When you decide to book an exclusive use stay in Aldourie Castle on the southern shores of Loch Ness, there is no need to venture much further beyond the Estate’s walls with so much to see and do on Loch Ness and in the Scottish Highlands around Inverness.
Two types of tours we are concentrating on for this blog post are nature and wildlife tours and boat tours on Loch Ness. The Highlands are famous for their lochs as well as their impressive landscapes and unique wildlife, so what better way to make you, our a private house party of guests, feel at home than by telling you all about what helps make the Scottish Highlands so welcoming and wonderful. The whimsical mountainous peaks and the fascinating natural world are what keeps people coming back to Aldourie year after year.
Nature and Wildlife tours
Take the Applecross Peninsula Day Trip from Inverness, a nine-hour day trip on a luxury tour that takes you to the less-visited part of Scotland, the windswept Applecross Peninsula. You will spot an abundance of wildlife native to the region and be transported to a dreamland as you soak up the dramatic views of wild Highlands’s scenery. A visit to the the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Britain’s oldest in fact, will supply you with enough knowledge to understand and appreciate the history of the area as well as the nature that thrives there. Look out for golden eagles soaring overhead. You will be eager to explore the many easy trails giving you and your private house party groups the chance to discover the true wildlife of the Scottish Highlands.
As you arrive in the village of Arndarroch, admire views of Loch Kishorn, then attempt the steep Bealach nam Ba (Pass of the Cattle). At the top (2,000 feet high), an extraordinary natural view will spill out before you; possibly your first sight of the Isle of Skye. From here, take the scenic drive along the shoreline of Loch Torridon, stopping part-way to explore the town of Shieldaig.
Dolphin spotting near Loch Ness
Another wonderful way to complement your exclusive use holiday in a luxury Scottish Castle is to venture out onto the wild waters of the Moray Firth, a triangular inlet of the North Sea with a stunning coastline, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the even wilder dolphin. One of the best places to spot this beautiful and intelligent aquatic mammal is at Chanonry Point near Inverness. The dolphin-spotting area lays between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle and the best time to see them is during a rising tide. See moraydolphins.co.uk for details on tide times.
For the ultimate dolphin spotting experience, Aldourie Castle recommends the boat tours that depart from inverness. The Dolphin Spirit encapsulates many aspects in one; you will be able to admire the natural landscape of Moray Firth as well as observe the wildlife in the area including herons and otters.
The thing to remember with dolphin spotting trips is how wild the animal is. That is part of its beauty; the fact that they are highly intelligent with a captivating sense of fun only adds to the delight of witnessing a dolphin in its own habitat. So, if you are lucky enough to see the dolphins that truly is a wonderful experience to hold onto. However, they are not there to perform or entertain, although their balletic dives may appear to have been rehearsed, so try not to be disappointed if you don’t catch a glimpse. And just hope they will grace you with their presence next time.
Aldourie Castle Estate is located just a few miles from the centre of Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Its peaceful setting and convenient location make it the ideal place for exclusive use stays and cottage holidays.
The private Estate hosts numerous guests at any one time, for example, we might have a private house party of guests in the Castle, a family of four in Gate Lodge and a group of cycling friends at Pier Cottage. Each individual or group will have different expectations and ideas for their holiday on Loch Ness so we decided to provide a generic guide to some of the best tours in Inverness, making sure to encompass the variety of day trips available.
With so many fantastic tour operators providing an excellent array of tours across the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness, and operating from the convenient location just a few miles down the road in Inverness, this guide consists of a select few Aldourie favourites.
Walking or cycling tours
One of the very first requests from guests we usually have is for details on scenic walks and cycling routes around Loch Ness. Some like to go it alone, following a map or their noses and discovering as they go. Others like a guide to show them the best places to walk and cycle for the most spectacular sights and views.
Happy Tours, among its many destination tours, offers a truly wonderful tour of the mesmerising and ethereal Isle of Skye. Once you’ve been transported up the never-ending roads that weave in and around its stunning landscape rising and falling in gentle waves, be prepared for some serious scenery that will literally take your breath away. From romantic glens and shimmering waterfalls to wild hilly terrain and historic landmarks with an atmosphere all of their own, this varied and beautiful Isle of Skye tour also includes a stop off in the traditional harbour town of Portree. Here you can refuel with a seafood lunch ready for more unforgettable views, including the Cuillin Mountains, Old Man of Storr and the Kyle of Lochalsh.
For a real sense of freedom and a chance to use your own bike – great if you’ve booked a cycling holiday on Loch Ness – opt for the Loch Ness cycling tour from Inverness. Explore Loch Ness at your leisure with this independent one-day tour where you are completely in control of your time having received a trusty map with set of directions at the starting point of Bellfield Park. From there, you are taken along a journey – and an incredible one at that – into miles of peaceful rural Scotland where you will experience the utter joy of speeding passed spectacular unspoiled scenery accompanied by no other sound than the crunching of your tyres. Weave along winding country roads intermittently slowing down to capture the essence of those quaint lost-in-time villages seeping character and layers of intriguing history.
