A business plan for a luxury bed and breakfast project, and a desire to grow her own produce, led Sarah Winnington-Ingram to Arisaig House
SARAH and Peter Winnington-Ingram had always shared the idea of running a luxury B&B somewhere in Scotland, but it had never been possible to find the perfect property. So, two and a half years ago, when Sarah’s then 26-year-old son Alex rang to say that he’d had a dream about the family living at Arisaig House, Sarah was initially dismissive.
“Alex was not known for telephoning to share his dreams,” she laughs, “but he knew I loved Arisaig from childhood holidays at nearby Kinlochmoidart. And when he found out that Arisaig was for sale, I thought ‘dream on’.”
Situated just off the Road to the Isles, 30 miles west of Fort William and three miles east of the village of Arisaig, she felt the magnificent south-facing Victorian mansion was certain to be far beyond the family budget.
However, the couple did a business plan “on the back of an envelope”, and realised they could make the project work provided they could find an investor. With a closing date fast approaching, Sarah’s sister Emma Weir, suggested they go and see it. Sarah immediately fell in love with the three-part garden that surrounds the house.
“I loved the romance of the woodland with its mature trees and the majestic terrace, which is a place to sit and look over the water. And when I saw the walled gardens, I just wanted to start growing food for the house.” The couple were also bowled over by the views over Loch Nan Uamh and Loch Ailort towards Roshven.
Despite having no time to see the house herself, Emma agreed to buy it. Sarah explains: “Emma owns the house and we lease it back from her. She spends as much time here as she can and we run it as a luxury B&B with restaurant and offer exclusive use for celebrations.”
By the time the family – in addition to Alex the couple have Kitty 19, Archie 18 and Lara 15 - moved in, Sarah was enthusiastically making plans for the garden, which she says had always been well loved and maintained over the years.
“I had always been an enthusiastic gardener, even growing fruit, vegetables and herbs on a London windowsill, but I had very little formal knowledge. It was all trial and error,” she adds.
Fortunately, head gardener Richard Lamont stayed on and is always on hand with expert advice. Under his tutelage it was agreed that the planting in this spring garden would be extended to cover all seasons. “I am learning a huge amount from Richard and loving seeing it develop,” Sarah says. “Most things grow well. We are lucky as the soil has very fertile structure and the climate is perfect.”
A keen cook with a passion for locally produced ingredients, Sarah put a polytunnel in the walled garden that is large enough to grow produce for the dining room. “This year every dish that goes out in the restaurant has vegetables from the garden or polytunnel. Currently we are harvesting fennel, Calvo nero, rhubarb, chard, carrots, salad leaves, broccoli, cucumber, tomatoes, courgettes, broad beans and peas.”
Sarah’s love of food is also reflected on the formal terrace, where the two main beds were replanted with aromatic plants such as sage and thyme framed with Hidcote lavender. Height and shape comes from globe artichokes, “which I have never been able to grow successfully elsewhere,” purple alliums, pink and white lilies, and blue agapanthus.
Surprisingly, roses grew well, especially in the sloping, south-facing garden reached by stone steps below the house. Sixteen varieties range in shades of pink from rich, fuchsia pink Rosa ‘Prima Ballerina’ to the dramatic, deep red ‘Black Baccarat’. Climbing red ‘Temptress’ was planted against the house wall with a Crinodendron Hookerianum underplanted with a white rose now threading between its scarlet lanterns.
Sarah is bursting with plans for the future, including clearing and replanting the herb garden. A small number of established trees were lost in December storms, but plans were quickly put in place to replant with young saplings. “Next year, we plan to plant a wild flower meadow in the woods.”
While Alex dreams of introducing pigs to clear the few remaining overgrown parts of the garden, Peter produced six Peking ducks, who make use of the small pond. Enlarging the pond is a priority. “There are areas of the garden that I walk through with blinkers on knowing they won’t be looked at now,” Sarah says. “But it does mean that we have a wonderful, ongoing project and lots of scope in the future. It is definitely a work in progress.”
• Arisaig House, Beasdale, Arisag, Inverness-shire PH39 4NR (01687 450 730, www.arisaighouse.co.uk)
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Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
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