The service received on the largest of yachts is unequalled; your every need and wish is anticipated but many yacht owners now demand a flunky service that does not allow for individuals to show any character. Combining attentive service with personality without intrusion is very rare ashore; two examples are the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath and the Tulchan Estate. We have just enjoyed a stay on the estate which is on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park a picturesque hour’s drive south of Inverness.
There were many opportunities to go wrong as the whole 22,000 acre’ (35 square miles) estate is being transformed into a very comprehensive sporting club, which will offer facilities across the board that will be very hard to match. The main Victorian lodge has uninterrupted elevated views across the Spey valley, surely 90% of which is within the estate’s boundaries. This 13 bedroomed lodge will be the focal point for a private members club which will be limited to 25 members; it will surely be a benchmark for developing the potential and preserving the nature of these grand estates.
The clubhouse is being subjected to a massive rebuild whilst the character has not only been retained throughout but opportunities to improve upon the original have been taken. For instance, it may well have been less expensive to replace the expanses of oak panelling complemented by fine carving on so many finials and other features. The wood was taken from a dark and frankly, a depressing shade to a warm colouring of the natural oak. This painstaking scraping and brushing has been well rewarded with both the character and soul of the lodge being retained. Nicky Haslam is adding his touch to the interior décor and the outbuildings are being converted into a spa and gym. Royals of past eras including King Edward V11 and both Kings George V1 and V1 have been guests in the past, the estate will certainly be fit to entertain royally starting with the first members visiting from September.
Back to yachts, they are only as good as the crew and at the Tulchan Estate they already have a great team, both on the sporting and hospitality sides. The estate’s director; Laura Irwin was brought up a few minutes’ drive away but had made her mark in the management of leading London clubs. The opportunity to return home was irresistible; her ability to combine the club skills with running a massive estate enterprise, adding her vibrant personality with such aplomb is admirable.
Our party comprised largely complete novices on the sporting side, the two head ghillies; Les on shooting and John on fishing had exactly the right approach. We all had a certain apprehension that we would look foolish in our gauche handling of rods and guns, but both ghillies were so serene and patient that nothing could disturb their demeanour. John produced his box of about a hundred fishing flies which he had tied. He seemed to have a story behind each; pointing at a fly he would recall that he had caught a 12 pounder with it, another with which he had caught his first fish of a certain season.
My rewards were hitting a clay pigeon virtually overhead, catching a 2 lb trout in a small lake and a few reasonable ‘Spey’ castings of the line (lateral as opposed to overhead). One of the main attractions is the eight miles of classic fly fishing on the world famous River Spey. There were lots of peripheral pleasures including spotting and stalking red deer, grouse, and young pheasants being shambolic in their antics together with totally unphased rabbits in close proximity.
Of course the scenery was magnificent, its scale of pure nature, the colours (the heather was just coming into flower) and hues of green across the moors and flowing folds of the mountains was breath taking. The burns tumbled down their rock strewn courses accompanied by their hypnotic soundtrack but, of course, they were also perfect for a game of ‘pooh sticks’. Whilst I enjoyed the walks, we were also chauffeured in their fleet of Range Rovers and other 4x4s across the purple heather covered hills and through soft light in the woodlands.
Wherever we stopped for an activity, there was either a welcoming traditional mountain hut fully kitted out, or their unique Barista Land Rover which fitted out a coffee shop cum soup kitchen; great fun.
There are cottages for rental as well as a second, smaller lodge; Knocktulchan which caters admirably for up to twelve guests. Whilst it was very comfortable, it too is due to be up-graded shortly. John the butler had us all taped quickly as to our preferences on both food and drink. He was able to complement our earlier choices with further compatible tastes to explore. The wines were all excellent from both the old and new world. Obviously, there was a good selection of whiskies – even one Japanese.
The estate has two farms, so as expected, all the ingredients for our accomplish meals were from the estate except the out of season asparagus. It follows that all the meat and fish is estate sourced, I cannot leave out the sweetest of strawberries we have come across. Add, gathering and eating vegetables grown a few hundred yards away on the same day is an extra taste dimension on the boast of restaurants ‘locally sourced’.
The hospitality we enjoyed was warm, welcoming and generous to a fault. The experience transports guests into another, carefree world where everything is provided and surprises were all positive. Whether anyone is seeking sanctuary or gathering with friends and family, this tranquil estate will be offering not only first class activities but also its own unique charm and character in an amazing setting. Looking nearby the estate’s boundaries are; horse riding, golf and of course, famed distilleries including Macallan.
I had cast my line and turned to ask John what I needed to do to improve my action and chances when, by sheer luck, my two-pounder took pity on me and took my hook.
The estate is a real feast with the finest fish, grouse, venison, pheasant and partridge, not forgetting the feast for the eye that is the stunning landscape all around you whilst you are cosseted by a great team in seamless comfort.