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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Near Fort William,
T: 01855 841 384
*Rooms from £75 for a double.