Gordon Macintyre runs this thoroughly eccentric inn that overlooks the stunningly expansive Moray Firth (bay). Besides being an expert chef and wine connoisseur, Gordon periodically transforms the hotel into a theatre, and his masterfully directed plays draw audiences from all over England. Even when out of production, the house still hums- it's not uncommon to have Gordon lead an impromptu round of Scottish reels after dinner.
Four years ago, Glenda Cormack bought this 16th century Laird's Fortress and, with promising young chef Michael Acklom, refurbished it into a delightful inn. The castle boasts wonderful antiques, including some of the finest decorative plaster-work in Great Britain, and the bed of King James II. Glenda and Mike take us for a walk in an old smugglers' cove, and to visit the nearby fishing town of Stonehaven.
Dating back to 1815, the castle housed a branch of the expanding Forbes family. A successful American Forbes offered a blank check to the current Lord Malcolm Forbes and his wife Jinny for the castle, but they refused to part with their family home. Richly endowed with antiques and surrounded by a huge estate, the inn is also the site of Stonehenge-type rock formations. Another Highland highlight is a feast prepared by Jinny, where guests wear kilts and address the haggis.
We visit Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell in Ballindalloch Castle, and learn how the Highland clans adopted tartans. Her family's Black Watch tartan is the world's most popular. We then visit the Johnstons Mill in Elgin where you can design your own official family tartan- by computer.
We visit the Cardhu Distillery where kilt-wearing manager Charlie Smith explains the difference between single malts, like their own Cardhu, and blends, like the Johnnie Walker which is made there. Charlie also shows us how whisky accompanies many traditional Scottish foods, like salmon, venison, and Robert Burn's favorite, the haggis.
The Castle Trail
There are more than seventy castles in the Grampian, the greatest concentration of fortresses in the country. We take The Castle Trail and visit some of the more unusual ones, including Brodie Castle, where the Brodie of Brodie himself greets us.
Many anglers consider salmon from the Grampian Highlands the most desirable in the world. We see what lures fishermen to spend $5000 or more a week here to try to catch a fish-with no guarantee of success. We visit the Speyside Smokehouse, where we see how the fish that are caught get to our tables.