Towards the end of your route, stop off in Dores, which is just around the corner from Aldourie Estate, for a café lunch or a bite at Dores Inn, and simply enjoy your beautiful surroundings of majestic Highland hills and a glistening Loch Ness. Take a break from the seat with a stroll along Dores Beach’s shoreline and realise just how lucky you are to be able to both cycle and holiday on Loch Ness at the same time. Should you require them, you can hire a top brand bike and accessories from Bellfield Park hire shop. From Dores, you can either take the flat route adjacent to Loch Ness or head uphill to appreciate the unforgettable view across the famous water.
Whisky (tours and tastings) tours
There are endless whisky tours available around the shire of Inverness. We chose this one because it combines over a full day two of the famous distilleries in an area that is host to over half the distilleries in Scotland, each in entirely different settings. The Speyside Whisky Discovery Tour is run by the Hebridean Explorer. From Inverness enjoy the 1hr 15 minute drive towards the heart of the lush hills of Speyside before arriving at the traditional and authentic surroundings of the Macallan Distillery complete with nostalgic-looking signage and bouts of fog-like steam filling the air. Here you will experience their ‘Six Pillars’ tour culminating in a tasting of four specially selected malt whiskies, including their 12 year-old Sherry Oak and 18 year-old Fine Oak.
Afterwards, visit Aberlour village for lunch before heading to the ancient parish of Dufftown, in which sits Glenfiddich Distillery. Here, stone walled paths intercept white wash warehouses with grey domed roofs against a backdrop of thick green forest; a postcard worthy scene. You will take the ‘Explorer’ tour before tasting another four drams of signature malts.
Experiencing a whisky distillery tour makes you feel as though you’re tasting the true essence of the Scottish Highlands, both literally and metaphorically. It is designed to make you feel ‘at home’, as almost any place in Scotland is: from the moment you enter the door and are greeted by genuinely friendly staff to the passion each worker seems to have for their brand, the drink itself and the overall culture that whisky evokes; their endless knowledge and palpable pride to the peaty, malty aromas of the distillery warehouses and the immaculate, ordered setting of the tasting room and gift shop. The entire process from start to finish is a history lesson and cultural experience in one; whether it’s an hour long or a day trip, for that period you are transported, abundantly impressed, a whisky convert (if not already a lover). You will always remember your last distillery tour, and look forward to the next.
If you get the bug why not book on some more whisky distillery tours for the rest of your short break, taking your pick of the crème of the crop in the scenic splendour of Speyside. A fan of the dram? Have a read about three other distillery suggestions in our place of interest blog post.
We look forward to posting our second instalment of Tours in Inverness which will feature the best wildlife and nature, boating and cultural tours in and around Inverness and Loch Ness.
On the Aldourie Estate in Scotland we are lucky to welcome a variety of guests to stay in its four beautiful Highland holiday cottages all year round. Some are cycling groups of friends with an holiday itinerary as long as their arm whilst others are go-with-the-flow families looking for a relaxing yet fun-filled short break. We also love hosting couples who are looking for sanctuary and space and time to enjoy with only one another because, if you can’t do that on Loch Ness, where else in the world can you do it?
The latter type of holidaymakers tend to prefer long drives out to the hills and ambling around peaceful villages they have seen in magazines or in films. So, we have produced a list for the those who wish to explore the local area of Inverness for family attractions because it in fact boasts a deceivingly ample offering of tourist destinations that can often get overshadowed by the wild calls of the idyllic, majestic countryside that is the Scottish Highlands.
If refreshing walks and scenic beauty are your idea of a day well spent then a trip along River Ness is a must. It is about 12 miles long and flows from the north of Loch Ness to north-east in Loch Dochfour. In the summer bask in the warm and peaceful riverside whilst relaxing and taking in the freshly-scented air. In winter, we hope you’re lucky enough to witness the mountains top with snow for truly breath-taking views. To add a touch of magic to your cottage holiday in Inverness, head south in the evening to the Ness islands in the middle of the river and stroll the walking paths linked by little bridges. Lit up against the dark skies, they make for a beautiful moonlit walk.
Situated at the edge of the Moray Firth facing harsh North Sea winds, this remarkable fort is well established for tourists yet maintains a strong sense of authenticity due to its current use as a British Army barracks. The impressive landmark overflows with both historical charm – step inside its pretty chapel – and fascinating facts – muse the battle relics in the museum. Cleverly laid out for visitors to experience Fort George in its full glory, you can appreciate the on-site picturesque architecture whilst walking the original fort grounds. As you cross the drawbridge you are taken back to the year 1727, bracing the sudden winds to cross over a wide killing ground. Enjoy a picnic outside or visit the café for a warming soup or coffee.
