Carnival or Constance Spry?

It was Notting Hill Carnival last weekend, but the old crew – once reliable stalwarts of the famous west London street party – were nowhere to be seen. The Worms were on holiday, Frave moved to Somerset for good two weeks ago, and Alice and Robbie – residents of THE Carnival party pad – didn’t want to spoil their new paintwork.

Notting Hill Carnival vs Scottish Highlands

Notting Hill Carnival vs The Scottish Highlands

We’ve all got so old and boring!” I said to The Heid.

Yes, well,” he said defensively, looking up from his book, “I can’t stand all that noise.”

And so we went to Scotland, on a round trip from my family home in the Scottish Borders via an old school friend’s house in Stonehaven and across the Cairngorms to Ard Daraich, a charming B&B – once the holiday home of Constance Spry – set in the huge, timeless landscape of the highlands, not far from Ardgour.

Ard Daraich

Ard Daraich

I had never heard of Constance Spry, but apparently she was very famous as a flower arranger, gardener and cookery writer in the 1950s and 60s. She planted the beginnings of a garden during her stays there and, I’m told, prefaced several recipes featured in her much-loved ‘Constance Spry Cookery Book’ (currently winging its way to me via Amazon) with the Ard Daraich title.

Constance Spry Cookery Book

Winging its way to me as I type...

If fantastic food and gardens sum up the spirit of Spry, then Anna and Norrie Maclaren – our welcoming hosts for the weekend – are keeping it alive through their own efforts in these departments. We slept like the dead here, waking in our simply decorated, tasteful room to the sound of birdsong and the knowledge that, far away, the head-zinging baseline of a Carnival float was just revving up for the day, before making our way down to epic Scottish breakfasts prepared by Norrie.

Ard Daraich breakfast

Brekker all laid up

Oh the breakfasts – with creamy yoghurt, fresh fruit and home-grown berry compote to start; then fat local sausages, fresh eggs from Norrie and Anna’s own hens, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms and a hearty disc of black pudding; then toast, from bread freshly baked, that we buttered and slathered with Anna’s home-made Seville Orange Marmalade. We worked it all off with a five hour hike on the Ard Tornish estate, owned by Anna’s family, stopping for a light lunch at a shoreline bothy, left unlocked for passing walkers to seek shelter and warmth.

Scottish bothy picnic lunch, Ard Tornish

A picnic lunch at the Ard Tornish bothy (we climbed that big hill behind it afterwards)

Sadly, we ran out of time for one of Norrie’s famed ‘Garden Tours’ so took ourselves round quickly before we left, clambering over rocky paths into the lush nooks and crannies of this wild and winding hill-top garden, with windows through the greenery to spectacular views over Loch Linnhe.

Loch Linnhe, Ardgour

View of Loch Linnhe from the Ard Daraich garden

Unfortunately, neither of us knows much about plants, but for those who do, Ard Daraich is said to have an impressive collection comprising over a thousand different Rhododendron species, hundreds of Acers and Sorbus trees and other rare trees and shrubs. This all went straight over our heads, of course, implying that – despite shirking Carnival – we’re not that old and boring after all.

Plant Ard Daraich

I have no idea what this is

Ard Daraich
Near Fort William,
PH33 7AB
T: 01855 841 384

*Rooms from £75 for a double.

2 thoughts on “Carnival or Constance Spry?

  1. So interesting about different generations. Our generation grew up learning to cook from “Connie” in the 60′s! My mothers copy had a pink cover but mine, given to me as an eighteenth birthday present, is navy blue! Did you know that Constance Spry invented that perhaps too familiar dish….Cornonation Chicken? And she did the flowers for the Coronation too. I supose she represented the end of the years of Austerity after the end of the 2nd World War. Great to meet you and thank you for the post.

    • Hi Anna – no, I didn’t know that. How timely! I’m looking forward to receiving her book then I can try one of her ‘Ard Daraich’ recipes, and her Coronation Chicken, for myself! Thanks again – we loved our stay with you.

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