Great Places to Stay
- Pool House Hotel, Wester Ross
Peter MacDonald lives in Japan, but he has a particular fondness for the remote north-west coast of Scotland and the Pool House Hotel in Wester Ross in particular. Shortly before his wedding in May 2002, he took his fiancée and a group of relatives and friends there. He was so impressed with the hospitality and the scenery that he felt he just had to let other people know about it. Here is what he wrote - illustrated by pictures taken by a member of the group and from the hotel's Web site.
The Pool House Hotel is situated in Wester Ross, just where the River Ewe flows out of Loch Maree and into the beautiful sea shelter of Loch Ewe. The Pool House hotel itself, originally built by the MacKenzies was command centre for the North Atlantic Convoys for the Royal Navy in the last war. It was once the home of Osgood Mackenzie, founder of the Inverewe Garden. Today, the four suites in the hotel are named in honour of ships (both Home Fleet and German) that made these most perilous voyages to Murmansk in Russia during the war. The original house has been most meticulously and lovingly restored and imaginatively furnished by the owners, Peter and Margaret Harrison. The Harrisons run the hotel as a family concern with their daughters Liz and Mhairi, and their son in law John Moir, a local man who is a chef of remarkable talent.
The North West of Scotland has to be one of the best kept secrets in the world. To my friends in Japan and around the world, Scotland basically means Edinburgh and Princes Street, possibly Glasgow at a stretch, but many tourists venture no further than that. Those that do want to explore the magnificent scenery of the west coast have a long drive ahead of them if they start from these major cities . The trick is to take the flight from London to Inverness. It is a mere 30 minutes longer than flying to Edinburgh or Glasgow and it lands you right at the gateway to the Highlands. Little surprise, maybe, that Inverness has been among the fastest growing cities in Europe recently.
We bypassed the city and having crossed the mighty suspension bridge that leads to the North, we turned left at the Muir of Ord and headed for Dingwall. A few miles later, the turning at Garve set our direction to the North West. The road is fast, modern and unclogged by traffic. A feeling of exhilaration came over us as the vast scenery of the mountain ranges opened up before us. From there on it just gets better . From the airport, it had taken us 90 minutes of driving through some of the most beautiful Highland scenery to get to the small village of Poolewe. We crossed the small stone bridge and turned left into the hotel itself. It was like being home again.
A Warm Welcome
The family hospitality at the Pool House hotel starts as soon as you arrive. Peter Harrison was in the parking area before we even got out of the car insisting that he carry our bags for us. Bounding out alongside him was Scampi, the irrepressible family dog who wins the hearts (and even minds) of almost every guest. In no time, we were ensconced in our rooms, every one of them individual and with a different theme. As we had booked all four of them, Peter showed us around after a delicious lunch of home made sandwiches.
My fiancée and I stayed in Diadem, a beautifully appointed suite which has been decorated with models, maps and memorabilia of the RMS Titanic. The lamps are in the style of a luxury cruiser of the Victorian era and the drawing room looks out over the great sea loch. While all of the other three suites face that way too, the bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms are laid out differently. The antique baths are each hand picked, invariably very deep and luxurious, especially welcome after a long day in the hills.
The Great Outdoors
A blue and sunny sky greeted us the next morning and our attention turned to the outdoors. We set off after a hearty breakfast aiming to seize the day and wanting to build up a healthy appetite for the evening ahead. We had selected a hike for the morning. The start point was a 20 minute drive away. Disembarking on arrival at the Slattadale car park we then enjoyed a seven mile walk along a flattish track with Loch Maree and the mighty Slioch (The Spear) to the East, finishing back at Tollie Pass, about half a mile from the hotel. The scenery was breathtaking. We were happily accompanied by (the afore mentioned) Scampi, a highly energetic Collie/Labrador cross who seemed to be in perpetual motion. Scampi always carries her tennis ball on a walk, and when you stop for a breather, she will drop the ball at your feet, and expect to be entertained. The game is that you throw the ball anywhere you want for her to retrieve. Such a sweet natured dog with such a love for the outdoors and for her human friends, she truly touched my heart.
In the afternoon, we went for another hike with Scampi. The weather was magnificent and the warm sea air breezed gently in to fill our lungs with goodness and our souls with joy. By the time we got back for another long soak in the massive baths, the sun was starting to set over the yardarm. In each suite, an ice bucket with half a bottle of champagne was waiting for us thirsty hikers By the time we were dressed for dinner, the colours in the western sky were just beginning to change.
Dining at The Pool House Hotel
Pre dinner drinks were on the patio to the front of the hotel. The fading sun was still very hot and playing on the flat surface of the loch. If you are lucky, while standing there you will see otters and seals playing down in the water in front of you. I saw them myself at New Year so I can vouch for this. Sadly there were none that night.
As we moved into the private dining room, it became apparent to us that the hotel's main restaurant is a very popular dinner spot for people who live in the area or who are staying nearby. But the private dining room was a revelation. As the evening went on, and the fine wine flowed, I had the feeling that I was in some sort of paradise. The combination of the food, the wine, the wonderful and close company and the sense of freedom was very special for all of us.
Then the red sun took her bow. With a final burst of fire, she sank below the distant horizon, and we were left with flickering candles and perfectly adjusted side lamps. I don't recall moving to the living room and the gently burning fire, so the transition must have been seamless. After coffee, mints and a final dram of Laphroaig, we all drifted off to our rooms for a wonderful night's sleep.
All Good Things...
The tragedy of a weekend like that is that it has to end. The sun was beaming again as we loaded up our bags and drove morosely back to Inverness. Such a wonderful location, such stunning scenery and quite amazing hospitality. On the way back to the city, I think that all of us were making mental calculations about when we can return again. My wife and I are back in Tokyo now but we will return to the UK in October. Three of our seven nights will be at the Pool House Hotel, and we are counting down the days already.
For more information on the Pool House Hotel and to make a reservation, see the hotel Web Site.
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