How conservation is key at the Castle on Loch Ness

Walled kitchen gardens are such an important part of our history but without conservation efforts they quickly decline. Here’s how Aldourie Estate is putting conservation first to recreate a thriving walled garden for the Castle on Loch Ness.

For centuries, most large country houses featured a walled kitchen garden. They were a hive of production; growing food, herbs and flowers for use by the family and staff of the house and their guests. The historic walled garden used to be considered the main provider of fruit and veg, acting like a supermarket would today. Shipping food from overseas is now more common, which is highly unsustainable. In short, it is the reason why so many properties are reviving their historic walled gardens, reclaiming and using them productively for their original purpose.

historic walled garden

Aldourie Castle is no exception. We are determined to bring Aldourie’s walled garden back to its former glory by fully utilising the land on which it sits. The overall Estate conservation project started in 2017, and reviving the walled garden is only one element of this. Needless to say, this in turn has had other significant benefits to the Estate – something which we will talk about in a later blog post.

How does the walled garden function?

Historically, walled gardens were created to provide fruit and vegetables for the family of the house. The high walls provide protection from predators and the elements and also create a micro-climate within. This is especially important in northern climates such as Scotland which fall prey to wind and frost. These tall sheltered walls create a higher temperature by absorbing and retaining the heat. As a result, this enables species of fruit and veg to survive and grow. Most walled gardens have stone walls that act as a slow release radiator of solar energy. Many walled kitchen gardens have glasshouses, like those on the Aldourie Estate. Heated kitchen gardens extend the growing season and allow exotic fruit and plants to grow.

historic walled garden

Conservation will revive the historic walled garden

Conservation management is the key to the success of a historic walled garden. This incorporates good design and features plus a dedicated plan for repairs and restoration. Conserving a walled garden’s microclimate, mentioned above, is crucial to growing collections of historic fruit cultivars from centuries ago.  Understandably, many stately homes and historic houses wish to achieve historic fruit cultivars by restoring their walled kitchen gardens.

Environmental sustainability is another matter that is important to to reviving the historic walled garden. Part of this process is to monitor the effect and impact of climate change. Doing this ensures that wear and tear don’t get the better of a functioning walled garden. If we can limit the use of peat and manage green waste, historic gardens can be conserved.

Conservation efforts by the Castle on Loch Ness

Pests and invasive plant species continually threaten historic gardens and landscapes such as Aldourie Estate. Although these threats can be managed on private historic estates to a degree, nature is a force which cannot be controlled. The gardening team at Aldourie are only too aware that the presentation and workings of a walled garden can be easily disrupted as the result of wind, water or wildlife.

Aldourie Estate is part of the Wildland portfolio of properties. Wildland is committed to conservation; understanding and appreciating the value of nature as ‘the world’s greatest asset’. Wildland is concerned that wilderness in Scotland, and in fact the world over, is disappearing at an alarming rate. Therefore, above all else, it aims to preserve and regenerate nature. Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness specifically is achieving this through the revitalisation of the 500 acre Estate in line with Wildland’s ethos.
historic walled garden

Within Aldourie’s conservation efforts is the restoration of the historic walled garden. Now the area is both more aesthetically pleasing and functions as a walled garden should do. It grows and sustains a variety of fruit, veg, salads, herbs and plants that it used to do in another life, once upon a time.

Keep up with our conservation projects across the Highlands Estate through our social media pages, particularly via our Facebook page.


Host the perfect summer garden party: part 2

In our last blog post Aldourie Castle gave its 10 top tips on how to host the perfect summer garden party. We focused on all the key elements to create the ultimate outdoor party. As always we came back to the guests’ experience. This is something Aldourie as an exclusive use castle on Loch Ness Scotland considers above everything else. Here we complete our list and wish you luck and fun in hosting your own outdoor (or indoor) perfect summer garden party.

Choose the ‘right’ music

The aim of the perfect summer garden party is to relax and excite your guests from the moment they arrive. Background music is the key to achieving this. Music exudes ambiance and you’re best to be prepared by creating a playlist well before the party day. That way you can perfect the list, adding or removing songs to suit. If your garden party starts early and finishes late you may want to create different moods for different times. For instance, you can create an energy to the start of your party with upbeat, soft rock or popular songs and opt for more mellow or folky tunes for winding down and reminiscing.

summer garden party castle accommodation Scotland

Create designated spaces for your perfect summer garden party

A garden party should have flow and tell a story as much as it should create a functional backcloth to your celebrations and fun. With this in mind, think about creating ‘zones’ that guests can frequent throughout the event.

Ideas include a cosy, intimate space for couples curling up with a glass of wine or close friends chatting into the evening; a partying space for dancing; and a play area for children and any lawn games – bubbles, hula hoops and croquet are just a few suggestions.

Aldourie’s game of choice: a spot of croquet on the Castle’s front lawn would be a must; for the more energetic guests, perhaps a Segway ride…

Set the mood with lighting

Milestone Birthdays in a Scottish Castle

The perfect summer garden party needs to consider the small details, such as lighting both during the day and evening. Take on board these tips to keep guests happy.

Make sure there’s lounging spaces placed in both shade and sunny spots – the latter to cater for sun worshipers hoping to top up their tans. Be sure that your designated dining space isn’t in direct sunlight. As dusk falls bring out the candles and lanterns for that all-important ambiance.

