Escape to the spectacular surroundings of Raemoir Country House
LAURA TOOGOOD visits Raemoir Country House in Aberdeenshire for a walking holiday in the inspiring Scottish hillside…
Health and fitness New Year resolutions are among the most common and I was certainly not alone when I made a vow to champion an active lifestyle in 2014. So, it seemed rather apt that I found myself flying to rural Scotland in early January to embark on an idyllic walking holiday.
I was drawn to Aberdeenshire by the spectacular countryside and the chance to stay in the beautiful Raemoir House Hotel, which has won numerous awards.
While many people like to escape the dull weather at this time of year and swap it for cocktails on a sandy beach, a weekend walking in the Scottish Highlands is a much more productive way to embrace a healthy lifestyle. It also presents some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
From the moment I touched down at Aberdeen Airport and began the short drive west towards Banchory, I fell in love with the surroundings. I was utterly captivated by the rolling hills, picturesque stones walls, winding lanes, forests of fir trees and dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorms appearing on the horizon. It is hard to believe that such an impressive and remote landscape is only an hour and a half away on a plane from Gatwick.
Raemoir Country House is everything you can dream of when booking a luxury, countryside escape. With a notable entrance, the imposing house is positioned at the end of sweeping driveway that welcomes visitors into the grounds. The interior is traditionally decorated; large aristocratic paintings and furniture are accompanied by lights in the shape of candles and roaring fires to create a refined setting.
The Raemoir Suite is one of the hotel’s best rooms and mimics high-end luxury with a beautiful four poster bed, enormous bay windows with views of the sun rising over the hills and a very spacious en-suite bathroom that features an old-fashioned, large bath.
However, the real luxury factor of Raemoir Country House is not only visible among the traditional features of the hotel but also the situation. Few destinations can offer such spectacular countryside and prolific walking routes that begin right on the doorstep.
Towards the back of the house runs a path that climbs through the neighbouring forest and towards the peak of the nearest Munro. The moderate climb is on easy terrain as a track brings walkers all the way up the hillside. When you get half way up, you can pause to get a sneak preview of the views to come.
However, the full impact of the setting is not realised until you reach the top. Here you can walk along the ridge, admiring a 360 degree panorama of the magnificent countryside. You can make your walk as long as you like, which means it suits most fitness levels.
For those who want to venture further into the depths of the Cairgorms, then a drive to Braemar through via the pretty town of Aboyne is recommended. Once you reach the centre of the village there is a six mile walk that takes you right to the peak of Morrone, which is the only significant hill climb in Scotland to start from the centre of a village.
If you leave the village by walking towards the golf course, the ascent is relatively easy. Although the climb is steep, there is a track stretching to the very top. Even when you reach the snowcaps, it is still an easy path to follow. However, the descent back towards the village is more complicated. The path is much less visible and navigation equipment is essential, especially if there is snow cover towards the top. I lost my way temporarily but was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of a rare Mountain Hare, which was disguised by its seasonal white coat. It was as if I had stepped into Alice in Wonderland as the hare darted off towards the hidden path, revealing the way down!
This walk took about three hours to complete and covered eight miles because I decided to add on an extra circuit at the foot of the hills. This stretched the route a further two miles, but it was well worth finishing on the flat as a warm-down. A different view of the surroundings was also offered and the vegetation almost looked on fire as the light faded and dusk set in. The light, leaves and undulations are enchanting.
Pubs are not prevalent in this part of Scotland, so rather than stopping for a (well-earned) drink at the end of your walk, I recommend driving straight back to Raemoir House. When you return, a long hot bath followed with your favourite tipple by the crackling fire in the regal main lounge will be just the treat you need.
The country house offers an experience whereby you can enjoy breakfast and dinner as part of your visit. This is ideal for those who just want to tuck themselves away and enjoy the tranquil surroundings. You will barely see anyone else when out walking and the country house is designed to ensure you can enjoy a discreet break. The dinner menu is delicious and the options change every evening so you will always be able to sample a fresh menu, with new options.
The salmon is a definite winner, whether it comes smoked or as a fillet. You couldn’t get a fresher dish as fishing is a popular pastime here. Game, such as venison, also features and it is worth ordering for a similar reason.
Most people know that Scotland is famed for its whisky and even though this is not my first choice of beverage, I was tempted to try some malts when guided by the resident experts. The bar offers an extensive list, which is tested to its full when fishing or shooting parties stop by.
If you are a big fan of whisky, then Royal Lochnagar Distillery is a short drive away and here you can enjoy a luxury tour of the facilities. This is definitely something to do on a rainy day and can be done in tandem with a visit to the Knock Gallery. The gallery offers exceptional views of the mountains, a welcoming fire and some wonderful contemporary art and jewellery. If you visit the area during late spring or summer then Balmoral will also be open for visitors.
While there is plenty to keep you occupied on a rainy day, snuggling up at Raemoir for relaxation time with a book by the fire and Afternoon Tea is just as appealing as taking in the local sites! Whatever your preference for daily activity, a visit to this remote area of Scotland features very high up on the list of ultimate getaways as it offers the perfect peaceful escape.
From the moment I touched down on the runway at Aberdeen Airport during sunrise to the moment I returned to board the plane, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of tranquility and utterly inspired by the beauty of Scotland.
Raemoir House is located at Banchory, Aberdeenshire AB31 4ED. Reservations can be made by telephoning 01330 824884 or visiting their website. Flights depart from Gatwick daily with British Airways.