Inverness Botanic Gardens
Plant and flower lovers will adore this celebration of natural life with its well-kept ecosystems. Descend a delightful stone staircase with wrought iron railings into a botanical paradise peppered with archways in stone walls, columns and statues. Sit by the small but perfectly formed fountain and let its trickling sounds relax you for a while as the kids play in the maze. A lovely day out for families, the memory tree is particularly appealing as are the greenhouses, a great learning experience full of a variety of plants.
Again, another family attraction must-see is Ship Space, a free to enter interactive maritime museum. It houses an amazing collection of relics from the Titanic as well as its main attraction, the impressive 88ft outdoor replica. Located along the Caledonian Canal, visitors can explore its various exhibits, photographs and information about various ships, including film footage of divers going down into the sunken Titanic. This family hotspot will have the kids’ imagination whirring and it’s worth dedicating an hour to get the best out of this unique exhibition. This is an eclectic space full of different levels so, although fabulous for exploring, it’s not ideally laid out for disabled access.
The Highlanders’ Museum
Residing in the walls of Fort George (detailed above) the Highlanders’ Museum featuring The Queen’s own collection covers three floors of the Lieutenant Governors’ House. It represents three of the four famous Scottish regiments which The Highlanders descend from; originally Highland clans of the 1700s. Refurbished to a high standard this is a fine attraction showcasing important Scottish history in impressive, authentic surroundings. This museum has an extensive collection of thrilling artefacts so if you are factoring this visit into a tour of Fort George, remember to allow plenty of time to peruse at your leisure.
Eden Court Theatre
Whether it’s to delight over a nostalgic ballet, go to the cinema for the latest flick or dine out in contemporary surroundings, this ambient Inverness venue is a cultural and social hub featuring light, airy spaces that will bring even more fun to your cottage holiday on Loch Ness. Couples and group stays can break up their action-packed adventure holiday in Scotland with a sophisticated evening out with drinks, dinner and a music concert. Or families who book their Loch Ness cottage holiday over winter can go to see the Christmas pantomime at this family-friendly attraction in Inverness. Oh, yes they can!
Greig Street Bridge
Having been described as “bouncy” and “elegant” by Loch Ness holiday cottage guests, wouldn’t you want to give it a go? A footbridge with an impressive view of the city of Inverness, Greig Street Bridge crosses over the River Ness and so provides ample opportunity to stop not only to admire its fine ironwork frame but also the castle and churches on each side of the river. In spring, take a walk at your leisure and stop to look at the daises on the fresh green banks or on a sunny autumn day enjoy the bridge’s peacefulness and gentle swing as you watch the rippling water below and the richly –coloured Highland leaves flying on the breeze.
Grandiose with exquisite detail this striking cathedral is a credit to Inverness. Situated on the riverbank it makes a captivating postcard picture for your photograph travels. The historical space is a hive of stained glass and beautiful sculptures found through magnificent arches framing beautiful mosaic flooring. You will find a sense of Scottish spirit and a peaceful atmosphere within these walls whilst outside you can enjoy its eye-catching architecture against a wild Scottish Highlands’ canvas.
The Scottish Kiltmaker Visitor Centre
It’s what it says on the (tartan shortbread) tin; a wonderfully traditional shop to stop off at during your Highlands short break, great for tourists who want to remember their Scottish holiday in style. With everything you could ever want as a Scottish holiday gift or to remind yourself of the Highlands and Loch Ness, this friendly store specialises in making kilts and will happily take your own material and fashion it into a wonderful outfit. Perhaps you’re planning a small wedding on Loch Ness and brought your chosen tartan along for the groomsmen’s kilts. Yet another cosy little place in Inverness to make a lasting impression.
Old High St Stephen’s Church
Aesthetically very different from the cathedral the ancient stone work and bonny pointed turrets make this church a tourist attraction in its own right. Old High is a fascinating building that has been in use since Celtic times and, inside, leaflets will provide interesting facts on the clans and families who used to attend there. This a brilliant add-on for holidaymakers spending a day in Inverness as the church is only a stone’s throw from the centre. Explore its beautiful cemetery and be amazed at the clever and enduring architecture before entering the doors and losing yourself in its historic stained glass stories.
As you will have realised there is more to Inverness than initially meets the eye and it’s not simply a convenient airport for landing flights from London Heathrow and other major UK and international cities – although that is quite a pull, we admit. Inverness is a tourist city in its own right and the ideal holiday destination for short breaks where a bit of culture and history is just as important as freeing loch walks and dramatic landscapes.
Look out for our next blog post where we’ll invite you to explore the best tours around Inverness, from wine tastings and boat trips to nature spotting and sight seeing.
There are endless reasons to book a week’s stay in a holiday cottage in the Scottish Highlands this winter. Firstly, it is guaranteed to warm your soul – and that’s without topping up the wood-burning stove with a healthy supply of logs. A country Estate in the heart of the Highlands complete with a castle available for private hire and a few traditional Loch Ness holiday cottages, is the most perfect way to start to make the most of your short break in Scotland’s most peaceful and beautiful region.
