25 Jan A trip to the Scottish Highland – Alladale Wilderness Reserve
The journey ahead
I’d been excited for weeks about this shoot that was to take me high in to the Scottish Highlands, a place I’ve never managed to venture before. Scotland, and especially the Cairngorms, holds a dear place in my heart as five years previous, it was here I had proposed to my beautiful wife, Helen.
As the flight started to descend into Inverness, we broke through the clouds into what appeared to be another world. The sparse peaks and crevasse of the Cairngorms were all topped with a crisp layer of fresh snow, and the sun was setting a pure pink. A good sign for the weather and photo shoot ahead at Alladale Wilderness Reserve
We were met at the airport by the estate’s new Dutch Operations & Hospitality Manager Pieter-Paul Groenhuijsen, (who I’d met a year before in Sri Lanka when photographing the hotel he was managing with his partner, Gonnie).
The hour and half drive north of Inverness didn’t give away any clues to the harsh backdrop to our drive, as it was mid-evening and very dark. Piete’s enthusiasm never waned on the journey (or for the whole weekend for that matter) when telling us about his exciting plans he has for the future year ahead.
Thirty minutes drive off the main road we arrive to Alladale Lodge, an imposing Victorian estate house aloft a rugged lawn with a sweeping driveway leading up to the main entrance.
A guided tour of the main house was followed by dinner and wine in the drawing room next to the roaring fireplace. I could already see why Piete & Gonnie had fallen in love with this place.
A few after dinner drams of whiskey and I retired not too late to my enormous master bedroom. I was very excited to see what was to be revealed behind the large, closed curtains in the morning.
Up at dawn
Like an excited child on Christmas morning, I’m straight out of bed to open the curtains, and I’m not disappointed in the slightest.
A magnificent rugged panoramic landscape descends before me with snow capped mountain rooftops sweeping away below to expose glorious hill sides of oranges, purples, magentas, browns and blue autumn colours in all their glory – ‘Oh this is going to be fun!’
The first shoot of the day is Deanich Lodge, one of three lodges scattered throughout the reserves remotest valleys. The 40 minute drive up through the valley hugs a fast flowing river, where trout fishing is rife in the summer months, a truly breath-taking vista if I have ever seen.
Denich Lodge is one of the most remote lodges in the Highlands of Scotland, set seven miles away from any other form of civilisation, this really is ‘escaping the city’!. The rustic lodge can host up to 18 in single and bunk beds and is in an incredible unique location.
As we approach we are accompanied by five large deer stags peering down at us from their higher perched positions. I can’t stop smiling, I’ve already fallen head of heels for the rugged charm and isolation of this place. If someone was to create heaven, this is what it would look like!
The weather changes extremely quickly in these parts and as we approach the lodge, the sleet and snow reside to the sweetest of sunshine highlighting the river, valley and mountain scene. Just the perfect scene for a photo……..
The shoot is a success, and with all communal areas, bedrooms and kitchen captured, we return back down the valley. As we pull off in the Land Rover, a couple of inquisitive dear walk across the track in front of us. Two quickly become five, which in turn become ten and finally an eighteenth stag surrounds the vehicle. This is incredible. I knew that I would see a few stags on this trip, but to be surrounded by eighteen adult stags in one of the remotest valleys in the Highlands really is nothing I could’ve imagined.
‘They’re in for a very harsh winter’, explains Piete as a few approach in hope of food. ‘A few won’t survive, these are the realities of living in this environment.’
Back at the lodge
The rest of the afternoon is occupied by capturing the Alladale Lodge itself. The beautiful drawing room with high ceilings, large seating bay window and large Victorian fireplace is flooded by the afternoon sunshine. No drawing room on this scale should be without a grand piano and one is nestled perfectly in the corner by the circulating globe (no hidden bar regrettably)….
The dining room can seat up to eighteen for sizeable groups, perfect for large birthday parties, weddings or long weekends away. There is a billiards room, gym, spa rooms, snug, conference room and an impeccable grand entrance hall with wide staircase ascending to the bedrooms.
All seven double bedrooms are of a decent size, exceedingly comfortable with traditional furnishings, en suite faculties and views to die for. The house can sleep up to fourteen, with an extra single bed/double on the ground floor. The day ends in similar vein to the first…dinner, fire, wine and whiskey.
The last shoot
Up early again to drink in the views and get a chance to edit some photos. The weather changes rapidly in the half and hour from getting up to breakfast.
I can’t stress enough how thoughtful of hosts Piete & Gonnie are. Gonnie puts on the spread of all spreads for breakfast, and with a full belly I finish off photographing the remaining rooms from the lodge.
Alladale is a 23,000 acre estate with two long valleys extending away south-west towards the coast. Nestled in the northern of its valley’s, two more cottages are located. Built only ten years ago, Ghillie’s Lodge and Eagle’s Crag are two contemporarily furnished lodges offering exceedingly comfortable accommodation amongst sometimes unbelievably harsh surroundings. Spacious communal quarters, flagstone flooring, contemporary fittings and large open fireplaces make up these cosy and tastefully furnished lodgings.
Ghillie’s Rest is perfect for a romantic weekend away from it all and Eagle’s Crag ideal for a family holiday or week away with friends. If you’re looking at getting away from it all, look no further.
Resting on the banks of the river, the cottages are situated half way up the valley, nestled on it’s floor with a rural track leading back down toward the main house. The surroundings are sumptuous, but it’s the views up towards the top of the valley which are truly spectacular. I’ve been lucky enough to of visited New Zealand twice, but these surroundings were certainly equal to those stunning scenes.
The day’s photography went well, and one final last supper at the house was expertly laid on yet again by our excellent hosts.
The last day
I depart the following morning, just as the weather seemed to have turned and it was with a heavy heart that I had to return home. I wouldn’t hesitate in encouraging anyone to go and stay and drink in the awe-inspiring scenery of what has become one of my favourite places ever.
I know that Pieter will continue to do an incredible job. With his infectious enthusiasm and exciting ideas, I’m sure it won’t be long before Alladale is put on everyone’s bucket list.
Until next time Alladale!