Saturday, 7 December 2013

Weekend Life....The Torridon, Loch Torridon, Scottish Highlands

The Torridon, Loch Torridon, Scottish Highlands, late October 2013.

Mist and drizzly rain rolling off the loch, shrouding majestic mountains in a veil of white; magnificent hairy coos*– who could double as oversized shaggy teddy bears save for their long, elegant curving horns and rhythmic bellowing; roaring log fires and swathes of beautifully woven tartan and tweed; a dram of single malt whisky – served with porridge for breakfast no less; bracing rambles through fragrant pine forests, voices hushed, in the hope of spotting the resident stag deer; clay pigeon shooting on the manicured front lawn; a tower of Tunnock’s delicious milk chocolate Tea Cakes - the quintessential Scottish treat. If a luxury break in the wildly beautiful Scottish Highlands appeals, The Torridon is the place to do it.

On our picturesque journey through wild, wet and windy moors to The Torridon, we pass grazing deer, a breathtaking medieval castle perched on a small island – the Eilean Donan, and the site of the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel, part of the Jacobite rising in Scotland. It was a drive steeped in history and beauty and approaching The Torridon, with its fairytale-like turrets and towers, I pondered whether it would have been more appropriate to arrive on galloping horses proclaiming  Alba gu bràth!** Unsure of exactly how I could manage suitcases on a horse, and definitely unsure of my Gaelic expressions (Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart is probably not the most appropriate way to learn), we had to content ourselves with a rather more sensible arrival. With the heady smell of wood smoke in the air, we hitched the horses parked the car and made our way inside, passing a jolly group of gentlemen outfitted in smart tartan kilts. Making a mental note to ask about their kilts later (are they comfortable? worn year-round? what lies beneath?), we are greeted warmly with an offer of afternoon tea - no doubt a dram of whisky would have been an acceptable alternative! - and shown to our suite.

Located on the ground floor of The Torridon, the Master Suite is wonderfully luxurious and big enough in which to swing Robbie, the hotel’s resident Highland bull, and his harem of cows. Furnished in elegant honey, ivory and caramel tones with separate bedroom, bathroom and adjoining sitting room, the focal point is the bank of picture windows which frame the spectacular view of the loch, mountains, and Robbie and his girls grazing in the front paddock. In the hope of returning to London with a more robust constitution, I open the windows to suck in lungfuls of crisp Highland air. Delightedly, the sound of a babbling stream – more a rushing torrent due to the rain – floats back to me. Assured that there was zero chance of the stream bursting its banks, I turn back to exploring the suite. A vast bed (the type possible to do snow angels on and not touch the sides) takes centre stage in the bedroom; the large bathroom is stocked with delicious-smelling REN toiletries and a stack of white fluffy towels; that tower of Tunnock’s tea cakes stands temptingly in our line of sight prompting me to carefully unwrap the first foil wrapper and bite into lush chocolate-y marshmallow-y biscuit-y goodness – a revelation in deliciousness and cries of how have we not discovered these before fill the room; a decanter of complimentary Torridon whisky sits next to a collection of classics – notably Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Sketches of Boz, while a tartan-covered hot water bottle lies tucked away in preparedness for the chilly winter ahead (returning to our room after dinner that night I discover it tucked, toasty warm, into our bed!).

A former hunting lodge built in 1887 by the first Earl of Lovelace, an English nobleman and scientist, the public rooms are a delight to explore (crackling fires, splendid loch views, an intimate bar with a staggering array of malt whisky, Latin inscribed cornicing and intricate zodiac carvings, and a {perhaps former resident} stag deer head mounted on the wall). But the main event lies outside: 58 acres of estate to discover.  Woodlands, manicured lawns, pine forests, a walled kitchen garden, pastures of red hairy beasties and the rocky shores of the loch….it is all staggeringly beautiful. The Torridon is a brilliant playground for those who love the great outdoors and for those who love the idea of the great outdoors but perhaps prefer a good book, blazing log fire, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes and tumbler of whisky instead.

Eat + Drink:

The food at The Torridon, from breakfast to dinner and everything in between, is superb. With a commitment to sourcing ingredients within a 65 mile radius of the hotel wherever possible, the Torridon restaurant uses beef from its own herd of Highland cattle, seasonal fruit, herbs and vegetables are grown in the hotel’s extensive kitchen garden, venison is shot on a neighboring estate, shellfish is supplied by local fisherman and smoked salmon comes from the Isle of Ewe smokehouse.

