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!
Destination film location!
On hearing about the reforming of Monty Python last week our thoughts immediately turned to the Holy Grail Film, which was shot close to Eriska so we thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the local locations used in well known films- some you may be aware of and others may be news to you but if you see the films again you may be able to look out for local sights and panoramas!
We have listed some of the local films although we must also stress that they are in no particular order- some involved Eriska others simply had us watching the final results and spotting locations!
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown
Synopsis: An immortal medieval Scotsman, Conor MacLeod, must face his fellow immortal peers in battle until only one remains to claim “The Prize”
Locations: Some of this was shot at the head of Loch Creran - indeed I remember seeing a sign in the local shop for extras - £5 per day or £10 if you had a horse! It may have seemed like easy money but I am told it invoved hordes running down a hill in the battle at the start of the movie where Connor and Kurgan first meet but it took several takes so also involved several trudges back up the hill to start the sequence again.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle
Synopsis: A comical slapstick take on the tale of King Arthur and his Knights, as they embark on a quest for the holy grail
Locations: Castle Stalker, Appin (Castle of Aaargh) which is now a well visited site for pilgrims on the Monty Python circuit.
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan
Synopsis: A take on the story of William Wallace as he leads Scotland against the English, based loosely on historic fact.
Locations: Aonach Eagach (opening sequence) this is a stunning walk- but not for the fainthearted as there were no special effects used to highlight the drop on either side of the ridge. A lot of the film was then shot in Glen Nevis behind Fort William and indeed the village scenes were all sited here.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Synopsis: The best story ever told. The third in the series, Harry Potter enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while the convicted Murderer Sirius Black, who escapes from the wizard prison, Azkaban, is coming after him
Locations: This was shot in Glen Coe especially the long vistas looking towards Hagrids Hut and indeed Hagrid and many of the grown ups were based here at Eriska; However the most memorable images are probably of Glenfiddan Viaduct and Loch Shiel (Hogwarts Lake – most notably the Dementor Scene at the end)
Ring of Bright Water (1969)
Director: Jack Couffer
Starring: Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna
Synopsis: A fictional adaptation of the autobiography by Gavin Maxwell, about a man and his pet otter.
Locations: A very local film based in story line about Oban and shot on the Isle of Seil (Ellenabeich & Easdale) and in Oban (North Pier).
Eye of the Needle (1981)
Director: Richard Marquand
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Stephen McKenna
Synopsis: Set during WW2, about a German Spy trying to flee Britain with key information about D-Day who gets involved with the wife of a crippled man on a Scottish Island off the west coast as he waits to be collected. Adapted from the novel by Ken Follett
Locations: This was shot in the area but the most notable land mark is Connel Bridge which features quite heavily .
Morvern Callar (2002)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott
Synopsis: Following the death of her boyfriend, a shop clerk – Morvern Callar – passes off his unpublished novel as her own and uses the money he saved for his funeral to escape her dreary life Scotland
Locations: Oban was transformed into a winter wonderland in March for the filming however it also coincided with the Foot and Mouth epidemic so as we had no cows or livestock on the island and the film crew had been restricted for movement much was shot actually here on the island!
Director: Jon Amiel
Starring: Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Synopsis: After a priceless piece of art goes missing, an insurance agent, “Gin” is sent to go after and capture the thief, “Mac” by trying to entrap him, Claiming to be a thief too and promising to help him go after a valuable Chinese Mask from a well-guarded palace.
Locations: Although much was based overseas there was a section shot at Duart Castle (Mac’s hideout), and the main characters were based here at Eriska for the shoot.
Director: Michael Apted
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam
Synopsis: During WW2, a young genius is recruited to help crack an enemy code that will help solve the mysterious disappearance of the woman he loves.
Locations: It was shot in and around Oban with the climax being at Tigh Beg Croft (Loch Feochan). the main cast were based here at Eriska.
