THIS lochside hotel is the perfect base for an indulgent weekend
Y ou don’t need a reason to visit Wester Ross, but there are a few good omens in the ether in case you were looking for one. I can give you three, actually. September is probably the best month, apart from May, to explore Scotland’s wild places. The midgies are past their heinous peak, the days are still light and long enough for a challenging hike or cycle, and you never know, there might even be an Indian summer.
There’s a food festival (28 September – 1 October) to participate in, or just to get some ideas of where to go.
And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you couldn’t do better than The Torridon, the grand yet welcoming hotel on the eponymous loch, whose owners Daniel and Rohaise Rose-Bristow are celebrating their family’s 20th year of running the business this year.
The Torridon was originally a shooting lodge, built for the first Earl of Lovelace. Begun in the 1860s, it took 20 years to construct, and was eventually finished in 1887. You can understand why it took so long to build when you consider that all the materials had to be shipped in by boat. Even the soil for the garden was brought over from Ireland.
Completed in the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign the grand hall and dining room are dedicated to her. The ceiling of the drawing room is painted with the signs of the zodiac in a further gesture towards the monarch who was known to be fascinated by astrology.
The Torridon operated as a shooting lodge until the 1960s when it first opened as a hotel. The reason for this change of use? The upgrading of a road, directly connecting Torridon with Sheildaig and the outside world for the first time.
The Gregory family bought the hotel in 1992, and it has been named Scottish Hotel of the Year twice, in 2004 and 2011.
Current owners Daniel and Rohaise Rose-Bristow bought the property from Rohaise’s parents in 2004, after managing it for four years. They began refurbishing the hotel from top to bottom in 2007 as well as rebranding the business. Today it’s a multi-faceted Highland success story – as well as the award-winning hotel and fine-dining restaurant, there is an inn serving bistro-style grub, the self-catering boathouse and an activities centre, where you can sign up for everything from clay pigeon shooting and archery to gorge scrambling and abseiling.
You can borrow bikes to explore the local villages, or earn your evening meal by heading for the hills. The hotel can sort you out with a packed lunch, or fend for yourself with a visit to the fantastically well-stocked and friendly Torridon Stores. There are other reasons to linger, including a little library of maps, books and postcards relevant to the local area. I couldn’t resist The Battle of the Black Pot: Illicit Whisky-making in Torridon by Murdoch MacDonald. This slim pamphlet, containing extracts from newspaper articles of the 1880s including pieces from The Scotsman, details the war between the excisemen and the last bastion of crofters who used their encyclopaedic knowledge of the geography of their remote and rugged land to thwart the authorities.
Much of the activity was centred around Wester Alligin under the watchful shadow of Ben Alligin. As we puffed our way up to the Horns of Alligin, we reflected on those hardy old crofters. The pamphlet tells us: “It was common for Victorian commentators to put the chronic poverty of the Highlands and the Highlanders down to sloth, ineptitude and a lack of desire to better their circumstances. If any one factor illustrates the ignorance of this attitude, it is the initiative and endeavour shown by the illicit distiller in prosecuting his trade.”
Back at The Torridon we elected to spend some time in our luxurious suite.
Rohaise has a particular interest in interior design and she is responsible for the look of the stylish bedrooms at The Torridon. Her most recent achievement is the 1887 suite. Inspired by the year in which the house was built, Rohaise’s adventures in decor were sparked by the discovery of a teacup and saucer from 1887. There are quirky pieces of Victoriana displayed throughout, but there is nothing dated about the sumptuous fabrics or the custom-made hand-sprung bed.
In the bathroom there is a Victorian-style bath, but there is also a contemporary rain shower head. In another example of this elegant juxtapositioning of the old and the new, an ipod docking station sits on a 150-year-old bedside cabinet. It’s such a lovely space, that you really don’t want to leave. Especially when you discover the complimentary sherry and Tunnock’s teacakes.
THE FACTS A double room at the Torridon, By Achnasheen, Wester Ross, starts at £198 for B&B, tel: 01445 791242, www.thetorridon.com; The inaugural Wild About Food weekend in Wester Ross features events including foraging outings and island boat trips, see www.wildaboutgairloch.co.uk