Prioritise comfort for your guests

Making your guests feel comfortable and at home is your top priority for the perfect summer garden party. As mentioned above if the sun is shining bright all day shaded areas are a must. And remember, a good host provides anything and everything so make sure you’ve got plenty of sun cream to go around – especially for the children. Your guests will appreciate this considerate touch.summer garden party Scottish Castle Vacations

You may want to install some heaters if your garden party is set to go on until late and, of course, provide a basket of blankets for that essential garden party cosiness and warmth. As darkness descends, for any remaining guests lighting a small campfire is the ultimate treat.

Have a back-up plan

You’ve designed the perfect summer garden party with all the fixtures and fittings, but the weather decides to rain on your parade. Don’t let it! Back up plans guarantee a calm, collected host. So, should wet weather prevail, have a gazebo and umbrellas at the ready. If you have a very large garden space you may even consider having a small marquee on standby.

Aldourie’s perfect summer garden party back-up plan: bring everyone inside into the interlinking public rooms.  We would let guests enjoy the inside of the Castle with its impressive views over Loch Ness and the Highlands.


10 tips for hosting the perfect summer garden party: part 1

As summer begins it’s time to start thinking of entertaining al fresco. Whether your garden space is small and intimate or large and lavish, these top tips make the ideal guide to hosting the perfect summer garden party. Aldourie Castle loves to throw a good outdoor party and we’ve highlighted some personal Castle choices throughout.

Consider your guest list

When it comes to deciding on your garden party guests list it’s important to think about what will create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. At Aldourie we specialise in hosting the ideal house party of up to 30 guests taking exclusive use of the Castle and grounds. Social gatherings such as birthday celebrations, anniversary dinners or reunions are mainly made up of close family and friends. Therefore, we suggest this mix of guests as the ideal for your perfect summer garden party. Invite too many guests and you lose the intimate atmosphere. Likewise, invite distant relatives or friends of friends and you risk your party lacking familiarity and easy conversation.Milestone Birthday in a Scottish Castle

Have a theme to focus on

The process of choosing a theme for your perfect summer garden party can be fun. Involve the children in sharing ideas too so they feel they’re involved in the party from the start. Having a well-chosen theme gives focus to the social gathering and makes it easier to plan the rest of the party set up. Ideas you could consider are nautical/beach, contemporary, Nordic or vintage.

Aldourie Castle Estate’s chosen theme: this would have to be the Scottish Highlands; scattering tartan blankets and cushions and offering a well-crafted whisky cocktail.

Tablescape – create a beautiful dining setting

Think ‘tablescape’ over party decorations. Food and drink are more often than not the focus of any party, indoor or outdoor, so make the most of showing these off to their full advantage. The table, whether a sit-down meal or buffet setting, should be the focal point of your party scene. All the better if it sits against the backdrop of a stunning natural landscape. Also, by making an effort with your artistic table arrangements you relinquish the hassle of having to decorate each and every nook and cranny of your party space. Less is more, as the story goes…Milestone Birthday in a Scottish Castle

Delicious food and drink for your perfect summer garden party

You can host a winning summer garden party that will indulge your guests and be the talking point at social gatherings for months to come. How can you do this? By serving delicious, well-thought out food and drink throughout the day and into the evening. If you plan ahead with your food and drink choices you can create the perfect al fresco dining experience.

The key is to opt for dishes that complement the season, using fresh ingredients and local produce. On hot days be sure to have jugs brimming with ice cold juices, Pimms and cocktails. On warm days keep the wine flowing and have a welcome drink ready for all – champagne, anyone? If there are families on the guest list then remember to feature some fun, child-friendly food and drinks too.

Aldourie’s dishes: a Loch Ness inspired fish course (possibly salmon to cater for the majority of guests) and Scotland’s own colourful, summery cranachan for dessert. Delicious!

Create pretty flower displays

Nothing helps to create the perfect summer garden party more than a beautiful display of fresh flowers. If you’re lucky enough to have a colourful garden complete with all the blooms of the season then why not pick some for your table centerpiece? Depending on your choice of party theme opt for either formal or wild flowers. The scent of the florals will also add to the guest experience of your perfect garden party so remember this when choosing what to place where; evoking people’s senses when they least expect it adds a touch of magic to your showcase.Milestone Birthday in a Scottish Castle

Aldourie’s flower choice: a selection of blooms freshly picked that morning from our wild flower garden. This would be a perfect tribute to the wild Scottish Highlands landscape that surrounds the 500 acre Estate.

Keep your eyes peeled for our second installment of our 10 top tips to the perfect summer garden party. Why not book Aldourie if you’re looking to hold a milestone birthday in a castle or enjoy a family reunion castle stay. We specialise in exclusive family holidays on Loch Ness in this private use Castle and whilst you’re here why not let us host your perfect castle garden party over summer. Email info@aldouriecastle.co.uk or visit our castle hospitality webpages for more information.

READ PART 2 of our SUMMER GARDEN PARTY blog post here for more outdoor party inspiration.


Darling buds of May on a Scottish Estate

The gardening team at Aldourie were delighted to get to work on the Estate during the Spring. As the team tirelessly planted and mulched their way through truckloads of plants, the energy was rampant. Tom Stuart-Smith, the landscape gardener, designed our new garden layouts, and Duncan Hall, Aldourie’s head gardener, helped with implementation. (If you want to recap we link back to this previous blog post towards the bottom of this page).

