I’m no stranger to deep woods where the sun is blotted out by the interlocking arms of conifers, where soft deciduous trees glimmer in the odd ray of light. As a boy, travel and vacation meant journeying to these places in northern Wisconsin. Our abodes were always rustic cottages and lodges on the edges of lakes, and we fished and swam and did things that were just different enough from home.
These days, going “up north” is a ritualistic, nostalgic, and enjoyable affair that Sarah and I do a few times each summer. I look forward to it. So when I looked at my itinerary for the Best Holiday in the World week in MoraySpeyside, maybe you can imagine my interest when I saw that two of my accommodations sounded a lot like what I remember from my childhood: Tullochwood Lodges and Muckrach Lodge.
It’s a tall – and inappropriate – order to live up to, but I couldn’t shake those hazy memories from my mind as I arrived at my woodsy accommodations. What I found both satisfied and surprised me.
Ten minutes south of Forres in the fields and forests of the north Moray countryside hides Tullochwood Lodges. I followed Rene from the Knockomie Hotel along some unclassified roads and drove for what seemed like an interminably long time. Apprehension stretched the minutes; I was to spend the next three nights at Tullochwood and each meter further away from a city magnified tenfold my sense of growing isolation.
Eventually I pulled down a pretty gravel path running through a forest. Rene and I spoke with the proprietor and got the keys before continuing the short way to my personal lodge. Tullochwood is composed of eight self-catering, private lodges on 28 acres of woodland, and my lodge, Huntly, overlooked a small pond that was home to a duck and her eight ducklings. The interior of the lodge provided warm lighting and wood-paneled walls and ceilings to give that rustic flavor, but it had many of the trappings you’d expect in a luxury stay. The lack of internet in the lodge didn’t help my sense of isolation.
I grew to cherish this secluded hermitage. My days were manic, and it was a relief to return to this uber-comfortable cottage where I could explore the woodland paths and capture burning skies. I frequently hiked the few hundred yards to the proprietor’s home where she kindly left her porch open so I could leech wifi, and I lugged dirty clothes over to the laundry house to the lone sound of ducks splashing. The whole scene was a vivid, living memory of northern Wisconsin. I was shocked and warmed to find such a place in Scotland.
I spent the last night of the Best Holiday in the World week – and the last night on this trip before Sarah’s arrival – at Muckrach Lodge. The lodge stands outside the small town of Dulnain Bridge, just a quick hop down the forested A95 from Grantown-on-Spey. As I pulled onto the winding road that led up to the lodge and past Highland Cows, I knew I was going to learn a different definition of the term “lodge.”
Muckrach Lodge was built in 1860 as a shooting lodge on the Seafield Estate, and its massive structure is composed of local granite and slate. This is a gorgeous part of Scotland so near to the River Spey. I parked my car beneath a towering Giant Sequoia and entered the tartan foyer. A heavy sense of history and age hung in the halls, but my room looked like it had been recently renovated. The current directors of Muckrach have been upgrading the premises since 2007, and their work was obvious yet still a bit incomplete.
I wandered around the full-size croquet lawn before settling in the bar and lounge for a perfect mid-afternoon dram. That night I enjoyed a three-course meal in Muckrach’s luxurious restaurant. Rebecca Ferrand, chef and co-owner, treated me to delicious dishes like local hare with gooseberry jelly and saddle of venison. The salmon and eggs the next morning were ludicrously good and I nearly ordered seconds.
Unlike Tullochwood’s self-catering lodges, Muckrach is a country hotel with fine dining. Both places illustrated the range of accommodations available in the MoraySpeyside region, which was enlightening for me since I usually stick to B&Bs. Old memories and new ones, it’s amazing what you can find when you’re lodged in the woods.
Disclosure: These stays were part of my winnings from the Best Holiday in the World contest. All opinions are my own.