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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our castle hospitality webpages for more information.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The moment you enter the large wrought iron gates at the top of the drive you have begun your Aldourie experience. Turn down the winding drive towards the Castle, relishing luscious view across the Estate and Loch Ness. Then, park up and appreciate a friendly and relaxing Scottish welcome at the Castle door. On the first day of your private use castle stay on Loch Ness over Christmas, you may simply want to stand back and take it all in. So, don’t hesitate. The Castle is your own for a weekend or longer. So once our attentive team has shown your exclusive party to their rooms, make yourself at home in your private luxury group accommodation.
Each bedroom has individual charm and character, beautiful décor and either a private bathroom or en suite. If your first desire is a glass of champagne and a steaming hot bubble bath, we’ll bring up our finest bottle. Alternatively, if you prefer a guided tour of the Castle artefacts and an introduction to every public room, we can arrange that as well.
Explore your surroundings: day 2
After a day of luxury and a good night’s sleep you may wish to see the Castle grounds. This is a treat for senses during a private use castle stay over Christmas. The wintry frost-topped trees, crisp woodland floors and festive pine scents will make you believe you’re walking in a winter wonderland. Your starting point is the welly room; grab yourself a pair to fit and head out through the back door. Start with the Castle garden and then up through the arboretum to the walled garden and beyond. There’s so much to delight at Aldourie out of doors with plenty of trails, walks and cycle routes to conquer and explore.
Feast on the delights of festive Scottish cuisine: day 3
Aldourie Estate has recently undergone some renovations including a revised walled garden and rebuild of the old glasshouses. We now offer a ‘farm to table’ experience for all exclusive use parties of guests. During your exclusive use castle stay take your pick from the fresh produce growing in the walled garden from ripe festive fruits to winter herbs. Then take them to Aldourie’s private chef who will rustle up a festive lunch or snack for your Scottish castle house party.
Now that you’ve settled in, make day 3 the day you sit down and truly devour some traditional Scottish food. Enjoy a full Scottish breakfast, a delicious lunch and an indulgent four courses at dinner time.
Appreciate a spectacular setting of Loch Ness: day 4
Continue your Scotland cuisine experience the following day with a helping of Aldourie’s Afternoon Tea out on the castle garden terrace. Winter berries from the walled garden make delicious cakes to enjoy during your private use castle stay over the Christmas holidays. Wrap up warm in a blanket and gloves and gather your party around you. Then sit listening to the gentle Loch Ness tide and smell the fresh Highlands breeze over a warming mug of hot chocolate. Opt for the chaise longues in the Drawing Room if outside is too chilly. The views of the Loch and hills are just a spectacular from there and the fire keeps everyone toasty.
Discover Scottish Highlands’ wildlife: day 5
Not every animal hibernates during the winter months. Take inspiration from Wildlife bathroom then go find these gems in your own private 500 acre garden. If you’re lucky you may spot roe deer, hares, foxes and red squirrels. Not to mention all the birds: waxwing, robins, snow bunting, osprey and other swooping birds of prey.
Have a warm and cosy day of play: day 6
Stay inside today and check out all the activities and games you can plays indoors during a private use castle stay. Cocoon yourselves in the Billiards Room for a few games looking out of the window over a frosted parkland. Afterwards, why not let the children play some board games whilst the adults go into the library for an afternoon drink and a game of chess or solitaire.
Set your New Year’s resolutions: day 7
Curl up on the sofa in the Drawing Room or take a long bath. Wander around the gardens or Loch Ness shoreline for time to yourself and inspiration. Think about what it is you’d like to change or work on for 2018 and let the resolutions simply come to you in a happy, peaceful place.
Celebrate Hogmanay during a private use castle stay: day 8
It’s New Year’s Eve, so make the most of staying in a Scottish castle such as Aldourie, with its tradition and character. We can lay out a Hogmanay feast for you and your clan in the Main Hall and you can play at first footer at the Castle door.
Exercise in the parkland: day 9
It’s New Year’s Day so what better start to the year than to get out in the great outdoors and let the fresh Scottish air into your lungs and your soul. You’ll feel better for it we promise you – especially if you had a few glasses of sherry too many the night before. The hospitality team can arrange any type of group exercise activity from luxury bootcamps or yoga on the lawn to cycling all around the parkland.
