Great Places to Stay
- Ullinish Country Lodge, Isle of Skye
A White Beacon
The word 'Ullinish', so the story goes, comes from the Norse word for 'wolf's head' which is vaguely - and certainly more so after a couple of malts - the shape of the peninsula which is home to this small, elegant hotel.
We had journeyed past lochs, heather covered moorlands and rollicking burns when Ullinish Country Lodge, nestling in the shadow of Skye's dramatic Cuillin Mountains, appeared through swirling mists and rain at the end of a single track road, rather like a white beacon.
After checking in formalities were done and dusted, we were shown to our room via a MacLeod tartan- carpeted staircase. The hotel, which has two AA rosettes for its food, has six rooms. 'Dr Johnson's' room, the one we were allocated, was a pleasing Highland vision of dark wood, super king size half tester bed and discreet tartan touches. The owners, Brian and Pam Howard, took over a couple of years ago and have already completed a massive programme of refurbishment. It has been a mammoth task.
Now, let me get this minor niggle out of the way before I go on. Most folks know that pious, irritable Englishman Dr Samuel Johnson and his canny leechlike sidekick Boswell trekked round Scotland's Western Isles in the 18th century - Lord knows why because the dreadful doctor viewed the Scots as barbaric… but there you go. Devoted Boswell even apologised for being a Scot saying, "I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it…." Nowadays many of the establishments in areas visited by the travellers name one room in honour of the Odd Couple, saying 'Johnson and/or Boswell slept here.' In many cases the link is a tenuous one, particularly in one case where the hotel wasn't even built until 1920 ….. anyway I digress….but surely there can never be 100% certainty on where they actually lay their bewigged heads, after all it was 1773 and a lot has changed since then. There, having got that off my chest I can proceed. In Ullinish though, our Dr Johnson's room carries a plaque on the wall which shows his likeness and states, 'Dr Johnson slept near here.' So that's fair enough.
However times and standards of comfort have changed dramatically since Boswell and Johnson's visit and one thing I can be 100% certain about is that their rooms didn't have a fabulous hospitality tray, carafe of malt whisky, bottles of Scottish water, homemade tablet - mmm, I salivate merely thinking about it - shortbread and a brimming bowl of fruit to greet them.
The bathroom, with free standing roll lip bath, comes with polite note suggesting that guests use the shower attachment only for hair washing. Fluffy towels, generous supply of Gilchrist & Soames goodies, cotton wool and jar of bath salts add a sense of luxury. A gigantic mirror with great lighting shows every open pore/ blackhead/ wrinkle but makes a nice change from many hotels where you apply your makeup by guessing what goes where and hoping for the best.
After a nosy round, we went to the sitting room for tea. Relaxing in front of a proper fire burning in the fireplace, we perused the dinner menus. Canapés and pre-dinner drinks are served in the lounge where in due course we spent an enjoyable half hour with the chessboard until it was time for the guests, (only another two couples besides us), to eat.
Wining and Dining
Atmospheric candle light, Highland colour scheme and tasteful nick nacks ticked all the right boxes and dinner began with a ceremonial laying-on of napkins. Wine was delivered swiftly in an ice bucket and the water - I requested tap water, fresh clear tap water here beats bottled stuff hands down - arrived in a jug with fresh lemon slices.
I started with Loch Bracadale crab vinaigrette with local herbs and flowers while my husband opted for Serrano ham with celeriac remoulade and organic Glendale leaves. Next was pea soup with mint and crème fraiche. Now perhaps reading that doesn't light your fire, that's understandable. But this was the best pea soup I have ever tasted…..
Our mains - wild seabass with shaved fennel, red pepper sorbet and vinaigrette of sardines - was okay but didn't ring any bells for either of us. We both went for that because the only other choice was roast pigeon. Since we are both rather partial to (live) pigeons when they come to our garden for tidbits, that was a no-no. Vegetarians, like me, (though I eat fish), will find it harder at Ullinish, no suitable dishes are listed on the menu. Then our palate cleanser arrived; parfait of cherry and stout in a glass. Unusual but tasty.
After a breather, it was pudding time. The Sorbet (see picture) looked magnificent but Hot Fondant of Chocolate with Caramelised Milk Ice Cream got my vote, while husband had cheese and walnut oil bread. Coffee and petit fours were served in the lounge, where we chatted to the other guests till midnight, when Pam and Brian swished in to clear up. Although they didn't drop hints that it may just be time for us all to beetle off to bed, the message got through…..
Bed, a haven of comfort, was so high that I thought for a minute I might need a step ladder. Unusually, I slept like a log, and before we knew it morning had arrived.
We had porridge at breakfast which was tasty though we weren't offered cream to accompany it. This was followed by grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, tattie scone and scrambled eggs, which were almost lost on the plate - good thing we had porridge first. In all, breakfast didn't score as highly on the foodometer as the previous night's dinner, but I suppose that's not the end of the world.
At Ullinish, there is a feeling of being a personal guest in a private house, which can be nice, or simply claustrophobic, depending on your personal makeup and whoever else happens to be staying there. Undoubtedly, however, this secluded hotel provides guests with peace and tranquility in spades…. and if Boswell and Johnson returned to Ullinish today, they would definitely think it was hunky dory (though Johnson would have to add that phrase to his dictionary).
For more information or to make a reservation see the Ullinish Country Lodge Web site or firstname.lastname@example.org. The postal address is Ullinish Country Lodge, Struan, Isle of Skye, 1V56 8FD.
Double/twin rooms based on bed and breakfast and two people sharing costs from £60 per person per night.
Note: The hotel is not child or pet friendly and there are limited facilities for disabled guests.
Gilly Pickup, British Guild of Travel Writers
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