The number one challenge of holidaying in the UK is the weather but the Cairngorms in Scotland had been good to us on our first visit. Would be lucky a second time?
Stepping off our dinky British Airways Embraer 170 at Aberdeen, to the soundtrack of helicopters heading for the oil rigs, the drizzle was falling, the sky a dull slate grey. And it was cold.
With more rain threatening and a day to fill, we decided to spend a few hours nosing around a Scottish castle – just as we’d done when the rain fell last time we were north of the border. Back then we’d sheltered from the downpours in the delightful Craigievar Castle.
This time we plumped for Brodie Castle in Moray, about a two-hour drive from the airport and just a few miles from the coastline of the famous Moray Firth.
With our new sat-nav to guide us, we slogged up the A96 through downpours, light showers, mist and all-too-rare dry spells. The low cloud meant that we had little chance to appreciate the countryside but, through the murk, we caught sight of green hills and valleys, forests and marching electricity pylons. Occasionally, atop a hill, we spotted graceful wind turbines turning in the breeze.
Surprisingly, the road steered clear of most of the region’s towns and villages. Elgin was one of few notable exceptions and it brought back memories of our last trip to Scotland – of streets lined with austere, sometimes pompous granite buildings.
Brodie Castle appeared through the rain surrounded by romantically landscaped grounds full of trees, looking a little dour. We recharged our batteries with lunch in the tea room and found that the house was surprisingly busy with visitors, even on a dreary weekday.
Our knowledgeable and witty volunteer guide Ian showed us round the property, a typical laird’s country house. The oldest parts of it date from the 16th century, when it was built in a traditional Scottish Z shape, but the centuries that followed saw a number of major extensions.
The castle was the home of the head of Clan Brodie until the late 20th century, when inheritance taxes and the costs of running the estate saw it handed over to the National Trust for Scotland (to the dismay of subsequent generations it should be added).
A large collection of the family’s possessions and heirlooms remained behind, helping to give the place a truly homely feel. The 19th century library (with an original letter from Robert the Bruce on display) and the light and airy drawing room, in particular, had the feel of rooms that were ready and waiting to welcome the laird back home.
The dining room was somewhat gloomier, with a heavy plaster ceiling made out to look like wood. In fact, so heavy did it appear that it felt like it was ready to drop on top of us. The oldest parts of the building, complete with obligatory spiral staircase, were much more modest, at least in size. The expensive paintings, dinner sets and other objects made up for the scale.
Sadly, with the rain falling, we were unable to explore the grounds. So we jumped in the car and drove off to our hotel.
We motored south, into the Cairngorms National Park, at first through barren, moon-like landscapes of heather and scrub. Cloud hung low again, muting the views.
We drove through Grantown-on-Spey, a small town a few miles from our destination at the village of Dulnain Bridge, the Tigh na Sgiath Country House Hotel. This beautiful old house, built in 1902, looked stunning in its grounds, as befits a house built by an old shipping grandee and subsequently the country home of the Lipton tea and Hartley jam families.
Owner Iain provided a warm welcome, a complimentary sherry and a quick tour of our beautiful room, a traditional bedroom and a huge, modern and luxurious bathroom. It was all quite charming, peaceful and a million miles away from the chain hotels.
A few hours later we were sitting down to our meal in the restaurant. This was fine dining, me with duck, Graham with pork, plus four other courses. It was excellent stuff and the white wine flowed. Our dining companions were a French family, an elderly English couple and a foursome from the West Midlands.
We played Scrabble later with another bottle of wine for company. Because Dulnain Bridge isn’t exactly party central in the highlands.