A Truly Scottish New Year is as traditional as Turkey at Christmas.
For 20 years we closed Eriska at the end of the summer season and hibernated until the snow drops and daffodils had arrived before Easter. Then all changed in 1993 when we decided to open through the winter and this allowed us to extend into the festive period. It is no secret how perfect Eriska can be at Christmas and it certainly remains one of my favorite times.
However as I sit here today writing out to those joining us over the festive period my mind also tends to wander towards New Year.
I would not be the first to point out that I am not great at Christmas "Good Cheer and merriment" and feel that it has become a bit more commercial than seems necessary - a bit ironic for a hotelier enjoying additional holidays by our guests - but the reasons for Christmas seems to be lost in the consumerism. Not just because if I am in the hotel there can be no family arguments with me at home but really because Eriska - the house - lends itself to that wonderful atmosphere at a houseparty.
As guests cross the bridge the world stops and worries and plights can be left at the gate, the newspapers seem to dwindle and television becomes full of annual wonderful films and shows which disregard the 24 hour news updates.
New Year however is much more brazen as simply being a time to reflect on years gone by and the last in particular and time to look forward and especially to 2014. Whilst the majority of us will all make ourselves promises - resolutions- we will fairly instantly break at least we have thought forward and even thought forward into the distant future and this can only be positive. On this note it soon becomes clear to me why Eriska is an ideal place for this reflection and contemplation. Those with little to worry about can indulge in enjoyment and those with much to consider can use activities and entertainment to raise their heads and escape the pressures. So whilst it is a full list of activities we plan it is enhanced by the early onset of night, the roaring log fires, the wonderful food and hopefully lengthy peaceful nights sleep, this interjected by the activities, newspapers and supporting weather makes it ideal - so what is planned for New Year 2013/2014.
Well after a hectic frantic Christmas week guest will arrive on the Sunday afternoon and hopefully by 6pm we will be able to hoist the drawbridge and start our festivities. The first evening is always a chance for auld acquaintances to recapture memories and for new visitors to bed into the house and settle in. On Monday we will spend the day catching up and relaxing with an afternoon Triathalon for those who remain energetic or those looking to work off Christmas Pudding- although in reality it remains a simple and fun afternoon of activites with something for everyone.
Then on Tuesday- Hogmanay- we always reflect on the year gone by with a grand quiz of the year and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate then a treasure hunt round the island to allow further exploration and work up an appetite for the wonderful Dinner Ross has planned taking us up to the bells. Traditionally we have a piper to join us before 12 with a piped eightsome- the last of 2013 and then the bells. Over the years we have been early , late and even on time but in reality it makes little difference as nobody outside the building needs to know although as we open the curtains at 12 it is always nice to hear the horns and sirens drifting across the water from Oban - although occasionally it can be drowned out by the howling wind or driving rain.
Then Wednesday is the first day of a New Year, a slower start with a Champagne Brunch all morning or however long guests want although some seem keen to start the New Year and others prefer slightly less gusto on the morning after! Then at One we start the first Eriska Golf Championship which is traditionally run whatever the weather and certainly need more good humour and enthusiasm than expertise although we can be guaranteed great competition for the wonderful prizes!
Then more relaxation before the Dinner Dance and Paddy Shaw and his band whirl away the cobwebs and start 2014 in style.
Previously we used to make this the last day of New Year but as we get another days holiday in Scotland and guest found it hard fining petrol and stops on the way home we thought it was best to make the most of it and on Thursday we have a quiet day of refection with a traditional lunch of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding and an afternoon of Egyptian PT ( a term handed down through my family) involving lying flat and still with your eyes closed for a couple of hours to recharge the batteries and insuring a full charge before the last dinner and departure on Friday morning making the weekend pass like a flash and all the resolutions still in tact or at least nearly.
So for those that thought we relaxed and do nothing all winter then think again and for those looking for a break with a difference then maybe Hogamnay at Eriska is worth considering!
The essence of life is learning through enjoyment.
