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Issue 14 - Heart of the highlands

Scotland Magazine Issue 14
May 2004

 

This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Heart of the highlands

Mairi MacDonald visits Loch Torridon Country House Hotel

Many years ago Lord Lovelace, a few friends, his ghillie and a handful of staff would set out with a pony or two around the head of the loch to the shooting lodge Beinn Damph for an annual event.

There they would stay for a few weeks, stalking the hills during the day returning to the roaring fires and hearty meals by night.

The lodge, as lodges go, was modest. Room enough for the laird, his staff and some friends. Set at the bottom of the hill, sheltered amongst trees, the lodge looked north over the hills rather than west down Upper Loch Torridon.

Today the view is the same; the fires still roar and the meals are still hearty; but the Beinn Damph lodge has crept quietly into the 21st century. Loch Torridon Country House Hotel is a small pocket of luxury in one of the most remote corners of Britain, Wester Ross.

To get there is by choice not by chance but once there the stay is worth it.

A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and included in the Top 200 hotels in Britain for 2002/3, the intention is understated luxury. The majority of the 19 bedrooms are huge with panoramic views over the loch and hills. The en-suite bathrooms have large roll top baths. The bar is stocked with 250 malt whiskies. The drawing room with its Victorian zodiac ceiling is well-used with its roaring fire and stack of magazines.

And the food!

The hotel prides itself on its kitchen garden that provides most of the fruit, vegetables and herbs for the table. Fish is fresh from the loch and the game fresh from the hills.

The result is the sophisticated cooking of simple food, such as ‘seared fillet of wild Highland venison with puy lentil casserole, balsamic jus, and crispy bacon’ followed by ‘grilled cod steak with sauerkraut, potato sauté, buttered leaf spinach and mustard veloute’ and ‘hot Victorian plum tarte tartin’ for dessert. Their selection of wine is well chosen and varied.

The food is good and plentiful and is appreciated more after a day of action.

Most of the people who stay at the hotel whether they come by helicopter or car come for the activities.

Although the hotel sits within 58 acres of its own parkland, it is surrounded by unusually accessible mountains.

To the north the land is owned by the Scottish National Trust and to the north east sits 50,000 acres of Beinn Eighe, Scotland’s first National Nature Reserve owned by the Scottish National Heritage.

It is possible to do most mountain sports including walking, climbing and mountain biking from the hotel. They can provide bikes, maps, guides, a compass and even waterproofs if needed.

Most of the walking on the hills is fairly rigourous and should not be attempted by the inexperienced. However there are several less strenuous but equally beautiful walks around the loch and the coast line.

The hotel’s resident ghillie can also organise archery and clay pigeon shooting on the hotel lawn and fishing in Loch Torridon, the hill lochans or rivers nearby. For those planning to stay several days and really unwind the ghillie can organise nearly any activity, given enough notice, including abseiling, kayaking, deep sea fishing, pony trekking, bird watching, marine wildlife, boating and even golf.

Tours of nearby historical sites, country houses and castles can also be arranged and the gardens at Attadale House on the banks of Loch Carron and the world-famous ‘wild’ gardens at Inverewe further north are both open to the public.

The west coast of Scotland is well-known for its strange eco-climate caused by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream flowing nearby.

Wet and warm, it is especially conducive for growing azaleas, rhododendrons and even palm trees.

Further south the drive around the coast to Applecross where some of the film Local Hero was filmed is stunning with views over the Inner Sound to the Islands of Rona, Raasay and Skye. There is reputed to be a good pub for lunch in Applecross.

The windy single track road continues on until it reaches Loch Kishorn then widens and heads north back to Sheldaig and Torridon.

Back at the hotel, tea awaits either in front of the fire in the drawing room or in the comfort of your room after a long hot bath. Most guests meet and chat in the bar and enjoy the home made hors d’oeuvres and a drink before going into the Eilean Chasgaig Room (dining room) for dinner.

The guests when we were there were varied. Amongst them were one couple on their honeymoon, one couple who got married there in the library with the owners Dan and Rohaise Rose-Bristow as witnesses and another couple who arrived by helicopter and were whisked up to their room.

We left early the next morning before they were up. The staff were far too discreet to tell us who they were!

The hotel is privately owned which has enabled the owners to combine the luxury of a top hotel with unpretentious comfort and service. There is a feeling of ‘this is our home; treat it as your own’. And it works.

The entrance hall has a comfortable sofa and chairs facing the log fire where boots are drying after a day on the hill. There is no reception only a desk in the hall with a bell.

The guests wander around between their rooms, the cosy bar and the drawing room, stopping to chat and exchange news of their day’s activities.

It has the feeling of an extremely comfortable house party in a large country house in the Highlands. Not too different from 150 years ago I guess.