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
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.
As we begin another year- our 40th here at Eriska, we also close one behind us.
Its time to get all the data to the accountants, some of this is easily collected by simply pushing buttons, others is collected by sending team members off into dark stores to count bottles or into the fridges to weigh and measure. However the most difficulty and challenging tasks are always left to me it would seem, whether that be counting books, and brochures or explaining anomalies-
One year I was left explaining how we had valued two donkeys at £50 when this was clearly not market value - how the accountant knew any better I am not sure but clearly my father had made a guess -all be it educated- and then this figure had simply never been challenged - over the years we had looked after many donkeys and never really counted them on or off the balance sheet but on this occasion we had an over officious accountant who wanted proof and evidence- evidence was easy pictures and bruises to the golf course accounted for their existence but but evidence of a valuation plucked from the air was more difficult to fabricate so we had them removed from the paperwork- probably at a loss!
Anyway this week has been spent counting brochures- every time we reprint I always believe that this will be the last edition as the internet takes over and then the panic sets in as we reach the last box and decide we better reprint and off we go again. The hard decision however comes when we do have one box left and the new edition arrives- do we use to less potential guests (insuring they will never be Eriska Guests!) or throw away the old copies. Hopefully the better we get the less surplus copies will be left and we can simply phase out and phase in!
So with brochures counted the next chore was our eriska book. For many years we were asked and especially my father was asked to write a book about the hotel. Then as I began to notice his stories gaining legs and arms I too started calling for a definitive edition to be written down to stop exaggeration and bad memory lases filing the void. Eventually after much deliberation my father started writing "Eriska - the story of an island". In stead of concentrating on the hotel and his time here he chose to concentrate on the island. The first chapter was to cover the early years and years before we arrived - the second the years under my parents stewardship , the third the years under our joint control and finally a chapter on the flora and fauna.
In dividing the book in such a way he not only turned it into a far more interesting read but also forced us to realise that our time here is only a minimal impact on the islands history. This is especially pertinent as we move to become the family with the longest tenure of the island and indeed leads us to be reminded of my fathers credos -
We do not own the island but simply hold it in trust for others to come after us.
The book whilst a guideline to keep my fathers stories on track was never seen by him before he passed away in 2005 but it has not only been a conceded reminder of him to us but also a great way of independently explaining to visitors and potential visitors about Eriska. We can stress and tell people that Eriska is more than a hotel or more than an island but when the visit or read the book they start to get the impression that it is simply Eriska a unique place- and for that reason above all whilst we strive to evolve and keep up with modern life we also protect the heart and soul of Eriska every day not for us but for those who will follow on.
Having shown you How to Taste Malt Whisky and set you on the right track with some hints and notes about Oban 14 Year Old Malt Whisky, and Lagavullin 16YO it seems only logical that we move north to Speyside to start spreading your knowledge.
There are really three distinct sectors to Scottish Malts- The Lowlands, Speyside and then the Islands. Whilst inevitably there are many variations and exceptions to the rules this gives us all a guidline to start with and at least allows us to help level expectations.
Some would argue that the Masters of malt all come from Speyside.
Indeed Diageo, one of the, largest companies in the whisky industry, are currently trying to put togther a malt tour of Speyside to rival those of some of the great wine areas of the world - we will keep our ears open but I am sure the islands will have their say about this as they beleive they are the home of propper malts! So our next malt experience will be with Cragganmore situated in the heart of this fertile triangle of land bordered by mountains and sea.
Cragganmore’s Speyside home is guarded by a striking wrought iron gate spelling its name, which was taken from the nearby hill whose greenstone built the distillery, Craggan Mor.
The Cragganmore Distillery was founded in 1869 by on eof the distillers who worked at Glenfarcals and he persuaded the owners of glenfarclas to sell him the land for the distillery and cleverly sited it within easy reach of the railway, and ideed managed to have a special siding of track included in his site plans .
Nestling on the banks of the legendary salmon river, Cragganmore is, for many, the home of the definitive Speyside malt. Hugely complex, rich with layers of flavour and a whiff of smoke in the finish. It is also however a good malt to introduced speyside as it is not over powered by flavors beyond the malt
A combination of sweet floral fragrances, riverside herbs and flowers with some honey and vanilla.
“The most complex nose of any malt whisky.” Michael Jackson, Whisky Writer
Firm, rounded, light to medium.
A strong malty taste with hints of sweet wood smoke and sandalwood
A long, malt-driven finish with light smoke and hints of sweetness.
Last year we were treated to the celebrations of James Bond 50 Year anniversary.
This combined with the release, I am sure by pure chance, of Skyfall meant that many Bond arguments were raised- best film, best bond girl, best car best moment to name a few but for those of us who simply enjoy Bond films it was an opportunity to add another one to the repertoire and for us at Eriska even better when so much of the scenery around Skyfall is so close to Eriska.
