September: For most of us, this month means back to school, back to work, and back to daydreaming about our next adventures. There are few places in Great Britain more glorious at the end of summer than the Scottish Highlands, especially this year. Scotland boasts some of the last great wildernesses in western Europe, featuring huge tracts of open landscape, mountains and lochs, undeveloped and sparsely populated where you can really get away from it all. There is very little light pollution in the highlands so the night skies are amazing, especially in the far north where witnessing incredible meteor showers is not unusual. The roads are long, slow and windy. You can run into quite heavy traffic on some stretches in the middle of summer, but as the season turns you often have the roads to yourself, so you can chill out, go with the flow, absorb the stunning scenery that surrounds and embrace the pace. Put on your favourite music, sit back and decompress; you will get to where you need to be eventually.
For almost twenty years, Loyd & Townsend Rose has been guiding guests through the Scottish Highlands, enabling them to explore and experience its magic. Director Andrew Loyd recommends a weeklong stay in order to make the trip worthwhile, and base you either at a castle or sporting lodge for the duration of your stay – your Scottish highland home-from-home – or transfer you from one hotel to another depending on the nature of your trip and the activities you wish you take part in. The former style or stay suits large family groups who want to nest and could do without the upheaval of moving around. The hotel route works well for smaller mobile groups keen to maximise their time in Scotland and who want to see as much as possible.
Along with its sensational scenery, Scotland is fortunate to still have an incredible array of castles woven through its mountains, around its lochs, dotted along its beaches. These are another huge reason why guests love the highlands, as these historical homes add further drama to the already rich landscape. The clan chieftains and noble families who built these castles helped shape the landscape through their forestry plantings and careful preservation of the wonderful open spaces. Similarly to Ireland, you will see a lot of modern cottages being built, but the moors, farmland and forests remain remarkably unchanged. Many of the castles have been rescued from neglect, and English or overseas business families have pumped fortunes into restoring them to their former glory, meanwhile embarking on further projects to preserve the landscape. A fine example of this is the great Aldourie Castle – above – which sits on the banks of Loch Ness and offers extremely comfortable accommodation for large family groups in 13 bedrooms and further bedrooms in other estate cottages. This castle offers easy access to famous local golf courses like Nairn and Royal Dornoch, historical sites like Cawdor Castle and Culloden battlefield, and of course to the loch itself, where guests can take boat trips (fast and slow) and admire the astonishing scenery. Inverness is close by, but it is some of the smaller towns, like Beauly and Strathpeffer, that Andrew finds more charming.
A little further east of Aldourie is Dalcross Castle, a smaller but equally impressive fortified tower built in 1620. Find eight lovely bedrooms and a real castle atmosphere, the perfect place to celebrate a special birthday or family gathering, or to hole up in winter with a good book in front of a roaring log fire. Of course, not all Loyd & Townsend Rose’s guests are looking for a castle with winding stone staircases as their base from which to explore the Scottish Highlands. For these guests, we have a myriad of lodges like Old Milton near Kingussie that has 7 bedrooms and a one bedroom cottage, or bothy, as the Scots call them. The house is extremely comfortable, beautifully done up with excellent bathrooms and a very light, cosy feel. A lot of shooting lodges are rather stuffy with dull sporting prints and endless tartan, but not this one. There is also a private golf course, tennis court, hot tub and fishing. A fun alternative, which is a balance between a home and a castle, is Gordon Castle – below – in Morayshire. Built in the 1770s for the Duke of Gordon, it offers either spacious bedrooms, salmon fishing on the river Spey, a stunning walled garden with a restaurant, and even produces its own gin. Being on the doorstep of Speyside, whisky country, there are many famous distilleries within easy reach of the castle. The Aberdeenshire coastline is stunning, and there are some lovely fishing villages to explore, including Pennan, where the cult movie ‘Local Hero’ was filmed.
If guests are curious to experience what it is like to stay in a Scottish castle but aren’t travelling with a big enough group to fill one, Loyd & Townsend Rose sends the group further west to stay at the wonderful Inverlochy Castle Hotel, below. This romantic and magical hotel is a personal favourite, as Andrew proposed to his wife there! Fort William itself, just down the road, is not a great beauty of a town. However, the castle is located a few miles north and is sort of a gateway to the rugged west coast highlands and the Isle of Skye. Lovely big bedrooms with huge windows offer panoramic views of the picturesque surroundings and good hearty Scottish cuisine is served up in the restaurant, which is much needed after a long day climbing a Munro, or even Ben Nevis) for the ultra-ambitious. The castle was constructed in 1863 and is a classic Victorian home and built to impress. 10 years after its completion the owners hosted Queen Victoria for a week of painting!
Over on Skye is the great Macleod family stronghold, Dunvegan Castle. It isn’t possible to stay here, but it makes a great visit and is perfectly positioned with absolutely stunning views of Scotland in every direction. Spend a night at the Three Chimneys Inn, watch the dolphins play in the sea, and eat the most delicious langoustines in the world.
Back on the mainland, near Oban, is the dramatic castle of Inveraray, which has been the home of the Dukes of Argyll since 1746. Fortunate guests can stay in Ducal splendour and experience old-school grandeur in the private apartments that overlook Loch Fyne. During the daytime, there are a lot of visitors to the main part of the castle, but after 5pm you will have the place to yourselves.
Wherever you choose to adventure in the Scottish Highlands, from the windy roads of Applecross to the sweet village of Plocton, you will be overawed by the landscape. Never ceasing to amaze, the gulf stream enables a varied and surprising array of plants to grow and flora to flourish, including unexpected palm trees. Trust Andrew when he says that it is good for the mind, body and soul to immerse yourself in the remote countryside, and you will return home truly refreshed from the peace, quiet, and fresh air.