Hide and seek. That’s what it’s great for. And treasure hunts. Not to mention its wonderful walks. Having driven just a couple of hours from Edinburgh, we arrive at Farr Estate. It’s set in 12,000-acres – no wonder it took time for us to find the right entrance to this humongous place – which later, offers the best grounds for adolescent games of hide-and-seek. That’s what happens when you drop a group of 21-year-olds into a fairy-tale setting with a middle-of-nowhere feel to it.
Farr Estate opened its doors to lucky punters a year ago, having previously been used for more than a century exclusively by the owners, the Mackenzie family. It’s now a gorgeous home-from-home, run by a charming couple: Lucy Ogilvie, née Mackenzie and her husband, Andrew. It’s surrounded by hundred-year-old redwood, monkey puzzle and copper beech trees that stretch for miles on end. Sometimes they are covered in clumps of snow, but in other months, blossom blooms and the area is sprinkled with colour.
We booked Farr Estate for two nights to celebrate my 21st birthday. You don’t have to go in a big group though. It is available to rent for one person – if you need some alone time away – or for a party of up to sixteen using the main house (Farr House) along with The Garden Cottage (in the grounds that sleeps six). Loch Next (a snuggery for two). Think birthday party, wedding, reeling party, yoga retreat, writers’ get-away or just a couple wanting a fun and relaxing time exploring the Scottish Highlands.
In the run- up to my party, Lucy indulged my mother and myself in every high-maintenance-princess organisational detail that came to my mind – from helping with meal plans using local ingredients, to suggestions for activities to sign up for. She and Andrew bent over backwards for us – myself, my family, twenty friends and our pet boxer.
It’s possible to have a no-hassle stay. Lucy kindly offers to book paint balling for us (just 200 metres away from the house, hidden behind some pine trees), organises a treasure hunt and offers either to hire outside catering or oversee the cooking herself: she is an accomplished cook. Wendy the cleaner is also available if you want an efficient and chirpy hand: we did.
When it comes to foodies, Lucy’s got things covered. They rear an array of other animals – think estate-reared meat including rare breed piggie and deer – from which the local butcher creates delicious venison haunches, burgers, sausages and the like. The house is more than equipped for catering with an Aga, two different ovens, and every kind of utensil under the sun (and every cupboard labelled for those who want to do some home-cooking without the trouble of hunting around madly in a stranger’s home.) During mushroom season, the forest floor is covered with chanterelles that Lucy picks. And home-grown fruit and veg span the garden.
It’s a very special place and offers incredible value for money. The interior is a mixture of modern take with antique with a splash of Scottish pride: a contemporary homely feel mixed with the best of historical details. There are photographs and drawings of the original Georgian stately home that was Farr House and which was occupied by HRH the Duke of Gloucester scattered over a few of the walls. Farr House was razed to the ground in the sixties; the main house that most of the party are now staying in was once the tenants’ hall and chapel.
Above the drawing room fireplace there’s a portrait of Lucy’s grandfather when he was Page of Honour at King George V’s Coronation. The dining room boasts gold-framed 18th century Mackenzie portraits, coupled with cosy dark tartan-patterned (They are Mackenzie tartan) curtains and chairs and a dining table that inspires thoughts of a movie-scene moment in which two people might sit at either end, a feast separating them, only able to converse by shouting or by mobile phone.
Each room has its own distinctive feel. There’s the ground floor powder-blue bedroom with its chandelier and en-suite with a claw-foot bath. Next to it, there’s an avant-garde black-tiled bathroom with big glass bowl sinks that leads onto another cosy double bedroom. There’s also a bedroom in the Gardener’s Cottage that’s like a boarding school dorm.
There’s the bedroom Eeyrie that I bag for myself – in the annex and with a circular window that gets frosted over in the evening. Below is a ‘kitchenette’ – more like a large kitchen in a house: bigger, at any rate, than the entire space of my university flat. What’s more, Farr boasts full bars of Wi-Fi, a wind farm, solar panels, hydroelectricity and piping hot water on demand. Under-floor heating ensures that it really does not feel as if we are in rural Scotland.
So how do we spend our time? Having eaten the equivalent of three Christmas dinners in one day, it is bliss being able to sit by a roaring fire in the drawing room and play board games. Surrounded by cases and shelves of books, from Evelyn Waugh to ancient Bibles, original history catalogues and family books from the 1700s, it’s impossible not to feel more than intelligent and cultured. Next door, some of the group watch Fawlty Towers using the projector and speaker system.
In the morning, we are slowly awoken by the sound of birds chirping. Apparently, robins, Peregrine falcons, red kites and sparrow hawks do the rounds here. This place feels so delightfully remote that even the slightest sound can be heard. Red squirrels scamper across the grounds, roe deer hide amongst the forest trees, and the poor mountain hares get a surprise when confronted by my dog.
For outdoorsy folk, trout fishing is available on Farr Loch just a two- minute walk down the lane. Equally, shooting is right on the doorstep: you just say the word. (‘Gun,’ I think it is). If you want to explore the famous beauty of the Cairngorms National Park, it is just 45 minutes away and boasts hiking, rock climbing, and skiing (the last season-dependent, of course).
Amazingly, dolphin watching is also available on the Moray Firth. Or, you can venture out to search for the Loch Ness Monster: good luck. Personally, I’d rather sit in Lucy’s Land Rover, being given an off-road driving tour of the area, and finishing up with a spot of lunch of homemade game terrine in the moorland bothy.
If you are historically inclined, both the Culloden battlefield and Cawdor Castle (where Macbeth was set), are nearby. You can top off these experiences with a stop at the Black Isle beer distillery nearby for an all- organic tipple. Or you could go down a very different route and have your tarot cards read at Findhorn next to the river where salmon is farmed.
Farr House and the estate offers everything you can want in a holiday and more. Our weekend was a raging success. So much so, we’re booking to visit again this summer. Let’s call that my 21st and a half birthday party.
Farr House, Farr Estate, Inverness, IV2 6XB, Scotland.
Tel: +44 (0)7904 075361
Inverness airport is about a 30-minute drive and Inverness station about 25 minutes away. Taxi services from Inverness and Aviemore are also available with advance booking.
Type of Hotel: Luxury Highland Retreat
Number of Rooms: Available for exclusive hire (16 people) to solo stays. The main house (Farr House) consists of eight bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms, comfortably accommodating up to 16 guests. There are additional properties on the grounds: The Gardener’s Cottage sleeping six, and The Old School House can sleep an additional six. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the house.
Price Band: Low – amazing value for money, with prices starting from £47 per person per night based on 16 people staying.
Insider Tip: Do the treasure hunt offered by Lucy and her husband, Andrew, who own the house as it’s a fun way to get acquainted with the beautiful grounds.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Ella Braimer Jones is a student, model and daughter of one of our travel writers.
Photographs courtesy of Farr Estate