Keeper of the cas­tle

Live like a laird in his­toric Scot­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GE­ORGE PARKER

Is there a more for­lornly ro­man­tic spot than the moors east of In­ver­ness in Scot­land where the Ja­co­bite dream died? There is surely no bet­ter lo­ca­tion from which to ex­plore the area than Brodie Cas­tle, a tur­reted fortress look­ing out to­wards the Mo­ray coast.

Now owned by the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land, Brodie Cas­tle al­lows groups of up to 14 to live like a laird, play­ing cro­quet on the lawns, eat­ing in the grand din­ing room, spot­ting red squir­rels and gen­er­ally ab­sorb­ing the dark his­tory that cul­mi­nated on the moors of Cul­lo­den.

The ad­ven­ture has to start at Eus­ton sta­tion in Lon­don. You could fly to In­ver­ness and ar­rive with the taste of Gatwick cof­fee still in your mouth, but what would be the point? The Cale­do­nian Sleeper, es­pe­cially with kids, is an es­sen­tial part of the Brodie ex­pe­ri­ence. Lonely Planet rightly ob­serves that the overnight ser­vice from Lon­don “isn’t a train ride, it’s an es­cape — an overnight tele­port from hub­bub to High­lands’’.

The ex­pe­ri­ence be­gins in the leg­endary buf­fet car where many a trav­eller has spent late nights en­joy­ing im­prob­a­bly rea­son­ably priced malts be­fore tot­ter­ing off down the cor­ri­dor to bed.

The train rum­bles its way north be­fore emerg­ing from the night into another world of heather and fast-run­ning streams. Brodie, built by the clan of the same name in the 16th cen­tury, is a short drive through Nairn­shire coun­try­side from In­ver­ness sta­tion.

I know what you’re think­ing. Do I re­ally want a hol­i­day in the far north just as the weather is turn­ing warm in the south? Well, when we are there mid-May, this cor­ner of Scot­land swel­ters at 27C, the hottest place in Bri­tain, thanks to the Fohn wind. This freaky phe­nom­e­non oc­curs as west­erly winds rush down the lee­ward side of the Scot­tish moun­tains, hav­ing dumped their rain on the hills. Drier air warms more quickly than moist air, so it reaches Brodie Cas­tle in a su­per-heated state, much warmer than when it be­gan its jour­ney.

The laird’s apart­ment, with its din­ing room, games room, epic kitchen and sleep­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion spread over three floors of mag­nif­i­cent cas­tle, gives a taste of the life lived here by the late Ninian Brodie un­til 2003.

It is tempt­ing not to leave the cas­tle and its su­perb grounds (shared dur­ing the day with Na­tional Trust vis­i­tors and splen­didly all yours in the evening) but that would be to ne­glect the vi­brant city of In­ver­ness, whisky- tast­ing in nearby Spey­side or crab­bing at Find­horn, where we bump into ac­tor Tilda Swin­ton in her lo­cal.

But per­haps the most fas­ci­nat­ing spot is Cul­lo­den, a bleak bat­tle­field now ac­com­pa­nied by a tremen­dous vis­i­tor cen­tre. Many vis­i­tors may be only dimly aware that the Ja­co­bite army was lit­tle more than 160km away from Ge­or­gian Lon­don in 1745 be­fore Bon­nie Prince Char­lie’s com­man­ders lost their nerve at Derby. The High­landers were chased back to Cul­lo­den near In­ver­ness, where the Duke of Cum­ber­land’s army bru­tally fin­ished off the re­bel­lion on the windswept moors in the last pitched bat­tle fought on Bri­tish soil. For­lorn but fas­ci­nat­ing.

Ge­orge Parker is po­lit­i­cal edi­tor of The Fi­nan­cial Times. THE SPEC­TA­TOR • nts.org.uk/BrodieCas­tle

Clock­wise from main: Brodie Cas­tle; the cas­tle’s Blue Sit­ting Room; Glen­fid­dich dis­tillery in Spey­side; a Ja­co­bite grave­stone at Cul­lo­den; the Cale­do­nian Sleeper

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