From top places to visit for a cup of hot chocolate to the finest whisky distilleries and the most bracing walks and breath-taking landscapes, read on for some of the Highlands’ most favoured highlights in the most renowned locations.
Explore the Isle of Skye
As with any scenic and popular holiday destination, locals are proud of this area of Scotland and not without reason. So, before sinking into a deep hot bath or curling up on the sofa with Harry Potter, be sure to plan your short break itinerary, making the most of local knowledge, in order to put your time to good use. We suggest up there on your list should be the isolated and mesmerising Isle of Skye.
This remote part of Scotland is a perfect trip to allow you to experience the most spectacular views of the Highlands and Skye is easily accessible from the Aldourie holiday cottages, as long as you don’t mind an early morning start. Widely appreciated for its rugged landscape, historic castles and pretty fishing villages, we advise jumping in the car at day break to make the most of the three hour journey.
Once you have arrived in the region, enjoy coastline walks and narrow lochs, not forgetting to stop occasionally to admire Skye’s dramatic mountainous backdrop and wild, cascading waterfalls. During winter you would expect to come across an abundance of Highland cattle congregated between snow-capped peaks, and on the clearest of days be enchanted by the view out across to the Outer Hebrides. The Isle of Skye’s colours you will capture both with a camera and simply by being in the moment may strike walkers, hikers and cyclists as ethereal and those of you driving may have to get out once in a while to let the air hit you and make you believe it. After embracing the magic of the highest points of Skye why not meander among the pastel-coloured houses of Portree where you can find a handful of traditional pubs full of Scottish character as well as a host of pretty clothes and gift boutiques.
Get up close to Loch Lomond
A trip to the Scottish Highlands would not be complete without taking the ‘low road’ out to the bonny banks of Loch Lomond. Famed for its folklore, castles and golf – there’s no getting away from it up here – its central spot crossing the Highland border is also a pull for water sports, hiking and camping during winter short breaks in Scotland. The colder months showcase snow-capped peaks which frame the famous lake and have given Loch Lomond legendary world-wide appeal. Its mysterious forests that weave through and cluster among the mountains have inspired many creatives including artists and songwriters over the years.
During winter, cloudless blue skies illuminate the pristine waters of Loch Lomond. Whether you’re on holiday for the challenging hikes or simply ambling along simple scenic trails there’s a winter walk perfect for you and your family or group of friends. There are a host of walks on the east or southern sides of the loch including Drymen and Balmaha which have striking views and the promise of summer’s plentiful nature. Listen out for the characteristic call of the winter geese flying overhead in Trossachs National Park and take a trip to Stirling and the Forth Valley for its medieval Castle. Don’t forget to nip into MacGregor’s Market in Killin for a mug of scrumptious hot chocolate.
A must-see is Loch Lomond’s lively city life, which encapsulates a thriving food and drink scene. The famous Scottish landmark also features a variety of creative villages. We recommend a trip to Luss during a snowy winter, a traditional village whose steeple church and bridges would befit the front of a Christmas card.
With such a scenic and adventure-filled itinerary for a cottage holiday in Scotland it may be easy to oversee the location you are actually staying at. We must not forget our own home in the Scottish Highlands, and invite you to explore the wonder of Loch Ness, from its vast open water and the legendary Monster to getting up close and personal to Aldourie Castle on the Loch Ness shoreline.
Its epic size and folklore sea creatures apart, Loch Ness has so much to offer the curious nature-loving tourist during winter. From some of the most famous whisky distilleries – Glen Ord and Tomatin are among some of the best distilleries near Inverness – to exhilarating boat tours and picturesque woodland walks, the heart of Scotland’s culture is within reaching distance. If you’ve come to the Highlands to relax during January or Februray, we at Aldourie can suggest and endless array of villages and towns each accommodating and friendly and worthy of a postcard home. Enter Beatrix Potter style tearooms, gourmet restaurants and beautiful interior home shops all awaiting your visit with service and a smile.
Beauly means ‘beautiful place’ and that is just what you’ll find only 20 minutes from any of the Scottish holiday cottages on Aldourie Castle Estate. With a traditional Scottish Highland pipe band and quaint row of central shops you will encounter a real feel of Scotland here. Take a break from shopping at Corner on the Square for a truely delicious sandwich and slice of homemade cake then walk it off around the pretty Priory ruins.
Some of the best boat cruises on Loch Ness depart from Fort William, itself a extremely scenic drive away from your base on Aldourie’s Scottish Highland Estate as do the most bewitching winter walks that lead higher and higher into utter wilderness. You will find your local area around Dores Beach on Aldourie Estate to house a couple of traditional pubs ideally located for holiday cottage guests visiting Loch Ness. There’s no excuse not to pop in for a quick drink in traditional Scottish surroundings, especially when the walk home looks out over the spectacular Highlands of Scotland and a moonlit Loch Ness.