No place is this more prevalent than in our pursuit of further knowlege in the fields of wines and food - so what better way to combine these two fascinating topics than by arranging a weekend of education her at Eriska. Or so we though back in 1993 when we first organised a Winter Wine Weekend. Back in those days we all had so much more time - and it could be argued a far greater thirst for knowledge that we used to run a three day weekend. Guests arrived on the Thursday in preparation for a full day in the kitchen. On the Friday our kitchen team would be joined by experts in their field to help explain and educate. One that sprung to mind was a Seafood and Chardonnay weekend when Andy Race- our fish merchant arrived- late on Thursday because in those days the market on Thursday night physically took place in Mallaig and he had to be there in person to examine, bid and purchase the fish.
On the Friday monring he simply brought in a huge box of mixed fish and with 20 guests sitting round, dressed in aprons and armed with knives he tallked through the box demonstrated how to identify, pick and select the best fish ( a lesson I still utilise) and how to prpeare it for the the kicthen with ease. This, as then, followed by working demonstrations and then the kitchen team took his work and helped show how it could be transformed. All sounded so simple but by the end of the day we had a great lunch and had some wonderful produce ready for dinner.
Then we are joined by some partners who could not escape for all three days and had a wonderful dinner focussing on the proiduce that had been prepared and with an introduction to wines of the world all featuring the Chardonnay Grape.
On Saturday we had anther practical; day with a demonstartion and talk from Inverawe Smokehouse highlighting the skill involved in curing and smoking fish- a skill we then took even further when we opened our own smoker- and then after lunch it was out on the water- some went out with a prawn creeler, some went to a local Oyster Hatchery and farm and some simply wantered on the beach as part of a guided foraging tour.
This was all simply to build up an appetite for dinner which was proceeded by a tasting of Chardonnay wines from around the world highlighting the huge range of grapes and abilities to create a diverse yet wonderful product. Then for dinner, the kitchen having been slightly freer and less invaded by fishmongers and guests- created a wonderful gastronomic dinner which was matched by a variety of wines which complemented the palate.
A greta fun weeknd and everybody learnt something- some more than others but all had left their cares of the world behind and ultimately relaxed.
However those days have slightly slipped away.
Time has become even more valuable but our thirst for knowledge has not waned so we are delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined by Mark O'Bryen, Master of Wine and Taittinger Ambassador to the Uk for our Winter Wine weekend which takes place over the weekend of the 16th November. In order to offer complete flexibility we have restricted the main event to a Champagne Masterclass on the Saturday Afternoon - for those not intersted in the rugby internationals!- and havearranged a tutored tasting to accompany Rosses wonderful dinner. It will allow Mark to Showcase the rangeform tis great champagne house and really introduce it to novices whilst evolving experts palates to appreciate the finer details. Clearly it will give teh opportunity to showcse the range but I am certain that we wil eb able to slip in a glass of still wine to help tittivate the taste buds styill further.
Today we went to a wedding photo exhibition, and earlier this week we were featured in the Luxury Travel Blog as one of the Top 5 intimate wedding venues in Scotland - which is not without reason! Therefore what better to write about than the luxury and romance of an island wedding?
Placed on our own 300 acre private island, it could not get more idyllic, the hotel was built by the Stewards of Appin over 100 years ago, set in the typical baronial style of the time, inspired by the great architect Hippolyte Blanc, which is also known for his drawings of St. Cuthbert’s Church in Edinburgh and most of the restoration work on Edinburgh Castle. We are licensed for civil ceremonies for up to 120 guests or as few as 30, in the main house and outside in the garden. For a larger wedding, a luxurious marquee can be placed on the front lawn, just outside the hotel with views towards the pond.
Each room in the hotel is uniquely designed, with a contemporary dining room and library bar, the drawing room offers a spacious and relaxing atmosphere and a large traditional main hall with a roaring log fire. We have 25 contemporary, luxurious and individually designed rooms, spa suites and cottages, to suit all types of guests. Some say it's sometimes a bit like travelling, they find out something new every time they visit or they wish they could visit to explore each room!
