Scottish Country Houses, and Books
Just around the corner from my hotel in London, sort of catty-cornered from one of my favourite places to eat breakfast and people-watch in the early morning hours, sits a special little shoe shop. Emma Hope always has drool-worthy samples of their expensive wares arranged enticingly in their crystal clear windows and occasionally I stop to have a look. Kitten-heeled day shoes. Riding boots the colour of warm caramel. Bejeweled evening shoes just begging to be worn to a breakfast at Tiffany’s. I sometimes sit at my breakfast table across the street and watch women pass by these windows. Their pace will slow a bit as their eyes catch the colorful array. Then they stop. They stare. You can almost hear the voices inside their heads vehemently arguing back and forth about the necessity of another pair of shoes. The price! But the beauty! The need versus the want. It’s fun to see which side wins.
Despite my card-carrying femininity, I am not often tempted by shoes. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good pair of riding boots and have had my head turned more that once by a jaunty pair of spectators. But, as the little voices inside my own head can attest, I am most often lured into extravagance by old country house hotels, and books. This most recent trip to Scotland was no exception. We stayed in some utterly marvelous places. And yes, despite my pleading with The Songwriter to keep me out of bookshops, I did manage to bring home a few fabulous books on this latest journey.
I thought you all might enjoy a pairing of these two for my latest post. So I’m sharing some of the places we stayed on this last holiday, along with some of the intriguing new titles just released for the autumn season.
I hope you enjoy a peek of both.
And as always, do share what you plan to read this fall.Photo above: Detail of Prestonfield House, Edinburgh Scotland
The Manor House
An overnight flight to Heathrow, then a smaller plane to Edinburgh where we picked up a car and drove to Glencoe, my favourite place on Earth. A hike into the wilds of Glencoe to a place called The Study; a vantage point from which we could best observe the Three Sisters, resplendent that day in the clear, bright sunlight, a gift from Mother Nature that was as unexpected as it was most gratefully received. A drive through the idyllic scenery of Ballachulish as the sun began to drift downwards towards the horizon led us to The Manor House in Oban.
Sitting atop a hill overlooking the harbor, the Manor House looks just like its name. One can easily imagine it as the comfortable home for the Duke of Argyll, which, in fact, it was. Built in 1780, it retains all of its stately Georgian charm. Tired and hungry when we arrived, we opened the door of the Manor House and were met with mouth-watering aromas coming from the restaurant kitchen. We were then led upstairs to our corner room where tartan blankets were tucked into our downy bed and windows offered unfettered views to the seaport below.
We sat out in the garden to watch the sun set below the mountains until the Scottish wind reminded us that summer was a thing of the past and we fled to the warmth inside where a scrumptious dinner awaited us. There are plenty of fireside rooms in which to read at The Manor House. And any of these new books would fit the bill nicely.
Just click on the pictures to find out more.
The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Behind the Mask
The Life of Vita Sackville-West
by Matthew Dennison
Isle of Mull
If you are hardy enough to brave the chilled winds that whip round the top deck of the ferry to Mull, you will be rewarded with the site of an ancient castle. Like a page torn from a fairy tale, Duart Castle presides over the coastline of Mull with a serene solemnity befitting its setting as well as its history. Soon the ferry will dock, bumping softly into place, and its time to drive off and head north.
You follow the coastline for about an hour, head wheeling from side to side in attempts to fully appreciate the amazing coastal views, until you come to the tiny roundabout at Tobermory. Heading off to the left, you notice the landscape becoming wilder. The road narrows to one track. Like a green-uniformed army, ancient fir trees stand shoulder to shoulder, staring silently into your car windows as you pass. The road becomes rougher as you navigate the switchbacks and ruts. Highland Cows occasionally block your path, facing down your car in a friendly dare. Then, at a high bend in the road, you suddenly brake. There off in the distance, on a hillside above a wild sea, you see it.
Impossibly grand, Glengorm Castle is the castle you dreamed of when you read Sleeping Beauty. All turrets and spires and achingly breathtaking views. But never fear its grandness, for Glengorm is run like a family home. In fact, the owners live there with their two small children and two adorable dogs. ( We met the dogs, not the kids.) The rooms are atmospheric and cozy. The cliffside hikes are dreams. I managed to carve out a few minutes here to read and to knit, but not nearly enough for either. This place is heaven.
Here are some new books perfect for curling up at Glengorm Castle.
by Marilynne Robinson
A Walking Companion
Edited by Duncan Minshull
History of the Rain
by Niall Williams
I had come to Edinburgh alone, enroute to meet my friend in Aberdeen for our trip to Shetland. Having said goodbye to The Songwriter at London’s Paddington Station in a scene straight out of WWII, I took the train northbound on a very early, very foggy, morning. Now, sitting in the back of a taxi, I listened as the driver explained his position on the Scottish vote for independence all the while peering out the window as we passed through a neighborhood of neat little houses lined up in a row. This can’t be right, I thought to myself. There can’t be a hotel here. But suddenly the cab turned in between two lichen-covered stone posts and the real world popped like a bubble into nonexistence.
As we drove slowly up the tree-lined drive, I saw several peacocks wandering round; their turquoise feathers shining in the early morning sunlight. And there, at the far end of the drive in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, sat Prestonfield House, waiting for me in all its Jacobite glory. My cab door was thrown open by a handsome young Scot who offered his arm and led me in through the tall wooden doors whilst my bags were whisked away to my room. Then, perhaps noticing my gaping jaw, the gregarious chap offered to give me a tour of the hotel, an offer I enthusiastically excepted.
I can only say that very single teeny tiny square inch of Prestonfield House is perfection. From the welting on the double-lined curtains that dress the gleaming windows, to the paintings that line the walls. I had dinner that night in my room, (Wilmont is sitting on my bed in the photo below) at a lovely table ( complete with complimentary champagne and roses) by an open window that looked out over the autumnal colours of the garden, feeling for all the world like a Scottish queen of yore. Paradise. Seriously.
After a brisk walk round the gardens next morning, spoiled for choice, I finally settled myself into the upstairs sitting room for an hour of reading. Believe me, I have rarely been so cosseted. Prestonfield is a splendiferous treat for the senses.
I’d love to curl up there with any of these new books.
Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
(I was fortunate to catch the recent Woolf exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery.
It was magnificent, and this book was the companion piece to the show.
Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers
Portraits of 50 Famous Folks and All Their Weird Stuff
by James Gulliver Hancock
Yves Saint Laurent
A Moroccan Passion
by Pierre Berge'
To find out more about these Wonderful Scottish Inns....