One of the best ways to truly experience the Scottish Highlands is to get out on a boat over the shimmering waters that weave through these majestic hills. The Caledonian Canal is 60 miles of fresh water just waiting to take you to sights you’ve only dreamed of. Twenty-two miles of this is a manmade wide canal, enabling inland sailing crossing the whole of Scotland, and the remainder is formed by four large lochs, one of which is Loch Ness. This memorable sightseeing ride is there for the taking; and if you already have yourself a yacht (or other means of water transport), so much the better…
We can give you a few ideas of what to see whilst yachting from marina to harbour along the Caledonian Canal, and there is plenty to see and do both on and off the water.
A most enjoyable and life-changing experience during a holiday in Scotland, according to many of our previous guests, is to take a trip to Moray Firth and visit the dolphins. If you are a yacht owner or have hired a yacht whilst touring the Scottish Highlands you can easily head east from Inverness, taking in the striking and ethereal surroundings of the imposing wild hills as you go, and soon enough you will come across the peaceful scenery of Moray Firth where you can sail along beside the friendliest fish in the sea and the largest school of dolphins in the UK.
If you decide to travel downwards from Inverness in the Scottish Highlands you will pass a host of cultural and scenic spots including the quaint village of Invergarry, home to Invergarry Castle amongst many other beautiful sights. Originally the seat of the Chiefs of the Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry (another Castle – at which you can also enjoy a delightful lunch), the Castle has a fascinating history and its gothic façade makes even the least interested sight-seers want to roam around its evocative grounds.
After a spot of food and drink in this charming village featuring delis, brasseries and many a hotel to choose from, you could venture forth and sail your yacht further down the Caledonian Canal veering slightly to the west before stopping at the famous Fort William. Known as the gateway to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, this lovely town is full of outdoor sport adventure and beautiful yet challenging walking trails.
Dornoch, just one of the championship golf courses in close proximity to Aldourie Castle in Inverness, provides an opportunity to hone your golfing skills whilst holidaying in Scotland. Maybe you’re an experienced golfer and touring the Scottish Highlands by yacht to break up a golfing holiday; in this case Royal Dornoch is definitely somewhere you want to stop off – or tee off!
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Not until you reach Muir of Ord, that is. This is again just one of many of its kind in Scotland; a whisky distillery with a name of prestigious heritage. Close by, and after a tasting of course, you may stumble upon Beauly (a typical Highlands town meaning ‘beauty’) complete with abbey ruins, quaint coffee shop-delis and stores with old-fashioned Highland quality and values. One such place is called Campbell’s, an outfitters which combines the tradition and warmth of a local shop with the quality of a high fashion befitting the Scottish gentry. It also offers a bespoke tailoring service – why not get fitted with gear for a shoot on one of the local Highland Estates?
Take a break from the water
As you can see, there is more to the Scottish Highlands than simply taking – or trekking – the high road. From picture perfect villages with friendly locals to ancient ruins with their own ghosts of the past, a journey by yacht can expertly combine a luxurious five star holiday with random adventure culminating in memories to treasure. Here’s a thought: moor up your yacht at Aldourie’s private marina on Loch Ness and hire out this enchanting Castle for a couple of nights before setting off to explore more of the famously impressive and innovative Caledonian Canal.
While most of the world will be celebrating ‘just another’ New Year’s Eve on 31st December, the Scots are preparing for a celebration fest but the importance they place on this night and beyond is a tradition like no other. For Scotland, Hogmanay is the biggest celebration in the festive calendar – bigger even than Christmas Day – and it’s certainly worth waiting for. You thought the Highland Games was a cultural signifier; think again…
Definition of Hogmanay and its origins
Hogmanay is the name the Scots give to their celebrations on New Year’s Eve. It is unclear where the actual word originated from though history suggests that its common roots reach back to the Norsemen – “men of the north” – in Scandinavia (between the 8th – 11th Centuries) who celebrated the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) with wild parties during late December. Such parties eventually began to feature elements from the Gaelic Samhain winter festival and the Vikings’ Yule, and these celebrations were labelled ‘daft days’ by the Scots. Now that Hogmanay has been established for a few centuries it culminates in a real mix of cultural, national and historical influences. The best celebrations always do!
How do Hogmanay celebrations differ from New Year’s Eve?
One of the major differences between Hogmanay and the traditional New Year’s Eve parties is the length; the former begins on 31st December but continues throughout New Year’s Day and into 2nd January (itself a public holiday in Scotland). This then divides the two celebrations culturally too as while the rest of the UK is generally easing back and business recommences, the streets in Scotland remain deserted.
