Highland Hotel, Fort William
Our magnificent new hotel in Fort William opened its doors for the first time in January after more than 12 months of intensive repairs and refurbishment that has restored the building back to its Victorian glory - albeit with modern bedrooms and bathrooms.
The accompanying picture was taken from one of the hotel bedrooms on a crisp winter's morning just before the opening, and it shows the adjacent town and an unusually placid Loch Linnhe.
As you can see the town centre is close by and a stroll along the pedestrianised High Street with its interesting variety of shops and typical highland pubs is a pleasant way to get some pre-dinner exercise. But be sure to have a clear head and enough energy for the steps back to the hotel afterwards!
There is something very special about sailing to a Scottish Island for a day excursion and there is no finer destination than Scotland's most southerly island, the Isle of Arran.
The ferry journey from Ardrossan takes just under an hour but, well before the boat's arrival in the island's capital, Brodick, passengers may well notice an imposing building high above the town, in the shadow of Arran's famous peak, Goatfell. This is Brodick Castle, the stately home of the Dukes of Hamilton for over four centuries until ownership passed to the National Trust in 1957 following the death of Mary, daughter of the 12th Duke of Hamilton.
The castle has had a long and turbulent history. The first structure was built in the 13th century and, during the wars of independence, was held by the English until retaken by the Scots in 1307. A century later it suffered severe damage from marauding English ships, but in 1510 it was rebuilt only to suffer further damage during the clan wars and again in 1544 at the hands of Henry VIII's forces. Even after further rebuilding in the 1550's its troubled times were not over. In the 17th century it was captured by the Campbells, recaptured by the Hamiltons then later briefly occupied by Cromwell's troops.
Today's visitors see little evidence of the castle's violent history. From the entrance hall and staircase, complete with its collection of 87 stag heads, all the way through to the monumental kitchen with its vast range comprising two fires and three ovens, and its huge collection of copper pans they will find a time capsule of Scottish Baronial life as enjoyed during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Little has changed from the time that the Hamiltons converted the castle into a stately home in 1844 and many of the original collections of paintings, artifacts and sporting trophies are still on display.
But the castle is just part of the attraction. Visitors should be sure to allow time to wander round the colourful gardens. These too are little changed from the 19th century with acres of colourful rhododendrons and many features that were fashionable at the time such as the Bavarian Summer House and the walled garden.
The source of the River Dee lies in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains and from
there, flows through some of Scotland's most dramatic scenery before meeting the sea at Aberdeen. Midway along its majestic journey the Dee passes through the lands of Lochnagar and Balmoral, summer home of the Royal Family - hence the name Royal Deeside.
Balmoral's royal connections date back to 1848 when the house was rented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They fell in love with the area and four years later they paid just over £30,000 for the full ownership of the estate.
Contrary to public perception, Balmoral, along with Sandringham has never been part of the royal estate, but is instead the private property of the Monarch.This became a problem in 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated the throne but did not relinquish the property he had inherited from his father George V. As a result, his brother George VI was obliged to purchase these two properties from him so that they could remain as royal retreats.
Traditionally, the Royal Family travelled to Deeside by train arriving in the highland village of Ballater, just a few miles from Balmoral but, sadly in 1966 the picturesque Deeside Railway became a victim of the Beeching closures and all that remains is the beautifully restored Victorian station. This is a popular tourist attraction, as indeed is the town of Ballater itself with its old-fashioned shops, many of them proudly displaying "By Appointment" signs indicating Royal patronage.
A tour of Royal Deeside including Braemar and Ballater is to be included in many Loch Tummel Hotel itineraries during the coming season and again in 2009.
Our two Achray calves are to be known as Katrine and Kyle but, if you submitted these two names in our competition, don't get too excited just yet, as astonishingly over 60 readers submitted this same pair of names out of a total postbag of letters and emails that approached 1,000.
Here at head office we are at a loss to understand how it was that so many came up with the same combination. Katrine has of course strong local connections with the nearby loch and Kyle is a commonly used geographical term in Scotland but it is nevertheless a remarkable coincidence.
Anyway, in the time honoured way all 60 names were put in a hat and the winning entry drawn was from Richard Walker from South Croydon. Congratulations! Our booking staff will be in touch to arrange the prize in due course.
I have to admit we were tempted with the suggestion Kit and Kat together with the line 'Take a Break with Lochs and Glens'.