Scotland on Sunday travel
Links House, Dornoch
It’s a scene of woolly hats and body warmers as a group of early starters – silhouetted against the low morning sun – get their round under way at an autumnal Royal Dornoch.
If ever you need reminding that life should be lived to the full, no matter what the Scottish weather has in store, Links House is the place to come. The view from our room – first tee to the left, historic graveyard to the right – seems to heighten the urge to slip on the thermals and seize the day.
A former Free Church manse, built in 1843 and used as officers’ quarters during the Second World War, the property has been beautifully renovated and extended by American financier Todd Warnock. Now Dornoch-based, he is bidding to attract more visitors to the area with the proposed development of a new world-class golf course, Coul Links, a few miles away near Embo.
He opened the five-star boutique hotel in 2013, at that stage comprising the original house and a separate mews building. Construction of a third building, honouring the architecture of the old manse, was completed in 2017, bringing the total number of rooms to 15.
Budget or boutique?
Winner of Golf Hotel of the Year at this year’s Scottish Hotel Awards, it’s a luxury option, popular with Americans happy to pay top dollar to be within short-iron striking distance of the world-famous links. Upmarket but not exclusive, the hotel is keen to cater for locals as well as international visitors and low season packages are worth looking into.
A large bay window looking out to the Dornoch Firth dominates our deluxe suite. Dark French polished furnishings and big comfy armchairs give the room a relaxed sophistication, while tartans, original Highland landscapes and impressive antler adornments add a distinct Scottish charm.
There’s a bright, modern bathroom with large walk-in shower and a luxuriously deep bathtub that seems to call your name on returning from the great outdoors.
Wining and dining
In my experience of Scottish fine dining, our meal was unsurpassed. Head chef Javi Santos, a protégé of the Roux dynasty, does a great job of showcasing Scotland’s larder with his network of local suppliers and love of seasonal produce, whether it be mussels and langoustines from Portmahomack or game from Bonar Bridge.
Our visit coincided with the hotel’s inaugural Joseph Perrier Champagne and Golf Weekend, providing added sparkle to afternoon tea and wonderful pairings for our dinner menu. Treats included Highland pheasant, Eyemouth crab lasagne and oak-smoked Ardgay venison loin, accompanied with fig mini pie and salt-baked Embo beetroot – all complemented by some classic and vintage fizz. Along with its ever-changing tasting menus for £70, the restaurant offers locals within 50 miles a three-course à la carte option for £50.
Worth getting out of bed for
Golf aside, Links House specialises in bespoke “Highland experiences” including salmon and trout fishing, deer stalking, game shooting and clay pigeon shooting. Hiking and biking itineraries and distillery tours can also be arranged.
Forty miles north of Inverness, it’s a great base for exploring the NC500, a 516-mile route along Scotland’s stunning north coast. Guests without a car can take a private minibus tour, with sites such as Dunrobin Castle and Culloden Battlefield among the options.
Perhaps with the golf widow in mind, a Ladies at Links itinerary proposes spa treatments, garden tours, shopping and the like.
Captivated by the golf course, we limited our sightseeing to the 13th century Dornoch Cathedral and the former Dornoch Courthouse, now home to Carnegie Whisky Cellars.
Guests can take advantage of well-stocked honesty bars in the library and anteroom to enjoy their favourite tipple beside one of the hotel’s crackling log fires.
Friendly staff exude enthusiasm and team spirit, giving this classy hotel a warm, homely feel.
Bed and breakfast starts from £290 a night, while the rate for a deluxe suite is £380 low season, £420 high season.
Links House, Golf Road, Dornoch (01862 810279, www.linkshousedornoch.com)