How the big Scottish cities do it
Hogmanay is celebrated throughout Scotland in varying degrees from the intimate yet ‘daft’ gatherings to the elaborate, eccentric festivals. The big cities fall into the latter category and Edinburgh leads the way with a huge 30th December torch-lit parade, an enviable fireworks display and various performances from up-and-coming acts to full blown rock stars. Everything is performed wholeheartedly to (always) enthusiastic, (sometimes) bemused crowds from more than 60 different countries. Either way, people feel privileged to be part of the throng and tradition that is Hogmanay.
The Scottish capital’s largest crowd totalled 400,000 in 1996 and since then safety restrictions mean fewer people though the numbers are still high. Glasgow is another city that doesn’t disappoint and the Glaswegians can be seen singing, dancing, eating steak pie and stew, drinking by the gallon and storytelling till the sun rises on New Year’s Day.
The importance of Hogmanay to the Scottish people
It is only in recent years that Scotland began to celebrate Christmas. The festive holiday was abolished by the Protestant Reformation for 400 years and it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas Day was accepted as a public holiday in Scotland. Then, in 1974 Boxing Day was announced as a public holiday. Scotland instead had to work through Christmas and wait until Hogmanay to celebrate with family and friends. Is it any wonder now that this traditional get-together has become an exciting explosion of freedom and fun!
Celebrate Hogmanay your way this year
It has to be said, there is no hiding it; the Scots love a good party. Therefore that is usually the main focus of Hogmanay. But, if you’re lucky enough to witness this special celebratory period in Scotland you may observe, though you might not know them to be at first, a number of traditions as well.
The most popular tradition is ‘first-footing’ where the first person to enter the house after midnight brings gifts such as food or coal. First-footing is regarded as affecting the fortune of the household for the coming year and this is dependent on the appearance of the visitor; the ideal guest is a tall, dark man…if you open the door to a flat-coat retriever called Lizzie wearing a Santa hat…well, you can guess the rest.
Other traditions can include watching abominable and cheesy TV programmes (ones you would never ordinarily choose to watch, of course) before the bells chime and linking arms whilst singing with all the clan, a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, the famous poem written by Robert Burns.
Celebrate Hogmanay in a Scottish Castle
Speaking of which, why not book your New Year’s celebrations at Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness? It’s unique, luxurious and scenic; the perfect backdrop to a house party style that’s seen a lot more of Scotland’s history than anyone alive today. While there’s no rules to celebrating Hogmanay, maybe your first attempt could be kept quite simple with the core elements of Scottish culture at its heart. Many Scottish families this year will be sitting down to a delicious meal with family and friends with the drink flowing – oh, please don’t forget the whisky – to help bring in the new year followed by a steak pie dinner the next day. Should your head be a little sore ask any one of our dedicated hospitality team for a glass of Irn Bru (or a bottle). We’re almost certain this bright orange fizzy drink has been curing hangovers for centuries too.
Why not make Christmas 2016 the year you decide to do something different? But why wait until the New Year to make your resolutions? Set a date now and start looking forward…
The beautiful, unassuming yet captivating Scottish Highlands does not ask anything of anyone. It looks down from above at all its worth – the majesty of its hills, the uniqueness of its landmarks and the intensity of its history. The vast wilderness of the Scottish Highlands is always there, like any other landscape, continuing as usual underneath these huge ever-changing skies.
Imagine entering a world like no other; a freeing endless space just waiting to be discovered by someone new. Whether your Christmas family holidays are usually land based with cycling routes and long country walks or water based with loch cruises, dolphin watching or canoeing, there is everything in the Highlands to keep your boredom at bay and your imagination running wild.
So, where do you stay in order to appreciate and experience a really traditional Scottish Christmas and New Year? Here at Aldourie we have the best of both worlds: catered exclusive use stays with lashings of luxury or self-catered stays in the heart of the Highlands countryside. Both are tempting, we agree, and also offer instant access to the famous waters of Loch Ness.
A cottage Christmas
Children and adults alike will enjoy at least some of what the Scottish Highlands has to offer, if not all, through a traditional short break stay over Christmas weekend in either Gate or Pier Cottage, the perfect family or couples’ holiday cottages on Loch Ness. Christmas is a social time for street festivals, festive markets and parties as well as intimate family time exploring landscapes, unearthing history and tasting fabulous food together. Couples can escape to the Highlands of Scotland to experience the romance of its magical landscape so much of which can be found in the deep valleys of the country’s mountainous walks.
Scotland has so much to offer. There are cities for the vibrant souls who are looking for a festive party atmosphere and there are quieter destinations like the quaint towns and villages of Dornoch, Fort William and Glencoe to name but a few. In the latter you will find delicious festive food and drink, picture perfect snow-topped views and a variety of frosty walks and cycle paths. Further up out of the towns there are even some well coursed mountain biking routes, ideal for the adventurers amongst you. Fancy some culture? Scotland’s rich history will captivate and shock you.
New Year in a Castle
Fancy gliding along Loch Ness through the darkness and spotting beautiful Aldourie illuminated through the trees on New Years’ Eve? We can organise a cruise or speedboat ride so that you can experience just that. In fact, just about anything is possible with an exclusive use stay at Aldourie.
