A Scottish Retreat

After a week in South Africa, most of you would imagine Scotland to be a letdown – certainly no heat or blue sky.
The weather is unpredictable (not true, it’s predictably bad) and you certainly need a pair of sturdy wellies, rain hat and full protective gear against the elements. But contrary to fairly low expectations, it was a very special few days staying in Braemar, not far from Balmoral, the late Queen’s favourite ‘home’ and where she died.
It was closed when TheEye was there but it’s a vast pile set in lovely grounds. Now the Queen is no longer around it’s a rather sad place.
The journey to Braemar from London is long, whichever way you do it. You can fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow or Inverness but it’s then a 2 and a half hour drive – an exhausting day.

But TheEye loves train journeys and was therefore intrigued to learn about ‘The Man in Seat 61’, a company founded by Mark Smith, who worked on trains most of his life. With his love and knowledge, what started out as a hobby became a full-time occupation, winning countless travel awards.
Why Seat 61? It seems the answer can be traced back to a famous arms dealer called Zaharoff, who permanently had his own compartment on the Orient Express held for him whenever he cared to travel. Mark Smith seems to be following his example.

A train in Scotland. Courtesy Norman McNab/Amberley Books

But as usual, TheEye is digressing.
Back to the plot.
Braemar is a small town, bordering on Scotland’s skiing areas. Alas, no snow when we were there except for artificial snow on the children’s slopes.

Easter chocs at the Braemar Chocolate Shop made on the premises for all to see. Best chocolate ever!

There is a wonderful chocolate shop, a butcher specialising in haggis, and Tor: a fine workshop run by Tom Addy, the maker, and his wife. They also have a good line of hand-crafted whisky.

TOM ADDY’S workshop is a showcase for his beautifully crafted wood furniture and smaller objects – bowls, candlesticks etc.
Whether or not his designs are to your taste, it sums up for TheEye the true definition of craftsmanship. Handmade using beautiful wood and allowing the wood to show its flaws. Tom is the maker and his wife runs the shop/gallery.

There is also The Braemar Gallery exhibiting mainly Scottish artists.

Whilst Braemar is not exactly a metropolis, it has what it needs plus numerous souvenier shops as one might expect with all the Scottish items from kilts and sporrans to corkscrews made from horn.
The most unusual discovery was thanks to our taxi driver, RIVER THOUGHTFUL – a wonderfully eccentric shop specialising in Fishing books, many very old. The owner, Andy, is a character – a man of few words, but his passion is all around.

Andy, a very thoughtful fisherman!

We stayed in a wonderful hotel – perfect in every way – magnificent art, mad taxidermy, great food and best of all for some – the Whisky Room – a snug, cosy place to sample one of the hundreds of whisky served by knowledgable whisky sommeliers.

Small and stuffed!

A place to sit and relax and talk to other guests. Even if you aren’t a whisky drinker (TheEye is not) you can enjoy a glass of wine or even a cup of mint tea.

Braemar Village: some charming village houses

The situation of the hotel overlooks gardens and the fast flowing river.

It wasn’t a holiday to bask in the sun or lay on the beach.
It was fresh air, hiking, nature, tea, and scones by a roaring fire and then all too quickly it was groan, groan, a long journey back to London.

5 Comments

  1. Trust you to find a new special spot! Lovely to see your photos of the Highlands.

  2. Superb pictures, thank you. And fine description of a ‘foreign’ country.

  3. Atmospheric is the word. Wondering if Gleneagles has lost its top Scottish spot ?

  4. Felicity Osborne April 3, 2024 at 6:38 am

    Very atmospheric- worth the journey to be somewhere unique as seen in your charming pictures.

    • The Fife Arms is a totally different experience. I still love Glen but it”s become quite corporate. Fife Arms is quite unique. Owned by Hauser and Wirth and full of some incredible arT – two wonderful PICASSOS, BREUGLE etc. The wall papers are hand painted by a Chinese artist and the fabrics vintage Liberty. Sophisticated but cosy with roaring fires.You would both love it’

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