HighlandsFamiliarisation Trip 14-16th March 2006
Organised by Visit Scotland.
12 very happy Hosted Buyers including ACE Council Member Jean-François Dor were invited to participate to this very exclusive ‘Fam Trip’ to the Highlands, nine actually turned up! Little did they know what they would miss.
Michele Ashby was waiting for us at Heathrow with some surprised ‘goody bags’ that actually included our lunch of smoked salmon bagel and champagne, this was to set the pace for the following days. On arrival in Inverness we were greeted by Moira Unwin and Rebecca Steven from Visit Scotland Business Tourism and Lorna Hutchinson, our Blue Badge Guide. We were taken to Glemorrangie House where we had a lovely lunch of Smoked Salmon and Lamb and visited the House that is very confortable and very much an upmarket Bed and Breakfast with magnificent views of the sea http://www.glenmorangie.com/ . After coffee we departed to be suddenly hijacked by a highlander in full regalia, sword and shield included, and when aboard the coach told us all about Jacobites and more stories on Bonnie Prince Charlie and others, by the time he left us ‘ en route’ we were nearly at Ackergill Tower, there we were greeted by the whole staff in the manner reminiscing of the grand house akin to Howard’s End fame. Situated in the North East of Scotland the tower is just by the sea with its rugged edges. Sloe Gin and Malt Whisky served in the Gun Hall where Barbour Jackets and wellies bore our first name as we signed the visitors book, no keys here as was followed by our other venue called to mind of Switzerland some 30 years ago when people did not trouble to place their luggages in the consigne but merely left their luggages unattended on the platforms whilst you had lunch (incidentally, Michele is half Swiss). Once we were shown our rooms we were whisked away after tea to the local distillery – The Old Pulteney- where the genuine maritime malt is made. In the evening the dinner was served in the Grand Hall where table setting and callygraphed place name were found, we dine with Arlette, the owner, who had designed all the rooms of the tower and other cottages doted around the several thousands acres of land surrounding, Ian the very hands-on manager and his wife Sabine, the daughter of Arlette. Sabine told me the story of the most beautiful ghost in Scotland called Helen of Braemar or the Lady in Green, supposedly resident of the Tower, however not seen for many years. The story as gruesome as it is was that the wicked captain of ackergill in the 1500’s madly in love with Helen came to kill all the men on her wedding day and took her to the tower from whence she thrown herself. I did not see it but apparently there is a patch where no moss of grass ever grow on the spot. Another story was the feuding triangle of the Keith, Sinclair and Dunbar Families, The Dunbars acquired the Tower from the Keith and John and Arlette Bannister acquired it some 18 years ago from the descendants of the Dunbars whose belongings still fill the house including paintings and furnitures. As the house was left unattented for 30 years, other stories flourish of layers upons layers of mattress much like in another story of the princess and the pea… apparently they all ended in a giant bonfire on the beach, however everything else was there such as paintings, furniture in need of reuphosltery . Other features of Ackergill Tower are the Tree House fully equiped to take seminars for up to 20 people, coffee and whiskies on the beach after dinner around a bonfire, an amphibian tank experience, Wick Gof Club is nearby, a visit to the Opera House where a seminar can be had too, and lunch at the Bothie where Charlie entertained us on the squeezebox… This is really an ideal place for a week long seminar or conference for up to 20 or 25 people. Total tranquillity and knowledge of complete professionalism. Warmth and generosity was felt by the whole group. No one felt as being a stranger and everyone felt like being in a great house party, such was the welcome we experienced, we all departed with wanting to stay a little more as they were all waving farewell… http://www.ackergill-tower.co.uk/
Fantabulosa or something of the like said Kenneth Williams in the rather sad dramatisation of his life earlier in the week, no sadness here at Skibo Castle, house of Andrew Carnegie, the world’s richest man at the turn of the last century, who is still being toasted by all guests at dinner as a tradition. Skibo Castle is the epicentre of the Carnegie Club well known for having held the wedding of Madonna and being the very exclusive club that this is. Check out the pictures of my room on http://www.jeanfrancoisdor.com/ under blog if you are not reading this there already (they are not in the order that originally was intended. The place is magical and still very much developping, all parts are being renovated and am told that the Victorian Swimming pool is about to have her turn. There is an 18 holes golf course where no tee off time is necessary, get on it and play whenever and wherever. Rooms are the size of football pitches with very deep bath tubs, four poster beds and wood pannels thoughout the castle, there also stories abound from the Managing Director Peter who is also very keen singer as shown to us on the evening after our truffled artichoke salad, sirloin steak and plum tarte Tatin served with Chateau Coutet (1er cru de Sauternes). The ambience was again very much of a house party.
The estate is huge and there is a flotillas of the latest Chauffered Range Rover to take you wherever you want on the estate like having lunch in the Club House overlooking the lake and mountain range or Clay shooting, Massages in the very modern Spa, Archery and more…. Just as we left we had the pleasure of a falconry display before being waved goodbye. (there not all the staff did so, after all there is about 300 staff at Skibo for a maximum at any one time of 80 guests)
When bidding farewell to our hosts I mentioned that time escaped me completely, we had packed so much in these two and a half days and yet felt very relaxed. Coming back to London though and catching up with urgent matter, I did not again realised the time and did not manage to go the Irish Party at Claridge’s… Ah well, another time!