The Boath House, Inverness
There is no country in the world more beautiful than Scotland, but to fully appreciate it, you do need to have the god of good weather on your side.
Now you might think that I’d be biased with a name like mine and an accent so thick you could spread it on your oatcake. But you’d be wrong. I’m more prejudiced than biased. I don’t like porridge, I can’t stand whisky, and I’ve lived happily down south with the Sassenachs for twenty odd years, where the climate is easier on the gumboots. On an early visit home to the motherland with my children when their breath froze in the fog shrouding my moorland village, they simply could not believe that anyone could put up with the unrelenting cold and rain. So, you definitely need the sun to do the place justice, but as it’s usually reserved for tourists rather than bestowed upon returning natives, for this trip up to The Boat House near Nairn, I packed my waterproofs and my warm coat.
However, if further proof were needed that I’ve crossed the border and officially become an honorary tourist, this would be it. We had wall-to-wall sunshine, hardly any rain, and light so clear that, if you could bottle it, you could sell it as a cosmetic. I swear; backlit in the mornings, I was a different, younger, glowing woman. Furthermore, as a surprise to people like me who grew up in a household where baked beans were considered a green vegetable and vinegar something you cleaned your saucepans with, we also had terrific food.
I almost hesitate to tell you where we went, so secretively do you want to guard such a rare find, even in an admittedly improving, gourmet Scotland, but here goes: Five miles from the so-sleepy-it’s-got-to-be-on Mogadon, Victorian town of Nairn, and within easy reach of Inverness airport, is The Boath House, a restored grade A Regency house in 20 acres of parkland, stuffed with mature, specimen trees, an artificial lake, a beautiful walled garden, with an orchard and extended kitchen garden, and obligatory gravel drive curling through shady woodland. It was bought as a ruin by Don and Wendy Matheson 11 years ago, and painstakingly rebuilt, restored and reincarnated as a small country house hotel with six individual bedrooms, all with free standing baths in their bathrooms, some of which have made more of a break for freedom for the security of the walls than others. Our huge suite of rooms, decorated in sombre Jacobean style antiques had a canopy bed and an enormous bathroom featuring a bath enthroned in the middle, with expansive views down through the leafy grounds and up to the blue hills beyond. There are no curtains at the window, so beware, of the similarly expansive view of your naked posterior as you prance around the bath in full view of the man with the gun dog promenading in the garden below.
Downstairs there are two sitting rooms, a library and, rather bizarrely, an Aveda Beauty Salon, where, should the wondrously restorative light not have enough of an effect on your complexion, you can have a facial or an Ayurvedic massage which, apparently, works wonders ‘for anyone who has trouble relaxing’. Though I would say, try a whisky and a hot bath would be a cheaper option.
The dining room faces the lake and grounds, and has a smaller, private room off to the side. Together, they seat a total of around 24 diners and are presided over by talented chef Charlie Lockley who has been awarded his 3rd AA Rosette and has both won and been runner up in Scottish chef of the year.
After three years of professional overeating as a Restaurant Critic, the first welcome thing I noticed about the menu was its brevity. One soup; one entree; two main courses; a cheese course; two puddings (this is Scotland after all) and no faffing about. It also features local produce, organic where possible, with an emphasis on seasonality and a respect for provenance illustrated by the use of the best Scottish ingredients, Aberdeen Angus beef, new season’s lamb, locally caught fish and organically farmed salmon; local artisan cheeses and vegetables from their own kitchen garden.
I shall confess it was our wedding anniversary. The husband, being well trained in such matters, rang ahead and asked for some flowers, champagne and chocolates to be put in the room, so that by dinner I was beginning to wish that willpower and chocolate existed somewhere in the same sentence in Marion’s world of enthusiastic consumption. Luckily, the meal started with some smooth, creamy sweet potato and garlic soup, which was just enough to coax my appetite out of the early retirement it had been considering. If it had needed further enticement, the ballotine of salmon with creme fraiche horseradish was so meltingly tender, still pink in the middle and soft as butter, that you almost could swear you were eating nothing at all. Food like this has the further advantage of making you feel so virtuous and aesthetic that you can almost deny the existence of cocoa solids altogether.
