Late November, I was invited to Scotland for a few days… the invitation was from Alladale Wilderness Reserve in the Highlands, it was not an invitation I could turn down.
Landing into Inverness I felt like I was coming home, the light, the snow on the distant mountains with their rows of pine trees, it brought back so many memories of growing up in Scotland and it tugged at my heart. For those of you who do not know, my family name is Mactavish, and Sutherland is the home of my ancestors.
The drive to Alladale takes 1.5 hours and my driver and I chattered all the way there, talking scenery, animals, local attractions and the Highland Clearances (a dark and unattractive shadow in Scottish history). The scenery ranged from lochs and oil platforms, rushing brown burns, and heathery hills, and snow, and the closer we got to Alladale, the denser the snow.
Approaching Alladale, we wait for Pieter-Paul, the charming, hospitable and very entertaining Dutch Operations Manager to pick me up in his off-road vehicle and take me to the rest of the way to the Lodge. Private cars are best left in the lower car park when there is snow on the ground, as the tracks are simply not suitable for regular cars. Anyone who thinks “I will be fine”, is soon proved wrong as you see in the photo, and before you ask, no I was not driving!
Ghillie's rest (above and top)
Accommodation at Alladale ranges from an all-inclusive, seven-bedroom Main Lodge (where I stayed), which is available on an exclusive-use basis, to the self-catered cottages: the two-bedroom Ghillie’s Rest, further down the Glen, Eagle’s Crag sleeps eight, and for a back to basics experience, there is Deanich Lodge. Deanich sleeps up to 18 in bunk rooms and feels like it is a million miles from anywhere, in fact, it is only 7 miles from the Main Lodge, but the tracks are such that it takes 45 minutes to get there.
That little black dot in the distance is Deanich Lodge.
Back at the Lodge, I am shown to my room, Willow, a spacious Executive Double room with a vast and superbly comfortable bed, and double aspect windows which look out to the front and side of the house. Since it was dark when I arrived, I decided to sleep with the curtains open so I would wake to watch the sun rising over the snow capped mountains. At last morning broke and I was up and looking out the windows with a huge smile on my face, it was quite breath taking. Looking out the window to the side of the house, I saw a majestic and totally still, line of stags, I watched them for about 15 minutes before heading off the shower. Showers took considerably longer than usual at Alladale as I tried all the delicious smelling Natura Siberica range of Wild Thistle toiletries.
The next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, served on lovely tartan crockery from Tain Pottery, we went out to explore the estate, to learn about the reforestation, the plans to re-introduce native wildlife to the reserve – including, bears. We also met the resident highland coos, who are impossibly gorgeous in a wild and shaggy way. As you look up the glen and on the slopes of the glen, you will see herds of stags, which look majestic in their snowy surroundings. The scenery here is incredible, like something from a professional photographer’s portfolio, but there is no photoshop here, just raw, infiltered and unadulterated beauty, and you could watch it for hours.
After a wonderful lunch of beetroot quiche, another sumptuous vegetarian offering created by Thomas, I head off with Pieter-Paul to Croick Church. More information on Croick Church, it’s part in the Highland Clearances and the etchings on the windows, can be found here . I had heard how the tenant farmers had slept in the church grounds as they were evicted from the land they had farmed for generations, and how they had scratched their names in one of the windows. I was curious to see it for myself, I was not expecting to find something that sent a shiver down my spine and has since seen me on a path to trace more of my ancestors. Who was Kate ?
In the evening, we enjoyed a special Malt whisky tasting, where we sampled six Malt whiskies and learnt of their composition and origin. I confess that I am not a whisky drinker and was not converted by the tasting, but the other guests were obviously in their element.
The next morning, had the weather been more forgiving, we could have taken a guided hike, gone mountain biking or tried our hands at clay pigeon shooting. Other activities on offer include fly fishing, foraging and dolphin watching, as it was, the increased snowfall meant we enjoyed games of chess by the fire and ate scones and jam. Bliss.
All too soon it was time to leave, but not without a stop at the pottery in Tain, where I purchased a couple of tartan bowls to remind me of Alladale. After the pottery we stopped in at the Cheese Factory, at Connage Highland Dairy, if you like cheese this is a must, more purchases were made and yes, I was risking being over my hand luggage allowance for my flight home! Cheese and oatcakes filled my pockets and overflowed from my bags, but it was so worth it. When you go, and you really should, if they have the cheese and potato soup on the menu, have it! It is heavenly and you won’t regret it. Oh and make sure you try their oatcakes, and the smoked Dunlop, and.. , well basically, leave enough time to sample some of their cheeses, and enough space in your bags to take some home!
So, with a full tummy, a happy heart full of old memories, and new ones, I boarded my flight back to Gatwick, counting the days until I return, which, as I write, is 513 days.
Who is Alladale for? Couples, families, extended families, private parties, milestone birthdays, celebrations, people with dogs, people without dogs, those who love the outdoors, great scenery, wonderful food, clean air, exploring, conservation, bird lovers and more, in short Alladale has something for everyone. Why not try it for yourself.
Contact me for more details, to book your stay.
Update, from this year, you will be able to book individual rooms in the main lodge during the low season, from 1st October to 31st May, on an all inclusive basis, for a minimum of 3 nights.
What are you waiting for ?!