Stay the Night: Eagle Brae, Inverness-shire
These pioneer-style homes have brought North American luxury to the Scottish wilderness, says Anna Norman
Saturday 12 October 2013
The result of eight years of planning and hard work, Eagle Brae opened its doors at the end of August. Situated on a remote and tranquil hillside between Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar, this log cabin "village" – just a 30-minute drive from Inverness – consists of seven Canadian pioneer-style log homes, spaciously arranged around a central reception cabin.
The luxury wilderness experience on offer here is underpinned the a regard for traditional craftsmanship and the environment – owners Mike Spencer-Nairn and his wife Pawana eschewed industrial methods of production in favour of the hands-on.
The cabins are hand-built from giant western red cedar logs from British Columbia – chosen for their thermal qualities and durability. However, "cabin" undersells the proposition – the structures are huge, with soaring, pitched ceilings; mezzanine floors; and terraces that look out over spectacular Highland scenery. To sit on the terrace, looking up at the huge eagle head carved out of the exterior while listening to the sounds of rutting stags in the distance, is an enchanting experience.
The sound of hooves might be even closer, though – the turf roofs of the cabins, are "mowed" by three resident goats – Barnaby, Billy and Bakra.
Inside the cabins, the natural beauty of the wood is enhanced by sensitive lighting, while Pawana's Indian Himalayan heritage is manifest in the colourful hand-woven textiles and engraved wooden balconies. Antler chandeliers were made by Mike, while two wall-mounted jackalope heads (a mythical cross-breed of a jack-rabbit and antelope) in our cabin, add a touch of humour.
Wood burners infuse warmth to the main sitting area and the bedrooms are also pleasingly snug, with low wood-panelled ceilings, black sheepskin rugs, lambswool blankets from the tartan manufacturer Lochcarron and underfloor heating.
Mod-cons include Wi-Fi, energy-efficient kitchen appliances, and, on the mezzanine floor, FreeSat TV and a study area with PC and printer.
Out and about
The Spencer-Nairn family has owned Struy Estate, where Eagle Brae sits, since the 1930s, and their sensitively managed landscape is just the ticket for a traditional Highland adventure.
Though serious hikers will need to head to nearby Glen Strathfarrar or Glen Affric to "bag a Munro", Struy won't disappoint those who simply want to stretch their legs and enjoy some dramatic scenery – the landscape here takes in mountains, moorland and lochs, as well as views of Strathfarrar's indigenous pinewood forest, a remnant of the ancient Caledonian Forest. While twitchers will be lucky to spot one of the golden eagles the site is named after, they won't find it hard to spot the osprey, kestrels and peregrine falcons that survey this beautiful land.
The area is also inhabited by large numbers of deer. The resident gamekeeper can take you out "camera stalking", where you shoot only with a lens, but still get to crawl around the countryside on all fours (£70pp for a half day tour).
Plenty of other outdoor activities can be arranged. The rivers Farrar and Glass run through the estate, providing salmon, trout and pike fishing (from £15 to £70 per rod per day). Families, however, might prefer sled-dog rides, archery, pony trekking or kayak trips, which range from £40 to £80 per person.
Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (historic-scotland.gov.uk), to the south, also make for an easy – though more touristy – day trip.
Food and drink
A hamper left for you on arrival contains a range of Highland goodies, including shortbread, honey, oatcakes and chutney. A concierge service is also available for groceries and homemade meals; a delicious vegetarian lasagne was waiting for us in the fridge when we arrived, costing around £9 for a main dish for two. The estate also produces its own wild venison burgers, as well as pork from rare-breed Berkshire pigs and lamb from four-horned sheep. Knowledgeable mushroom foragers might also be tempted by the estate's chanterelle slope.
Struy, the nearest village (around 20 minutes' walk), is tiny, consisting of a handful of homes. Its single pub, The Struy Inn (01463 761308; thestruy.co.uk), has real ales, more than 50 single malt whiskies, and meals made from local produce. The village's Cnoc Hotel (01463 761 264; thecnochotel.co.uk) is another good bet for dinner, with a selection of local fish and seafood dishes costing around £15.
Eagle Brae, Struy, Beauly, Inverness-shire, Scotland IV4 7LE (07738 076711; eaglebrae.co.uk). Weekly rental starts at £867 for a cabin sleeping two. Dogs are allowed in five of the seven cabins.
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