A Grand Day Out with the Guild of Food Writers

I suspect we all suffer from impostor syndrome from time to time. In my case I had it in spades a week or so ago, finding myself on a bus with a bevy of beauties, food professionals all. Thanks to the lovely Cat Thomson, journalist and hen keeper extraordinaire I found myself invited on a jaunt and a jolly. To be more specific, the Guild of Food Writers South of Scotland Destination Alliance Trip. It may not be a snappy title, but it was great fun.

The Guild of Food Writers is a nirvana perpetually denied to me. To join, you have to provide evidence of work for which you've been paid. No room, alas, for the happy amateur. I should say that I do get offers for my services from time to time, which I decline. The pure may inherit the earth, but they don't get membership of the GFW.

I confess I hadn't previously heard of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. Now boasting 580 members it exists to further the interests of businesses in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway regions. This was one of two tours to promote eight "Legends", food and drink businesses representing some of the finest that the south of Scotland has to offer.

As I boarded the bus in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square I was aware of a few legends among my fellow passengers. Cat T herself, of course, Wendy Barrie of the Scotttish Food Guide, and the famous food writer and venison guru Nichola Fletcher. And there were journalists and authors and PR people and influencers and marketing folk. And there was me and my well earned impostor syndrome.

Ruth Hinks, Cocoa Black

To Peebles first, to Cocoa Black, domain of the astonishing Ruth Hinks. After setting up the business in 2008, Ruth won the UK Confectioner of the Year award. Two years later, she represented the UK in the World Chocolate Masters, winning the highest award ever achieved by a UK chocolatier, beating off competition from France and Belgium. She runs classes and workshops upstairs. Downstairs, to enter her shop and cafe is to be transported to France and be dazzled by the cake selection. Such patisserie isn't cheap of course, and costs are going through the roof. Ruth, however, is adamant that she won't lower her standards. It was great to see the steady flow of deliighted customers, proof that there will always be a market for quality.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart, Traquair House

Traquair House next, Scotland's oldest continually inhabited house, home to the redoubtable Catherine Maxwell Stuart, 21st Lady of Traquair. Craft breweries are now 10 a penny (well, maybe 8, as many of them are closing). Traquair was one of the first. Brewing on the site went back to the 18th century to supply the estate workers. Catherine's dad was doing some tidying and discovered a brewery he didn't know he had, as you do. Production started up again in 1965, using traditional Scottish recipes. Catherine has been at the helm since 1990. She very kindly laid on a tasting. Be warned. The House Ale and the Jacobite come in at 7.2% and 8% ABV respectively, and the 2000 ale is a whopping 9%. The celebrated Medieval Fayre will take place on 25 and 26 May.

Lucy and Robert Wilson, Wilson's Farm

Cowbog, let's face it, isn't the most appealing of names. Put that to one side. It's home to Wilson's Farm and Kitchen, run by the very lovely Lucy and Robert Wilson. In addition to their herd of prize winning Hereford cattle, they run a farm to fork food business, including communal dining and outside catering. Their kitchen garden provides much of the fruit and veg, and menus feature their own beef and lamb. Anything which they can't produce on the farm is sourced from other local producers who share their commitment to animal welfare and high standards. Their barbecue and curry nights are becoming the stuff of legend. We were served some amazing home made rhubarb fizz and a pearl barley risotto with local cheese and farm grown greens. Wow, that lady can cook. Stunning.

William and Katrina Reynolds, Allanton Inn

The same local produce ethos applies at Allanton Inn near Duns, just six miles from the English border run by husband and wife team William and Katrina Reynolds. A restaurant with rooms, the place's traditional exterior doesn't prepare you for the terrific decor and warmth of welcome. In their huge beer garden they host pizza evenings. In the bar and dining room you can choose from an extensive  menu, all with a local connection. We were served a wondrous bowl of tomato soup, the fruit coming from Katrina's brother in law, Scotland's only commercial tomato grower. Then a Lindisfarne oyster, an Eyemouth langoustine, and some hot smoked salmon, also from Eyemouth. Well, I'm full now. Did that stop me tucking into the  local ham hock and charcuterie from Sondegaard and Andersen or the Greenvale AP potato salad or the nettle cheese? Of course not, but I did pass on the ice cream, honeyberries and granola. Borders hospitality? Entertained to within an inch of your life.

The very exciting news is William and Katrina will soon be launching food tours. If, like me, you didn't tend to think of the Borders as a food destination, prepare to think again.

Thanks to everyone for your generosity, and special thanks to Cat, to the Food Writers' Guild and to the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. What a day.

Cocoa Black, 1  - 2 Cuddy Bridge, Peebles EH45 8JB   www.cocoablack.com

Traquair House, Traquair, Innerleithen EH44 6PW  www.traquair.co.uk

Wilson's Farm and Kitchen, Cowbog, Kelso TD5 8EH   wilsonsfarmandkitchen.com

Allanton Inn, Main Street, Allanton, Duns TD11 3JZ  www.allantoninn.co.uk




  1. Aleta Walker on 8th May 2024 at 11:47 pm

    You certainly had a spectacular experience in the Scottish Borders.
    I enjoyed your descriptions of all the marvelous stops on your journey.
    We need to return to our favorite country.

  2. Elizabeth Turnbull on 9th May 2024 at 7:33 am

    What an amazing day out.
    Congratulations on becoming a tour guide.

Leave a Comment