Alladale Wilderness Reserve review: into the wild of the Scottish Highlands
Ignore the emails and reboot yourself in a stunning setting
Reviewing Alladale Wilderness Reserve is something of a challenge. It’s sort of a hotel… yet it isn’t. It’s sort of a private residence… but not. It’s sort of a marvellous retreat from the world at large… but, well, it isn’t.
What it is though is 23,000 acres of beautiful Scottish countryside being slowly restored – and rewilded – to what 23,000 acres of beautiful Scottish countryside should look like. It’s a policy that’s going to take decades and centuries to complete which is why owner Paul Lister doesn’t call himself the owner: no, Paul is the current custodian of the estate. When he’s gone, systems and funding will be in place to continue the good work.
That’s good work such as planting tens of thousands of trees – and species that would actually grow in Scotland – and the removal of the non-indigenous alternatives that have been planted in previous years. It’s good work such as allowing Highland cattle to roam free, to break up the soil and moss cover to enable other species to thrive. It’s good work such as restricting the progress of deer, who are so plentiful in this part of the world that they eat and eat and eat, destroying young trees before they had a chance to develop, and affecting the landscape as a whole. And, if Paul gets his way, good work such as bringing wolves back to Scotland to control the deer in a rather more dramatic, but natural way. “Deer have no natural predators in the UK,” he tells me over, appropriately, a lunch of roast venison. “We bring in a small number of wolves, they only kill for food, the deer population is controlled and balance restored.”
To be fair, the latter could be being said for effect; there’s certainly a glint in his eye when Paul says such things. But, while local farmers are, perhaps rightly, scared that the wolves will escape the boundaries and target their sheep, statements like this do help Paul get his wider point across, and the necessary debate started. Mankind cannot carry on as we are. As I’ve long argued, this is not about saving the planet because, give it a few hundred years and the planet will have rebooted itself natural. This is about saving us, the allegedly sentient beasts currently relying on fossil fuels, monocultural farming, the decimation of the rain forests etc, in what, effectively, could be called a slow mass suicide.
Why stay here
Right. Preaching over. That’s the story behind Alladale, and its greater purpose. As a venue for a break, a return to nature, the chance for a full digital detox – one of the properties onsite has zero phone signal, no Wi-Fi, and is proving very popular with stressed City types needing a break from their screens and mobiles – Alladale is a stunning setting in which to reboot oneself to a greater or lesser degree.
The main house is perhaps more suited to a single family or group rental because, well, it’s a house and the bedroom doors don’t lock. It is, therefore, very popular with businesses looking for the ultimate secluded retreat or family reunions of the hunting/shooting/fishing ilk.
Eating and drinking
And it doesn’t stop there. Alladale’s chef, Natasha Buttigieg, clearly enjoys the larder the estate provides, from the natural, ethically culled, four legged aspect, to the produce grown in their aquaponic gardens and raised beds. Because, well, when you’ve got that space and that commitment, why wouldn’t you? For those staying in the house, expect classic, comforting dishes (with nods to the healthy). For those staying in the catered lodges, Eagle’s Crag and Ghillie’s Rest, expect the same, just delivered to you to cook at your convenience. And for those out at Deanich Lodge, the full digital detox property, well, that’s a more DIY approach. But, frankly, if you’re looking for that degree of isolation, you probably don’t want to see anyone, even if they are bringing you a pie.
Things to do
Frankly, Alladle is as unique a stay experience as it is beautiful, and it’s very, VERY beautiful. Rolling hills, deep valleys of myriad greens, purples and yellows. Streams and water, beasts and birds and, should you feel like hiking… “There are sea views to the east and the west from that ridge,” reserve manager Innes MacNeill tells me, pointing to a large mass several miles away on the horizon. “That ridge has more significance,” he adds with a grin. “It’s pretty much the halfway mark of the estate…” To say then that Paul, and team, have taken on quite a project, is a massive understatement.
As to what to do while you’re here… relax. Convene with nature. Disconnect from your job. Pretend email doesn’t exist. Detox. Sleep. Walk. Breathe. Just be? As Billy Joel wisely preaches in Vienna, “take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while”. It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two… But, even if you’re here on a company retreat, being as corporate as corporate can be, I suspect you’ll leave in a more restful state than when you arrived. Alladale is that kind of place.
Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Ardgay, Sutherland IV24 3BS, Scotland; alladale.com