Having rushed off to watch the film I happened to meet our friends at McKinlay Kidd who help put special weekends for their clients together and Robert Kidd and I engaged in a conversation about what is the best bit about Bond and naturally our conclusion came to the fact that it must be the lifestyle, cars, drinks and scenery. It was therefore not long before we dreamed up the Eriska Bond Weekend escape and before long our minds had wandered and the concept had leapt form dream into reality.
As is often the case with the best ideas is that they soon grow arms and legs until a complete plan is made and only then do the nitty gritty details of cost, timings and practical matters get in the way. As ever this was a perfect example on how a plan is sketched out on a napkin after dinner and then when the booking start to flow in the time is right to really get the details ironed out! Or so that is how I am trying to tell the team others work and so do we now!
So The bones of the plan are in place- the car and the hotel, now comes time for the flesh of the otehr details such as the boat transfer to Duart Castle or the Martini Masterclass in the Eriska Library and the detailed itinerary- Although Robert has already spoiled this be vetoing my suggestion that I should dry run the Aston Martin through Glencoe just to make sure it all works!
And then finally there will be all the fluffy bits such as the CD of Bond Music for the car, and the DVD pack awaiting arrival at Eriska in their suite. So we now have a fully constructed and fleshed out Bond Weekend for sale and whilst I am sure we will fine tune it as it takes off we are also able to be flexible so that
t it can fit individual needs and desire- for example we have had to extend one stay by a couple of days as the guest wants to see a bit more of Scotland But it is still very much an individual and personalised gift and when we were asked by a guest if we could arrange 10 cars for his company meeting we had to turn it down as there were not 10 available in Scotland, nor did we really want to do it as the concept of 10 couples all following the same route at the same time seemed to take a big part of the concept out of our hands.
So for now we are standing by to welcome our first budding 007 , stroking down the white cat and opening the door with " We've been expecting you Mr Bond" !
With the start of 2013 year at Eriska upon us our thoughts turn from planning for distant months to working on the here and now and welcoming guests for February.
When we first opened the hotel in February it was simply for weekends and we pinned our hopes on those escaping valentines weekend and even better when valentines weekend was midweek so that we were joined by couples for each weekend both before and after the event.
However since then times have changed and the addition of our two bedroom cottages - ideal for families- and the opening of our indoor facility means that we are now as much a half term destination as we are a romantic getaway.
In reality February is a funny month as it is surounded by January- a month of recovery from Christmas and festive overindulgence- and March -which is the big preparation month for the Easter Break. This year especially with Easter coming at the start of April and quite early it means that many schools are breaking up just in time for Easter and then alot of people are keeping fingers crossed that a holiday later in April will both break up the year and also see some early sunshine.
Certainly in Argyll we have been lucky with the last couple of years seeing an early summer for the last two weeks in April and certainly our forward bookings are begining to show how sunshine last year has encouraged guests out for the last of spring before May sets in. Anyway for now we are all concentrating on February and once again to show we have not forgotten about our romantics we are offering a bottle of bubbly to every couple staying for two nights to help get them in the Valentines Mood!
Well at least we also have our special winter rates to help tempt even the hardened romantics across the bridge!
As for the island it is already awakening form winter, the days are significantly longer with daylight form 8am right through until after 5pm and this is almost ideal insuring that there is plenty of light during the day for exploring the area or indulging in activities and yet there is no excuse needed to rush back for the log fires and evenings in the spa or in front of the Library Bar checking out the malt display!
We have never been open at Eriska for the month of January and therefore as we enter our 40th year here at Eriska why should it be any different?
In truth Eriska has always been a seasonal property - not in the sense that we simply open for a summer season and close for the winter but in the sense that what we do and how we do it varies with the seasons. This is I hope not to say that the standards of service and products change but more that the house changes with the seasons, whether it be long days and short nights of the summer with windows open and daylight flooding in, the gardens in full bloom and the smell of freshly cut grass everywhere - or the winter with -conversely-long nights and short days roaring log fires and cosy times in front of them or time spent swimming in the spa, relaxing in the sauna or playing tennins in the indoor hall.
In reality the weather can be pretty interchangable and whilst this unpredictability is part of the charm of the west coast it is probably the legnth of days that varies the seasons of the year. Certainly as the south of the UK sinks under snow and rain and Eriska basks in sunshine - although its not exactly tropical- we could be excused for believeing that guests would not wish to venture to the west coast for a post Christmas break. Indeed that is one of the reasons that we are closed for business at present with the festive period behind us the team all needed a break away and well deserved too. So as they all set out to explore different areas of the globe or simply return home to visit relatives we set about our own work here at Eriska.
With the pool and facilities closed for a fortnight it is all hands to the paint brushes, and tools to get that work done which can only be achieved with an empty house and no passing shoulders to brush against paint or need for peace and quiet in the spa as hammers and drills go to action. At the same time it is also a chance to catch up on paperwork and chores that we have for the past 11 months ignored or postponed.