Something for everyone...
Capturing the Moment
We were at the Oyster Inn in Connel today to take part in Wee Beauty Photography's 2nd year celebration and photo exhibition. With stunning pictures, video collage and procecco, we were shown the most beautiful moment after the other. Each picture showed how special the wedding is to the people and families involved, the fun, the nerves and expectations, and the exhilaration. If you get a chance have a look at their pictures online - they have something for every bride and groom's taste.
Isle of Eriska - Unique and Private - Yet Accessible
The Isle of Eriska is located only 20 minutes from Oban and 2 hours from Glasgow International Airport, connected to the mainland by a small bridge. You can also arrive in style via helicopter on our lawn or seaplane at our pier.
We often provide the coming bride and groom with local contacts to ensure everything is done perfect for the occasion. We personally recommend Premier Wedding Planners Scotland who will take care of all your wedding needs!
The local registrar can also be contacted on email@example.com to check availability for the special day.
We can tailor the romantic wedding package for you at Eriska and offer different rates for the glorious summer or the winter wonderland wedding. You can enquire more about our wedding packages by clicking on the button underneath.
As I stepped onto the platform this morning I wondered how many other commuters had experienced as enjoyable a Saturday as I had? On Friday night I had the good fortune to hear Jools Holland and his big band play in Perth. After the concert I drove across to Eriska. There was a thick dark blue band of light on the horizon even though it was close to midnight. The longest day is just around the corner and hopefully some better weather is on it way.
I arrived at Eriska around 2:00 am, and Beppo met me with the news that we would be leaving shortly after six. Moments after my eyelids closed it was time to get up. Our task was to pre-position Beppo's boat in the Clyde ready for racing over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Things were looking promising. Seona had arranged scrambled egg and bacon rolls and a suitably highly calorific picnic. The passage down toward the Crinan Canal was wonderful. A northerly wind pushed us down past Oban and on past Easdale and Seil. We had clear views of Ben More on Mull, and we speculated on the progess of the boats in the Scottish Islands Peak Race. The runners of the slower boats would have been on Ben More in the dark, but they all should have been well on their way to Jura to tackle the Paps.
A little later we passed Corryvreckan. I remembered that that George Orwell's brother-in-law is famed as the first man to swim the whirlpool. This is more of an achievement because he only had one leg. We arrived at the start of the lock system in relatively good time, although there was still a fair chance that we would not make it out the other end before the locks closed. Seona had come down to lend a hand and give us a lift back to Eriska. The lock system provides a critical safe passageway for boats to move between the west coast and the Clyde. As well as being a fantastic example of engineering, the canal is a very peaceful interlude between the rugged seascape of the west coast and the wide estuarial waters of the post-industrial Clyde.
In my view the west coast provides the most amazing yacht cruising of anywhere in Britain, but the Clyde is a close second. Therefore to be able to link both of these areas up in a single day trip is especially appealing. I always find the seaward approach to Eriska very dramatic. If you are ever leaving by boat and going south, take a glance over your shoulder and you will get a unique glimpse of the Baronial elegance of the main house. Using the canal makes a trip to Eriska for dinner followed by a return passage home the next day a viable, and very attractive, possibility for Clyde-based yacht owners.
This week I have been in London working with our sales team helping to - or at least hoping to - spread the word about Eriska to potential visitors. Its amazing the even after 40 years how many people who have been in the travel trade still have never heard of Eriska, been to the west coast of Scotland or even been north of Hadrians Wall so I have been trying to do my wee bit for us all.
However I am often confronted by the question about who our typical guest is and what they normally do and whilst this is an easy answer to reach as I am never short of suggestions for guests it is also very difficult as we have no "typical" Guest as every one is different and each market place is so different. However in truth - whilst each visitor to Eriska may be here for a different reason and they partake in a huge variety of activities or even inactivities the majority do come for relaxation and recuperation, hoping to leave us less tired, stressed and harassed than when they arrived.
