Work, rest … and the Scottish play!
Head out into the wildest landscapes across Scotland and you’ll find people working – managing the land that we see. We took time out to visit the eastern fringes of the Highlands – a land of forests, castles, ancient battlegrounds, salmon rivers, golf – and the landing point for close to 250,000 people flying in to the region’s airport at Inverness.
Less than 10 miles from the hustle and bustle of the airport is the picturesque village of Cawdor. At first glance, you might think you’ve arrived at a heritage site: an historic castle, quaint properties and beautifully kempt gardens. But behind the surface is a business employing local folk with the desire to make a positive difference in their community.
We met with Bibi Kingham, who has worked at the estate for five years. She arrived in Nairnshire with a wealth of experience in the hospitality sector having worked in the cruise ship industry around the globe.
Today, she manages Cawdor’s property bookings: we set off in a 4×4 to explore the estate and to see some of the holiday cottages that are part of a continual restoration and improvement project.
Bibi came to Scotland from Austria: she and her young family love this area. She describes – with real passion – the estate and the work dedicated to creating world-class accommodation that now attracts increasing numbers of visitors from home and abroad.
First up, we visit Ivy Cottage: it is undergoing renovation works – local builders are on site …
Ivy is popular with those who love the convenience of being in Cawdor – close to the village pub that’s also a restaurant (The Cawdor Tavern) … as well as the wee general store tucked away in the trees with a deck where you can enjoy a cuppa and a slice of homemade cake.
We then head to Lochanshelloch Cottage – only a short drive from the village yet surrounded by woods. In a word? Stunning.
Bibi explains that the guiding hand and eye on all the cottage refurbishment and decoration is Lady Cawdor, Isabella, wife of the 7th Earl, Colin Cawdor, and former fashion editor. That explains their unique look and appearance – every detail in every room is carefully considered, all with a view to making your stay as comfortable and memorable as possible.
After Lochanshelloch we visit Achneim Cottage …
Designed for two, this is a perfect romantic getaway … no neighbours apart from the occasional red squirrel.
Cawdor Estate runs for miles – over 30 from north to south – and includes swathes of moorland, forestry and the River Findhorn. As Bibi explains, the landscape is managed – and has been for as long as people have lived in the landscape. For centuries, the hills and valleys have been worked to provide a living for those who make this their home.
On our drive over the heather-clad moor I spy pheasants and partridge, grouse butts and highland cattle. And sheep. Lots of sheep.
This is a working estate, providing employment not only for those managing the land and the properties but also for those who provide a myriad of services to look after visitors whilst they’re here: game keepers, ghillies, beaters, guides, chefs, maintenance staff, housekeeping staff … the list goes on. The estate’s farm manager oversees a team that farms 3,000 areas of arable land – cultivating crops that are sold locally. Sustainable forestry is a key part of the land management – and conservation is at the heart of their work, maintaining woodland for this generation and the next. And on the conservation front, Cawdor works with partners to protect and enhance the population of Blackcock, Capercaillie and other wildlife.
Our drive brings us to the Findhorn valley. It is so pretty – a hidden gem. Brigadoon-esque!
And the focal point is Drynachan, the estate’s old shooting lodge. Lord and Lady Cawdor completely renovated the Victorian lodge to create a unique fully-catered destination: set beside the Findhorn, it is popular with those who love to fish, but it also attracts a non-fishing crowd who just want to enjoy time out in a beautiful setting – be it for a celebration or a special family gathering. The dozen bedrooms accommodate 22.
The setting is gorgeous – complete with a lawn where helicopters can land.
Alongside are two smaller properties: the Gardener’s Cottage was exactly that – the original home of the gardener who would have looked after the lodge’s grounds in the 19th century. Today it is a superbly decorated self-catering home that sleeps six in real comfort. Just along the river bank is the Fisherman’s Cottage – perfect not only for those with their eye on the water but also for anyone wanting to walk, birdwatch, forage for berries or just soak up the natural beauty of this spot.
We head back to Bibi’s office in the village and she introduces me to Cawdor’s managing agent, Rachel Bromby. Rachel explains more of the estate’s work – including their involvement with local schools – introducing children to the area’s flora and fauna. She also touches on their support for quality let housing and green energy. Cawdor is developing a range of renewable energy initiatives: they already have a hydro scheme in the Drynachan Valley and are now looking forward to the Tom nan Clach Wind Farm – built on Cawdoor moorland – starting production.
She explains: “Some of our properties are fully supported by our renewable sources – the remainder goes back into the grid – but we’re working on plans to do more, to look at how all of our energy needs can be met in a sustainable way from natural resources.” Rachel also talks of the estate’s role in providing local employment saying: “At the peak of the season, we can have up to 60 people working here – forty of them permanent staff. Striking the right balance between commercial viability, environmental sustainability and community responsibility, we want to grow our team and we’re looking to create more jobs, new apprenticeships and training opportunities.”
In striking distance of Cawdor is a wealth of attractions and places to explore. There’s Castle Stuart Golf Links – right on the Moray Firth – a breathtaking golf course.
Just up the coast is the spectacular Fort George managed by Historic Environment Scotland, albeit it is still a military base. The Fort also includes the The Highlanders Museum. The imposing fortifications are at the far end of the sweeping bay that leads from the village of Ardersier into the Moray Firth: you can park in Ardersier and walk the coastal path (approximately two miles) along the shore to the Fort, perhaps spotting dolphins at play.
Nearby Nairn is a wonderful old fishing port and market town. For golfers, a must visit is the Nairn Dunbar Golf Club – and if you’re here in July, take time to discover the Nairn Show. Along the coast, discover Forres (their Highland Games are also in July) and a visit to the area is not complete without a stop at Findhorn. The Findhorn Foundation is known worldwide as a spiritual community, eco-village and an international centre for holistic learning. You’ll also find the Findhorn Marina – as well as the team at North58 Sea Adventures. If you want to get up close and personal with the area’s marine life, they’re your best bet. Then there are the simply stunning beaches: but don’t just take our word for it … 98% of TripAdvisor reviews rate the beaches as either ‘very good’ or excellent’.
For those in search of history and heritage? Culloden Battlefield & Visitor Centre is a short drive – and a great experience.
For lovers of literature, Cawdor holds a special place. Shakespeare’s lead in ‘the Scottish Play‘ was the Thane of Calder, before he defeated King Duncan and assumed the crown of Alba in 1040. The title ‘Thane of Calder’ passed down through many generations of the Campbell clan. In the 18th Century, the 10th Campbell in line took the title ‘Lord Calder’. Earl Calder – the current official title – was adopted in 1829. So why the change of spelling? In the early 19th Century, Earl Calder changed his family and clan name – together with the village, estate and castle – to match Shakespeare’s fictional title.
The curtain came down on our visit. We were just on a whistle-stop. We’ll be back. For those who live in this extraordinary corner of the country, it could be said that they have a charmed life.
And finally …
Feel free to use any of the link provided in the Blog to find more information. If you are planning a visit to Cawdor, please visit the estate’s website to read more on the unique properties that are available to rent, to check availability – and to book.
The hotel is a small, family run place – at the far end of the village on the way to Fort George. The welcome was warm and the accommodation was clean and comfortable.
We ate at the hotel – enjoying predominantly locally-sourced food – including scrumptious Haddock & Chips in the evening and a hearty breakfast with Stornoway Black Pudding and local haggis and sausage.
Thanks for reading.