For the main course we split the difference and had one of each. Husband had Aberdeen Angus rib eye, with jersey royals and creamed cabbage: well hung (I mean the meat, of course) hung, the beef was once again as tender as the heart of the woman he thought he married and thankfully not as tough as the one he actually got. I had perfect west coast scallops with a sprinkling of chorizo, jewel-like amongst the deep sage of the puy lentils. Another night we might have had a salad of citrus cured salmon with a soft boiled egg, or filled of cod on split yellow peas with basil oil. Totally gorgeous food ñ and yes, there was just a little bit of stacking going on with the presentation, but no Princess and the Pea layers to trudge through, and absolutely no chive spears jutting out to joust out your eye. Essentially it was simple elegance with superb attention to detail. The cheese was a local Howgate brie, served with home made oat cakes and a rocket salad, eventually followed by dessert which we really did have to be pressed into, Mrs Doyle style: ‘oh you will, you will, go on now, you will.... you willÖ’ said Wendy. And so we did, sharing a deceptively sumptuous chocolate and raspberry clafoutis, which finally made me realise that I do indeed have a limit, and had long surpassed. It.
The menu changes nightly and no customer has ever complained of lack of choice, though special diets can always be catered for, even on the night. On our visit there were only three couples in the dining room, and by the end of the meal, we were, hailing each other from across the candlelit, pretty dining room. Whisper it not, said one of the other diners as we repaired to the crackling fireside, in the adjacent dining room, but it’s the chef’s night off tonight. This might have accounted for the somewhat literal interpretation of ’slow food’, but the difference in quality was indiscernible.
Breakfast is equally expansive. A choice of either freshly squeezed orange juice or a fruit smoothy; homemade muesli; as crunchy as the gravel drive; with prunes, yoghurt and jasmine dressing; or a creamy porridge of the sort my mother definitely didn’t make. If you still had some room to spare under your kilt, this might be followed by Achiltibuie smoked salmon and scrambled eggs; steamed finnan haddock on brioche with a poached egg; or the full McDuff - bacon, sausage, eggs and outstanding locally made black pudding. I went for the non-protein option and had devilled mushrooms that were a saucy mix of savoury, piquant mushrooms encased in a hollowed out brioche. Served with a hot, flaky croissant, straight from the oven, and it looks doubtful that you will ever walk again.
However, exercise opportunities abound in the surrounding area. If you don’t fancy the three instruments of torture masquerading as a gym in the Boath House’s basement, you could walk the miles of unspoilt beaches in Nairn; visit Fort George, the largest military fortifications in Europe; tramp across the hauntingly atmospheric Culloden Moor, site of the last battle on British soil; or explore the picturesque village of Cawdor, stopping for lunch at the Cawdor Tavern.
Serving deceptively good food, the Cawdor tavern in a building that was originally the old castle workshop, it serves up traditional pub grub with a Scottish accent ñ mustard or juniper cured salmon, Orkney oatcakes, haddock from Mallaig and Morayshire pork steaks. I had a stout helping of sausage and mash, though attempts to draw the shy waitress into a discussion of where their cured salmon, and bangers came from proved difficult. She looked at me as if I was raving when I asked where they came from and replied ‘here’, Eventually I managed to get her to agree, with relief on both sides, that they ‘wernie from the supermarket’.
You’d think it would help to speak the language, but I’m obviously getting a bit rusty..

/www.ballindallochcastle.co.uk/
ballindalloch castle
CASTLE HISTORY Ballindalloch and the Macpherson-Grants
Ballindalloch dates from at least the 16th century. The main tower is plainly of this period. Moreover, the date 1546 is carved on a stone lintel in one of the bedrooms, providing a more precise date for the construction of the Castle.
