Half an hour after arriving at our accommodation for the weekend and we’re sitting in our own private hide, trying to identify a couple of amorous waterfowl, when suddenly we catch sight of an enormous hare enjoying a bright green slope of grass, his coat golden in the spring sun.
He’s obviously in charge round here, I think to myself, but a few minutes later another hare arrives and makes his superior status clear, and our guy leaps away in great, speedy zig-zags, coming close enough for us to see the dark gaps in his fur. They don’t call it a hide for nothing – he doesn’t even see us. What a treat. And it’s just half a minute’s walk from where we’re staying.
We’re at the Lodges at the Mains of Croy – between Inverness and Nairn, and very close to Inverness Airport should you be coming from further afield – a really special place in so many ways. Our luxury eco lodge is surrounded by nature. From our lounge, which has glass sliding doors that open on to a deck, the first thing we can see is bird feeders, which attract several species of busy little feathery sorts and a particularly determined woodpecker. Beyond these are rolling green fields and a lochan (small, man-made loch, onto which the hide faces), which is home to ducks, moor hens and a grebe. We see a roe deer and her young a few times and a lot of birds of prey, but, alas, didn’t spot the badgers that have been seen here. Neither did we hear the naughty oyster catcher that sometimes knocks on the window with his beak at dawn. Beyond the lochan is the Moray Firth, which creates a silky line between the mainland and the Black Isle.
On all other sides of our lodge there are woods, mainly composed of silver birches – the trees after which our lodge is named.
The lodge itself – one of two, just over 50 metres from an identical one – is as spectacular as the scenery that surrounds it. Upstairs there is a shower room and two bedrooms – one double and one single. The double has ceiling-high A-shaped French windows that open on to a balcony which makes for a great spot for a morning coffee. Looking out onto the lochan is reminiscent of being on safari, viewing the watering hole. On the mezzanine there is a round, sunken whirlpool bath where you can chill out under the stars thanks to the angle of the Velux window.
The ground floor is dominated by a large sitting room, the focus of which is the most efficient wood-burning stove I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. There are two sturdy sofas and a large dining room table, and another bathroom. One of the features that makes this sitting room so special is that a whole width of the lodge is made up of sliding French windows, so no matter how bad the weather gets you will always feel you have a giant window onto nature. You don’t have to choose inside or outside, as you so often do when on holiday in the Highlands. French windows open out onto decking and there’s a table and chairs for lounging about on. There’s wi-fi, an HD TV, DVD and iPod dock, and Opus speakers throughout the lodge.
The high spec, well-stocked solid oak kitchen, on the other side of the ground floor, is fantastic too, and also has a decking area should you wish to chase the sun. The owner, Eleanor, provides some basics in case you arrive without your own supplies, including eggs, smoked salmon, wholemeal baps and milk.
The lodges, which have underfloor heating, are designed to have as low an impact on the environment as possible. The main heating is powered by a ground-source heat pump, with solar panels as secondary source. Most of the furniture, including the beds, is crafted locally from elm grown on the owners’ farm. The lodges are made from European larch and are insulated with a blend of cellulose and sheep’s wool, but style is in no way compromised.
If you can tear yourself away from this fabulous place there’s plenty to do nearby, such as Crawdor Randolph’s Leap, a wonderful woodland walk beside the River Findhorn, stopping off for coffee and cake at the lovely cafe at Logie Steading, which has several great little shops for lovers of whisky, gardening and second-hand books. On our way home we had a Loch Ness boat trip with Jacobite Cruises, stopping to explore Urquhart Castle.
Lodges at the Mains, Mains of Croy, Inverness IV2 5PH, 01667 493408, [email protected], lodgesatthemains.co.uk
The lodges do not allow children or animals. Minimum booking is two nights. Prices from £800 per week. Minimum stay, two nights from £200.