I was always teased at school for being a little bit posh, mainly because I spoke properly, worked hard and didn’t wear a skirt half way up my arse. In reality mum was born a Cockney and dad hails from Liverpool, but I’ve always secretly thought I belonged to the aristocracy and would have been right at home lording it in my mansion.
So when an opportunity for a country weekend stay at the Ardanaiseig Hotel in Scotland arose, it was the perfect excuse to release my inner aristocrat. Hubbie would just have to cope. Packing was a nightmare. What do you wear when you want to be posh one minute, and in muddy boots the next? Do wellies and whisky really go together?
We’d soon be finding out at Ardanaiseig.
As always the Scottish weather forecast had done it’s usual scaremongering and we’d been promised gales and thunderstorms, yet as we crossed the border the clouds vanished and the sun peaked out, catching the wonderful russet colours of Autumn in it’s rays. It really doesn’t always rain in Scotland!
After driving 10 miles down a delightful single track lane lined with mossy leafiness and secret waterfalls we arrived at the historic Highland hotel on the shores of Loch Awe (such a cool name!). Built back in 1834 in perfect seclusion for a member of Clan Campbell, Ardanaiseig (pronounced ‘Ard-en-ass-say’) is still very much a traditional private house, now owned by art dealer Bennie Gray who, with a taste for eccentric antiquity, has injected a bit of rock and roll into this romantic retreat.
Hubbie manoeuvred the car along the imposing drive, straight past the house and into the car park hidden at the side. He’d clearly forgotten we were being posh for the weekend, and after much grumbling eventually drove back to the house and deposited me at the front door, along with our shiny suitcases and well-used waterproofs. Not surprised at being abandoned at the first hurdle I marched confidently up the steps ready to make my entrance. Of course the bloody door wouldn’t open, no matter how much I wiggled the handle, so I stood stupidly waiting for someone inside to notice me. Odd that they lock the main entrance in the middle of the day!
It wasn’t long before the terribly polite front-of-house gentleman came to my rescue, opening it with ease. Apparently it wasn’t locked. I was just being blonde. It happens sometimes.
Once hubbie had joined me and booked a table for dinner, we were shown to our suite along a warren of brightly painted corridors. After reading a few reviews on Trip Advisor, I’d been a bit worried that despite some enticing photos on the website the hotel would turn out to be more shabby than chic. In the event, the carpets were rather forlorn, some of the upholstery did need a bit of attention, and the floors were slightly uneven but for me this simply added to the old country house charm and sense of history. Ardanaiseig is a place where perfect proportions and polished marble would be totally out of place.
I’d also worried we weren’t posh enough to pull off a weekend where guests spend their days shooting, perching on drawing room chaise-longues with traditional after-dinner tipples, and discussing the best spots for fly-fishing. I mean, I can hit a straw figure at 20 paces with a pistol no problem, but give me something as big as a rifle and I’m all at sea. As for whisky…disgusting stuff, or tractor fuel as dad used to call it. Yet as soon as I stepped over the threshold into the brilliant blue hallway with it’s grand staircase, roaring fire and rows of wellies I was reassured. We were going to fit right in and wouldn’t need to pretend. Here was a place where classes can comfortably collide.
I always say if you’re staying somewhere special, you should do it properly, or what’s the point! Hence I booked us into one of the top suites with all the trimmings and overlooking the loch. It was a little odd that guests can’t book specific rooms, but I was pleased that my request for Kilchurn was honoured. Lovely and colourful, the room had the perfect balance of formal yet comfortable, somewhere we didn’t feel out of place whilst still being able to pretend to be lords and ladies. Definitely not the haunt of pretention like so many stately country hotels seem to be.
The best bit was being able to hunker down in the GINORMOUS 4 poster bed, it’s toastiness defying the night wind howling outside. In fact the whole building was cosy (sometimes too warm in front of the fires!), no draughts here! A brilliant way to spend a cold winter weekend.
Whilst the bathroom wouldn’t win any prizes for artistic design, it did the job, was spotless and came with Molton Brown goodies, the key to my heart. And to my delight the tea tray actually had hot chocolate (I don’t do tea) so they score double points there!
The view was pretty special too, so peaceful watching the sun setting in the evenings, admiring the moon’s shining reflection in the loch at night, and then seeing the mist drifting over the water to welcome a new day in the mornings. Couldn’t get much more serene than that!