Some firm family favourites of previous exclusive use New Year’s house parties are archery in front of the Castle, falconry days and walking on water (or zorbing) – a great one for the kids as the minimum age is five years old. For those who want to explore the nature-filled Highlands independently during the festive season Aldourie can recommend the best walks and cycling routes but if you prefer a guide we can organise that instead.
After so much fun and activity to help bring in the New Year you can relax back at the Castle with a spa treatment or two; our favoured supplies can offer a personal service during your stay – a hot stone massage or an Indian head massage would go down a treat after a day hiking the hills of the Black Isle or taking in the rich culture of the city of Inverness. Later, whisky or wine tasting in the Library or Drawing Room could perfectly end well-rounded New Year’s Day at Aldourie Castle.
This year has seen a tidal wave of new business come to Inverness through both leisure and corporate tourism. Since May 2016 Inverness airport has welcomed travellers from London Heathrow on a daily basis. The direct flight is a great benefit to corporate travellers who wish to commute to Scotland, both from London and from overseas. Aldourie Castle has been host to many American guests as a result of this convenient new flight, who see the advantage of a little longer airtime in order to experience the beautiful and wild Scottish Highlands and mesmerising Loch Ness.
British Airways decided to resume the daily flight to Inverness Airport, which is just outside of Aldourie Castle Estate, a journey that stopped in 1997. Aldourie, for one, was extremely confident of the benefits to corporate travellers who would be opened up to a more accessible location that is both versatile and spectacular; the Scottish Highlands. Ideal for corporate events and important business meetings, the Highlands is home to a few exclusive use country Estates whose benefits include a whole manner of things including peaceful settings, striking backdrops, impressive facades, luxury bedrooms and first class, five star hospitality.
Since May this year the direct flight linking London tourism to Scotland has operated as a year-round service with its first flight of the day departing from Heathrow just before 10am with an afternoon flight from Inverness back to London.
This remains an exciting opportunity for Inverness, the Highlands’ capital, which already has a strong link to economy, for example through oil business in Aberdeen. The tourism offering in the Highlands can capitalise further from travellers flying in from overseas and London who previously may not have considered travelling up to Scotland to hold their multi-generational family holiday, luxury Scottish holiday, annual corporate event or board of directors meeting.
The fact that this is another attainable option available to both the leisure and business tourism markets diversifies the British hospitality scene in general. It also makes a location once considered unusual and possibly logistically complicated, on par with the more conventional formats offered by popular high end venues in the UK.
What can a country estate offer overseas corporate clients?
A change in scenery and culture is something that places like Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness can offer guests who have travelled by plane from overseas or London, which as we already know can work wonders for holidaymakers. A conducive environment can help guests to relax, focus and put things in perspective; all attributes a business would hope for in a corporate hospitality location or property.
Aldourie has spent time and effort in enticing London and overseas businesses to take advantage of the direct flight from Heathrow to Inverness to both encourage a more affluent hospitality business in the Scottish Highlands and a varied approach in what is considered to be luxury in corporate travel. Meetings, events and client incentive stays are just some of the ways in which corporate guests can enjoy exclusive use stays in places like Aldourie. We have already seen an increase in interest from corporate clients who are interested in using the private hire Castle as a multi-functional business venue.
When you think of luxury in the bedroom what are your first thoughts? Fluffy white towels, polished bronze taps in a huge en-suite, a fleece robe with matching slippers or silk sheets? Now, take yourself back a few hundred years and think what luxury would have meant then. Possibly something very simple at heart but large and robust enough to make a visual and physical impact.
The four-poster bed has a long history and was built with function in mind but also undeniably very symbolic of status. So, who had them? It was customary for royalty and noblemen to own a four-poster bed and any merchant who had one was seen as being very successful indeed.
Where did it come from?
For such a bold-looking piece of furniture known worldwide for its undisguisable structure it is fascinating to learn that the origins of the four-poster bed are unknown. It is, however, thought to have derived in Austria before arriving in England where it captured the hearts of the British aristocracy who fell for its uniqueness and stately style.
Records show that the four-poster bed was in existence in the late C14th and early C15th. Like any idea that has the longevity to remain throughout the centuries, the four-poster bed started very simply in its design. Originally, beds themselves were literally no more than hard boards covered in fur or quilts. What came next is interesting: the canopy part of the structure, added to the bed in the C13th, which was suspended from the ceiling and not attached to the bed in any way. Then side curtains were added, supported by beams that were built into the bed frame. Can you picture this? The four-poster bed was born.
Function and style
We mentioned that practicality played a large part in the creation of the four-poster bed. Ironically, the aspect of the beds that make them most attractive and inviting and which have given them historical charm are those which were added out of pure function. Bedrooms – or bedchambers – in the C13th had a chill about them and were often draughty. So the curtains that you would think were added to draw around the beds to give them more style were in fact to keep the sleeper warm during the night. Another reason for the drapes was to afford the lords and ladies of the time some privacy as their servants would often sleep in their rooms with them overnight.
