A New Generation in Hospitality

In the Deeside countryside, a mile or three off the beaten track, is Glen Tanar. We visited to meet with members of their team, to see first hand some of their work that’s helping to promote wildlife tourism … and to discover how they’re engaging with #YearOfYoungPeople2018 to encourage youngsters from Aboyne Academy to look at careers in the hospitality industry …

To describe Glen Tanar as “idyllic” is no PR line. It is. Nestled in the Deeside hills – in the Cairngorms National Park – on a tributary of the River Dee, the countryside is stunning – and the history is as colourful.

Today’s guardians of the landscape are Michael and Claire Bruce. They are the fourth generation of the family to own and look after the estate and are continuing the work of those who have gone before them to ensure Glen Tanar is open and accessible for the benefit of so many to enjoy.

The Bruces manage a thriving and award-winning working estate: forestry is at its heart – timber from plantations harvested sustainably. But integral to the forestry is the balance with wildlife. Their Wildlife Manager, Colin McClean, has many years of experience behind him – the last nine of which he has spent with Glen Tanar. He explains that his role is in balancing wildlife with the estate’s work. “We have some 10,000 acres of woodland and half of that is Scotland’s oldest Caledonian pine forest. The average age of the trees is 250 years – so we work hard to protect the forest as well as the wildlife that lives in it.

Colin (pictured below) is passionate about his work and sees wildlife tourism as fundamental to the success of Glen Tanar’s future, saying: “Glen Tanar is a National Nature Reserve and we are very proud of that fact. Those who visit come for all kinds of reasons … to walk, to cycle, to fish, to stalk deer. Some of our guests return year after year – one has been returning to us for more than 40 years. The wildlife and natural environment is at the heart of what draws people and we’re here to protect and enhance it for this generation and the next.

Glen Tanar is the only estate in the UK that holds a licence to allow photography of golden eagles. Colin explains: “I am very lucky to be able to see such incredible animals as part of my job.” But it’s not as romantic as it might sound. Those looking to photograph the most iconic of birds rely on Colin’s knowledge and time. Three or four am starts are commonplace to set off on trails that take you to the hides created each nesting season – and you’re taken solo. Colin says: “These are incredible rare birds who demand and deserve the utmost respect. Once we know their location, we create hides at a suitable distance to avoid any disturbance. And we take people out one at a time. It is all about managing access to wildlife in the most responsible way possible.

The same attention to detail extends to fishing and stalking. After Storm Frank destroyed and washed away a number of fishing huts in 2015, the estate has invested in mobile ‘Armadilla Pods’ that are towed in and out each season. They’re positioned to provide those wanting to fish with the best opportunity on the estate’s beats. “We have 3 beats with a total capacity of 14 rods. By positioning the shelters, we’re not only providing the best possible visitor experience for our guests, we’re also helping to protect and sustain the environment.

Colin’s focus has been on the launch of this year’s fishing season and all that it entails on the estate. His work – in April – will shift to predator control – from foxes and crows to the deer that come to enjoy ‘the spring bite’ of the first, fresh grass of the year. His work “never stops” with different challenges each month and season, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He says: “It may be some time away, but I’d like to see the day when Wildlife Tourism is truly sustainable. It is part of the estate’s strategy for the future and we’re working hard to make it happen.

There are miles of managed trails and tracks through and around Glen Tanar providing fantastic access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. One of the businesses at the estate is an equestrian centre – and many guests come to enjoy riding and hacking holidays, staying in self-catering properties on site. Even the horses have a history – descendants of the Norwegian Fjord ponies first brought to Glen Tanar by Michael’s grandmother.

Glen Tanar has always had hospitality at its heart: from the days of Michael’s great grand parents – when the original house entertained royalty and statesmen from around the world – to welcoming Canadian lumberjacks and refugees during the Second World War. Today, Glen Tanar is a destination for those who love to explore Scotland’s great outdoors as well as those who choose the unique Victorian ballroom (below) as their venue for weddings and events.

Shona Tracy (below) oversees all of Glen Tanar’s weddings and events. She has worked on the estate for 18 years. “I started as a cleaner” she explains, adding: “That was a job offered to me at the school gate. It suited me at the time … and I’ve never looked back.” When Shona started, Glen Tanar was hosting half a dozen weddings and events each year. This year, she and the team will host no fewer than 30 in the ballroom.

It is an extraordinary building – dating from 1869 – and the only remaining part of the original house. Seven hundred sets of antlers adorn the vaulted ceiling. Shona says: “It is a fantastic setting for a wedding. We can cater from up to 160 guests and we can house around 40 in accommodation on the estate.

And that’s one of Glen Tanar’s greatest benefits – the boost it gives to the local economy. Shona explains: “We work closely with many businesses on Deeside – hotels and B&Bs as well as all manner of wedding supply businesses.” No fewer that five catering companies are in Glen Tanar’s ‘recommended’ list for couple and corporates. And for those staying in any of the self catering properties on site, you are presented with a comprehensive list of local businesses to provide whatever you might need during your stay. It is a collaborative approach that benefits everyone.

Michael’s wife, Claire, manages the estate’s self catering and hospitality business, and her creative flare is there to see in the projects bring delivered. We saw round one of Glen Tanar’s cottages – East Millfield.

A listed building, the cottage has been completely and beautifully rebuilt from two cottages to create a large luxury holiday home. Sleeping 8 across four en suite rooms, it is equipped with all you need – two fridges, two dishwashers and great living space with a log burning stove. Furnishings are in hand-picked, designer fabrics and there are some stunning features – from banisters hewn from local oak to bespoke local artwork including an antler-chandelier in the hallway and an exceptional feature-framed mirror. This is self catering in a different league – what properties should aspire to deliver for guests from home and abroad.

And it is this leading edge approach that is shaping their engagement in #YOYP2018. Next week (March 21st 2018), they play host to around 30 young adults from Aboyne Academy. The youngsters are all studying aspects of tourism and hospitality. The day will see the students spend time on the estate – meeting with Glen Tanar’s own team as well as staff from Springboard and Hospitality Training Aberdeen. They’ll spend time seeing how the estate delivers for guests. It is exactly the kind of project that will help to inspire and encourage the industry’s next generation.


Need more?

You are invited to “come and explore 25,000 acres of rich farmland, crystal clear rivers, towering Scots pines and heathery moor“. The estate is an open playground for those who love and respect the great outdoors. There are so many opportunities … and if you need help in planning any activities, the Glen Tanar team are on hand to help. From estate safaris to horse riding, to walking and mountain bike riding as well as geocaching … not forgetting trout fishing (with lessons available) and unrivalled wildlife photography.

The estate has nine self catering cottages – all renovated from former estate workers’ houses and a conservation grade Norwegian Log Cabin (Birkelunn) built for Michale’s grandmother, Grethe, in 1936 – meeting a need for tourist accommodation that helps to drive the local economy.  Follow them on Facebook to see their updates.

Glen Tanar has one of the world’s best salmon fishing rivers flowing through its heartland as well as a thriving deer population: as a result, it offers some of the best fishing and deer stalking in Scotland – and attracts visitors from across the UK, the USA, Scandinavia, France & Germany.


Thanks for reading.