Experience Loch Ness: day 10
If you haven’t already ventured out onto the Loch, then now is the time. You’ve only a few days left and it would be great to say back home that you spent your January out on the most famous loch in the world appreciating the views of the majestic Scottish Highlands. We can arrange boat trips to see historic castle ruins on the shoreline, canoe lessons, zorbing fun for all ages, or a spot of fishing for those wanting to continue the peace and quiet that the initial New Year brings.
Make the most of your 500 acre parkland for all the family: day 11
The Aldourie Estate is full of secret paths, winter trees and spectacular viewpoints, all wonderful to witness during a private use castle stay in Scotland. Find the hidden treehouse in the arboretum or the family graveyard for a spot of Hide and Seek. Family fun and group activities are endless, from falconry, archery and clay pigeon shooting to Segway trips and 4×4 rides along the Loch Ness shoreline.
Whisky tasting day before your last sleep in a castle: day 12
It’s likely you’ve already had the odd sample during your stay with us, especially as all our local whisky just happens to be world renowned. But for a more formal lesson in this Scottish delicacy, we can arrange a private whisky tasting here in Aldourie Castle. You may prefer to take a drive to any of the local whisky distilleries, which we would highly recommend, but in addition we can offer an exclusive experience in any of our public rooms at any time of day. Something for the memory book.
A traditional Scottish Castle holiday can bring so much joy for you and a house party of close friends and family over Christmas. And you will have realised that in only 12 days you can sample a little bit of everything that the Scottish Highlands is best known for. All this in one grand Castle Estate on the banks of famous Loch Ness. Let one of your New Year’s resolutions be to book your 12 days of Christmas 2018 at Aldourie Castle. And start looking forward to your private use castle stay in Scotland.
Minus temperature outside? Feeling under the weather? All done in? Or tummy-rumbling hungry? The best cure for any of the above has to be, without a doubt, a bowl of hot soup. Aldourie’s chef loves the castle and grounds during autumn and winter for Scottish castle dining. The colours on the estate change along with the weather and guests’ appetites also change. Gone are the desires for fresh salads and cool, refreshing desserts. All they really want – like most of us during the wintry months – are succulent meats coated in delicious sauces, warming soups and comforting puddings – the more custard the better!
Our Chef has some delightful recipes he brings out year-after-year as well as, new dishes to impress the gourmet connoisseur. One in particular at the castle we all love for its simplicity, homeliness and heat is the ‘Spiced Butternut Squash Soup’. It’s devoured time and time again by guests and once an exclusive-use party has sampled this particular version, they usually request it numerous times throughout their stay at Aldourie. Here, the castle’s private chef would like to share his favoured, yet simple, autumnal dish with you, so you too can enjoy it at home during the cold, festive months ahead.
Where is best to enjoy a bowl of soup at Aldourie?
Exclusive use house parties of guests dine in numerous rooms in the Castle depending on the time of day. A mid-morning mug of soup might be best enjoyed looking out onto Loch Ness from the cosy yet classical surroundings of the Laird’s Room. This room is also the closest room to the kitchen for quick access to refills!
The grand main hall would be great for a soup feast, ladle and all. Gather your friends round the large long oak table for a clan-like supper in true Scottish castle dining. The cosy dining room is perfectly designed for eating in, so try here for an intimate candlelit dinner beginning with a soup dish starter. The parkland views will help you relax and conversation will flow for hours as you enjoy four delicious courses cooked by our Highlands castle’s personal chef for that ultimate Scottish castle dining experience.
When is the best time for Scottish castle dining?
You cannot beat the feeling of a good soup that is both rich in taste and nutritious, trickling down your throat, when you’re either peckish, tired or cold. At Aldourie castle, you could easily be all three of these at the same time if you choose to enjoy one of the many outdoor activities on the Highlands estate during the autumn/winter season.
