Cawdor Castle, Oh, Yes Please…

I have to be honest – I’m insanely jealous of the people who own Cawdor Castle. I first went there with friends in 1995 and from the moment I walked inside, I felt comfortable – it’s one of those places, where you feel that you could just slip off your shoes, and curl up in a chair with a good book and a mug of tea.

We went back there this year, on the return leg of our Scottish Odyssey, this time taking our daughters too.

Gorgeous Cawdor Castle

My youngest daughter has promised to buy it for me, so that when we’re very old, we can retire there – how thoughtful of her!

The husband thinks it’s more of a house than his idea of a castle, and I suppose you could think of it that way, but for me, it’s simply divine.

Now I don’t propose to give you a room by room description of the interior – the late Earl Cawdor, did such an excellent job with the room guides, that it would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that if you go there, buy the guide-book, you won’t be disappointed.

If you’re studying country house style, then Cawdor would be a perfect place to visit. It seems to sum up everything you’d need to know, if you were wanting to re-create the style. I just love soaking in the atmosphere.

Cawdor has a very good restaurant, (although don’t expect things to happen quickly, just relax and read the guide-book while you wait for your lunch). And just next to the restaurant, is a rather nice little book shop.

This year, I was impressed by the trailing nasturtiums in the pots around the courtyard. Somehow, everything at Cawdor seems lush and well cared for.

The gift shop is definitely a cut-above the average stately home offering. Last time I went there, we bought a plush bat, which now hangs (upside down), in the bell tower at our local church.

This year, we couldn’t find any bats to add to the collection, but there were lots of other lovely things to tickle your fancy. Be strong – or give your wallet to someone else to look after for you – or you’ll find it difficult to get out empty-handed.

An avenue in the garden

Whatever you do, don’t miss the gardens. As with the rest of the castle, the gardens are gorgeous – the sort of thing you’d just love to have at home. Full of inspiration for the gardener. There’s a maze, but they won’t let mere mortals go round it – sad really, but it’s still impressive.

It’s also one of those gardens, designed to have hidden places, you come upon by surprise.

Looking through the branches of a Cawdor giant.

Perhaps best of all, are the walks outside the gardens through the woods. They’re graded and signed, so you can choose the distance that seems right to you, but they’re not difficult, so if you have time, go for a stroll. Some of the trees are huge and there’s a river running through, which you cross and re-cross by a variety of bridges.

If you’re hoping for a Macbeth experience, it’s probably going to disappoint you. The castle wasn’t built for years after Macbeth died, and it doesn’t really go over the top on the connection at all.

However, if you’re interested, there are some fascinating pieces of artwork, dotted about the place. I think the late Earl must have been a collector – I admire his taste.

So, Cawdor Castle remains an enormous hit with us and we’re looking forward to our retirement there!



Chilling Out in Sutherland

I know that spending three weeks, touring the north of England and Scotland in two small tents, isn’t everyone’s idea of a great holiday, but it happens to be mine (well in the absence of funds to do it in five-star hotels anyway). Which is why, after exploring Ardnamurchan for a few days, we set off further north, eventually ending up at one of Scotland’s more remote campsites, at Achmelvich, on the west coast of Sutherland.

Looking west from Achmelvich

The thing about Sutherland is this. If you could rely on good weather, there really is no more beautiful place on earth. Even in bad weather, it’s still the most beautiful place on earth in my book, but sadly, when the only thing separating you from the bad weather is a flimsy sheet of nylon tenting, you do tend to temper your ardour – just a jot.

But, if the sun shines and the wind drops, it’s easy to imagine yourself somewhere in the Caribbean (OK, to be entirely honest, and in fairness to the Caribbean, I’ve never been there, and am not likely to go either, but this is how I imagine it).

We were lucky – in just over a week, we did have some nice days – yippeee!

Of course, if the wind drops, there is also quite a significant chance that the midges will seize the opportunity to feast on your blood, but who’d let a little thing like that bother them?

Stac Polly

Anyway, while we were there, we made good use of the time. We walked up Stac Polly – it really isn’t difficult, but you get amazing views and it’s one of those walks that gives you a lot of fun for the effort. It was especially nice to be under-flown by a couple of RAF jets, in just the same place that we had the same experience, ten years ago.