More mulching and larger plant deliveries

During Spring, our work on the Castle garden had been a big undertaking with lots of soil to fill. The prepared beds, lovingly tended during the colder months in preparation for the final showcase, were an impressive expanse of plants and topiary trees. After this was completed, the green-fingered team then went on to work on the walled garden. Duncan describes the initial process:

‘Firstly, we rotorvated and raked the new beds to level them and remove the larger stones. The plants were then delivered – about 20,000 of them this time! The same process as before continued; Tom (Stuart-Smith and Ed (his colleague) came up to set out the plants, which the garden team helped with again. We then started planting and mulching.’

The National Trust lends a helping hand

Because of the quantity of plants to get in, Duncan made the decision to get more hands on deck.

‘I called upon the help of the National Trust for Scotland’s gardening students. During my time training as a gardener I spent some time training with the NTS at their School of Heritage Gardening – Threave Garden. I got in touch with them and they agreed to send up five students with two supervisors to help with the planting and gain some valuable experience.’The Scottish Estate Gardens at Aldourie Castle

The team spent three days planting and mulching in the walled garden, which was both extremely productive and fulfilling. Duncan admits they were brilliant to work with. He hopes to establish a working relationship with NTS School of Heritage Gardening for future projects.

Walled garden can reap what it sows

Meanwhile, amongst all the ground work taking place, the long-awaited fruit cages in the walled garden have finally started to appear. This will become an additional element of the ‘exclusive use experience’ for the Castle’s private guests. As well as being able to select fresh produce from the glasshouses, guests can wander through the fruit tunnels outside to add to their pickings.

More variations of vegetables are starting to take root too. Some of the veg has been planted directly into the ground such as the perennial crops, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. Aldourie will have to wait for three years before the asparagus is ready for harvest; so it important to get it in this year. Crops such as carrots and beetroot were directly sown into the beds while others were sowed into pots in the glasshouse to get them started.

‘We have also been chitting potatoes’ says Duncan; an intriguing term we asked him to explain further: ‘This is when you lay potatoes out somewhere cool and light to encourage the tubers to sprout before planting.’

Farm to table cooking and dining

The Castle kitchen and our dedicated chef will use all of this delicious veg and transform it into nutritious, fresh dishes. Now Aldourie can really and truly consider itself a ‘farm to table’ working estate. We have bigger plans afoot for contributing further to conservation in the Highlands but this is a great starting point.

The farm to table movement is becoming increasingly popular up and down the UK’s hospitality sector, and local produce is being used in new and imaginative ways. Take a look at our sister property Killiehuntley’s farm to table dining style.

Home grown flowers to fill the Castle

In and amongst the rigorous gardening the Aldourie team has begun to plant cut flowers for displays in the Castle and cottages. This is yet another example of the property depending on the Estate for its day to day function. Aldourie can easily become self-sufficient in many ways; an ethos long forgotten in these modern times.

Whereas hotel chains like large businesses buy in flowers weekly to display in communal spaces, our hospitality team can just nip down to the gardens and pick the freshest florals with no manufactured scent. Which is your preference to stay in?

Aldourie’s cut flower garden will be a wonderful asset to the private property. We anticipate having fun matching colour schemes to spaces and choosing the best fragrances. We will fill the exclusive group accommodation bathrooms and bedrooms with traditional, bold florals and choose the wilder meadow flowers for the cottages.

Gardeners section in blog

Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website. Head Gardener, Duncan, will also appear more regularly in the Aldourie blog, showcasing recent project work in the Castle grounds. He also hands out seasonal tips for your own garden and plants throughout 2018 – read his advice for March in our recent gardens and grounds post. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.


Recreating a Victorian garden in the Castle grounds

This past month has all been about planting; well, what else is Aldourie Castle’s gardening team going to do with a delivery of 20,000 plants! Let’s take a more in depth look at what the dedicated green-fingered team got up to during March and April.

Planting in the woodland; a thorough process

The team has been busy for months clearing and preparing the woodland for planting. Good things come to those who wait – the gardeners have had to be patient to say the least. The Scottish Highlands, as with all the UK, have endured unusually cold weather. Coupled with heavy rainfall, this makes full gardening days difficult to maintain.  Head gardener Duncan says:

‘We were waiting on the soil drying out properly to enable the team to complete the final preparation on the main beds.’

Aldourie Castle Estate woodland

‘We have also started removing lots of daffodils so that we can plant different bulbs. The woodland is to be clear of yellow so that’s why we are removing yellow Azaleas and Daffodils.’

You may wonder at this choice to clear the woodland of such a symbolic springtime colour. The reason for this is simply a design choice. Much of the existing collection of Rhododendrons is in a range of cooler colours such as blues, purples and pinks. We don’t want it to clash with strong yellows. The 400 new Rhododendrons we planted recently in the woodland are again mainly cooler coloured, to complement the existing collection.

The gardening team’s overarching aim is still to recreate the Victorian elegance that permeated the estate gardens of the 1800s. With that comes the planting of specific plants in tune with the gardening style of that period. That doesn’t just happen overnight, however. The garden design team, headed by Tom Stuart-Smith, has worked hard to ensure that the look and feel of each of the four garden areas in the 500-acre grounds will eventually showcase a perfect portrayal of a Victorian Scottish estate.

   Victorian Garden Aldourie EstateAldourie Castle garden Loch Ness

Transforming the Castle garden

The Aldourie gardening team have had time to perfect the way they work together having planned the revitalised estate design for over the past year. It is no surprise therefore that when it came to physical planting of these highly anticipated flowers each member of the team had a specific role to play.