Today, as in the past, Ballindalloch is first and foremost a much loved family home, and is one of the very few privately owned castles in Scotland to have been lived in continuously by its original family.
The Castle was originally built in the traditional Z plan, but has been much altered and enlarged over the centuries. Ballindalloch Castle exemplifies the transition from the fortified tower house necessary in 16th century Scotland to the elegant and comfortable country house so beloved of the Victorians in the Highlands. The present family continue to improve the Castle and the Estate, and are pleased to welcome visitors to their home.
http://www.maltwhiskytrail.com/
The History of Scotch Whisky nosing & tasting speyside
Scottish life
Initially whisky, the name of which evolved from uisge beatha, was lauded for its medicinal qualities, being prescribed for the preservation of health, the prolongation of life, and for the relief of colic, palsy and even smallpox.
It became an intrinsic part of Scottish life - a reviver and stimulant during the long, cold winters, and a feature of social life, a welcome to be offered to guests upon arrival at their destinations.
www.cawdorcastle.com
Cawdor. A magical name, romantically linked by Shakespeare with Macbeth. A superb fairy-tale Castle, and just what every visitor is looking for ... Scottish history that you can touch and see and sense for yourself. Cawdor Castle is not another cold monument, but a splendid house and the home of the Cawdor family to this day.
Closed at time of writing for family feud.
Brodie Castle in nearby Brodie
Loch Ness
http://www.taste-of-scotland.com/cawdor_tavern.html
Cawdor Tavern
Cawdor Nairn IV12 5XP
01667 404777 01667 404777
www.cawdortavern.com

Restaurants
TASTE OF
SCOTLAND

Cawdor Tavern is a traditional country pub in a building which was originally the old castle workshop. The use of fresh quality local produce and the expertise of the kitchen team, combined with the warmth and willingness of the dining staff, this gives the customer a most enjoyable visit.
http://www.boath-house.demon.co.uk/Boath House Hotel & Spa, Auldearn, Nairn, IV12 5TE, Scotland
BOATH HOUSE
HOTEL &SPA
Auldearn
Nairn
IV12 5TE
Scotland
Tel +44-1667-454896
Fax +44-1667-455469
Contact us via E-mail
Hotel Photo Tour
Once described as the most beautiful Regency House in Scotland (‘Scottish Field’ 1950s). Built circa 1825 for the Dunbar Family by Archibald Simpson of Aberdeen, considered to be an architectural genius of his time, the house is set on the site of a 16th century building.
* The Boath House Hotel & Spa was on Historic Scotland’s ‘endangered list’, in the early 90s, when Don and Wendy Matheson found it, fell in love with it, and set about restoring this Grade A listed Georgian Mansion to its original splendour. After meticulous refurbishment, Don, Wendy and their three children delight in sharing their beautiful home with guests from far and wide.
* Set in 20 acres of land, including a beautiful lake and traditional, tranquil walled garden where kitchen herbs, salad leaves, fruit and vegetables are grown.
* Chef, Charlie Lockley, together with owner Wendy, have established an excellent reputation for cuisine and have been awarded their 3rd AA Rosette. for food and has been voted one of the top 10 restaurants in Scotland
* Wendy and Don’s passion for art of all kinds has resulted in the public areas of the Boath House Hotel & Spa being decorated with carefully chosen work from around 30 highly talented artists. The artists all live and work in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, and much of their work has been inspired by the dramatic scenery and landscapes surrounding them,
* The Beauty Salon, Leisure area and small Gymnasium combine to give facilities unrivalled in the North of Scotland. Salon guests can experience Aveda Concept treatments – holistic approaches to beauty and well being based on Indian medical principles which use natural plant and flower extract treatments. The Boath House Hotel & Spa is the only location in the north of Scotland to offer these treatments
* Each of the seven bedrooms have been painstakingly refurbished, and individually decorated to reflect the opulent lifestyle of the original occupants, from that of Sir John Dunbar to that of the children’s Governess, each with antique furniture and an undisturbed view of the grounds. The concession to modern times being an en suite facility in every room.