With the nation knee-deep in snow and ice, everyone can agree that this spring hasn't been the most enjoyable.
This time last year, we were all sitting out in the sun with an ice cream in hand, or grilling something up on the barbeque to make the most of a brief heatwave.
However, all hope is not lost. Here, at Eriska, we can boast of considerably milder weather and slightly higher temperatures compared to most and have even had a spot of sunshine.
With flowers finally starting to bud and nice blue skies, it's starting to feel like Spring at last. There's even some warmth in the ground, which is allowing us to start planting out from the greenhouses.
So let's hope we've seen the last of the frost.
Today: After a clear night; today will be mostly cloudy with small burst of sunshine.
Monday: Following another clear night, expect a dry and sunny day with modest temparutre, magnified slightly by the sunshine
Tuesday: Similar to Monday, expect a dry and sunny day, with slightly tamer winds
Wednesday: Expect a dry and cloudy day with minimal sunshine and grey clouds appearing in the evening
Thursday: Starting dry, expect to see grey clouds appear in the afternoon and some light rain
Friday: Another dry and cloudy day, with temperatures expected to be slightly higher.
Saturday: More clouds, that should start to break up in the late afternoon
Given all the press that Arran has had over the last week due to the lack of power it only seems right to highlight a good reason to visit the island.
Arran distillery is one of the youngest in Scotland and indeed the only dstillery on the Island.
In 1994 Arran Distillers was founded by Harold Currie, former director of Chivas with the intention of building a distillery on Arran the following year production strarted.There used to be about fifty distilleries on the island, but most of them were "moonlight" or illegal distilleries although clesarly these have been absent for some time indeed!!
The distyillery was small and compact so initially a large proportion of the casks were stored in the warehouses of Springbank, due to a lack of room . However, the distillery now has a revolutionary storage warehouse, on site, that allows easier access to barrels. The distillery offers a cask purchase scheme which offers private individuals the opportunity to own their own cask of whisky, which can be stored on site at the distillery.
The whisky of Arran is mostly used to produce their Single Malt Whisky, but a small proportion also goes into the production of their range of blended whiskies : Lochranza Blend, Robert Burns Blend and Arran Gold Single Malt Whisky Cream Liqueur.
Arran is a unique island known as 'Scotland in Miniature', for it has all of the scenery of Scotland, with mountains and lowlands, glens, lochs and royal castles (including one at Lochranza). Early in the 19th century there were more than 50 whisky distilleries on Arran, most of them illegal and carefully hidden from the eyes of the taxmen. The malt was acclaimed at the time as the best in Scotland, only rivalled by those from the 'Glen of Livet'.
They use only the traditional methods of distilling, with wooden washbacks and copper stills designed to our exact specification. The location - just outside Lochranza- offers perfect water for whisky production, cleansed by granite and softened by peat as it comes down from the mountain above. The atmosphere of sea breezes and clear mountain air together with the warm flow of the Gulf Stream matures the Arran Malt to perfection in earth floored warehouses.
They use no peat in the production process and no caramel for artificial colouring - unlike most other whisky companies.
As a result our products are rightly described as 'the true spirit of nature'.
The colour is yellow (straw) with greenish glints.
The nose is close to malted barley and the fragrances are issued from the distillation (spices) with however slight chocolate hints, coming from the ageing in sherry casks.
Firm, rounded, light to medium.
The palate is full and mellow and confirms the nose.
The finish is long and sweet-bitter and goes on on notes evoking nuts vanilla and barley.
I am sure like everyone else in the Uk we have been surprised by the weather over the last 7 days although maybe at Eriska we have been surprised for different reasons. Whilst everyone has been buried under snow and near arctic conditions we have been basking in sunshine and enjoying another week of sunshine. It was very windy mid week and we were without power for a few hours but nothing like the central belt or even Arran which seems to have born the brunt of the weather and the tail end of winter.
Regrettably however I neither took my own advice last week nor my wife's advice this morning and proceeded as normal to light my monthly bonfire to burn rubbish and clearings from a weekend of work in the garden. However no sooner had I succeeded in getting the light to take than I was running with buckets of water and beating the ground with a brush to try and contain my now rampant muir burn.