The recent delivery for the Castle garden alone, the enclosed area facing Loch Ness, totalled 10,000 herbaceous perennial plants. With such a large delivery and working to a tight timescal, preparation is key and eases the potential stress or problems that may occur. Duncan explains;

Aldourie Estate castle garden

‘As the photos show, there are some of us setting out the plants and some of us planting and mulching. First, Tom Stuart-Smith and Ed Shackleton (from his office) came up and we all set out the plants according to Tom’s design. Then, after Tom and Ed left we planted them all.’

The gardening team then mulched the beds with a thick layer of composted bark, which helps to prevent weeds and keeps moisture in the soil. There are a few gaps that will be filled shortly when additional plants arrive.

‘It doesn’t look like much now but it will change a lot through the seasons and even more over the next few years. This was hard work but really exciting to get so many plants in the ground.’

Aldourie Castle Estate gardeningAldourie Castle gardening team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gardening team of four had some additional support during the Castle garden planting as spring arrived. ‘We also had a student, Louise, from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh with us for a week, which was a great help.’ We are sure that working in authentic Victorian walled garden has proved a learning curve for Louise and a credit to her gardening portfolio.

THE NEXT PHASE: new vegetable patches in our walled garden

Aldourie Estate has just received the next delivery of plants (approx. 20,000) and these are destined for the walled Victorian garden. Also, something to excite our ‘farm to table’ lovers: the outdoors crew will soon start work on filling the vegetable beds to complement the glasshouses and al fresco dining experience. This means that by the height of the season we should have a fully functioning walled garden just like in the Victorian times. Yet another way for the Castle’s private guests to appreciate exclusive use living on the Highlands Estate.

Gardens team Aldourie Castle Estate Loch Ness

Elsie, the gardening team’s loyal and diligent canine friend, is excited to begin work on the walled garden beds. We’re sure those paws are just raring to go!

Duncan’s gardening tip for early spring

TIP: At this time of year it’s important to keep a really close eye on the weather. It can be really changeable and some late frosts may still appear, so take care when putting things like tomatoes into an unheated glasshouse. If anyone has potatoes beginning to show and a late frost is forecast it is worth putting a fleece covering over them to protect them. Conversely, this time last year we had a really dry spell so make sure seedlings and anything in pots are regularly watered as they begin growing.

Look out for our new gardens and grounds section of the website that will sit within the existing grounds pages. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.


Cranachan: taste of springtime during a castle stay in Scotland

The nights are lighter for longer. The days are warmer. We’re feeling more optimistic by the day. It’s the start of spring. And what better way to celebrate than by tasting the delights of the season during your castle stay in Scotland? One of the most favoured desserts is an old-fashioned pudding known as cranachan. It combines freshness and creaminess with whisky comfort and is very light making it so easy to devour.

Aldourie’s chef loves the Castle and grounds during spring. The colours on the Scottish Highlands’ Estate change from golds, coppers, oranges and reds to crisp greens and bright yellows almost overnight. The lift in the weather makes everything appear clearer too. And the appetites of our exclusive use guests change also. Gone are the preferences for succulent meats, rich sauces, toe-warming soups and puddings. Our guests are now craving fresher, lighter and more colourful desserts. Because Aldourie Estate now features its own kitchen garden our exclusive use house parties are keen to sample some of the fruit grown within those stone walls. And Chef is only too happy to oblige creating some old and new berry-based puddings.

Cranachan: a fresh, fruity spring recipe

Below is a recipe loved for its creamy texture, sweetness and fruity tang as well as the unmistakeable Scottish ingredient: whisky. Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert and a delicious alternative to trifle. It is both pleasingly colourful and cooling on a warm spring day.

During the months of April, May and June, private house parties at Aldourie request this dessert time and time again. The Castle’s private chef would like to share one of his favourite and most popular spring puddings with you to make at home during the warmer and lighter months ahead.Cranachan - A Taste Of Springtime

570ml/1 pint double cream
85g/3oz porridge oats
7 tbsp whisky
3 tbsp honey
450g/1lb raspberries

Toast the oats in a frying pan (be careful not to burn them). Lightly whip the cream until it creates soft peaks. Fold in the whisky, honey, oatmeal and raspberries. Serve in dessert glasses with a scoop of berry sorbet and garnished with a few raspberries.

Other traditional Scottish berry and fruit desserts to try:

There are few people who can resist a pudding even after they are considered ‘full’ from their main course. If you are one of these people, we salute you, because it’s a rare thing indeed for an exclusive use guests to forego something sweet during a castle stay in Scotland. Favourite finishes at Aldourie include:

Cranachan - A Taste Of Springtime

Raspberry Coulis
White Chocolate Mousse with summer berries
Blackberry Sorbet
Scottish Berry Brulee
Apple Shortbread Pie
Glazed Strawberry Galette Black Bun
Scottish Shortbread served with strawberries
Empire Biscuit
Dundee Cake

Where is best to enjoy cranachan in Aldourie Castle?

Exclusive use Castle stay house parties dine in various rooms in the Castle depending on the time of day. A mid-morning treat of cranachan would be best enjoyed from the cosy yet light Lairds Room. On a sunny spring day cranachan after a salad lunch is best tasted outside in the Castle garden admiring views onto Loch Ness. The imposing Main Hall would be the chosen space to eat cranachan as part of a Scottish feast. Here exclusive use house parties frequently gather around the large long oak table for celebration supper in true clan-like fashion.