Local Hero (1983)
Director: Bill Forsyth
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Peter Piegert, Fulton Mackay, Peter Capaldi
Synopsis: An American Oil company send a representative to a small Scottish village in the hopes of securing rights to build an oil refinery, however things don’t go as planned when a local hermit, Ben – who owns a beach which is crucial to the plans – is unwilling to sell his property, leading the company representative to negotiate with Ben on his own terms.
Locations: Although not entirely local as it was on knoydart it remaisn a favourite scottish film for us so had to be included. Morar Beach, Mallaig was famous for beach scenes and northern lights- which we can see from Eriska too- occasionally
When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
Director: Etienne Perier
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley
Synopsis: A british secret agent, Philip Calvert, is sent on a mission to investiage the disappearance of a ship carrying £8 million in gold near the coast of Scotland.
Locations: although back in the earlier days this did establish Duart Castle and Tobermory as film locations as well as Fingal’s Cave (Staffa )
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Synopsis: Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. It sees him return to his childhood home and reaffirm his love of Scotland although the house was never here!
Locations: Glen Coe and Glen Etive are linked to the car drive and very apt as he was again back in his Aston Martin
From Russia with Love (1963)
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya
Synopsis: James Bond willingly falls into an assassination ploy involving a naive Russian beauty in order to retrieve a Soviet encryption device that was stolen by SPECTRE.
Locations: Several locations in Argyll& Bute with sea scenes south of Oban in particular the finale helicopter & Boat chase scene although you have to feel for the poor crew who get thrown overboard into the sea.
Last weekend was something special at Isle of Eriska! We welcomed 45 MacLean's from America for a family reunion to have exclusive use of the island with a wide range of activities for every interest. Mr. MacLean came to Scotland 40 years ago for his first family reunion to return with the family this year - which some of you might already know is also Eriska's 40th anniversary as a hotel!
With a fully packed schedule for the weekend we had activities for both children and adults. Thursday was especially dedicated to the children, while on Friday we set out to visit some of the places that the MacLean's ancestors originally came from. On Saturday the afternoon was spent on the golf course, in the Spa and in Oban, before the family gala dinner, live music and fireworks completed a great family reunion.
Eriska Highland Games & Brave
I am sure many have seen the Pixar/Disney film Brave of princess Merida, a very determined young girl that sets out to find her own path in life, defies the Scottish customs and thereby leave her father's kingdom in chaos set in a fantasy version of medieval Scotland.
On Thursday we had some great people from Stramash to lead the highland activities for both children and adults. Activities included archery, tossing the caber, tug of war, orienteering or 'the bear hunt', crossing the bog and haggis hurling to the sound of Scottish bagpipes at the front lawn!
For the afternoon the MacLeans were divided into four teams facing various challenges together while competing for parts of the lost map to locate princess Merida's crown. In the race to find the crown only one team could win! The winning team was lead by a kilted piper when finally crowning the princess.
Although everyone passed the challeneges laid out - we were no match to the Scottish midges! A 'de-bugging' session saved the day and the activities could continue as soon as everyone had had their turn.
A day on Mull
On Friday morning we got onto the bus and left for the ferry to Mull to visit Duart Castle and Tobermory. The weather was not in our favour to begin with but it slowly dried up and the sun was out when arriving back to Eriska! Both adults and children were excited to see Duart Castle, ready and dressed in the MacLean kilts we were toured around the castle by the present chief Sir Lachlan Maclean.
The Story of the Macleans & Duart Castle on Mull
Sitting on one of the most spectacular and unique sites on the West Coast of Scotland, the position of Duart Castle was well chosen(where the panoramic picture at the top is from).The castle stands on a crag at the end of the peninsular jutting out into the Sound of Mull at the intersection of the sound of Mull.
Duart Castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean. Members of the Clan are now spread throughout the world and many return to visit the homes of their ancestors and family.
The Clan lands were, and are still on the West Coast of Scotland and the islands of Mull, Coll, Tiree and Jura. The Chieftains of the Clan Maclean had and still have lands on Morvern, Ardgour, Drimnin and at Dochgarroch on the mainland as well as on the islands.