Normally at this time of year I try to escape and leave Eriska behind but this year for a number of reasons we decided to stay put and help with the chores. In short it has given us a chance to appreciate where we live more than ever and really enjoy Eriska as our guests do.
That said it still remains a wee bit earie with no one around at night and the house clothed in darkness as we walk round on our twice daily inspections to check that the old house is safe and well. 2012 was long year for us with so much happening both here at Eriska and outside in the real world and in reality 2013 looks like being no different as the world continues to turn and evolve. Indeed whilst it has been nice to step off the daily changing environment roundabout - and often in the summer we might wish we could do so more often -it is also time to start gearing up for the year ahead and make sure that we are all ready for what is in store.
As with most things in life whilstb you dont appreciaet them tioll they are gone it is teh fact that we change and can seek change that makes life so interesting and recharges us for the future. So less than two weeks form now Eriska will open it sdoors again and this yera more than ever we hope we wre ready for it - but as ever despite planning and preparation we will still have to react to everchanging demands from the 1st of February as ever before and nothing can fully prepare us.
Having shown you How to Taste Malt Whisky and set you on the right track with some hints and notes about Oban 14 Year Old Malt Whisky , it seems only logiocal that we head south to the wonderful island of Islay and start working round the coastline.
Last year we helped establish a new tour which sets off from Oban Aiport in the morning and returns in the late afternoon having indulged in a few visits to our Islay neighbours. Currently we are helping guests make arrangemenst for this "educational" day out but it soon becomes clear that when doing it correctly we ought to offer to drop guests at Oban Airport and most importantly collect and drive them back at the end of the day- to allow full enjoyment of the Water of Life through the day!
Of the great homes of malt whisky the greatest is surely Islay, home even today to seven active malt distilleries.
And first among the Islay malts is Lagavulin - the definitive Islay malt. As early as 1742, there were perhaps ten illicit stills operating at Lagavulin. In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery, within view of Dunyvaig Castle, once the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles.
The barley used to distil Lagavulin is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat "reek" - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside Whisky. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too. Between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through.
The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges that devotees rightly prize.
Lagavulin is a powerful yet wonderfully rounded pleasure. Its recently described "awesome power and marvellous complexity of flavours" are enjoyed by a significant number of malt lovers, for whom this big, dark, intense character just is malt.
LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR OLD
A much sought-after single malt with the massive peat-smoke that's typical of southern Islay - but also offering a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting dram.
Lagavulin is an intensely flavoured, smoky-sweet single malt with seaweed flavours and a huge finish, aged in oak casks for at least sixteen years.
Strength : 43% ABV
Appearance : Deep amber gold.
Nose : Intensely flavoured, peat smoke with iodine and seaweed and a rich, deep sweetness.
Palate :A rich, dried fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong, barley-malt flavours, warming with an intense flavour. At the back of the mouth is an explosion of peppery smoke.
Finish :Huge, long, warming and peppery with a distinct appetising sweetness.
When taking on a new chellenge it is best to be methodical and set about the task with a plan.
Earlier we disucussed the basic strategy behind whisky tasting and offered some advice that we would give to any guest sitting at our Libarary Bar faced with the array of bottles and not knowing where to start or more possibly how to start. Over the course of time we hope to guide visitors round the shelves and allow them to sample - virtually- the water of life. Then possibly you will be tempted across the threshold of your local bar or shop or even maybe across our bridge and then into our very own library bar!
So as in all things it's best to start at the beginning
- but when you are not sure where that is then we would always suggest that the closer to home the better so for us where better to start than Oban. Oban is the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands; the meeting place between land and sea. A perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands.
It has a mild, temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed (too often, some might say) by the soft rain that often falls hereabouts. This misty, maritime character, with a background of heather and peat, is perfectly echoed in the malt whisky produced at Oban.
At the heart of Oban for over 200 years has been the distillery and despite all the changes and developments over the years it remains key to the town.
Oban distillery is now owned by the grand international company- diageo- and if truth be told it is the support, help and most importantly investment from the powers above that have kept it alive and indeed thriving as it is today.
Oban is made using only the finest barley, malted to the distillery's own particular specification. The tiny lantern-shaped copper pot stills are among the smallest in Scotland; their rich, fruity malt is then slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs that sit outside among the rooftops, before being aged in oak casks for at least 14 years.
Rich sweetness and fruits - oranges, lemons and pears, with sea-salt and peaty smokiness.
Mouth-filling late autumn fruits - dried figs and honey-sweet spices; followed by a smoky malty dryness.
Long, smooth-sweet finish with oak-wood, dryness and a grain of salt.
A combination of light smoke, medium richness and appetising spice