In reality it was contained nearly by the cliffface and I was simply concerned that it might jump and head for the sports hall but when Anne appeared over the hill concerned that my house was on fire and explaining that the phone was not being answered- so they had imagined the worst- and the main hotel was engulfed in smoke maybe it was not quite as contained as I had initially imagined.
Anyway the ground is dry- I can vouch for this- and with the wind at its back the fire was moving quite quickly but after a few minutes of worry and a few buckets of water it was all nearly under control so next time I promise to listen to my wife! But is the cold front set to change or stay the same for the week ahead?
Today: After a cold night it will be dry with some sunshine. Staying cold and windy.
Monday: After a cold and frosty start to the day it will stay dry with only a few clouds overhead.
Tuesday:The dry weather will continue with sunny spells. The best of the sunshine again towards the West . Still feeling cold although easterly winds will be lighter.
Wednesday: Staying dry and cold with lighter easterly winds. There will be sunny spells by day with sharp frosts at nights.
Thursday:Starting dry and cold with some sunny spells, though a few snow showers possible,
Friday: Cloudier, windier and more unsettled conditions are then likely to spread in from the west, slowly heading northeastwards during the Easter Weekend.
Saturday: This rain may be preceded by snow, but it is certainly changing with cloud pushing in and tempertures rising along with precipitation! Typical Bank Holiday weather!
'Good Evening Mr Bond'
Tonight we hosted our very first James Bond Martini Masterclass. The scene was set with the Martini glasses on chill, the ice ready to be shaken and stirred and our resident mixologist on hand to transport the guests back to 1954, Duke's Bar where Ian Flemming created Casino Royale and the famous Vesper Martini.
It was during the 2006 Casino Royale blockbuster that Daniel Craig really brought the Vesper Martini to the mainstream when he ordered a Dry Martini..."three measures of Gordon's, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice and add a thin slice of lemon peel." Despite his initial precision and following a nasty run-in with the 'baddies' James Bond proceeds to order another martini, but when challenged by the bartender on this occasion to his preference over shaken or stirred, Bond replies "Does it look like I give a damn?
Which leads us to the basis for our Martini Masterclass...Was Bond right not to give a damn??
Although 007 specifies Gordon's in his concoction, we opted for Tanqueray 10...At the time that Flemming invented this drink, Gordon's was a very different gin; now you're better off using something with a little more 'kick'. Vodka was the same way, so we opted for smooth as silk Belvedere. Finally, Lillet, which is a beautiful French Apertif made from a blend of wine, liqueurs, fruits and herbs and has a distinctive orange flavour to it and makes a fruitier alternative to your average vermouth.
Our recipient for the martinis this evening were Australian natives and told of how hard it is to obtain Lillet at home, I even found out that we obtained our very own bottle from Bordeaux! I can't help but think that this makes our little concoction even more of a luxury treat as it something that will be very hard to recreate once you leave our island.
Armed with plenty of 007 knowledge having visited some of the sets of Bond films close to Eriska, watched the dvds in their suite and even taken the boat adventure to see Duart Castle on Mull they were ready for the next phase of their training.
First up, was what we like to call the 'Alternative Vesper Martin', the martini Bond was likely to be served when not giving a damn...three measures of Tanquery 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet was controversially stirred with ice and served with a thin slice of orange peel to compliment the Lillet. Our guests took their first tentative sip and remarked on how the orange peel affected the martini flavour.
Finally, we created the Vesper...three measures of Tanqueray 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken over ice and served with a thin slice of lemon peel, a drink to make even the most suavest of killers weak at the knees!
So...was Bond right not to give a damn??
Our guests were divided; one preferred the chilled, clean and bitter taste of the Vesper whereas the other opted for the warming, fruitier alternative. Either way both agreed that it was a
drink not for the faint hearted and suitable for anyone about to start a mission!
With one Materclass under our Oddjob Bowler Hat we are now ready to take on the next guests who dare to take on the thrill of the James Bond Experience. For now though the Martini glasses will stay on chill, and the ice will remain un-shaken and un-stirred!
In a week that Britain seems unsure whether it is winter or Summer- Eriska once again seemed oblivious to the climate outside.