The first recorded mention of the Macleans of Duart is in a papal dispensation of 1367 which allowed their Chief Lachlan Lubanach Maclean to marry the daughter of the Lord of the Isles, Mary Macdonald.
The castle has a rich history, and was not always in the Maclean's possession. Sir Lachlan 16th Chief lost the Maclean's land to the Duke of Argyll due to other commitments. The Castle, although in a fairly ruinous condition was then used as a garrison for Government troops until 1751. Left in ruins, it was abandoned until 1910 when it was purchased and restored by Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 26th Chief.
After lunch on Duart Castle, we toured to Tobermory a fishing port built in the late 18th century. Tobermory is now the main town on the Isle of Mull and is the main departure point for whale and dolphin watching boat tours.
When we arrived in Tobermory, some visited Tobermory Distillery - which was unfortunately fully booked - however it became some of the MacLean's first meeting with the Scottish tablet (in this case infused with Scottish whisky), which was shared and enjoyed on the spot before deciding on the need to bring more tablet back to the States!
Since we were a bit unfortunate with the weather, the small cafe's along the docks offered great comforts such as homemade ice cream, caramel squares, pies and sandwiches - And of course fish and chips, which was enjoyed by the docks under a great number of umbrella's and curious seagulls. It is safe to say the experience was a success.
Gala Dinner, Live Music and Scottish Sword Dancing
On Saturday morning the MacLean family had a range of activities and excursions to choose amongst. Some went hiking on Kerrera, some went golfing at our 9 hole golf course, some booked in to the spa for the afternoon and some went to Oban to taste the famous 14 year old cask strenght whisky at Oban Distillery, before finishing off the afternoon at the Oban Chocolate Company, to the great enjoyment of both children and adults.
The gala dinner was planned with precision. Scottish sword dancers performed as the family was piped into dinner. A seven course meal cooked to perfection using the best local produce, accompanied by some of our best wines and of course Scotland's national drink. After the gala dinner, Whistlebinkies held a live performance in the drawing room. Whistlebinkies also played for the MacLean's 40 years ago when they were last in Scotland, which made it extra special.
The night was finished with a spectacular firework display and was a great family reunion worthy!
Exclusive use at Eriska means that guests can have the whole island themselves. We can help with the planning of any excursions throughout your stay, weddings, meals and dinners made from the best quality local produce and make your celebration unforgettable.
I had a phone call a few days ago, and they asked me if the hotel was well liked by couples looking to relax and enjoy a proper getaway. And I thought, YES absolutely!
Having talked to a few guests and their plans for their stay, we decided to list some of the things couples enjoy doing when they come for a weekend, whether it is for a few days away from the hectic life of work or celebrating an anniversary. We have listed just some of the things you can do when staying at Eriska for all year round and some tips to actually leave the ever present world behind for a weekend. You will undoubtedly find your own ways of making it worth remembering.
10 Ways to Rekindle the Romance in Eriska.
Enjoy long meals together, spend time in the morning and just chat over a long breakfast.
Curl up together by the fireplace in the hall/lounge in the hotel with a good book. The hotel has many books to borrow away and can be found throughout the hotel.
Take some time off the iPhone and iPad when you are here and enjoy each others company.
Book a spa treatment together, it is the ultimate relaxation. A holistic total body care massage lasts for 85 minutes and will leave both body and soul in harmony.
Enjoy a relaxing evening in the hot tub - the spa suites come with their own garden and hot tub and are strictly for couples.
Go for a picnic together! The island has many treasured spots to settle down for a bite, the food is prepared by the kitchen to take away and maps of the island are available at the reception.
Challenge each other in a mini tournament of putting, winner gets to chose next week's favourite TV show or where the next restaurant visit goes.
Go for a day-trip to the surrounding islands, Scotland's West Coast host impressive scenery with beautiful beaches, the romantic Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye, and rich history and culture to be experienced on the isles of Mull and Iona.
Spend an evening by the bar in the concervatory and wait for the badgers to come visit the steps.
