If lockdown saw you yearning for a road trip and the North Coast 500 appeals, how about heading north and pulling over for a night or more at Dornoch Castle Hotel, located in the beautiful old Highland town that’s on the route.
Open again for bookings, the historic 22-bedroom hotel is set opposite the 12th-century Dornoch Cathedral, where Madonna and Guy Ritchie had their son christened, and makes a great base for day trips around the north.
All around is stunning scenery, history and heritage, white sandy beaches and native wildlife, and back at the Castle, excellent food and drink in sumptuous surroundings.
And how many hotels have a distillery on site? Dornoch Castle’s Dornoch Distillery Company, created by owners Simon and Phil Thompson has been operational since August 2016, producing Thompson Brothers Organic Gin to enjoy while we wait for their Old Style Whisky to mature.
As per the guidelines the hotel is serving alcohol with meals inside, in the garden and in the bar, with table service and guidelines in place. Precautions include compulsory masks whilst standing, sanitiser (made in their distillery) stations, NHS track & trace app scan, 'no contact' check in/check out, one-metre rule and limit of 40 guests in the 70-seat restaurant with a further 30 in the heated stretch tent (fleece blankets provided) in the walled garden. Booking is essential. See hotel website for further details.
Budget or boutique?
Neither, it’s a castle, so expect a taste of history with prices starting at £145 B&B.
There are 22 Deluxe, Superior and Standard ensuite bedrooms in both the original castle and the modern garden extension.
The Four Poster Deluxe rooms located in the oldest part of the castle each have their own character, such as the award-winning the Old Courtroom with hand-carved, king sized, Elizabethan-style four poster bed, open fire and 14ft ceilings and the Cathedral View room, developed from part of the original great hall. Superior rooms come in singles, double and family size and have views to the walled gardens or Dornoch Cathedral. Standard rooms on the ground and first floor of the modern extension have been recently refurbished and look over the walled gardens.
If you’d rather stay in self-contained self-catering, the hotel has three two-bedroomed converted cottages a short drive away.
Wining and Dining
Chef Grant Macnicol is back at Dornoch after honing his craft at two and three rosette kitchens throughout Scotland and his new menu in the refurbished Grant Macnicol at the Castle Restaurant features inventive seasonal dishes such as Dornoch gin cured salmon made with the hotel’s own gin and venison ragu with venison loin from local Tressady Estate. Follow with homemade delights such as sticky toffee pudding with basil ice cream, or a cheese board from Highland Fine Cheese in Tain.
Al fresco dining in the walled garden sees a two course lunch menu available during the day as well as a bar menu featuring Scottish tapas style dishes and classic bar favourites. Whisky lovers will love tasting the labours of the many local distilleries (including Balblair, Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Old Pulteney, Clynelish) in the award-winning Whisky Bar.
Worth Getting Out of Bed For
A heaven for golfers, there’s the famous Royal Dornoch Championship Golf Course, Dornoch Struie, Brora, Golspie, Fortrose, Tain, Nairn Championship and Nairn Dunbar. For walkers there are beaches, heritage and woods trails, while more challenging are Ben Bhraggie, Golspie and Fyrish Monument, and Ledmore and Migdale Forest walk in Spinningdale. Easy day trips include Dunrobin Castle in Golspie, dolphin spotting in the Cromarty Firth, Nessie spotting at Loch Ness, Smoo Cave at Durness and the many distilleries.
Cyclists can pedal to the Highland Wildcat trail around Ben Bhraggie and the Learnie Red Rocks purpose-built mountain bike trails in Cromarty. And don’t forget the 500 miles’ worth of sights on the North Coast 500 drive. (www.northcoast500.com).
Whether you’re mad for Scottish culture, history, wildlife, geology, scenery, qualified green badge guide Peter Logie (https://app.stga.co.uk/guides/peter-logie) has partnered with the hotel to offer walking, coach and driver guided tours (several are suitable for wheelchair users).
A high-end base from which to explore the Highlands or simply hunker down and enjoy the Castle’s heritage and hospitality.
Prices start at £145 B&B and the hotel is taking bookings from the rest of the UK as well as Scotland.