As I walked the dogs tis morning it was clear that the change in conditions has not been far way as Ben Cruachan is now coated in snow down to 1000ft and the peaks around all have white caps when you look north, east and south but as you look west all is green and starting to move into a new season. Indeed whilst we had a cold but dry day yesterday guests arrived for the weekend filled with stories of snow on the M6 and driving winds keeping temperatures below freezing.
How lucky we seem to have been this winter as we are certainly getting set for Spring and even the ground is warming up and ready for us to plant the start of our herbs and vegetables in the green house. As I drove back form Edinburgh last week it is obviously dry on the ground as I was confronted twice by billowing smoke from the muir burn coming across the road and in one spot a fire engine stood by in case the blaze took off out of control.
Anyway as I keep telling visitors one of the attractions to life in the west coast of Scotland is the unpredictability to the weather and the ever changing seasons - although when we say this we do not always want the seasons to change each day never mind each hour but at least it stops us either getting bored or complacent!
So what can we expect over the next seven days as we move toward the clocks changing and Easter Holidays?
Today: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers, these falling as sleet or wet snow on higher ground. However betwen these showers we should see some brightness and sunny spells
Monday: A few showers overnight will lead to a frosty start with cloud pushng in through the morninng bringing in showers and a light breeze
Tuesday: Mostly cloudy with patchy rain but then starting to cool and turning to snow at low levels. Then later in the day brighter conditions pushing in.
Wednesday : Cloudy but it should remain dry although the stiff easterly breeze will drop temperatures to freezing levels.
Thursday: Mostly dry after a sharp overnight frosts but breaks in the day will bring sunshine which may make it seem warmer
Friday: Turning much more unsettled with cloudy, wet and windy conditions settling in for the weekend
Saturday: There will be a mixture of heavy showers and sunny spells throughout the day so dont get caught out or lulled nto a false sens eof spring!
In an era when millions of people watched the announcement of a new Pope we could be persuaded that religion is and important part of most peoples daily life.
If this were really the case then I am sure that our reaction and plans for Christmas and Easter would be centered round the religious festivals and not around the fact that we could all take a well earned break form the normal daily chores and life at work. However to assume that this has been a sudden change in life would probably be incorrect as it has been a gradual eroding of religions influence over many years.
Much of this is down to how many families have changed attitudes and how it is passed down through generations. I am sure that having been born to a family with a minister as a father many would assume that religious festivals would all be observed to the letter but as a child Easter did coincide with the annual opening of the hotel and this clash had only one winner in that my Brother and I were always farmed out to our Grandmothers- under the aupices of it being part of the Easter tradition, when in reality it was to allow our parents to open the hotel unhindered and free from two screaming childrens interference.
Yes we climbed Pulpit Hill- in Oban- on Easter Sunday morning before breakfast to hear the service from the local minister before descending for breakfast and chocolate eggs, yes the story of the crucification was evident in the service and discussions with our grandmother but all that time our parents were busy serving breakfast to a full house of guests and keeping the hotel in operation.
However times do change- in those days Easter was one of the "special" times of the year, rates were at peak season levels and the whole week was full of the same guests returning and enjoying the first signs of spring and as today the opportunity for a break form normal life.
But now - gone are the days of the house being booked for a week with everybody arriving on Easter Friday and leaving the following week, now a short if slightly extended weekend break is the most that
many guests can afford in terms of time out of the office. Others take the opportunity to take three days away midweek and avoid the bank holiday distractions and with this change so have we. We now offer special three day rates which run not only mid week but also over the Easter period to allow a reason to come to Eriska.
Gone are the days of guests trudging back inside soaked from a day out on the island as now the temptations of the swimming pool and indoor facilities insure that children both you and old can be continually amused and exhausted. Whilst our Easter Egg painting and then rolling competition may have gone by the ways side we can direct guests to the local egg hunt on the Sunday afternoon and we will still be serving Hot Cross Buns and Simnel Cake for afternoon tea and I am sure there will still be plenty of chocolate Eggs to over indulge on.
Whilst my mother no longer makes posies for the guests ( I remember sitting at a kitchen table helping collate these late on a Saturday night when I was old enough not to interfere in the hotel reopening!) there will be a plenty of daffodils in the grounds this year given the mild spring we have enjoyed.
So even with Easter being earlier than usual there remains pelnty of reason to come and whether guests celebrate the religious angle or simply wish to escape normal life ther will be plenty to enjoy here at Eriska
West Coast weather forecast is often difficult to predict and in turn often inconsistent.
