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Family-friendly ethos is at the heart of The Boat Inn

The Boat Inn, Aboyne, brings a touch of class to its pub grub dishes and vibrant selection of drinks.
The Boat Inn, Aboyne, brings a touch of class to its pub grub dishes and vibrant selection of drinks.

For Eileen Haywood and her husband Dave, Deeside is a place like no other.

Its rolling hills and vast scenery are perfect for their pursuits as runners. But as business owners of The Boat Inn, the pair have created their own haven by the banks of the River Dee.

Housing 16 guest rooms, a bar and a restaurant, The Boat Inn is popular with all kinds of clientele throughout the year.

Inside The Boat Inn.

Its ethos – “dogs, kids and muddy boots welcome” – stretches all the way back to the inn’s roots when it was established in 1720 as a drover’s arms.

Quality pub grub and a great selection of drinks make up the inn’s core food and drink offerings today and Eileen says that the business’s family feel is what makes it stand out.

“I love working with the team and speaking to the customers who are absolutely wonderful,” she says.

Eileen Haywood, co-owner of the inn.

“I like to think people are receiving five-star service here but not at a five-star price.

“It’s a family business and the staff all feel part of a family being here.”

Pastures new

Both originally from England, Eileen and Dave made the move up to Deeside a decade ago.

They have four children together and built their own home in Drumoak, which Eileen says has been an “idyllic place” for their children to grow up.

“Neither of us had lived in Scotland before. But when my husband was offered to work in Aberdeen in oil and gas, we thought the area would be great for the kids,” says Eileen.

“We have a lot of local gins which people like to try out, there’s a vast selection of malt whiskies and we have wine lists which we like to rotate and keep fresh,” Eileen Haywood.

“Interiors and buildings have always interested me. I’d done a few conversions in the past as well as building our own home.

“But 10 years ago, I was helping a friend open a restaurant in Edinburgh and I thought my husband and I should be doing this ourselves.”

Both keen foodies, Eileen and Dave felt that the hospitality industry in Deeside was in need of a bit of a facelift when they first moved up.

The Boat Inn exterior view.

Despite having any prior experience in the industry, they soon set about doing it themselves.

“We felt that there wasn’t a particularly great offering of pubs and restaurants; places were dated and people had taken their foot off the gas as it was easier to make money in those days in hospitality because of the oil industry,” Eileen explains.

“So, we started looking around and fell upon The Boat Inn.

We really had no experience in hospitality though, and every bank turned down our business plan except for one.

“That was our last call, and fortunately they said yes.”

“We’re currently planning for the summer season and making sure everything is in good shape,” Eileen Haywood.

The Boat Inn

Over the last three centuries, The Boat Inn has been an integral part of the Aboyne community.

“Originally, local farmers would drive their cattle here for the watering hole and they’d stop off for a quick drink or overnight stay at the inn,” Eileen explains.

“It’s gone through several incarnations since then. There was a major fire in the 80s, other owners have added different rooms throughout the years.

“We also bought and converted the house behind the inn in 2018, which allowed us to house eight more rooms for guests to stay in.

It’s gone from being a watering hole all those years ago to a hotel, restaurant and bar.

Interior view of The Pine Loft at the Inn.

Eileen and Dave will have now owned The Boat Inn for nine years.

The inn’s elegant rooms are ideal for guests visiting for weddings or activities around local Deeside estates.

Charity fundraising events, quiz nights and live music are also all key features that helps make The Boat Inn a hub for the local community.

But all year round, guests flock for the inn’s sumptuous food and drink offerings.

The Boat Inn takes pub grub to new heights.

Tasty food and drink

“We are really busy. Quite often for Sunday lunches, we have 200 people to cater to,” says Eileen.

“We offer great homemade food with lots of our ingredients sourced from local suppliers.

“Our burger sauces are sourced from Aboyne company Angus & Oink which are fabulous.

“There’s also a good selection of vegan and gluten free dishes. I think we have quite a good reputation for that.”

The Fog Horn – Leg Horn burger, grilled chicken with smoked cheese and maple glaze.

For those after a tasty tipple to go along with their meal, the inn’s bar will leave you spoilt for choice.

“We have a lot of local gins which people like to try, there’s a vast selection of malt whiskies and we have wine lists which we like to rotate and keep fresh,” says Eileen.

“Our cocktails change seasonally and the staff get involved in making the creations, like Elly’s tropical paradise.

Elly’s tropical paradise cocktail.

“This has blue Curacao, Malibu, pineapple and lime. We also have a watermelon sugar high cocktail which has Absolut vodka, midori, lime, lemonade and grenadine.

“Another of our own is the gin and apple cocktail, which has Caorunn gin, elderflower cordial, apple juice, fresh mint, lime juice and soda.”

Gin and apple cocktail.

Eileen adds that the inn has a popular homemade drink for customers who prefer a non-alcoholic alternative.

“A very popular non-alcoholic option is our turmeric fizz,” says Eileen.

“We make the turmeric syrup for it ourselves, then we use lemongrass, ginger syrup, ginger beer, peppercorns and fresh lemon and combine it together. It’s wonderful.”

Cocktails ready for service.

Sustainable future

With business going well, Eileen says that her and Dave are looking for ways to make the inn more sustainable.

“Once we came out of the last lockdown, we thought it was time to focus on sustainability,” says Eileen.

“We started composting a lot of our stuff, we have initiatives we’re putting in place to try and lower our carbon footprint and we’re also putting in three charging points for electric vehicles.”

Vegan spiced rice pudding with plum compot and toated almonds with the Bubble and Squeek, black haggis and poached hens egg main course.

For now, Eileen is keen to keep The Boat Inn’s team spirit going strong as they all prepare for what’s set to be a busy summer season.

“We’re currently planning for the summer season and making sure everything is in good shape,” says Eileen.

“Of course, with chef shortages and the cost of supplies going through the roof, there are still times when things are a bit scary.

“But we have an amazing team here, many of whom have been with us for years, and they always get us through.”

The Boat Inn exterior signage.

A round of questions with Eileen Haywood of The Boat Inn…

Most underrated drink?

I think sherry is an underrated drink.

If you were a drink, what would you be and why?

I would be a Campari and tonic, because it’s sunny and quirky.

Favourite food or drink offering you serve at The Boat Inn?

I’d say our salads. At the moment, we have a stuffed salad bowl with tabbouleh, our own coleslaw, pico de gallo salsa, fresh lettuce and you can top with our own homemade falafels.

Most unusual food you’ve ever tried?

I’d probably say snails. I think they’re delicious.

Wine or whisky?


Any secret tips of the hospitality trade?

Be kind.

Best food and drink pairing?

Steak and chips with a nice red wine.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would be there with you?

My family, factor 30 sun cream and a good supply of food.

You have to serve your favourite superhero or celebrity a drink. Who is it and what do you serve them?

Barack Obama and I’d serve him a pint of Schiehallion beer.

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