Last but not least, the beautiful Dining Room is the ideal for dining alongside family and friends. Come dinner time at the Castle we light the candles as the conversation and wine start to flow. Stunning parkland views will accompany your cranachan; your fourth delicious course cooked by Aldourie Castle’s personal chef.Our dining room is perfect for Castle stay house parties

Look out for more recipes from Aldourie Castle by signing up to our newsletter through our blog web page. In the meantime, enjoy a glass of fresh, sweet and cooling cranachan in the comfort of your own home this spring. And don’t forget to post us a photo on Aldourie’s Facebook or Twitter page saying which room you enjoyed eating it in.


6 Highlands plants to spot holidaying on Loch Ness

Holidaying in Loch Ness is full of rich horticulture thanks to its tended parks and gardens, wild woodland and landscaped Highland estates. Locals, tourists and conservationists treasure every inch of soil.

Through conservation and a thriving habitat the wild hills of the Scottish Highlands continue to bloom. The landscape is a huge part of tourism and people come to see its formal garden displays and its majestic wild terrain what ever the weather. From sprays of daffodils on forest floors to beautiful rose gardens that surround old castles to cascading heather billowing off coastal cliff sides, Scotland is a country of colour. Of course, when Spring comes it can seem that there are way more flowers and colours then any other time of year.

Here, we look at the flowers that create the most splendid, colourful and delicate displays right through to the gritty heart of Scotland’s natural landscape. The variety is vast and the effects are spectacular. Continue reading for some visionary wonders that will really get you in the mood for spring.Holidaying in Loch Ness

Gorse – spectacular hillside hedge-like flower

Widely seen in sandy, coastal soils, Gorse begins flowering occasionally during the late autumn season and continues to bloom throughout winter until flowering fully in spring. It’s hillside appearance is different when viewed close up. All together, gorse has a real shrubbery effect as if covering everything in its vicinity. However, if you look at this flower up close, it really is the most delicate and feminine looking flower. Evergreen gorse is tough, thorny and an excellent windbreak against the cold Scottish sea spray. However, its pretty buttercup yellow petals also makes it the prettiest countryside backdrop.

In Scotland, farmers traditionally use gorse as a winter feed for cows, ponies and other livestock. And its party trick? It exudes a scent similar to that of a coconut when in full flower.

Heather- Ling and Bell have different needs

Looking for that world famous purple spray across wild highland hills? Then you’re best searching out heather ling, also known as the native Scottish heather. This billowing and resilient evergreen mountain plant provides a comforting and nostalgic scene. Despite its tough appearance, the heather ling must be planted in a water-retentive soil and given an annual trim in order to thrive in all weathers. Heather Ling flowers from July to September making it a Scottish Highlands summer holiday postcard favourite.Holidaying in Loch Ness

The Bell heather has brighter purple/magenta blooms, and is normally found in high and rocky places. It’s more at home planted in thin, gritty soil with high drainage. The Bell Heather normally blooms slightly earlier than the ling variety. In the wild, they often co-exist, with ling lining the damp hollows of rocks, and the bell inhabiting the drier areas. Should your holiday be in the Highlands during winter, rest assured you will be able to find hardier heather varieties that bloom during the cold season.

Cross-Leaved Heath – pretty blooms brighten boggy Scotland soil

Heath is a rarely found relation of heather, yet also thrives in wet soil landscapes. In its ideal setting of soggy and muddy areas, heath produces mid-pink blooms at the tip of the stems. It offers a generous flowering period between June and October. A historic thought? Charles Darwin theorised that this specie might be partly-carnivorous, due to it possessing glands. However, later research suggests that these flowers were more likely to help the heath cling to its exposed surroundings in high winds.

Scottish Bluebell thrives most of the year

The name even sounds beautiful, however, in Scotland the Bluebell is more formally known as the Harebell, and is not to be mistaken for the English bluebell. Aesthetically, it is generally bushier and features delicate, branching stems and larger, bluish-purple bell-shaped blooms. Unlike its English cousin, (which flowers in woodland shaded areas), the Harebell is adapted to poor, moorland soil. It is mostly seen mainly in the dry upland areas as opposed to hidden trails.

Holidaying in Loch Ness

Thankfully, the English bluebell is very common in Scottish woodlands. This benefits those holidaying in Loch Ness who want to appreciate both plants, which are accessible in various tourist spots, including formal Scottish gardens. The bluebell flowers continuously from late spring into autumn.

Interestingly, the harebell is under threat from the introduction of the new Spanish bluebell. The Spanish bluebell is much more aggressive in its reproduction. The native British Bluebell is now protected by law thanks to conservationists.

Scottish Flame Flower

This spectacular climbing flower came to to Scotland in the 19th century. The Scottish Flame flower has roots that go all the way to Peru. This plant is so loved here in Scotland that ‘Scottish’ has been added to the name. This romantic flame flower can be found cascading down the walls of old Highlands gardens.

This striking plant can grow up to three metres tall and its extravagant scarlet petals bloom in the late summer season. You can expect this plant to flower from July to September, and during autumn you can expect to see the arrival of  luscious blueberries. A cooler summer is the ideal environment for this Scottish plant and it thrives in shaded, moist, peaty soils. The flame flower is edible and would be the ideal addition to Aldourie Castle Estate’s walled garden. Our Chef would love to pick this for his artisan style fruit or green salads.Holidaying in Loch Ness

The Scotch Thistle

Where England has the rose, Scotland’s national flower is the thistle. However less beautiful by far, there’s no denying its resilient and unique nature. It’s a true symbol of Scotland and we are proud to feature it as part of the design on our  website.  The Scottish thistle grows tall, and strong as well as growing up to five feet in height. Once upon a time the thistle was regarded as a weed, but most gardeners recognise it now as a flower.

