, alongside herbal tea in pink, vintage-style teapots. A friendly face appeared and offered me a glass of champagne, which I accepted, as let’s be honest, why not? As I sat down next to him, GH was gazing dreamily out of the window at the walled garden’s swaying trees, his iPhone and a fresh copy of The Economist lying idle on the table, a glass of what looked like actual sherry in his hand.
“Is that…sherry?” I asked.
“Yep. You just help yourself over there.” He settled back into the squashy cushions and closed his eyes. “Now this is what I call a proper spa.”
What I loved about Fletcher’s Cottage spa at Archerfield House: The rustic, Cowshed-esque feel, the luxe chilled-out vibe of the relaxation area, the pretty tea sets, those cloud-like slippers, the Aromatherapy Associates products, the boutique-bathroom-style changing rooms and the spa’s proximity to the beach.
What GH loved: The complimentary spa sherry, the carrot cake, the enforced chill-out time, the calming effect it had on his wife and the spa’s proximity to the beach
Must-try treatment: My Aromatherapy Associates Intensive Muscle Release was heavenly. Before I go on my beach summer holiday I’ll be getting bikini ready by checking in for an Intense Nourishment treatment, also using Aromatherapy Associates products, which includes a scrub, followed by the layering of hydrating marine algae and moisturising body butter
Best for: Couples, girlie away days, a solitary experience
Added extras: The fridge full of food and booze was a welcome surprise, as were the mini smoothies and fruit platters offered before and after treatments.
You can follow Emily on Twitter @emilycasan