Boat ride– during a stint on Loch Ness hunting for Nessie or simply absorbing the spectacular scenery, private groups of guests are always ready to be fed. Out on the exposed Loch you have the wind rushing in your face and all that water around makes you hungry for soup.
Segway ride– the Aldourie parkland is made up of 500 acres of woods, parks, walks, gardens and more. Segway rides let you see more of the grounds than you would on foot. During the autumn and winter months you use up so much energy and will return to the Scottish castle searching for something warming like a bowl of soup.
Archery or clay pigeon shooting – these are popular outdoor activity sports at Aldourie and our chef likes nothing more than rewarding a hard afternoon’s play with one of his delicious soup recipes.
Look out for more recipes from Aldourie Castle by signing up to our newsletter through our blog web page. In the meantime, enjoy our ‘Spiced Butternut Squash Soup’ in the comfort of your own home this winter. And…Don’t forget to post us a photo on Facebook or Twitter saying which room you enjoyed eating it in and what outdoor activity inspired you to make it.
Here at the Aldourie castle estate, we’d like to introduce you to our new Head Gardner – Duncan Hall. Duncan is taking the exclusive use castle gardens and grounds to new heights; literally. So much thought and hard work has been put into the design of the restored Victorian landscape. It now features four considerably different garden areas. Each is enchanting to the eye, featuring various levels, from tall ancient trees to our ankle-grazing kitchen garden. Moreover, each has its own particular purpose.
You can read about them in our previous ‘Revitalised Gardens and Grounds’ blog post. But for now, we’re focusing on Duncan and his story. Along with ‘leadership of landscape’ architect Tom Stuart-Smith, Duncan and his team recently improved important parts of Aldourie’s 500-acre grounds.
The history of a Castle gardener
Our new gardner, Duncan’s passion for gardening grew over time as he worked as a landscape gardener where he grew up in Dumfries and Galloway. He felt at home working outdoors surrounded by nature and after realising his love for gardening Duncan studied for an “HND in Horticulture with Plantsmanship” at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. It was here that he developed his passion for horticulture and researched the huge range of plants at the RBGE. After finishing his HND, Duncan spent a year as a student gardener for the National Trust of Scotland and was based at both Threave Gardens and Branklyn Garden. Threave is a teaching garden for the NTS and Branklyn is a small collectors garden full of interesting woodland and alpine plants.
Duncan was then offered the role of Assistant Head Gardener at Cambo Garden, Fife, where he spent three interesting years. At Cambo he developed a passion for contemporary naturalistic planting and learned a great deal in this area. His guru was the inspirational Head Gardener Elliott Forsyth. He was also involved in teaching students about naturalistic herbaceous planting and design, as well as, other general horticultural skills.
Tom Stuart-Smith designs exclusive use castle gardens
Whilst working at Cambo, Duncan studied the work of Tom Stuart-Smith as well as visiting various gardens that he has designed. So, when the opportunity arose to work with him, revising the exclusive-use castle gardens at Aldourie Castle, he jumped at it. Duncan says: “This is a fantastic time to be involved with a project like this and it is very exciting to be able to contribute to the creation of the garden.”
The project to date has been challenging and rewarding, however the process has allowed Duncan to learn a lot about the construction of an exclusive-use castle garden, Duncan comments, “As a plantsman, I particularly enjoyed seeing the first of the trees and topiaries planted, which started to bring the garden to life. We have also carried out extensive clearance works in the arboretum, which were completely overgrown with the invasive Rhododendron ponticum. It is now wonderful to see and feel the potential of this space. We can now start the process of replanting with trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants.”
Duncan says, “it has been very interesting and enjoyable working with Tom and his team. He has learned first-hand about Tom’s style and how he works.” Tom has produced some wonderful planting plans for the castle gardens and the gardening team at Aldourie are now preparing to implement these in spring, something which Duncan is really looking forward to.
Gardeners’ section in blog
Look out for our new exclusive use castle gardens and grounds section of the website coming in 2018. This will complement the existing grounds pages. Duncan will also be popping up more frequently in the Aldourie Blog. He will showcase recent project work in the Castle grounds as well as offering handy tips for your own garden and what to plant at different times of the year. For more information on exclusive use stays at Aldourie please contact the Castle’s hospitality team.