Ardanaiseig is known as a bit of a culinary hot bed when it comes to their 8 course tasting menu, and so we were a little disappointed to discover it didn’t really change much on the 2 evenings we ate there and for us wasn’t as appealing as the à la carte, which we opted for on both occassions. Maybe we’re not really posh after all. We soon got over our disappointment however – delicious now has a name – Ardanaiseig! I chose dishes I wouldn’t usually even comtemplate at home, found that perhaps I do like pork after all, and even ate my first ever snail. Two of them in fact. Not sure I’ll be wanting to repeat that particular experience any time soon, but it was a delight to try new flavours and textures, and broaden our foodie horizons. My favourite had to be the passion fruit crème brûlée with coconut pannacotta and caramelised banana ice cream. Mmmmm. Hubbie did have to send back his steak one night as it was more dead rather than still running around the field, but mine was perfect, and that’s the one that matters, right?!
Whilst all this was going on, we were being watched over by none other than Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger and Rod Stewart! There’s a magnificent Victorian boardroom meeting painting on the wall which was acquired from a Mafia gangster in the 1960s. How cool? Now apparently such gangsters aren’t particularly fussed by dull meetings and people they don’t know, so this particular chap had them all over-painted with his favourite politicians, business men and rock stars. What a dude!
After dinner we did what only respectable folk do…retire to the Library Bar and take advantage of good natured bar staff and their impressive array of whiskys. Now I know I’ve said I can’t stand the stuff, but when you’ve spent the evening knocking back the shiraz, and possibly a bit of rum too, suddenly a wee dram or three seems more than reasonable.
We were relaxing by the crackling fire, admiring the motley collection of ornamental decoration – it seems ye olde knights armour can meet giant decorative peacock heads with much finesse. Hubbie was eyeing the amber nectar out of the corner of his eye, trying to pluck up the courage to reveal his ignorance and ask for a advice. He’s never done whisky before either. Luckily the lovely Lauren soon came on board and before we knew it we were smelling and sampling numerous whiskys from all over Scotland, finally each choosing one we liked for a ‘proper’ drink.
I was so proud of myself for not only identifying the flavours in my preferred whisky, but also that I’d actually found a really grown-up drink I sort of liked, even if it did make my eyes water. Sinking back into our sofa I asked Lauren what it was, wondering if it was a single malt from Skye, or maybe one from here in the Highlands. Perhaps inevitably it turned out not to be a single malt at all, instead it was a vatted whisky, a blend of different flavours (interestingly including banana!), and of all the names in the world to choose from, it was called monkey shoulder. Hubbie tried to hide his smirk in his second glass of Scapa. At least he’d chosen a respectable tipple, hailing from Orkney, and actual whisky! Maybe it’s a man thing for a reason.
As we stumbled up to our room, realising that all the other guests had gone to bed long ago, I noticed the slightly accusing stare of actress Lauren Bacall peering out at me from inside her golden frame. Looking rather out of place amongst the dozens of flower paintings lining the corridors I was too tipsy to realise that was the point. Quirky is Ardanaiseig’s middle name.
Breakfast was homely rather than fancy, with a full ‘Scottish’ breakfast that funnily enough resembled a full ‘English’ but with the additional of an oat cake, and there were plenty of other options if you like things like kippers or boiled eggs and soldiers. Hubbie made sure he checked out a good range of pastries and fruits as well, just to be thorough.
Whilst we spent most of our time discovering the castles and environs of Loch Awe, it would have been wrong not to explore the 240 acres of land belonging to Ardanaiseig, and walk off some of the excesses of the previous evening. So donning our wellies and raincoats we headed off into the forests.
You could easily spend half a day tackling the numerous garden trails, but we opted for the silent mystery of the dark pine forest, complete with home-made hidden bird hide and grasses as tall as a house!
We also stumbled upon some lost and forgotten old grave stones, with a romantic yet sad air about them, but totally in keeping with the appeal of charming neglect. I can only imagine how beautiful the grounds would be come the glory of Spring, but we loved the empty calm of Autumn, with it’s rustily golden colours and crunchy leaves underfoot. Definitely has to be my favourite season.
So, do wellies and whisky really go together? You bet!
Many thanks to Ardanaiseig for a wonderful stay and letting us pretend to be gentry for a weekend in such splendid surroundings, it was just what we needed to rejuvenate minds, stomachs and souls. Ok, so maybe the stomachs were a little over-rejuvenated!
We took advantage of one of their many Autumn/Winter deals and stayed for 2 nights but only paying for one. Whilst I felt this was excellent value, I don’t think I’d be happy paying their normal rack rates, especially as breakfast isn’t included. You don’t need to worry though, they’ve often got deals on so with a bit of pre-planning you won’t need to!