Scotland – A breath of fresh air

London seems another world away

Even the train journey to Scotland is a pleasurable experience for TheEye. Once past Newcastle, the scenery changes dramatically and instead of grey industrial towns and chimneys billow black smoke, it makes its way along the coastline of Northumberland, crossing the border into Scotland at Berwick On Tweed. Purple heather-covered hills, bright yellow gorse bushes, craggy mountains, rivers, streams, and even the small towns, make London feel a world away.

TheEye was on her way to Braemar, which involved a five and a half hour journey to Perth and a two and a half-hour taxi ride. But my goodness, it was worth it to breathe in the fresh unpolluted air and see breathtaking scenery, although we were warned by our taxi driver that once the holiday season starts (and Scottish schools break up this week) the area is overrun by campers and caravaners who have the right by Scottish law to stop along the road and set up base in any field. One of life’s ‘Catch 22‘s.

Once we reached The Fife Arms, our destination for the next few days, it took some time to fully take in this extraordinary hotel. Our eyes were darting everywhere.

Steinway piano re-imagined and painted by American artist Mark Bradford which plays automatically to Bradford’s personally selected playlist.

The cosy lounge with open fire and wonderful ceiling painted by Zhang Enli

Stags and antlers are a bit of a theme

What hits you as soon as you enter is the amount of the highest quality contemporary art sitting comfortably beside quite outrageous kitsch. Picasso’s painting Femme Assise Dans un Fauteuil painted in 1953, at the end of his relationship with his long-standing mistress and mother of two of his children, Francoise Gillot, hangs in the cosy lounge, and a rather lovely Freud portrait, Red Haired Man, painted in 1953, in the lobby.

The list of art is extensive. Not surprising, since the hotel is owned by Ewan and Manuela Wirth of the super successful Hauser and Wirth art and hospitality empire. The hotel aims to combine Scottish heritage, craftsmanship and culture. And it works with a healthy dollop of humour thrown into the mix.

Each day there is an art tour given by one of the young enthusiastic members of staff, who know what they are talking about.

Wonderful chandelier inspired by antlers by American artist Richard Jackson hanging over the staircase in the reception area

Ceiling hand-painted by Zhang Enli

Before I came to the Fife Arms, I had concerns it might be a bit pretentious and ‘art worldy’. On the contrary, it was relaxed and great fun.

But a warning for any prospective guests. Don’t come if you are afraid of birds or hate taxidermy. There are antlers everywhere. It’s almost a theme of the hotel and many rather life-like birds with their wings spread-eagled in bell jars and the odd stuffed fox lurking under a landing sideboard, too real for comfort.

A touch of Little Red Riding Hood.

Lurking under a cabinet on the landing: a pair of very lifelike foxes

A flying stag with angel wings

Balmoral. Fit for a queen and rooms for many more.

What did we do other than explore our hotel?

The weather was fine, so off we trotted.


A visit to Balmoral, well, to the grounds of Balmoral, nearby. No invitation to tea with the Queen had been received, although her Majesty has now apparently taken up residence for the summer in her Scottish home set in 32,00 acres. The highlight of her stays being the Highland Games, which sound fantastic. Another time perhaps?

A gentle walk by the river

You can wander the grounds of Balmoral and there is much to appreciate. The greenhouse with many rare and beautiful plants and shrubs, but if you are hoping for a glance of anyone royal, forget it.

The Fife Arms gave us a walking, hiking and cycling guide, which listed not just the miles but the level of how easy or difficult they were. Sadly, TheEye, had a bad ankle and it wasn’t possible to attempt anything more ambitious than the river bank stroll: beautiful. Maybe next time it will be The Lochnagar hike which is listed as ‘Challenging’ and covers a distance of 21 km lasting 7 – 8 hours and is only to be tackled by ‘experienced mountaineers’. TheEye suspects this is never going to happen, good ankle or bad.

Crathes Gardens

Oh, the colours!

Crathes Gardens are famous for their hedges and topiary

The croquet ladies at play

Glorious poppies


Drum Castle is a Scottish National Trust property renowned for its historic rose garden.

TheEye is mad about roses, particularly the old scented varieties, and Drum was to be a highlight of our visit. Imagine the disappointment arriving to discover that due to staff shortages the opening days were limited and our visit coincided with a day they were closed. That included the loos, gift shops and everything. We did manage to discover a loophole.

The door to the rose garden was open and people were able to walk in, which we did, and managed to speak to the lovely gardeners and get their advice on our own garden roses.

Scented climbing roses

From roses to scones and tea at Dounside House

Dounside House is now a hotel with magnificent grounds and the biggest lawn TheEye had ever seen.

There is an abundance of lovely English flowers and, on a sunny day we visited, it was in full blooming glory.

Inside the greenhouse at Dounside House




It’s back at the Fife Arms and Bertie’s Whisky Bar, where the walls in the former library are stocked with over 300 whisky’s. TheEye is not a whisky drinker. Her husband, MisterEye, most certainly is and enjoyed trying new unfamiliar blends ably assisted by one of the knowledgable whisky sommeliers.

Berties is small, intimate and snug with an open fire. It’s relaxed and welcoming and because it’s small, guests talk to other guests, mainly about what they are drinking. TheEye stuck to a glass of wine but enjoyed listening to the whisky chat.

Sadly, after four wonderful days, it was back to Perth and the long journey home.

Sometimes, a short break is as beneficial as a ‘proper’ holiday and we returned to London, our batteries recharged and our lungs full of healthy Highland air. Yes, a real tonic.

Sorry to leave – on the road



  1. A wonderful break – longing to follow!

  2. Cant wait to go, and a great time of year.

  3. Felicity Osborne July 8, 2021 at 12:34 pm

    What a staycation blast from whacky winged stags to ladies croquet – all in a magical 4 day trip. Who needs Ibiza?

  4. Being a latent whisky aficionado, cant wait to follow in your footsteps

  5. Being a latent whisky aficionado, cant wait to jump on the next train to follow in your footsteps ”

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