From the second I stepped out onto the cobbled streets outside Edinburgh’s Waverley Station, I knew my trip to Scotland’s windswept southeast coast was going to be something rather special.
I had wondered, on the train journey north, whether a jaunt to Archerfield – a place synonymous with golfing excellence – was something I’d be likely to enjoy because, if the truth be told, I’ve never fully understood why an albatross is better than a birdie.
Maybe it was the fresh sea air breezing through the window, or the fact that I had extra legroom in the back of my chauffeur- driven Mercedes S Class, but during the 35-minute trip from the city to the beach, I realised I’d perhaps been underestimating the lure of links golf, and needed to rethink.
As we closed in on our destination I was intrigued by the stories of King Edward I who had camped his troops on the land before battle in 1298, how Franklin D Roosevelt had held secret World War II meetings when Herbert Asquith was in residence, not to mention the close presence of Concorde, living out its retirement in an airfield museum nearby, which is well worth a visit.
From the vast open spaces of the clubhouse, resplendent with an array of African art, to the fully restored 18th Century Mansion House retaining features by acclaimed architect Robert Adam, it occurred to me this place had a presence like no other.
Over breakfast, owner Kevin Doyle, an Irish-Scots immigrant, told me he started his £55m project in 2005, before the onslaught of the financial meltdown. But rather than stagnate, Archerfield has happily bucked the global trend, and blossomed.
In the seven years under his stewardship, it has become a ‘name’ on the international golf scene thanks to its two world-class links courses, which overlook the Firth of Forth.
Doyle has spent a fortune taking care of his 550-hectare estate and even appointed teams of archeologists to protect a tomb of ancient Scots kings in their standing grave, as well as the remains of a Druid village from 3,500BC.
Archerfield’s golfing history dates back to 1869, but its status is mysterious from when the British War Department took it over in 1940. The Duke of Hamilton later bought it.
Its current owner has breathed new life into the land. It’s a heritage site that comes with 28 hectares of waterfront that offers an epic view of the North Star on a clear night.
Doyle’s most recent addition is Fletcher’s Cottage, the brainchild of spa visionary Sian Parry Jones, who is setting new standards in luxury. The glass and wood front-walled cottage is more like a secret garden of rustic wellness, complete with outside yoga space and private treatment cabins.
Inside, it retains its earthy atmosphere thanks to reclaimed materials such as potato boxes, Himalayan salt bricks, sheepskin rugs, chicken-wire lighting as well as lots of tender loving care. Sian’s desire to build from grass roots level has paid off, it seems.
The spa offers bespoke treatments and retreats, all helping to make the setting an amalgam of country chic and positive karma. There’s an eye-catching brand collection there too, including unique South African Frazer Perfumes.
With a handpicked team of experts including Katie Light, a visiting healer and Nora Luppo, another peripatetic Argentinean who performs facial reflexology and lymph drainage, it was easy to don the fluffy bathrobe and slippers and give myself time to sample the mini cream cakes and sip some tea.
It took a lot of effort to drink in the surroundings before heading off for an afternoon of unbridled pampering – pure bliss.
Fletcher’s Cottage Spa has running themes in each of its seven comfortable treatment rooms. Its fire-lit communal resting area, with beautiful table-book collection combined with first-class service could keep you there for days. The sauna and steam facilities are also marvellous, with every last detail right down to the kikois made at Ukunda University in Kenya being hand-picked by Parry Jones.
Staying at Archerfield was peaceful, the stunning Marine Villa, home to Robert Louis Stevenson when he wrote his epic novel Treasure Island, was a film-like experience; its soundtrack the lapping waves of the sea.
The home-from-home atmosphere, spacious living areas, roll-top baths, and jaw-dropping kitchen (it has with just about every newfangled gadget you could imagine) was topped only by the Punch collection and roaring log fire to keep you warm.
Each night, the friendly and unobtrusive staff were on hand to offer anything your heart could desire; whether it was haggis nibbles, lobster frites, a harpist and kilted storyteller, and even a cinnamon-infused hot toddy.
While I admit, in the beginning, I thought Archerfield was just another boring old golf club, in reality it’s a window into another world, a true work of art. And, as Kevin McCloud might say, it’s built with respect for the land it embodies.
Archerfield Links, Golf Club House, Golf Green Dirleton, North Berwick, East Lothian , EH39 5HU archerfieldgolfclub.com
Exclusive Hire: Sun-Thu £5,995 (exc Vat). Sat & Sun £6,500 (exc Vat), includes dinner and B&B for 30 guests in 15 double bedrooms, includes all house beers, wines and spirits. Per night: three-bedroom lodges £550; four-bedroom lodges £650.