Monday, October 27, 2014

Scottish Country Houses, and Books

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


Glengorm Castle
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

While Wandering
A Walking Companion
Edited by Duncan Minshull

History of the Rain
by Niall Williams


Prestonfield House
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.

Virginia Woolf
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....


  1. What a trip! I can say I wouldn't even know where to start planning such a beautiful trip. As an Anglophile, (I've only been to London), I feel Great Britain's call; feel it must have been my home in another life. Hope to tour it someday.

  2. This is surely the place for my daughter & I to visit. She is enchanted with Ireland & Scotland but has never been to either. She knows England very well as she grew up with a young girl from London who attended her school, and they visit back & forth often.
    This is just so beautiful, Pamela, and I mean this about YOU. Love the pics of you, and the one of the dog. BTW, hug yours for me.

    1. I have removed the "spat" between commenters that was located here. Both anonymous, naturally. Really!

    2. I am sorry, I actually do not have a Goggle ID, but have been a regular reader of your blog for a very, very long time. It was just that I personally felt the comment before mine was rude and inappropriate and I thought it did not deserve the harsh words that someone left about it, and I felt the need to say so. So, given that, I merely said how I felt. My sincerest apologies to you Pamela and your readers if it's felt that I was also being rude, and caused a "spat." (Genevieve McMahon) --You can delete this if you'd like, no offense taken.

    3. I too was rather taken aback at the rudeness of the comment you responded to. It was unfortunately clear that the person who left that comment was only going to continue to be rude even after you related how you felt, so I deleted the entire thread. I felt the same as you did, but too often it seems that any sort of response to those sort of comments only seems to encourage those who feel compelled to leave them. Sad. Anonymous comments are more than welcome here at my blog, as long as that title is not used as a hiding place for saying rude things. Keep commenting! xo

  3. Thank you for sharing these absolutely wonderful places and the books~

  4. You're amazing. We're planning a trip to Mull next Spring. We have friends who have recently moved there. Thank you for all you spiffing recommendations.


  5. Lovely tour by the sound of it Pamela. I have read one or two of your books already - and also found them fascinating. What I love is to pick up a book by someone I have never heard of and find I really enjoy it. Then I can add the author to my list. Glad you enjoyed your holiday in Scotland - it takes some beating doesn't it?

  6. Had I known you were here (i.e. in Edinburgh) I'd have invited you over, Pamela!
    So glad you liked Prestonfield - it's quite something, isn't it?

  7. What opulence, what luxury, good for you for enjoying your life and sharing it with those of us who can no longer travel.

  8. Hello Pamela

    Your choice of places to visit in Scotland are breath-taking. One hates to leave such places. I can imagine you knitting and reading, This somehow embeds the memory and you will have some rows of knitting to remind you also. I love your list of books and Virginia Wolf's Art, Life and Vision is on my list.
    Currently I am re-reading all of Dirk Bogarde's autobiographical books starting with Postillion Struck by Lightening. Perfect reading by the peat turf fire.
    Wishing you a great week

    Helen xx

  9. What an amazing trip and what wonderful places you stayed at! Magical indeed!
    And such good reading matter to go along with your travels.
    So glad you did not forsake the UK after your husband's alarming accident.
    Frances (Cityviews/Country Dreams) are meeting Bellabehaeg a Scottish blogger here in NY today.
    All best wishes.

  10. WOW..what a trip YOU had.Loved every word...................
    I am way overdue for an England I too have never been to IRELAND or SCOTLAND so thats a MUST!
    I betI know who was HAPPY to see you return home!!!

  11. A dream trip Pamela and the book choices, just excellent!
    Have a wonderful weekend!
    The Arts by Karena

  12. Sumptuous images of your Scottish vacation....looks idyllic!
    Will need to take note of some of these books for my winter reads here in the Pacific Northwest.
    I do love shoes but have stopped buying for the time being as I have "enough!"

  13. Oh my, oh my! What a sumptuous post. Riches of place and architecture and pages and words. Honestly, I just want to burrow in here for months. Bookmarking to return as I work through some of these titles. Thank you!

  14. Pamela ….. you must have thought that you had found your Utopia !! …. such beautiful places and just perfect for you.
    I shall be reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and probably one or two that you have recommended.
    Happy reading and happy Autumn Pamela. XXXX

  15. Hi, Pamela ..... Great pictures and memories to tuck into your travel portmanteau. You really do love Scotland, don't you! Thanks in part to one of your book tips earlier this year, I'm currently reading "The Bloomsbury Cookbook," and contemplating what it might be like to visit Charleston House. Love the artwork of all the Bloomsbury artists. This book was a treat for myself at Shakespeare & Co. in September. :-)

  16. LOVE..LOVE...LOVE..that you LOVE Scotland Pamela. There is nothing more exciting than someone who takes complete joy in their travels and I know that you do. Of course, this is coming from someone is reading the Diana Gabaldon series...again. I just finished #3 and will be on to # 4 after a wee break. Your book suggestions are just what I needed at this moment. Jamie and Claire will have to wait. Thank you for the hotel recommendations, if it comes from you, I know I will enjoy it too! Best from Saigon...xx

  17. Hello Pamela,
    Another fantastic blog with lots for us to read and dream about. Scotland......I hope you got to meet some Outlanders on your travels....ha ha. How lucky were you to be in London for the Virginia Woolfe Exhibition. When I heard it was on, I sent for the catalogue and like you, was not disappointed. Thank you too for alerting us to the new Vita Sackville West book. Back to the UK in September to walk Dartmoor but one thing is for certain.....another visit to the Draycott. Thank you Pamela xx Anita

  18. such beautiful photos Pamela ~ thank you for sharing.

  19. What delightful pairings of books and inns! Those are my two biggest indulgences as well. It must have been a fabulous vacation. You make me miss the UK and having time to read for hours just for fun.

  20. Oh Pamela, this makes me want to go to Scotland. And the books! What a delicious combination!

  21. I'm glad you liked Prestonfield. The leather walls in the bar are a marvel.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at Thank you for reading!