Alladale: Scottish Wilderness Retreat

Alladale Lodge, Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Ardgay

We timed our trip to Scotland well. As luck would have it, two English friends had booked the three-bedroom Eagle’s Crag, one of the four exclusive-use properties at Alladale Wilderness Reserve, a vast Highlands estate near Ardgay, for a family reunion. Since the rest of the group wasn’t arriving right away, they invited us to join them for a couple of nights.

Woodland regeneration along Glen Mhor, Alladale Wilderness Reserve - James Shooter
View of the valley and Deanich Lodge, Alladale Wilderness Reserve - Pete Helme
Alladale Lodge, Alladale Wilderness Reserve
Deanich Lodge, Alladale Wilderness Reserve
Alladale Lodge, Alladale Wilderness Reserve
Ghillie's Rest, Alladale Wilderness Reserve - Iain Ferguson

Investigating the property, I discovered that philanthropist Paul Lister, founder of the European Nature Trust, bought the Alladale Estate, which comprises 23,000 acres in what had once been Scotland’s Caledonian Forest, with the intention of rewilding it. This meant planting some 800,000 native trees and introducing Highland cattle, wild boar and elk. The possibility of adding wolves and bears to the landscape again is still under discussion.

On our arrival, the estate took our breath away and made good on what Lister has told the press. According to him, people arrive here to “come to the end of the road, to connect to the environment and to feel spiritual.” An Indian maharajah built Alladale Lodge on the estate in 1877 as a hunting retreat, and Lister has handsomely restored this stately granite house. Bookable only in its entirety, it now offers seven bedrooms, which are very comfortably furnished and come with private baths with soaking tubs. The lodge also has a sauna, gym, snooker room, television room and chef. Charming Natasha Buttigieg cooks delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners with local produce, much of it organic.

Buttigieg also cooks lunch and dinner for guests staying at the estate’s other three lodges — Eagle’s Crag, Ghillie’s Rest and Deanich Lodge — but they’re delivered with instructions for reheating (outside the main lodge, wait service is only on request). Highlights of the meals we had during our two-night stay included smoked trout from the estate and a succulent venison goulash.

Guest room in Alladale Lodge – Pete Helme
Guest room in Alladale Lodge - Pete Helme
Dining room in Alladale Lodge - Pete Helme
Bath in Alladale Lodge - Pete Helme
Sitting room in Deanich Lodge - Pete Helme
Dining room in Eagle's Crag lodge - Pete Helme
Sitting room in Ghillie's Crag lodge - Pete Helme

Eagle’s Crag has two bedrooms with private baths and a comfortable sleeping loft (ideal for children) with up to eight beds and its own bathroom. This isolated granite house has one of the most beautiful settings we’ve ever seen, since it’s nestled into the enormity of a sweeping U-shaped valley. A river rushes through the glens, moors and forests in its middle, and the whole exhibited a spectacular primal bareness that was a dozen shades of green at springtime. Inside, we appreciated the open-plan living area’s cathedral ceilings with two huge chandeliers made from stag antlers. It was a pleasure to relax in the exceptionally comfortable overstuffed sofas and chairs in the lounge and take meals at the adjacent eight-person dining room table. And since there was no air or light pollution, it was great fun to use the tripod-mounted telescope for stargazing.