However when I got back I had a brief look round the dining room- if only to satisfy myself that my answer earlier about the ecclectic clientele was correct- but it soon became clearly that a trend is emerging which I was previously unaware of- Eriska is the Perfect Scottish Honeymoon Destination. However given it was a English Bank Holiday and the fact that just over two years ago there was a Royal Wedding- I should maybe not have been surprised to see the number of honeymoon couples in the dining room- almost half.
However whilst this shows a new trend, and on the face of it it should make our lives simple it is far from simple as the age groups vary- the level of activities enjoyed varies and this simply enures that we need to treat each couple individually and tailor their breaks to ther needs or simply insure that they have nothing arranged and are simply free to enjoy the island and their first few days of married life- and recuoperate for what may have been the most stressful day of their life so far!
It is our role at Eriska to create an atmosphere in which couples enjoy a unique private celebration marking the start of your marriage the most distinctive experience that will stay a treasured memory forever. Honeymoons should be unique- most only ever have one and therefore most people have no first hand experiece of what to expect but probably also have lots of expectation!
Whether the package includes all the cliched bottle of champagne awaiting their arrival, a romantic room service dinner and a relaxing couples full-body massage at our ESPA spa or simply a clear diary and no plans we can adapt and change . Honeymooners can indulge in the lavish luxury of a traditional country manor or the idyllic woodland privacy of our luxury outdoor spa suites, complete with private garden and Jacuzzi. But in short they create their perfect experience from our range of sporting activities, exceptional spa treatments and services, and award-winning culinary menus. Unwind in the comfort of our hotel and enjoy a romantic daytime stroll on our grounds taking in the breathe taking mountainous scenery, or romantic evening wander absorbing the star-bound sky.
The experiences are endless, we have however had to offer special honeymoon packages simply to give ideas to guest of what we can do although in reality most create a package having discussed it with the team at Eriska. Anyway its really rewarding to the team to be able to make a mark on couples first few days of married life and gives a real sense of purpose when we see then start to relax and unwind and then enjoy all that Eriska has to offer
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
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.
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!
If we tried to create accomodation that fitted everybodies needs we would be building on Eriska until the cows come home.
What we do try to do is to create accomodation which will suite not only an individuals needs but also will be aceptable to those who wish something similar. So was the case when we created Arnot's House on the Eastern sie of the island. We wanted to create a true Scottish Self Catering accomodation unit whilst at the same time retain the ease of access to the facilties of the main house and hotel.
Arnot's House was built in 1850 and was named after Arnot the redoubtable butler of the Clark Huchiesons who owner eriska through the turn of last century. it is understood that he lived alone in the house, no electricty or running water in those days, and if large sailing yachts entered the bay he was not averse to signalling the crew and enquiring if the passengers would be inclined to join his employers for cocktails.
When my parents took on Eriska they really had little idea on how to use the house but managed to do a deal whereby the tennant put in water and power and when his lease expired and he moved on they started to use the house as increased staff accommodation. It had a variety of uses from the house of the estate manager to the accomodation for up to 8 team members but by 2010 was in need of attention so we stripped it out, rewired it and replumbed it , added a conservatory and opened up a new patio with its own hot tub looking out to Ben Cruachan in the distance.
So in June 2011 we opened Arnot's house for its new life as part of our self catering accommodation and it has been incredibly popular ever since. Throughout the main season it is let on a weekly basis to up to 6 guests but the latest offering has been to open it for a minimum of three nights for as few as two guests offering a real retreat and escape bolt hole. Indeed whilst it is truly self catering we can supply a simple supper- to be heated or a reservation at the main hotel restaurant for a grander affair and this flexibility seems to be what is required.
As one of our long standing guests once reminded me it is all about "Choice".
This may simply be offering an activity with a choice to do or not to do or as in this case a range of accommodation fro the 5 star scottish country house hotel experience to the arnotts house scottish self catering accommodation offering. The reality in the end is however that it is simply great to see others enjoying the island and indeed that was the reason my parents were attracted to Eriska and that is the reason we continue to do what we do.