10. Sit by the cairn at Eriska to watch the sunset (which is around 22:00 these days).
Coming to Eriska you will have time for at least two of these 'activities' if not more. As one of our guests said; "All in all, Eriska is a lovely spot to spend some time relaxing, eating well, and curling up by the log fires with a good book".
Eriska has so many places waiting to be explored and is the perfect escape for those in need of some pampering, sea air, delicious food and good wine.
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.
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" !
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.
As the guests begin to depart back down the drive Christmas for another year is over and we start to look forward to the end of another year and the start of another 12 months of opportunity.
There are times that I am conscious that I am a glass half empty kind of person and at others I am a glass half full. Christmas and New Year always seem to pose such a dilemna for me. Whilst it is always great to look back and reflect on where we have come and how we have reacted to the changing landscape it is also important not to dwell too long on these and look forward to the future.
It is strange that the festive period at Eriska is so different. Christmas is one of my favourite times as the clocks seem to stop, newspapers are ignored and guests join us to celebrate and most importantly relax, unwind and recover. Whereas New Year is always a time where many see it as an opportunity for new beginnings and a chance to draw a line in the sand and analyse our predicament. Curiously this leads to a very different atmosphere in the house.
Christmas sees the house full of joy and laughter with few cares in the world but guests simply enjoying the moment, New Year sees lots of discussions and debate , great talks and deliberation in the library and whilst there is always an element of serious consideration there is also inevitably some fun as well.
This dichotomy of atmospheres does however show what a wonderful place and building, Eriska is, as it lends itself to both and allows our visitors and guests to benefit from whichever style they need.
As the guests leave this morning - some a little more tired than others- mostly self inflicted and brought on by the Scottish country Dancing last night, I hope they not only enjoyed their stays and the hospitality but feel ready to face the world yet again as they return to immerse themselves in this 24 hour life we now live in.
So On Saturday we will begin to welcome our next house party and try to provide the location and scene for them to get the most from their Highland Break, but for today its a chance for all the team here to take a well deserved break and catch up on much needed rest, a little Christmas cheer and hopefully- for me - a large pile of surprise form Father Christmas as his stop at my fireplace to fill my stocking was delayed a day or too as he has I am reliably informed , been quite busy elsewhere!
One of the advantages of being quieter in the winter is that it gives us a chance to pause and reflect.
It also presents us with the perfect opportunity to dream and imagine, in a way, for a few days we can retire into the life of our guests and immerse ourselves in another world and another life!
With Eriska having paused before the frantic Festive period we have all been dashing around getting both ourselves and the island ready but at least a little respite from Christmas shopping could be achieved by hiding in a cinema and enjoying the recent release of "Skyfall" and the celebration of 50 years of James Bond.
This all coincided with a request from a guest to see if we could put together a James Bond Escape and whilst this might sound a little fanciful it at least allowed an opportunity to research the character and see how well connected we could become.
The first schoolboy knowledge is that 007 was of course educated in Scotland but a less well known fact is that it is rumoured that he is based by Ian Fleming, his creator, on a character from Argyll who helped run operations behind enemy lines.
The exploits of soldier and diplomat Fitzroy Hew MacLean, who parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist the resistance in WW2, are said to have been the origins of Ian Fleming's James Bond and 007 and his family are based at Duart Castle on Mull which can be seen from Eriska.
It is therefore not surprising that not only was Scotland the base for Bond to retreat to in Skyfall but also a location for a few of the films over his last fifty years. Whilst there may be a romantic and exotic need to visit the Bahamas, Africa or California - his true home is Scotland and therefore it has been included in many sets whether being a fictictious trip through the Bosphorus in "From Russia with Love" or a true location as with the Faslane Naval base used in "The Spy who Loved Me"
So we have put together a package which combines the scenery and places from the films and the comfort and style of an Aston Martin DB9 and private speedboat visit to Duart castle along with the lifestyle of a Vespa Martini and a weekend at Eriska. So in conjunction with our friends at Mckinlay Kidd we have now launched a wonderful break away - living the life of James Bond and it is all especially pertinent given the recent release and scenery of the west highlands.