It had been a long time since my husband, Jim, and I had taken a road trip around the UK. Our usual trek up the motorway from our home in South Devon always leads us either to Heathrow or Gatwick: destination “abroad”. But, as we got in the car to start our 500-mile journey north, we felt like a couple of kids again. It seemed so exciting – an adventure!
We were heading to CLC Duchally Country Estate, a country house hotel dating back to 1838, for the launch of their very own Scottish gin.
Of course, there are quicker ways of getting there – Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are just an hour away and the nearest train station is down the road at Gleneagles – but our road trip through the westerly counties of England, including Somerset, Cheshire and the beautiful Lake District, was a sheer delight.
In fact, it was almost as delightful as our welcome at Duchally, one of the CLC World Resorts & Hotels group, which feels warm and cosy as soon as you step over the threshold.
Before checking into our lodge, just a stone’s throw from the main hotel, we took a peek at the Whisky Bar. Well, when in Scotland! It was all we’d hoped for, oozing wood panelled, log fire warmth and stocked with an impressive range of more than 50 whisky choices.
We were lucky to run into Duchally’s Master-taster, George, who runs regular whisky tastings at the resort. He gave us a rundown of some of the best malts, and taught Jim how to distinguish between them purely by smell.
But it‘s no longer just whisky that’s a speciality at Duchally. Gatehouse Gin, its new Scottish gin, is now distilled in the resort’s newly refurbished Gatehouse, where two shining new copper stills dominate. Outside, the walled garden has been planted with gooseberry and juniper bushes, along with Pink Lady Apple trees. As they mature, guests will be able to pick their own botanicals and create their own gin.
In my own maturity, I have grown used to drinking almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc, so it was with some trepidation that I tasted Gatehouse Gin. I was expecting to take a polite sip or two and set it aside, but I ended up not only drinking the whole glass —with tonic and fresh lime, of course — but asking for another!
I feel as if I have rediscovered gin – this new Scottish gin really is the most wonderful long drink and particularly refreshing on a warm summer’s evening.
Duchally holidays would be refreshing at any time of year. There’s something about the clarity of the Scottish light and the dramatic contours of the rolling hills that I’ve always found bewitching.
One couple we met said their favourite time of day was after dinner. “You’ll probably think we’re mad,” they said. “But, after we’ve eaten, we like to have a drink here and then just walk for an hour. There’s so much wildlife around the resort, we just love it.”
We didn’t think they were mad at all. How wonderful to walk straight out of the hotel and see deer, foxes, hares and all sorts of birds.
“And then,” they added, “we come back to the Whisky Bar for a nightcap!”
Another couple told us they’d had a brilliant day out at St Andrew’s, about 40 minutes away. I remember being there for the BBC when Prince William went to University. It’s a beautiful town, with a stunning golf course.
For us, though, at Duchally, holidays were the perfect time for relaxing. We had a spacious lodge just by the ornamental duck pond, and became friendly with two of its occupants, who made regular visits to our front door, hoping for treats.
There are 55 lodges in all, set in 27 acres of parkland. Ours had two bedrooms and bathrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a furnished deck, making it more than a home-from-home. Just across the way was the spa, with an indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam room, perfect for burning off a few calories after lunch or dinner.
The menu in Monteaths, the hotel restaurant, was all too tempting. We thoroughly enjoyed our starters of venison haggis and monkfish scampi, followed by tender ribeye steaks.
My only regret is that we didn’t have time to stay longer. We had to get to the next stop on our road trip, Masham in Yorkshire, to meet a gang of fellow villagers from Devon and enjoy our annual cricket tour.
It’s easy to see why Duchally is judged to be one of the best destinations in Scotland. We shall definitely be returning for a longer visit, to enjoy the resort and, of course, its delicious new Scottish gin, as well as everything its surroundings have to offer.