Once the structure of the four-poster was fully established, design began to play a huge part in differentiating it for both class and country. The beds of nobility were ornately carved, painted and decorated in coats of arms of the family to which they belonged. Lavish fabrics such as silk would adorn the beds and the bed frame itself would increase in size and weight; the larger and heavier the bed, the more status the sleeper held in society. As the French adopted the four-poster, it became lighter and narrower to give a sleeker, more elegant look and generally as the years went by iron would replace the traditional English wooden frame of walnut or oak.
Why do Aldourie bedrooms have four-poster beds?
Aldourie features a range of four-poster beds in various styles. We are style conscious as an exclusive use property should be but also concern for the comfort of the Castle’s guests is paramount. Notice how the rooms bring out each bed as a statement piece of furniture paying tribute to the historical style and its place in a stately property.
Open the door of an Aldourie Castle bedroom to reveal a four-poster and you are immediately transported back a hundred years or more, to a time of enchantment (think Disney – Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella), magic (think specifically Bedknobs and Broomsticks; a small, (flying) four-poster but it had four posts nonetheless) and luxury. By luxury we mean comfort, contentment, security; all the things you feel once you are wrapped up safely within these four posts. Once the curtains fall around you in an Aldourie Castle four-poster bed you need nothing else in order to escape into a happy slumber.
If you’re planning a holiday or family short break over Halloween why not go overboard and book a private castle in the wild Scottish Highlands? Even better, a Castle that looks out across the eerily silent yet constantly moving Loch Ness. And of that variety, there is only one: Aldourie. OK, so it doesn’t possess the spookiest name (in fact it’s quite magical) but with a little help from your hosts and some imagination we can convert your Halloween stay into a spooky holiday to remember.
Here are three excellent ideas for making the most out of a Halloween stay in the Scottish Highlands.
Old fashioned Halloween activities – for the traditionalist
Stick with the tried and tested route during your exclusive use group stay in a private castle. Start your Halloween adventure early by getting up early with the children to go out and buy some pumpkins to celebrate the famous night. Also look out for little trick or treat and fancy dress items, Halloween chocolates and bits of material in blacks, oranges, silvers and reds. Later, carve pumpkins by scooping out the flesh and creating scary faces with a sharp knife – why not set up a competition for the scariest face!
Your countdown to Halloween Night can also be made up of creating your lucky dip box. Fill a large cardboard box with polystyrene or shredded paper (usually the Estate Office or hospitality team would be able to provide you with these or something similar) and then carefully add your trick or treat items into the mix. This will add a fun spin to your trick or treating later on.
It’s nearly time for Trick or Treat. Set one of the downstairs rooms up as the fancy dress space and encourage everyone to dress up as their chosen ghoul or character ready to sit down for an Addams Family style dinner. Afterwards, enjoy Halloween buns that you’ve baked with the kids during the afternoon. Ask the youngsters to decorate the Castle with pumpkins, adding them on every other windowsill as well as outside the house or castle door, therefore transforming your exclusive use holiday property into ‘a haunted house in the middle of nowhere’.
Theme your night ‘Halloween’ – for the brave
Playing make-believe in a turreted castle in vast, private grounds is easy to convince children to do but Halloween themed hen parties, for example, can also have a ball with more adults and humorous characters from, say, The Rocky Horror Show. A Halloween house party would not be complete without a soundtrack of well-chosen spooky songs and theme tunes. During the day download some music from the Internet and create a Halloween song list on Spotify to play once the sun goes down.
Light candles in the centre of your pumpkin faces, turn off all the main lights and tell ghost stories in the library into the evening. Watch horror movies in the Castle whilst drinking spiced cider or hot chocolate. For those too scared to go to bed afterwards, don’t worry, most of the bedrooms in an exclusive use property have space for a huddle of people and you can also double up if you have one of the single rooms. Just remember, of course, to check under the bed.
Use the Estate after dark – for the bravest
At Aldourie you can tour the grounds – visit the ancient family graveyard, go on a frightening storytelling walk through the woodland followed by a torch-lit boat trip on the loch. The bravest among you can play Hide and Seek. At Aldourie your seeker can count up in the tree house whilst those of you hiding can use the deepest depths of the exclusive use property and Estate. Remember, there’s always a wine cellar and secret servant corridors, as well as the woods – but only if you dare.
And for those who appreciate an excuse to do something different but shudder at the thought of booking their short break or holiday over the 31st October, you can always take the calmer approach. Exclusive use gusts of Aldourie can sit with their pumpkin friends around a fire on Dores Beach and watch the sun go down whilst happily toasting marshmallows and sipping hot chocolate. Because, honestly now, not everything has to be so spooky over Halloween.