What better way to compare the stately grandeur of Aldourie Castle than to depict some of the most famous and intriguing castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands. Make more of your exclusive use stay in one of Scotland’s most beautiful castles. Experience, up close, the past of these mesmerising buildings. Take a read of Aldourie’s personalised guide to the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles to visit.
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle sits on Stone Point on the north-western shore of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is relatively close to water level and inland you can imagine where the gardens and orchards would have stood. It is the epitome of a Scottish castle ruin featuring a dry moat which would have once, before its excavation, defended the castle. A stone-built causeway provides access and would have featured a drawbridge at one time. The castle is a popular tourist spot for those visiting the Highlands or more specifically the quaint, lonely village of Drumnadrochit.
What is the history of Urquhart Castle?
The present ruins of Urquhart Castle date from the 13th to the 16th centuries. The castle played a substantial role in the Wars of Scottish Independence during the 14th century. It was thereafter considered a royal castle, and was raided on several occasions by the MacDonald Earls of Ross. Urquhart was granted to the Clan Grant in 1509, though endured further raids by the MacDonalds until it was abandoned during the mid-17th century. Urquhart was partially destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces, and subsequently decayed. It was opened to the public in the 20th century and is one of the most-visited castles in Scotland today. As a result it resides in our list of Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.
Why does Urquhart Castle appeal to tourists?
It’s all about size. The castle, situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness, is one of the largest (in area) in Scotland. Like any castle ruins Urquhart Castle is a spectacular sight to witness. But what draws the crowds is its particularly scenic, famous and unique location: on the banks of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is famed for being the second largest lake in Scotland next to Loch Lomond, which is saying something. Not only that, but Loch Ness holds more water than any other lake in the British Isles. The appeal to holidaymakers is the combination of its historical beauty set against the dramatic scenery of the world famous Loch and the majestic Scottish Highlands. This alone makes it and Aldourie favourite and puts it in the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.
Special fact or feature of one of the castle
Urquhart Castle’s historic files go way back. The first documentary record of Urquhart Castle occurs in 1296, when it was captured by Edward I of England. Edward’s invasion marked the beginning of the Wars of Scottish Independence, which would go on intermittently until 1357.
Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?
The stunning castle ruins on the edge of Loch Ness is relatively local to Aldourie Estate, only 40 minutes’ drive away. When you’re driving through the Scottish Highlands, time seems to disappear anyway. The roads are so easy to drive along as they sweep past the spectacular mountains and lochs and there’s little traffic intervention. There’s also so much to see and appreciate; before you know it you’ve reached your destination.
Another pull for guests staying at exclusive use Aldourie Castle is that it is also located on Loch Ness. House parties can experience a private chartered cruise from Aldourie’s private marina to the beautiful ruins of Urquhart Castle. To travel from one castle to another and back again is a unique opportunity for any holidaymaker. This is why Aldourie Castle rates Urquhart as one of the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles
Eilean Donan – a magnificent castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands
This attractively named landmark is one of the most recognised castles in the whole of Scotland. You may have seen it one shortbread tins, tea towels and scenic calendars if you have ever before visited a gift shop in the Highlands. Eilean Donan itself is a small island in the western Highlands and the meeting point of three sea lochs. The castle was restored in the early 20th century and now a footbridge connects the island to the mainland granting easy access to a somewhat untouchable Scottish landmark.
What is the history of Eilean Donan Castle?
Eilean Donan was named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint around in 617. The castle itself was founded in the 1200s, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and the Clan Macrae. The castle was destroyed in 1719 because of the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions. What you see is the castle in its reconstructed form in the twentieth-century.
Interestingly, in the thirteenth century, during the reign of Alexander II, a large curtain-wall castle was constructed enclosing most of the island of Eilean Donan. At this time the area was at the boundary of the Norse-Celtic Lordship of the Isles and the Earldom of Ross: the island provided a strong defensive position against Norse expedition.
Why does Eilean Donan Castle appeal to tourists?