I suppose much of the fault lies in the fact that we are the first land mass on the eastern side of the Atlantic and when the weather is going to hit or how it will hit is often unpredictable. On the positive side this also means that some times weather fronts change direction at the alst moment and we maintain weather from previous days and sometimes the weather simply passes us by and decides to deliver its rain, wind or snow elsewhere.
There is also however another great advantage which is that when the weather is clear it is really clear and we can see for miles, the silohettes of the mountains are accurate and the sunsets are nothing but stunning. So it was this week whilst we were promised rain and cold we simply got crisp and stunning weather making the enclosed shot an every evening occurance.
Regrettably however, as stated earlier, this can never be predicted from year to year - month to month or even day to day but in effect this is part of the wonders of living in Argyll and it is the unpredictablility of the seasons which makes every day different- well thats what we keep telling ourselves! So what can we predict for this week?
Today: After a cold start with clear skies we can expect sunny intervals and a few snow showers later in the day on higher ground.
Monday: Cloudy at times with a few scattered snow showers, although any accumulations melting. Largely dry with some sunshine throughout the day
Tuesday: A few mostly light snow showers continuing overnight but the ever present gulf stream will keep temperatures reasonable but it will be still.
Wednesday: Largely dry with plenty of sunshine but still one or two wintry showers affecting higher ground through the day.
Thursday: Remaining cold but mostly dry any wintry showers becoming confined to the coast but still above freezing.
Friday: Large amounts of cloud pushing in will both raise temperatures and reduce the sunshine in an ironic combination.
Saturday: A clearer night will lead to cold with frosty night and some icy patches in the morning but we will also see more pleasant sunshine to warm the ground
It seems only yesterday that we first opened our indoor leisure facility in the converted stables building.
In reality the concept of an indoor pool and its associated facilities had been in the planning for many years and the belief that we required to extend our season in order to engage more long term employees and evolve the business and the need for more non weather non light dependent activities was a reality we could ignore no longer. In truth whilst many were willing to sit in front of log fires and drink whisky on cold wet days this number were falling and more had to be done to attract others to Eriska.
No sooner had we opened the stables, a huge investiment to any business of our size but one we believed was necessary, than we were approached to offer massage and whats more aromatherapy massage. At the time we were engulfed with operating the pool and all our funds had been swallowed by the usual overspend and unforseen expenses so when the opportunity of a self employed facility with no investment confronted us we clasped it with both hands- while also in reality saw it as a service we could offer but without real belief or understanding in its potential.
After a couple of years of a part time offering we were then given the oportunity to offer the service on a full time basis and opted to grow our facility and moved the treatment area from an external windowless space to a new beautifully painted room with its own facilities, the down side to this was that it was up an external staircase but it offered peace and quiet and was luxury compared to what had gone before. The service grew and when the provider decided it was time to move on we were faced with a decison- whether to scale back or ramp up.
Fate made the decision easy as we were then apporached by a lady who had moved to the area with her husband -due to his work- and she was fully trained in all the services we provided and so started our history with Espa. Espa was a growing hotel brand of treatments and products whcih had been evolved and developed for hotels exclusively and they were keen to expand their reach. Eriska was a unique opportunity and with no similar facility on the west coast of Scotland it was a match made. We created a link to the main pool building and the service grew first with our one employee and then with one and half offering a full coverage of services.
The offer of therapies was now tried and tested so when we made our next advance in the leisure area creating a restaurant and bar we also included a wing which was to become the centre piece of our spa. We realized it was never going to be a rival to the multi award winning competitors but we also knew we could offer treatments which rivalled them in terms of service and delivery and relaxation and preparation areas which emphasized the beauty of the location and peace and tranquility of the surroundings. Now with three treatment rooms we could both grow the team and the offering and a simple body massage menu expanded into body treatments and beauty therapies.
So the spa at Eriska has grown and we have been lucky over the years to have some wonderful staff both working and in and running the facility. It has allowed us to offer our guests even more opportunities and combined with the right team will continue to evolve. A couple of years ago we added a relaxation area and reception area to help complete the spa experience and then created a space for hairdressing, knowing we were never going to offer it full time but at least we had the space arranged to bring in a hairdresser if required.
