The heavens open as we pull off the busy A9 heading for Dunalastair Estate and beyond to its namesake hotel in the pretty little village of Kinloch Rannoch in Perthshire.
We’re on the General Wade Military Road, one of a network dreamed up in the 18th Century by the general – Commander in Chief of North Britain – as part of a British Government attempt to keep fearsome Scots at bay after the Jacobite uprising of 1715.
“Well that didn’t work,” quips McDonald Jr as I end my wee history lecture. “Dad’s mob were back up and at ’em again 30 years later,” she says with a wicked grin and a nod to the second rising of 1745, ignoring the fact that it ended in tears.
We’ve reached this point from a single track through deserted moorland. There’s not another vehicle in sight and, with the speeding traffic of the motorway now a distant memory, it feels as though we’ve hurtled back in time.
This is Outlander country – the realm of Clan Donnachaidh and of the MacDonalds, MacGregors, MacDougalls, Menzies, Camerons and Stuarts. And it’s spectacular. Little wonder it’s a go-to location for the film and TV industry. Liam Neeson, as the Clan Chief Rob Roy (MacGregor) in the eponymous 1995 movie, springs to mind. Partly shot on the Great Moor of Rannoch, to the west of the village and one of the last great wildernesses in Europe, MacGregor’s cave sits just above Dunalastair Water. Not far from the spot, on private Dunalastair Estate is the site of Craigh na Dun, the fictitious stone circle where Outlander’s time-travelling heroine Claire is thrown back to the 1700s. It’s an eerily quiet spot but the magic of the place is palpable.
The estate itself has a history worthy of the big screen. The great Jacobite poet and 13th Chieftain of Clan Donnachaidh, Alexander Robertson of Struan (1669-1749) – with a hat-trick of Jacobite battles under his belt – had his home burnt to the ground by government troops after the 1745.
General John Macdonald bought the estate in 1853 and built a baronial mansion there which is now a ruin, but its outer walls and soaring towers still stand. MacDonald also built part of Kinloch Rannoch, including the MacDonald Arms Hotel, now the Dunalastair Suites, our luxurious five-star hotel.
Dramatically flanked by the Allt Mor waterfall that tumbles down Meall Dubh and Loch Rannoch, a mystical 440ft deep, 10-mile expanse of tranquil water stretching to the Bridge of Gaur, it sits in the shadow of Schiehallion, which, at 3,553ft, is dubbed “the beginner’s Munro”.
Once a Victorian hunting lodge, the hotel has had a multi-million-pound makeover resulting in an interior that oozes contemporary style and comfort. We enjoyed its Flagship Suite with a chic and sumptuous bedroom and a separate lounge with dining area and modern kitchenette – glorious!
The hotel’s Monadh restaurant, staying true to the seasons, sources its ingredients from the finest of Scotland’s farms and fisheries and promises, “fine dining without the fuss”. Good to their word, we feasted on King scallops and rack of lamb and felt completely pampered by attentive staff. High standards of service are the norm here. As he mixes mocktails, South African deputy general manager Denzil Arendse, 34, revealed he had “looked after” friends of the late President Nelson Mandela at the opulent Saxon Hotel, among them Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman and Bono.
There’s so much to see and do in and around Loch Rannoch. Nearby Aberfeldy-based Highland Safaris and Red Deer Centre can arrange for guests to be picked up from their hotel by helicopter and taken on an exclusive VIP Land Rover excursion with a personal kilted ranger. Just one of a range of activities – like panning for gold – to suit all ages and pockets.
Blairgowrie-based Outdoor Explore offer guided kayaking on Loch Rannoch. Mains of Taymouth Estate has riding stables, a nine-hole golf course, eatery and shop. And Pitlochry Festival Theatre has re-opened after almost a two-year hiatus with an exciting line up of shows.
But we’re off on the loch’s Clan Trail. On the north side, among the oak trees is “the Grove” where many MacDonalds were hanged, the last in 1745. McDonald Jr is not impressed.
Starting rate for a room at Dunalastair Hotel Suites is £179 including breakfast. Visit dunalastairhotel.com or call (01882) 580444.
P.S. The Rannoch Highland Gathering takes place in August and has run every year since 1881 (world wars and pandemics aside). I t includes heavy events, piping and Highland dancing.
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