Despite having some pretty far flung countries stamped on my passport, it’s fair to say that when it comes to exploring the sights right here on my Scottish doorstep I’ve been less than adventurous. Feeling a little sheepish at this realisation, I felt it was about time my partner in crime and I ventured north to find out what all those visitscotland ad campaigns were about.
We decided on a trip to Dornoch, a four hour scenic drive from Edinburgh, or one hour from Inverness airport. If the name sounds familiar it’s probably because Madonna married Guy Ritchie here and the town’s exclusive Skibo Castle is heaven for A-listers looking for a remote Scottish escape away from it all.
Our home for the weekend was another castle, the 15th century Dornoch Castle, which was converted into a hotel in 1947. Having been a bishop’s palace, a jail, a courthouse and a school in the years in between, it’s steeped in history. Now family run since 2000, you can tell it’s been given a lot of love and attention; the same can also be said for the newly launched Tower Room complete with burning stove, whirlpool bath and handmade furniture. This place has the wow factor. With 24 rooms in total, most situated within the oldest part of the castle and the others in the more modern extension, no two rooms are the same but the standard, all equally high.
After a long bracing walk on the glorious white sandy beach, we settled down to a swift drink in the hotel bar by the roaring log fire, with a wide selection of malts to put the heat back in our bones. The hotel boasts an AA rosette for food and we fully understand why. There’s a wide variety of Scottish produce on offer and we couldn’t resist the starters of Dornoch Firth mussels and a truly divine smoked salmon risotto, both getting top marks from us. Our mains followed the Scottish flavour too with slow roasted pork belly and a rich succulent duck dish, again spot on. With one sticky toffee pudding demolished and a good dent made in the locally sourced cheeseboard afterwards, we retreated to the comfort of our room. There’s a real temptation to simply sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery and generous hospitality here, but with a world renowned golf course on its doorstep and some extensive plans in the pipeline, there’s much more to this castle hotel than meets the eye. For one, it’s convinced me that Scotland definitely deserves further exploration and my travel plans will be a little closer to home next time.
Dornoch Castle Hotel, Castle St, Dornoch, Sutherland, IV25 3SD, Tel: 01862 810 216, www.dornochcastlehotel.com
words Michelle Clancy