It’s been quite a few years since I last visited Scotland…. I launched a bar on Sauchiehall Street quite a few moons ago so I’d only ventured as far as Glasgow – and never had the chance to find out much about the city itself – so I was so excited to be invited to experience brand new Muckrach Country House Hotel in the Scottish Highlands, just before it opens formally on 30th April.
Muckrach is owned and operated by that very clever (and ever-so-charming) family who own and run The Hollies Farm Shop in Northwich, Cheshire. So these guys know a thing or two about great food and proper hospitality…
The Hollies brothers Phil & Ed adore the Highlands, and Phil recalls countless visits, first of all with his grandfather, which was the catalyst to a long love affair with this stunning region. And even on my first visit, I understand completely. This is a really beautiful place – just twenty minutes from Aviemore and sitting right in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. Heaven.
I got the train up from Chester on Friday, and the journey was incredibly easy – helped massively by the fact that WiFi was available throughout the entire trip and also just two changes with very short waiting times – at Warrington and Edinburgh (for an extra special break – my suggestion would be to tag an extra night en route in Edinburgh and dine & stay at The Witchery http://www.thewitchery.com, but that’s another blog entirely!!)
I arrived at Muckrach at about 8pm in the dark, it was lit beautifully from the outside and it glowed from within. You know as soon as you pull up that this is a very special place, where no expense has been spared. You see so many beautiful things before you even arrive at the reception desk – simply a beautiful piece of furniture where you can sit and have a chat with whomever has welcomed you in. On Friday it was Aidan with big smiles, beaming with pride in welcoming his first guests to the brand new and very shiny Muckrach Country House Hotel.
The team are delightful – my three new chums have come up to ‘wonderland’ from The Hollies, and Aidan (General Manager) has been as involved as owner Phil from the very beginning, when they bought the hotel in its semi-derelict state in January 2014. Matt and Mel make up the Cheshire trio and are a pleasure, they are all as clearly as excited and pleased to be here as their guests.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I check into a beautiful hotel I am always most excited about the bedrooms! A beautiful hotel & bathroom is more than a treat – and this could be the best to date….
Aidan checked me in and could see I was overwhelmed – this was better than I expected. He escorted me up to my room (Benromach) which was, quite simply, gorgeous. All of the eleven bedrooms are named after local places of interest. Benromach is a nearby whisky distillery established in 1898, this is my kinda local history!
I settled myself in – and as expected the rooms have all the home comforts – and everything has been well thought through. The hairdryers are proper professional hairdryers, and the TV is state of the art with surround sound. The toiletries are full sized and from The Highland Soap Company, Muckrach is certainly keeping it all local… the bathrobes big and fluffy, pillows are a plenty, and there are extra designer throws for extra snuggliness on your über-big bed. Happy!
As I mentioned, I am more than used to travelling on my own, so I freshened up and went down for dinner, taking loads of pics of the beautiful fixtures & fittings as I went (check out the angel wings…. my very favorite thing apart from Archie…)
Dinner was delicious! When in Scotland, one must have the Grants of Speyside haggis bon bons to start (with cauliflower pure, crispy pancetta) and Speyside Salmon (with potatoes, sun dried tomato, roasted artichoke & black olive salsa) for main course. And yes, you can taste that this salmon is Scottish, it was beautiful – and perfectly cooked. (I have actually just met Head Chef Rayner, originally from Durban, South Africa and now totally immersed in the Highlands culinary way of life). Friday night dinner was finished off with a Scottish cheese platter … awesome.
Something which, as a blogger and social media nut is very important to me is proper WiFi. Many hotels (and bars & restaurants) don’t think it’s so important. The year is 2015 – and I can tell you that it is, very important. There are very few people who have their own businesses, who do not have to work, at some point while they are away. Muckrach have invested properly in their WiFi and it works.. just like it does at home in my office. This is wonderful news and I can relax even more knowing that I can do everything I need – and want to do whilst I’m here.
Saturday morning was spent working, and also researching a little more about the local area. There are so many fabulous things to do whilst you’re here. You could just chill out totally and curl up on the lovely big sofa’s with a book and a big glass of red, but if you’re the more adventurous type, you’re in the right place. And if you love your whisky, you’re definitely in the right place – obviously!
Here in the Cairngorms National Park there is an abundance of outdoor activities… of course you have the ski season in Aviemore (right on your doorstep) and there are a number of local distilleries and breweries for you to visit too, plus quad biking, pony trekking, watersports (rafting, fishing, rubber tubing, you name it) and Balmoral Estate is only an hour away.
There are wildlife parks with Amur tigers, snow monkeys, red panda’s and even Scotland’s only polar bear… but what really caught my eye is the dolphin watching off the Inverness coast. This is an outdoor adventurer’s dream location and Muckrach is right in the very heart of it all.
Dinner on Saturday night was equally as good; I’m nearly ashamed to say I had the Haggis bon bon’s again (sorry!) followed by the Grants of Speyside rib eye steak… it was DELIGHTFUL! I also enjoyed a couple of glasses of vino and a few cheeky whiskies, recommended by the team (they’ll have a selection of over 100 when the hotel opens fully next month). They also have an impressive range of gins – and are currently perfecting their classic cocktail list ready for opening.
I must mention the design… Phil’s attention to detail is amazing and I have included as many pictures as I can. Even the stunning light fittings in the bar have been brought in from Holland, but so much is local too; take a look at the fabulous art with stunning paintings of the Highland wildlife from renowned local artists Angus Grant and Adam Walker-Parker (I have included links to their websites below).
Now, I really should have left on Sunday. But here’s the thing.. it’s a beautiful place, the team were now treating me like one of their own, I was ridiculously comfortable and the WiFi is great.
So why leave?
So I didn’t. I moved rooms, this time to ‘Glenbogle’ which was again absolutely gorgeous, and stayed tucked up in my romantic getaway in the Scottish Highlands for another day and night, albeit on my own.
This trip has been impossible to summarise, it’s been too fantastic. A massive thank you to Aiden, Matt and Mel for treating me so nicely (and for introducing me to Archie) – I will be back to see my new friends very soon. And I cannot imagine how stunning it will be at Christmas time, and with just eleven gorgeous bedrooms, would make the perfect retreat for a private group for a very special celebration.
I have a few ideas of my own already…