The thistle would be perfectly placed in the Aldourie Estate’s arboretum or woodland, for a wild, fairytale look. The thistle is naturally happiest in poorer soils, waste ground and roadsides. Despite its name, is quite rare in Scotland! The Melancholy Thistle is also found throughout the Scottish Highlands. This plant elegantly overlaps purple-edged sepals, with reddish-purple florets. Keep an eye out for these flowers along your Highland country walks.


Experience the Black Isle during an exclusive use stay in Scotland: Part 2 – food and drink

Our last blog post featured Part 1 of your exclusive use stay in Scotland incorporating a trip to the Black Isle. It focused on the history, culture and scenery that this majestic part of the Scottish Highlands offers the discerning tourist. This beautiful part of the world should definitely be a on the tick list for anyone visiting Scotland as a luxury travel destination.

From coastal walks to castle ruins and the quaint towns and villages in between, we showed you how to best enjoy the wonder of the Black Isle from your luxury holiday on Loch Ness. This week we’re introducing Part 2 of our post which focuses on the Black Isle’s dining and drinking scene. We pay particular attention to the tourist hot spot, The Black Isle Brewery. Hop on board for a taste of what’s on the menu in this remarkable and thriving peninsula in Scotland.

Dining out in the Black Isle

The Black Isle region spans from the village of North Kessock all the way up to the town of Cromarty. There are many haunts to sample good food and drink (we are in Scotland after all!). But here are just a few well selected cafes, bars and restaurants to delight during your exclusive use stay in Scotland.

A favourite amongst exclusive use Aldourie Castle guests:

Many of the Castle’s guests book a luxury multi-generational stay at Aldourie. Therefore, they are often looking for family-friendly places to eat when adventuring outside the five star property. The hotel based restaurant Chanterelle Kinkell  has just the right amount of everything you’d want from a dining venue. It has featured on many an itinerary of guests during their exclusive use stay at the Castle. And it’s not too far up from Inverness.

Aside from its name drawing in the crowds for its simple allure, Chanterelle Kinkell is a brand new restaurant. It offers dining throughout the day including lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Within a peaceful, stylish setting the restaurant provides a friendly atmosphere, well presented and delicious cuisine and a fine wine list, all alongside striking countryside views. What’s not to love?

Best places to eat for lunch in the Black Isle

Fortrose Café is a delightful place to stop off to have a tasty lunch if you’re travelling as a family. Conveniently placed on the high street it’s a high quality and friendly place to eat. It masterly combines a stylish, cosy atmosphere with great food. If you have little children with you during your exclusive use stay in Scotland, you can keep them entertained. The kids’ corner  is greatly appreciated while you sit back with a mug of freshly ground coffee. From cakes to light lunches and warming pies on a chilly spring day, you’ll find something for all your party. Dining here will set you on your way for an activity-fueled afternoon.

Aldourie also recommends Applecross Walled Garden not just for its charming location, which features beautiful flowers and wildlife. Whether you sit inside or out on the elegant garden chairs you can enjoy creatively prepared dishes, delectable afternoon teas and fruity homemade juices. Coupers Creek in Cromarty is a café-come-gift shop. Its nostalgic stripy tables perfectly complement the colourful Highlands gifts on sale. The tempting hot and cold sandwich menu also features traditional ice-cream sundaes and milkshakes.

Excellent seafood at the heart of the Black Isle

It depends what type of dining experience you prefer during your exclusive use stay in Scotland as to where we would recommend our guests book a table. Here we’ve selected a few seafood restaurants because in the Black Isle there’s nothing but water all around. Seafood is the speciality here so here are Aldourie’s top 3 seafood restaurants for exquisite food within a unique setting.

Sutor Creek in the historic town of Cromarty is famed for its wood-fired pizzas and tranquil harbour location. It is committed to serving locally sourced cuisine from the ‘Black Isle’s natural larder’. Dishes range from exceptional meats and vegetables to edible flowers and foraged mushrooms.

Looking to eat off the beaten track during your adventurous exclusive use stay in Scotland? Try SALT Seafood Kitchen in the heart of the long linear village of Achiltibuie, between Ross and Cromarty. This is a wonderfully Scottish-sounding restaurant in which to enjoy a true Scottish dish.

On the waterfront on the shores of Loch Carron sits Plockton Shores restaurant, a small friendly village eatery with heaps of local flavour. Enjoy a bowl of fresh mussels overlooking bobbing sailing boats, chirruping wildlife and the loch.

Beer drinking and dining at the Black Isle Bar

This famous tourist destination in the Highlands is a well-loved haunt for many exclusive use stay guests at Aldourie Castle. Predominantly a brewery specialising in world class organic beers brewed in the Highlands, it is also a stylish bar. The welcoming Black Isle Bar features all the Black Isle Brewery’s drinking produce. It also boasts a deliciously rustic food menu all produced from the on-site farm and other local organic suppliers. The tourist attraction is situated near Inverness as you approach the Black Isle. On your exclusive use stay in Scotland, you can either enjoy it going up to your destination or back down.

Why do exclusive use guests of Aldourie go there?

