As the days start lengthening, the magic of Springtime is everywhere in the beautiful, timeless, sanctuary for nature, which hides the spacious luxury and contemporary chic of The Boat House. Carpets of snowdrops stretch down to the waters of the Milton burn and daffodil leaves force their way through the grass alongside the drive down to the house, ready for a golden Easter. The sound of birds, singing their hearts out as they compete for territory and mates, is almost deafening; soon they will be building nests, often using the lichen which covers the ancient apple trees and grows in the clean, mountain air.
The furry buds of the pear, apple and rowan trees are becoming plumper every day before bursting into glorious pink and white blossom in May and June. Then, in the early summer months wild bluebells, red poppies and clouds of white, lacy, aniseed scented flowers above the bright green leaves of sweet cicely drift across the lawn into lilac edged birch and beech woodland where the red squirrels, one of the most at risk and most loved animals, scamper around the trees.
We can start dreaming about the glorious long days and short summer nights of May and June in the Highlands of Scotland. After breakfast in the sun, sitting on a plump cushioned window seat reading a book with the sun streaming in through an open window or moving the wooden armchairs to catch the sun as it moves around the house, before cooking dinner over wood on the recycled fire bowl.
Living here, we often take for granted the many ways we can enjoy this exceptionally beautiful landscape and the variety of the scenery, precious habitat and the rare and at-risk wildlife that depends on it, as well as of course just feeling good in the sparkling, clear air. Even if they bike, most people delight in walking around the amazing network of paths through the ancient natural forest of Rothiemurchus with glimpses of snow on the mountains; enjoying being with friends and family or just being on their own and having a special feeling of wellbeing, renewal and celebration, especially after a long winter.
Loch an Eilein is one of the most loved places to walk in the U.K., but just outside The Boat House door is a grassy path alongside the River Spey, under gnarled ‘granny’ pines and beech trees planted on the bank which protects the fields from the River, or swishing through dry brown beech leaves through the beech wood beside the drive, under the bright green canopy of downy leaves as they emerge in the spring sunshine.
There is a huge choice of guided as well as self-guided activities for grown-ups and little people in Rothiemurchus and nearby. Treks on quad bikes and mini Land Rovers as well as riding on well-schooled Highland ponies and mini ponies, ariel ropes and zip wire courses, clay target shooting with expert tuition on one of the best sporting layouts, wild swimming in the pure fresh water of a Highland loch, tubing down a Highland river, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking and five minutes from The Boat House you can play tennis whatever the weather on a covered court, even when falling snowflakes sparkle in the floodlights. There is excellent mountain biking with a choice of local bike hire and a world-class‘ pump track’ recently opened in the next-door village. You might well see Danny MacAskill riding around local paths as he is based nearby. The Boat House bike wash has been well used!
Speyside has long been renowned for the quality of its produce and we appreciate how fortunate we are that in this special environment, some of the most delicious food and drink in the world is produced by dedicated people using traditional skills with modern tools.
There is a new confidence that it’s not only delicious whisky and shortbread that is produced along the banks of the River Spey. Rothiemurchus tender, tasty forest venison was chosen as one of Rick Stein’s first Food Heroes and last year Ghillie Bazan explained why it is so special in her celebration of local food makers – ‘A Taste of The Highlands’.
Our dedicated ‘in-house’ team was thrilled when grass-fed beef from our traditional purebred Highland fold and the meat counter in Rothiemurchus Farm Shop – one of the first in the UK, was celebrated by chef James Martin in his TV series and book ‘Islands to Highlands’. The Farm-shop is full of the finest locally grown and Scottish produce including strawberries and raspberries from May. We are so fortunate that just two miles from The Boat House there is now one of the best fish shops in Scotland selling the ‘stunning’ off the boat fish and shellfish for which Scotland is renowned, expertly selected and prepared by an award-winning family.
By late May, on the edge of The Boat House ‘lawn’ rhubarb stalks are ready for guests to ‘pull’, cook and enjoy, and by the autumn the grass under the apple tree is covered with tasty ‘cookers’ and ‘eaters’. Zero miles.
In Rothiemurchus sustainability is our purpose and what we continually strive for. Communities of people have lived and worked here for at least six thousand years since Neolithic times. Encouraging the forest to regenerate naturally has enabled people to make their living here, communities to remain and wildlife to thrive.
For the last seventy years Johnnie’s father, Johnnie and the team here, supported by Government agencies, have actively protected and rewilded large areas of Rothiemurchus. They believed that by enabling visitors to enjoy the mountains, forest and wildlife sustainably, people would be able to live and work in this extraordinary place, the wildlife would thrive and biodiversity would increase. This long-term vision has resulted in the naturally regenerated expansion of the ancient Rothiemurchus forest and in the biodiversity of wildlife.
The foundation of The Boat House two year rebuild was ‘treading lightly’ by minimising the carbon footprint without ‘greenwashing’. In this historic stone-built house the outside walls and roof and the large kitchen diner floors have the highest quality insulation added, throughout the house the windows are double glazed, there are heating controls, including thermostatic radiator valves on every radiator and the lighting is LED. There are drying areas inside and out as an alternative to using the tumble dryer. Much consideration and thought went into the choice of heating – the latest wood-burning stoves are much more efficient and we only use naturally dried, Rothiemurchus wind-blown wood – mainly beech and oak as it is slower to burn. Materials have been saved and reused where ever possible.
We enthusiastically recycle, reuse and search for eco-friendly and sustainable products but try not to ’greenwash’. We love our super soft Bumboo paper in the loos and kitchen, Kadai recycled fire- bowl and the outside furniture is all made from FSC wood and in response to guests requests, recently added a repainted table to use as a desk in front of the window in the quiet old nursery hall upstairs.
We are hoping swallows will again return to nest in the old garage and the herons and otters will continue to visit the River Spey and Milton Burn regularly; red squirrels will continue to scamper up and down trees and ‘steal’ food from the old garage. With the world beginning to bloom again, we look forward to seeing you at the Boat House – we all need a little magic.