Eilean Donan is a picturesque castle which has frequently appeared in films, television dramas and documentaries so is fabulous landmark to pose a selfie against. Eilean Donan is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area; not surprising considering its postcard worthy setting against a shimmering water floor and lush green hills. Remarkably, in 2001, the island had a recorded population of just one person – even for Scotland that’s a pretty low land-person ratio! No wonder it’s on Aldourie’s list of the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.
Special fact or feature of the castle
Records suggest that there was a small Christian church on the island of Eilean Donan in the 6th or 7th century. Although no actual remains survive to this day fragments of stone do suggest an Iron Age or medieval history. This astonishing castle ruins has been redeveloped and reconstructed around six times; no wonder it looks tired now.
Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?
Eilean Donan is one of the most important attractions in the Scottish Highlands. It beholds a significant tapestry of history since its beginnings in the 6th century, all of which is well documented. Amongst its ongoing association with invasion and feuding, the castle has seen many a clan stay within its walls over the centuries. This resonates with Aldourie’s very own family history. It’s little wonder despite the nearly three hour journey that many of Aldourie’s exclusive use guests like to pay a visit.
Dunnottar Castle – castle ruins of the Scottish Highlands on ancient ground
Dunnottar Castle is the ruins of a medieval fortress situated on scenic rocky peninsula, elevated from the mainland. It’s on the north-east coast of Scotland just outside of Stonehaven. The ruins of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs that drop to the North Sea, 50 metres below. A narrow strip of land joins the headland to the mainland, along which a steep path leads up to the gatehouse. This dramatic and evocative ruined cliff top fortress was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland.
What is the history of Dunnottar Castle?
The surviving buildings of Dunnottar are largely of the 15th and 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. For example, a pictish fort was built nearby in the 3rd century and in the following century a place of worship. Vikings attacked the castle in the 9th century and it was captured by William Wallace in the year 1276. So much happened at Dunnottar Castle, (its dedicated website makes an interesting read of chronological historical events) that it barely got time to rest. It was finally rescued from ruin in 1925.
Dunnottar has played a prominent role in the history of Scotland through to the 18th-century Jacobite risings because of its strategic location and defensive strength. Because of its sheer perseverance through history we have named it one our the Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.
Why does Dunnottar Castle appeal to tourists?
Dunnottar Castle is an iconic tourist destination for visitors the world over. The rock that the castle sits on formed some 440 million years ago; that’s enough to bring anyone to an historic landmark in Scotland. Tourists visit Dunnottar Castle for their own unforgettable experience; there is so much to see and do here. Try walking or cycling to the Castle from the nearby town of Stonehaven, itself a tourist attraction. The route to the castle is very picturesque.
Special fact or feature of the castle
When you visit this special historic landmark you will soon discover the importance of Dunnottar. It is in simple form an invincible fortress that holds important secrets of Scotland’s colourful past. Dunnottar is best known as the place where the Honours of Scotland- the Scottish crown jewels- were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s army, which invaded in the 17th century.
Why is this considered as one of Aldourie’s Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles?
It’s not just the ruins of a castle alone, and in that sense it’s much like that of a castle estate, like Aldourie. There a various buildings/structures within the castle walls including:
Gatehouse and Benholm’s Lodging
There’s so much more to Scotland’s historic castle ruins than initially meets the eye. No matter how much you read about them, however, nothing can compare to visiting them and being inside those castle walls. Each castle in Scotland has its own history, its own mysteries and its own charm. Step outside the luxuries of a private hire property in Scotland’s beloved Highlands and really experience the ghosts of Scotland’s past with a visit to Aldourie’s highly recommended Scottish Highlands’ top 3 castles.
You’ve booked the experience or holiday of a lifetime with an exclusive use house party with your favourite people. Not only that but the place you’re staying in a luxurious castle and it looks out onto the world famous Loch Ness; one of the most scenic and peaceful settings in Scotland. There’s plenty to do inside the Castle but one look through any of the south facing windows your adventurous streak starts to tug. It implores you experience a boat ride on Loch Ness, no matter what, to get out on that beautiful water and truly relish the Scottish Highlands. Let’s take a dip into Loch Ness, boat by boat.