For dinner on our first night, we were treated to a five-course menu which showcased the local produce, and the chef’s ability to coax the best flavors from each ingredient, brilliantly. Highlights included a sweet, subtle onion velouté with parmesan biscuit, crispy-skinned duck on a rectangle of confit shallot tart with a smattering of smoky hazelnuts and creamed celeriac, panfried sea bream with silky herb gnocchi and butternut and sage puree, and a glorious dessert of glazed pineapple with coconut ice-cream and sticky butterscotch sauce spiced with star anise.

The Torridon Inn next door is a more casual place to dine – think battered local fish and chips, soups, hearty pies, big steaks and Scottish ales – (and stay) if you are after a less splurdgy break.

Torridon Stores & Café, Torridon. The local general store and purveyor of excellent homemade cakes and rather good coffee.

Kishorn Seafood Bar, Strathcarron. Wonderfully fresh local seafood and excellent service. We had oysters, a bowl of squat lobster tails, and a warm croissant served with hand-dived scallops sautéed in garlic butter (sounds like an odd combination but it was SO good!).

To Do:

The Torridon runs a full activities program ranging from gorge scrambling, rock climbing, loch and river kayaking, to rather more genteel activities such as guided walks, fly-fishing, whisky tasting***and archery. As a nod to The Torridon’s former life as a hunting lodge, we chose the clay pigeon shooting to test our aim and gun handling skills. With the wind whipping off the loch (always an acceptable excuse for missed shots) and guided expertly by Ryan, it was brilliant fun.

Further afield, we drove to small fishing villages (Gairloch and Sheildaig) and a remote pub where my attempt to photograph a tetchy ram almost ended in tears (mine).

*this is how the Highland cows roll in the North West Highlands. No simple pronunciation of “cow” for them!

**Scotland Forever in Gaelic

***okay, so probably this couldn’t be classed as a physical activity although it would provide a full workout for your taste buds

We were hosted by The Torridon during our stay in the Scottish Highlands

15 comments:

  1. what an amazing place! so charmingly rustic and full of character

    www.cococarteblanche.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-5h-L-i863bs/UqMfpFh7f-I/AAAAAAAAhkU/zEoNU_v3Q_U/s1600/Torridon-Hotel107-web.jpg

    Hey that's my house hahaha!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm completely enchanted by your photos! I was just in this area and fell quite in love with it!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fabulous photos!
    http://www.ladelphinenoir.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Sarah - it is just stunning Sarah. And in such a beautiful part of the UK. Wild and very beautiful.

    @Jamie - oh my! That is funny! You live in such a lovely village - so peaceful and beautiful. How did everyone go in the storm last week? I do hope everything was okay....

    @Andi - thanks Andi! This part of Scotland is just so incredible isn't it.....the mountains, lochs, forests are just breathtaking. I can't wait to go back!

    @Delphine - thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Amazing photo story... like i'm in a fairytale, i want to visit this place now!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Such a beautiful country!

    ReplyDelete
  8. your photos are magnificent! i'm so jealous of all your travels hehe. if you don't mind my asking, what camera do you use Vanessa?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Stunningly beautiful...so inspiring! I think that cow with the tuft of grass in it's mouth looks like a teenager with attitude and the two gents in kilts look quite the characters :) xox D

    ReplyDelete
  10. Vanessa, these photos are insanely beautiful. The colours, the fog... it all looks so dreamy. Love it when you do these sorts of posts. xx

    ReplyDelete
  11. This post had me searching Expedia for flight costs. Absolutely stunning. Thanks so much for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Metamundus - I hope you do someday! It truly is breathtakingly beautiful....and indeed a fairytale!

    @T - correct!

    @Debra - ha ha! He (or she!) does look like the young teenager with attitude! The gents in kilts were a group which was celebrating a significant birthday with a weekend away at the Torridon. Apparently they had a fabulous dinner the night before we arrived - everyone dressed up - and a very good time was had by all (sore heads the next day!).

    @the style crusader - ahhh thanks so much Jen! I love doing these sorts of posts :)))

    @Julia - Ahhhh that is like me on Skyscanner! Wish flights weren't quite so expensive to all the places I want to travel to :( Thanks for your kind words.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Your weekend life posts are my favoritest!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Very very late but we used to get packed off there on music fortnights with school - the quiet drove me demented!

    ReplyDelete