There are so many reasons why this place is such a popular tourist destination for those travelling to Scotland from overseas or the UK. The Brewery’s beer is its obvious pull – there’s nothing like grabbing a table here and rejoicing over a freshly pulled pint of craft beer and a wood-fired pizza and crisp salad. The perfect lunch. The popularity of the Black Isle Brewery could just as easily be its rags-to-riches start up story: unemployment led the determined David Gladwin to produce a world class beer in an environmentally-friendly way.  

Beer tasting at the Black Isle Brewery

What does the tour involve and what will you see and learn?

The Black Isle Brewery uses only the finest malt and hop grown on farms and without any chemicals, ‘just as nature intended’. It houses its own organic farm where it grow malting barley for brewing and even has a dedicated brewery house cow, who eats the malt from the brewery mash tun and in turn provides the brewery with 20 pints of fresh, creamy milk every day. On the tour you will venture outside to witness the brewery’s self-claimed ‘beautiful, unspoilt, unpolluted, wild, and more than a little bit wet, highland home’ that keeps its staff and owners very happy indeed.

Black Isle brews up to 10,000 litres of beer a day, which is then packaged in bottles, casks and kegs. It is later shipped all over Scotland, the UK and around the world from Sweden to Japan. The brewery makes a variety of beers including a wheat beer and a blonde ale. All the beers are organic and suitable for vegetarians, as they do not use isinglass in the brewing process.

Black Isle Brewery’s recommended beers for Aldourie guests during an exclusive use stay in Scotland:
Blonde
Goldfinch
L’ile Noire
Yellowhammer

As with any brewery or whisky distillery tour, there’s the opportunity to purchase what you’ve tasted as well as little trinkets and memorabilia perfect as Scottish Highlands gifts for back home or as a reminder of your exclusive use stay in Scotland. During the busy summer months tours run on average twice per hour. Please refer to the website for tour details and opening times: https://www.blackislebrewery.com/tours/

Now the entertainment and cuisine of the Black Isle has been catered for with this article we look forward to completing our Highlands tour with a look at some of the best towns and villages in the Black Isle. For more information on hiring our Aldourie Castle for an exclusive use stay on Loch Ness in Scotland please visit our ‘Contact’ page on the website.


Experience the Black Isle during an exclusive use stay in Scotland

The Black Isle is a peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, just north of Inverness. It’s a wonderful place to explore with family, friends or a loved one during an exclusive use stay in Scotland at Aldourie Castle. The Black Isle is surrounded by water on three sides. To the north is the Cromarty Firth, to the south the Beauly Firth and the Moray Firth marks its east. The Isle also has rivers to its west; water, water, everywhere. You can imagine the views to be had during a day of walking there.

Wildlife, woodland and water

This famous spot in the magnificent Highlands is home to nature and history in equal measure. So, there is lots more to see besides the stunning views that come with its many walks. The Black Isle is well known for its rich farmland and showcases neatly ploughed, lush green fields over-spilling with crops. This itself is enough to draw large numbers of tourists annually to the Black Isle Show, the largest agricultural show in the north.exclusive use stay in Scotland

Aside from farm animals, the Black Isle is home to a variety of Scottish wildlife. During your exclusive use stay in Scotland on Loch Ness, you may think Aldourie Estate is brimming with nature. But just wait till you get here! Watch the dolphins swimming and playing in the water or catch a glimpse of a deer or two wandering through shrubbery on land. The water is also home to otters and seals whilst some days the sky can be filled with soaring osprey.

The green landscapes are reinforced by the sprays of endless trees. Amongst the flora and fauna look for the towering Scots Pine, just one of three conifers native to the UK. Through all this woodland you can see Ben Nevis on a clear day.

An historic Highlands paradise

The Black Isle is also steeped in history with its fair share of castles, cairns, a cathedral and a host of museums. There are few holiday destinations that can offer such a large number of historical sites amongst such natural beauty. The Scottish Highlands always comes up trumps for this. The self-contained peninsula is home to numerous historical plots from different eras from Medieval to Georgian.

Kirkmichael Church has long been neglected and left to ruin but recently it has reopened to visitors, complete with a lovely cemetery to wander around. Guided tours will inform you of its local and associated families’ history. Redcastle was, until recently, one of the oldest inhabited houses in Scotland, with evidential links to William the Lion in 1179. This ruins creates a haunting skyline silhouette worth gazing at and gives some perspective to your exclusive use stay in Scotland in a luxury private Castle. Cromarty Courthouse, on the Isle’s museums, houses an excellent detailed exhibition including an audio tour for keen tourists.exclusive use stay in Scotland

Fabulous walking in the Black Isle

Just like the vast culture of the Black Isle there is a walk for everyone on this charming Highlands peninsula. This is in terms of both the length and the topography of walk. From short circular woodland ambles to long distance coastal trails, you can find something to suit you or your group. Take a look at the walking map and guide page of the Black Isle website which includes a detailed map ideal for planning your walking routes.

A highly challenging walk:
A favoured walk by exclusive use group stays is the 147-mile John O’Groats Trail. It conveniently starts at Inverness, home to Aldourie Castle, and ends at the pretty civil parish of Alness. This stunning but serious coastal walk is set in two stages and features a mix of shorelines, cliff tops and back lanes as well as the hallmark highland footpaths.