Speed boat rides on Loch Ness
If you choose your holidays for the thrills as well as the chills, you must hire a speedboat on Loch Ness. The adrenaline rush of the fresh Highlands air on your face combined with viewing the spectacular natural beauty is indescribable. Who knew a boat ride could make you feel so free. A speedboat ride straight from Aldourie’s private marina is less of an adventure and more of an experience.
This type of boat ride also makes for a romantic trip for couples staying in the exclusive hire Castle. You get a lot of privacy speeding passed the Scottish wilderness with a loved one. And despite the pace of your ride it can be very relaxing, slowing down to appreciate particularly appealing spots. Don’t be deceived, however; this experience works up and appetite, what with all that fresh air coming at you at high speed. Thankfully, Aldourie’s private chef will have prepared something delicious for lunch back at the Castle.
Cruises on Loch Ness
If you like your natural landscapes peppered with historic ruins and fascinating facts, then a private chartered boat cruise on Loch Ness is for you. Depending on the weather you can choose to be indoors or up on the top deck. Outside you’ll be up high in the bracing air taking in mountainous backdrop of greens, purple and yellows for miles around. Don’t worry; if you forget your wind/waterproofs there’s plenty to go around. If it’s a bit nippy outdoors then take cover down below, order a hot chocolate and let the energy and history of Loch Ness sail you into a cosy but blissful state.
Kids will love watching the water ripple and foam as the boat skims through Loch Ness with its impressive force. This is a memorable boat trip for house parties of different generations to enjoy, and talk about over dinner later at the Castle. If you want to make your arrival at Aldourie Castle truly amazing, why not approach it from Loch Ness itself. Your party of guests can board a boat at Fort Augustus or just over the way at Dores, then sail across the deep waters and let the Castle slowly come into view. This is the icing on the cake after a spectacular cruise boat ride on Loch Ness.
Nessie Hunter RIB rides around Aldourie Castle
If you’ve brought heaps of imagination on your stay at Aldourie Castle on Loch Ness then you won’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see one of the most talked about mythical creatures in history. This boat ride on Loch Ness explores the very essence of these deep waters. You don’t exactly submarine to its 200 metres depth, but you do learn a lot about the myths associated with the famous Scottish landmark and by the end you feel as though you really know the water and its history. The Nessie Hunter is a great boat ride for groups of friends who’ve booked an exclusive use stay in a private castle on Loch Ness. What other outdoor activity could complement it more. It’s also ideal for small wedding parties or hen parties; get everyone together the day before your wedding at Aldourie and search en masse. A bracing RIB ride on a mission is sure to be full of surprises, giggles, and most of all create wonderful memories.
Canoe or kayak on Loch Ness
Last but certainly not least is the canoe or kayak ride out on Loch Ness. This can be as adventurous or as relaxing as you wish. It’s possibly the most varied type of boat ride on Loch Ness you can experience simply because it suits any age and any level of expertise, from complete novice to experienced water sport enthusiast. Entire parties of exclusive use guests staying at Aldourie have been known to book a whole afternoon canoeing on Loch Ness. Children can stay more inland and be taught the basics. Others are free to explore the surrounding Highlands landscape or simply float off into the near distance to bask under a sunny summer’s sky with only the gentle lapping of water for company.
Canoeing or kayaking on Loch Ness is an exhilarating way to explore the Highlands during an exclusive use stay in the private Castle. If you think about it ahead of time you can build yourself up to the experience, especially if you’re new to this type of boat ride. It’s really more a water sport and there’s an element of independence about it. So the experience itself can be quite freeing and you feel very close to nature. There’s basically just you riding the water – not much boat.
Experience your own boat ride on Loch Ness
There are so many ways to experience Loch Ness no matter your enthusiasm for being outdoors or ever off the shoreline. Exclusive use guests and house parties who have booked a stay at Aldourie will be given ample opportunity to experience the Loch. We have a host of suppliers for various boat ride activities and will be happy to organise your outdoor experiences in the Scottish Highlands for you. To enquire about exclusive use on the only private Castle accommodation on Loch Ness please complete and submit a contact form from the Aldourie website.