Eriska continues to evolve and grow and luckily the team on site are ever keen and eager to accept the challenges. One lesson taught to me by a regular guest when he came in one afternoon was that whilst he would never use the pool and health facilities we had given him a new opportunity and choice- he could choose to use the facilities or he could choose not to but we had given him choice -
Eriska remains all about choice!
Living on a private island can be seen by many as a dream.
Whilst the reality can be somewhat different it does have many advantages too. Having been brought up on Eriska I naturally thought, if naively, that all children grew up with a 300 acre play ground at the back door with endless tracks and trails to investigate and no boundaries other than the tideline. However I eventually realised that this is not always the case for others and how lucky and fortunate I was in my childhood.
Eriska, the house itself, was built just over one hundered years ago and in truth was true was at its height in the early part of last century when every year in the summer it was a constant house party with visitors dropping by from both land and sea to join the Clark Hutchiesons in their summer retreat.
Those days have gone now and whilst Eriska remains a wonderul retreat and is a combination of a hotel and country house it is only really when it is booked as a private house for a weekend that it returns to what it must have been like in its hay day as a private house. Whilst we do not have Arnott the redoubtable butler nor the steam yacht moored off the peir we can still create a wonderful setting for a unique occasion. I always stress that Eriska is a combination of three factors- the place, the team who work here and those who choose to stay with us.
This could be no more true than when we have a private party taking the island.
So it was this weekend as we held a joint birthday celebration over three days, golf competitions, masked cocktail reception, reels in the drawing room, tennis challenges and many other activities filled the days but above all Eriska became a private exclusive retreat for three days for the guests and whilst I always love Christmas becasue the world outside seems to dissappear and newspapers and news takes a back seat so it was this weekend with celebration and enjoyment firmly in the front seat.
For three days the house was someone elses, meals were organised at times which fitted their programme (mostly round international rugby matches), menus were written to include many of the guetss favourites and activities arranged to allow the birthday guest to at least be victorious on their special day. In truth whilst a change and sometime slightly alien to our normal operation it was wonderful to see the house full of so much fun and enjoyment and in essence seeing it being used in all its glory and in the way it was designed from the outset.
So now - as our guest leave down the drive and return to every day life we too must return to normality and get back to being a country house and hotel! However we have now resolved that we must try and do it more often and will offer Eriska as a private venue again in the autumn.
Indeed we have set some dates in December aside for such an occassion and unlike some of our collegues who would charge a supplement for an exlcusive use venue, we will offer a reduction on our normal charges if guests wish to take the whole island and return it to its rightful role as a private escape desitination. So in December for one weekend we will be offering the Island for exclusive use at the rate of £16,000 for two nights dinner bed and breakfast for up to 50 guests. For more information please contact us an we can put together a program for you.
There are many reasons to live on the west coast of Scotland and walking to work last night as the sun dipped down behind the western mountain tips and the sky turned from blue to red was certainly one of those reasons. occassionally the sunsets on the west coast of scotland can be as spectacular as any where in the world and indeed the clarity and color can rival even the best- true we may have to wait for these to occur but when they do they are worth the wait!
In truth we have had a wonderful week of cold but dry still and sunny weather. Normally when my mother goes on holiday we can expect good weather but when she set off last weekend and the rain was pouring down we had begun to wonder if the old addage was going to hold true but it has come good in the end. So wil it continue?
Today: After a cold night the clear skies will leave a frost that will take time to clear and it will continue mainly dry and cold, though isolated wintry flurries possible on higher ground.
Monday: Rather cloudy at times but some clear intervals, with a frost for most parts, this sharp under clearer skies again perhaps a wintry flurry or two.
Tuesday: A bright, cold and mostly dry day with some sunny spells, although perhaps still some wintry showers
Wednesday: Mostly settled, fine and generally dry weather persisting with sunny intervals and light winds.
Thursday: It will continue with cold temperatures but a bit of cloud will push in and start to warm the morning up but with it also comes the risk of rain!
Friday:Rain to start and then brighter, colder and more showery conditions should follow from noon onwards
Saturday: The weekend should start mainly dry but rather cold despite sunny spells, however there is an increasing likelihood of more unsettled and breezier conditions developing