An easy walk:
During their exclusive use stay in Scotland many previous guests of Aldourie have enjoyed rambling through the country lanes of Rosemarkie. This is an enchanting village at the bottom of the aptly named Fairy Glen. Stop for a romantic picnic at the falls partway through the delightful wooded glen. Learn about its quaint intimate history as you stop at the spring then leisurely stroll past the pockets of floral parades.exclusive use stay in Scotland

An interesting walk:
McFarquhar’s Bed and Cave is a ‘there and back’ style walk combining coastal highlights and geology, with some climbing both ways. Groups of friends who’ve stayed at Aldourie Castle have enjoyed this walk over the years. This is because it captures a bit of everything but is great for the non-rambler who appreciates scenery. Expect to see seals and dolphins around the Moray Firth and historic gems in Cromarty village.

Towns ‘a must’ to visit in the Black Isle

Here is just a selection of places worth a visit, each with their own distinct heritage.

Fortrose is the largest town laying on the southern coast of the Black Isle. Architectural loves will appreciate its ornate Victorian buildings amongst its older history – Fortrose Cathedral was built in 1250 A.D. Follow the narrow twisting roads to its bonny harbour and secluded beach for quality time in a true Scottish Highlands town.

Avoch is a traditional and tranquil fishing village on the east coast with a long heritage. Fishing for herring and sprats in the Inverness and Beauly Firth provided much of the local living for the village which was to last over 100 years. Finally, admire the old town, passing the fisherman’s dock and up Henrietta Street to see the row of low white-walled fisher cottages.

A day out in the Highlands during your exclusive use stay in Scotland is not complete without a little whisky on the side. Muir of Ord, home to the Glen Ord Distillery, features a thriving and dynamic community. The historical village boasts three churches and is a pleasant place to stop for lunch and a spot of shopping.exclusive use stay in Scotland

Look out for our blog post coming soon on the varied towns and villages of the Black Isle, which delve much deeper into those mentioned above.

The beauty of the Black Isle is yet another gem that the great Scottish Highlands has to offer both its locals and tourists. Exclusive use stays in Scotland become even more spectacular and exciting with wonderful places like this to visit. Make the very most of your luxury holiday on the shores of fabled Loch Ness by getting out and about off the Aldourie Estate for a day or two to explore the famous Black Isle and its much loved countryside, coast and villages.


January progress in the Castle grounds and gardens

What’s been happening on the Estate recently? The gardens have endured a rather cold winter and are currently either covered in snow or frozen at the moment. The consistent cold temperatures mean that it’s tricky to get really into the soil but our dedicated team of gardeners are not easily defeated and love a challenge so Aldourie’s Castle grounds and gardens are back to thriving as never before. Here you can see some stunning images taken by our head gardener, Duncan, during a magical snowfall on the Highlands’ Estate.Castle grounds and gardens

An enchanting winter walled garden

The glasshouses have a surreal feel about them when coated in snow and it gives exclusive use guests at the time such pleasure to walk amongst them. The Castle team are looking forward to spring and summer when the newly refurbished architecture can really come into its own for guests. It’ll then be warm enough for them to enjoy sitting, drinking and dining in the buildings whilst watching the world go by in the walled garden.

Here you see one of our lovely team members, Fe, planting a fruit tree in the Castle’s new orchard at Garden Cottage, situated just behind the walled garden. The orchard featured a variety of different plums, a few apples, a medlar, a quince and a damson. The wildflowers you see have since been cut but they will regrow in the spring.

Conservation at Aldourie continues to thrive

The orchard area is attached to the walled garden but forms the new garden for the cottage, which is a lovely little orchard with wildflowers growing under the trees, helping to attract pollinators. As always, Aldourie is striving to cultivate an estate in complete harmony with its main aim of conservation, by planting new and tending to the old. Come rain or shine, our gardening team is committed to conserving every inch of the 500 acre Estate.Castle grounds and gardens

You may recall Aldourie’s ambitious plans for the four main garden areas we developed over 2017. Part of this was to bulk plant across the woodland to increase our plant collection. Well, this work has indeed begun during the cold, wintry months of December and January. We have been planting approximately 400 new rhododendrons in the arboretum.

These comprise many varieties to build upon the collection we already have. See this beautiful image of the generous flower the moment they arrived at the Castle; an exciting moment for the passionate gardening team! Plans continue to add to the collection of colourful rhododendrons in the spring.

Aldourie gardening team expands for 2018

The other exciting news is that we have taken on a new Assistant Head Gardener, Chris Smart, so Aldourie Castle’s team has grown to four. Yes, we really do cover all that ground with this small but talented and capable team.  Chris joins Duncan, Sarah and Fe at the right time meaning he can settle in before the major planting of no fewer than 35,000 plants on the Castle grounds and gardens begins in spring.

Castle grounds and gardens

Just like the hospitality team inside the Castle the outdoors team is always having to make forward plans and be extremely organised. There is a set itinerary for each of the four spaces on the Estate. We need this in order to stick to the proposed time frame for the grounds and gardens project as it moves into its second year. “Once new planting begins in early March the team of four will be really busy planting, mulching and watering, etc. so I wanted to make sure we were ready for that,” says Duncan.

As winter turns to spring at the Castle on Loch Ness

From now on and over the next few weeks Aldourie’s gardening team are preparing the soil in the new beds for planting. We are also continuing to keep on top of the woodland garden – pruning and digging out all of the unwanted plants that have regrown. Soon, the contractors will be back on site to complete the architectural elements of the walled garden including hanging all of the gates, building and installing the fruit arches and cages and finishing the cold frames. The look of this thriving garden space will change yet again in no time.

We look forward to showing you more of the Castle grounds and gardens progress as it develops and comes into fruition. Keep a look out on our social media pages for snapshots of work in the gardens, which we continue to share with all our Aldourie followers.