The UK's most northerly luxury destination in one of Western Europe's most sparsely populated regions… In the search for an indulgent home-based getaway, what wasn't to like? Here was an opportunity to throw off the shackles of city-style social distancing and fill our lungs with fresh Highland air.
And so we found ourselves checking into Links House in Dornoch, a five-star hotel located at the entrance to the town's world famous golf course.
Dating back to 1843, the former Free Church manse opened to guests in 2013. Lovingly restored and extended, it now comprises the original house and two sympathetically designed new buildings, providing a total of 15 rooms, suites and apartments.
Since reopening in April, after last year's enforced hiatus, the hotel has put in place its own enhanced safety measures. The spacious accommodation – in a cluster of three separate properties – lends itself naturally to privacy for anyone seeking a degree of solitude.
Our suite, The Fleet, featured a super-king bed, two sink-into armchairs, large wall-mounted TV and a bay window – perfect for taking in the expansive view across the Dornoch Firth.
Its sparkling en-suite bathroom boasted double sinks, a walk-in shower and a bathtub, with fluffy bathrobes included.
Named after 15 of the region's best known salmon rivers, no two of the hotel's rooms are the same, each decorated to reflect the character of its namesake.
Muted tartans in subtle shades of heather and bracken, along with landscapes of hillsides and lochs, gave ours an unmistakably Highland ambience.
Budget or Boutique?
Definitely boutique. Every aspect of the accommodation and service lives up to the luxury billing, with attention to detail evident throughout.
Wining and dining
Mara, the hotel’s recently launched ethical fine dining restaurant, offers “gifts from Scotland's water, fields, forest and skies, presented with minimal interruption”. The ethos is one of sustainability, with a promise to source in-season ingredients as locally as possible and always within a 50-mile radius.
We opted for starters of hand-dived Orkney scallops, with buckthorn and sea herbs, and an Ardgay venison pithivier, finished with bacon jam and pickled veg.
For mains, we went for Ardgay duck with cranberry, mallard faggot and Pedro Ximenes sauce, and seared pan-fried halibut served with a truffle croquette and spiced bisque.
A spiced pumpkin souffle, accompanied with a nutmeg crème anglaise, and a selection of Scottish cheeses finished off a memorable meal.
The following evening we enjoyed a more casual dining experience at The Courtroom, a buzzing bar and brasserie also run by Links House and only five minutes’ walk from the hotel.
Occupying the town's original courthouse, just across the road from the 13th century Dornoch Cathedral, the eatery is known for its tasty, local menu and impressive courtroom mural.
Worth getting out of bed for
If inspiration is needed, take a peek inside the hotel's Sporting Bothy – overnight resting place for golf bags, hiking boots, cycling gear, rods and reels.
Neighbouring Royal Dornoch, voted Scotland’s Best Course in the 2020 World Golf Awards, is obviously a major draw for visitors and there are other highly rated courses nearby.
Links House is an ideal base for exploring the spectacular coastline, via the NC500, or heading inland for mountains and moorland.
At different times of the year, salmon fishing, deer stalking, game shooting and clay pigeon shooting can all be arranged as part of bespoke packages offered by the hotel, with tours of castles, distilleries and other attractions also available.
Log fires, honesty bars and board games help to create cosy hideaways in the wood-panelled library and lounges.
Manager Phil Scott and his team invite guests to “arrive as strangers and leave as friends” and go out of their way to ensure it happens with their charming brand of Highland hospitality.
The bed and breakfast rate for The Fleet suite, based on two people sharing, is £495 (£375 off season). Links House at Royal Dornoch, Golf Road, Dornoch IV25 3LW, 01862 810279 linkshousedornoch.com.