The view from the end of Sail Gharbh, Quinag.

We also walked up Quinag – my all time favourite Scottish mountain – for reasons that are very precious to me. Again, not a difficult walk, but if you do it, don’t turn round at the trig point on Sail Gharbh, carry on to the end, where it drops away – naturally you need to be careful, but you’re rewarded with magnificent views of the bridge at Kylesku.

We were grateful to the campsite for having it’s very own little fish and chip shop open on a couple of the days we were there. But after one particularly rainy day, we were forced to head off, further afield in search of food (it was FAR TOO WINDY AND WET to get our little camping stove out).

We took the incredibly scenic road around the coast to Drumbeg, where, at the Drumbeg Hotel, we were treated royally by the landlord, his wife and their dog. What a splendid evening. Great food, good beer, excellent chat and a pool table for the daughters to thrash their father on. On the journey back to Achmelvich, we were again treated to close up encounters with a couple of big deer.

The Falls of Kirkaig

The other place that you have to know about if you’re in the area and it turns wet, is the Achin’s bookshop at Inverkirkaig. Not only is this an excellent bookshop, the perfect place to top up your supply of holiday reading, it also has plenty of desirable gifty items – you know the sort, the stuff you wish you could justify buying for yourself, but above all, it has a very acceptable cafe, serving freshly made meals and good coffee. Might not sound like much, but if you’re camping and it’s been wet for days, the simple pleasure of sitting on a chair in a warm cafe, while someone else does the cooking, is almost spiritual.

If you’re really lucky, as we were, the rain will stop while you’re eating, and later, you’ll be able to take the walk along from the bookshop, to see the famous Falls of Kirkaig.

They are truly spectacular, but the final approach is not for the fainthearted – which included me this time. I sat myself firmly down on a nice solid rock and waited until the intrepid husband and daughters got back.

The beach at Achmelvich

When the sun came out, we stayed at the campsite, as the beach is just a minute’s walk away. This of course is why it’s such a perfect place when the weather is kind. There’s no reason to go anywhere else. Although we had a wonderful holiday and did a lot of sight-seeing, it wasn’t until we got to the beach at Achmelvich, that I really chilled out. I found a rock that sloped at the ideal angle and drifted off into a wave lapped reverie.

I just love that place.





Camping Adventures In Scotland

Well, we actually did it – after talking about it for a couple of years, we finally packed up the car with the two small tents, an assorted collection of waterproof clothes and beachwear and of course the unsuspecting daughters, and drove north to Scotland.

Two small tents and paraphernalia after three weeks on the road.

It had been ten years to the date since our last family holiday in the Highlands, and the fact that last time we hired a cottage and this time we camped, tells you something about giving up work to have children – but it was a terrific success and a fabulous time was had by all (even by two girls who’ve been to Disneyland Florida).

We were away for three weeks, so you can imagine we covered a lot of ground – quite a lot on foot – so I’m not going to write about it all in one go – instead I’ve decided to write up some of the highlights over the next few weeks. This, I hope, has the advantage of not boring the undergarments off you, whilst also giving me the pleasure of reliving some of the best moments of the summer, as the nights draw in and the days grow colder.

But just in case you’re wondering:

We made our first stop in Northumberland, to visit Hadrian’s Wall – we are now officially Roman experts. We also know the exact number of horse brasses in the Black Bull pub in Haltwhistle.

We travelled to Ardnamurchan and camped in probably the best campsite in the world – well, perhaps a teeny-weeny exaggeration, but it would take some beating.

We got stuck in a traffic jam on Skye, saw the Harry Potter viaduct and evicted a small lizard from a tent.

We climbed three peaks (not on consecutive days, thank you very much, we’re not entirely mad), visited sands that sing and sang to seals.

We visited castles, a priory, and a garden full of poisonous plants (very inspiring!).

I hope you can contain your excitement.

So, now it’s back to the daily grind, but with our spirits well and truly raised. Hope your summer was good for you too. Happy Autumn, or as I prefer it, Happy New Year.