Al­ladale Wilder­ness Re­serve Quite Pos­si­bly the Cozi­est Lux­ury Re­sort in the Scot­tish High­lands

Quite Pos­si­bly the Cozi­est Lux­ury Re­sort in the Scot­tish High­lands

Upscale Living Magazine - - Content - | By An­thony DeMarco

About eight red deer more than 5 feet high stand mo­tion­less as if pos­ing for a por­trait on an emer­ald-col­ored lawn at the edge of the for­est. Innes MacNeill brings a blue bucket filled with dried food pel­lets. A few of the deer ap­proach slowly, cau­tiously. The tallest one with the largest antlers (12 tines) comes for­ward and takes the pel­lets from MacNeill’s hand. He is the leader of the herd given the name Frank. While MacNeill feeds Frank he tosses pel­lets to the other deer that are more cau­tious. When the bucket is empty MacNeill walks away and the deer dis­ap­pear into the for­est. This small herd is among the tamest of the wild fauna in the Al­ladale Wilder­ness Re­serve, a 23,000-acre es­tate in the Scot­tish High­lands that serves as a comfy lux­ury re­treat in a re­mote nat­u­ral set­ting. The main guest­house has seven cozy rooms that can ac­com­mo­date 14 peo­ple. There are two lodges on the prop­erty that pro­vide a more lux­u­ri­ous and se­cluded ex­pe­ri­ence. For a more rus­tic ex­pe­ri­ence there’s a bunkhouse that sleeps 18 in a com­fort­able camp-like at­mos­phere. There’s even a bunker-like hut in a se­cluded area of the re­serve built into a ledge for pic­nics.

The es­tate is about an hour’s drive from the city of In­ver­ness. My wife, Maria, and I were taken there by Ted Innes Ker, the founder of Os­sian, a com­pany that pro­vides unique travel ex­pe­ri­ences in the Scot­tish High­lands. As his Jaguar SUV mas­ter­fully hugged the wind­ing coun­try roads, the for­mer pro­fes­sional golfer says that his young firm can tai­lor lux­u­ri­ous travel itin­er­ar­ies, in­clud­ing a va­ri­ety of ac­tive ad­ven­ture tours. He works with a num­ber of cas­tles and es­tates in the area, in­clud­ing those with Bri­tish royal prove­nance. Some are pri­vate res­i­dences that are oc­ca­sion­ally opened to the pub­lic un­der the right cir­cum­stances. Ker, who also has royal pedi­gree, can make it hap­pen.

At Al­ladale, we stayed for one night in the main guest­house, which has a gym, a small sauna, a bil­liards room and a com­fort­able liv­ing room with a wel­com­ing, lit fire­place—be­cause even in the sum­mer it gets cold in the Scot­tish High­lands. The house is sta­tioned on a plateau that pro­vides as­ton­ish­ing views from ev­ery win­dow.

Meals are taken com­mu­nally on a long wooden ta­ble be­neath chan­de­liers made of deer antlers. Guests in­cluded a cou­ple with their two chil­dren from London, solo trav­el­ers from Mis­souri and Sri Lanka, and two young women from Ro­ma­nia. Con­ver­sa­tion at din­ner and after­wards was easy and en­joy­able.

Lo­cal veni­son was served for din­ner in the form of steak and as sausages for break­fast by the highly ca­pa­ble chef, Tom. For lunch we had lo­cally caught salmon ter­rine. The man­ager, Steve, was al­ways on hand pro­vid­ing any­thing we needed.

There are plenty of ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing trout fish­ing, pony rid­ing, hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing and stalk­ing (hunt­ing for deer on foot). I be­lieve the best way to en­joy the re­serve is as a place for rest, re­lax­ation and the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the his­tory, cul­ture and ecol­ogy of the Scot­tish High­lands.

Paul Lis­ter, a con­ser­va­tion­ist and multi-mil­lion­aire heir to a Bri­tish fur­ni­ture re­tail chain, pur­chased the prop­erty in 2003 and has since set about a highly pub­li­cized “rewil­d­ing” ef­fort to re­turn the land to its nat­u­ral state be­fore the clear cut­ting of forests and the wide­spread killing of sev­eral an­i­mal species. It be­gan with the “High­land Clear­ances” in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, when farm­ers were force­fully evicted from their home­land and agrar­ian way of life to make way for sheep herd­ing, and con­tin­ued with the in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion and two world wars that fol­lowed. Lis­ter has man­aged the plant­ing of 900,000 in­dige­nous trees (the ma­jor­ity be­ing pine, along with alder, rowan and birch) and has re­pop­u­lated some of the wildlife. The most no­tice­able new­comer is a herd of High­land Cat­tle. The most con­tro­ver­sial is a pro­posal to in­tro­duce wolves and bears on the re­serve.

MacNeill, who man­ages the 23,000-acre re­serve with Lin­coln, his ever present Red Labrador Re­triever, gave us a tour of the prop­erty that is reach­able by jeep. A good por­tion of the land can only be trav­eled by foot.

The Al­ladale River cuts through windswept hills of grass and ex­posed rock, with only a scat­ter­ing of trees. Patches of early sum­mer pur­ple heather min­gle with the green ter­rain. It’s a rugged, beau­ti­ful land­scape. There is fenc­ing in ar­eas to pro­tect re­cently planted trees from graz­ing deer, which are ev­ery­where. Part of the rea­son Lis­ter says he wants to in­tro­duce preda­tors is to cull the deer pop­u­la­tion and pro­tect the saplings.

At one point we stopped along the Al­ladale River where the High­land Cat­tle graze so MacNeill can pour food pel­lets to sup­ple­ment their diet. It’s a scenic spot with a clear view of the rugged, bend­ing river mak­ing its way through the hills. The cat­tle are dis­tin­guished by their long horns and long wavy coats that even ex­tend over their eyes. MacNeill also took us to view three Scot­tish wild­cats be­ing kept in an en­clo­sure. The idea is to even­tu­ally re­lease these preda­tory cats into the wild. They look a lot like large do­mes­ti­cated cats ex­cept their stare says “don’t mess with me.”

None of us will live to see if Lis­ter’s goal to re­turn the land to its orig­i­nal state will hap­pen. But vis­i­tors can en­joy the process as well as the com­fort of the es­tate.

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