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Issue 19 - A question of balance

Scotland Magazine Issue 19
March 2005

 

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A question of balance

One of the greatest challenges facing the Scottish hospitality industry is getting the balance right between all those quaint and traditional things that the overseas tourist visits the country for, and the demands of the modern traveller.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Scottish hospitality industry is getting the balance right between all those quaint and traditional things that the overseas tourist visits the country for, and the demands of the modern traveller.

It might be a sad reflection of the too fast, too numb modern world we live in when a travel company such as Scotland Calling is driven to offer laptop internet services to its passengers wherever they are in Scotland (see page 9), but the truth is that these days there are plenty who want to see lochs and glens AND know how the company’s doing on Wall Street.

All this provides the hotelier with a dilemma: how do you keep the cuteness, the history, the unplanned and the quirky, but offer a fully functioning and hot power shower too? How do you provide a direct route back to Scotland’s history, but offer high quality food flexibly and quickly at the same time? Scotland has come a long way in 30 years, but even today finding the best of both worlds isn’t easy, particularly if you’re travelling on a budget of any sort.

So it is a great deal of disquiet that we hear that the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside has been sold and that change might be in the air.

The Craig, as it is affectionately known, sits on the banks of the Spey in the middle of Scotland’s greatest mainland whiskymaking region between Aberdeen and Inverness, and it has established itself as the base camp for any whisky adventure.

It is a hotel that gets the Scottish balance absolutely right. A big, imposing masculine hotel with traditional bar and hearty Scottish food, it is also run as any good modern hotel should be. And much of that is down to the man who has run it for the last seven or eight years, Duncan Elphick.

It’s one of those places where you become a friend as soon as you’ve checked in, and where you always seem to spot a friendly face when you come back. The whisky industry uses it for socialising and entertaining, and it has a whisky bar with some 500 bottles in it. First time you’re in there it terrifies you, even if you think you know your whisky. After a couple of nights in the company of a ‘whisky guide’, though, even non-Scotch fans can find themselves exploring a wonderful hobby.

You don’t have to like whisky to stay there, either. Indeed, Duncan has gone out of his way to isolate the whisky offering. Snug bars and warm lounges provide a gentler alternative should you want it. Walkers, hunters and fishermen feel welcome there, too.

I’ve grown to love it. The first time I caught trout they cooked them for me for dinner and it was one the best meals I have ever shared with friends. I have tried weird cocktails created by some of London’s top barmen, watched a group of Swiss cigar lovers pose for photos with the great beer and whisky writer Michael Jackson (the other one), and played the not to be recommended game of ‘choose the next dram’ until well past a respectable bedtime. And all this on my last visit.

At the time of writing the hotel’s future is unclear but there have been any number of rumours flying about and the new owners seem to have been doing little to dispel any of them.

Who am I to tell them what they should be doing with their business, beyond the fact that I edit this magazine and Whisky Magazine; that in the annual whisky awards the Craigellachie looks set to win the Hotel of the Year award for the fourth consecutive year and with a record vote; and that I know of people across the world who love the place and don’t want to see it change.And finally because I visit hotels in Scotland the whole time and I know how hard the balance between the old and the new is. Nobody should do anything to knock the equilibrium that is the Craig.