For once, I was the nervous one, anxious to get on. Today’s list of things to go wrong was long.
The keys might not have been ready to collect, might not have been there, may not have been approved, they might be the wrong ones or not fit in the lock. The Landrover might not be ready, have any fuel, work, I might not fit. The castle might have been double booked, not yet cleaned, the boiler not fixed, the logging destroyed the road, the trees all gone…
But no. For once, everything that we planned, went to plan.
We checked out in a leisurely fashion, enjoying the excellent breakfast one last time. We packed up the car neatly, with Aimi’s dress on top, still wrapped up and secret from me. We had time to drive the long way around Loch Ness (to avoid the tiny single track road this side)
When we arrived at the Landrover rental place, there was no one in sight. Just some tatty portacabins and a few cars lined up. I gave the office a call and an email and within a couple mins a girl turned up and did the paperwork with me. Photos taken of the car, we set off and the difference between the sporty Kia and this barge of a vehicle was night and day.
At Tesco’s we found that the key fob that locks the vehicle, also sounds the horn with a double toot. It’s ridiculously loud and happens every time the car is locked so there is no way around it. I think on the Estate, I’ll be leaving it unlocked to avoid the noise.
We stocked up on food and snacks for a few days and then headed off to Wolftrax. Here we collected the forestry commission gate keys. We also stopped for freshly cooked chilli topped nachos. They were great, but the chillies were way too hot, and gave me the hiccups.
Just before we drove to the Ben Alder Estate, we stopped by the forest gate, just to check the key worked. Last thing we need is to be trapped at the bottom of the hill. But it worked perfectly and so we went to check into our
Castle Gate House. This was a long drive down a private road along the side of the loch.
We thought Mike and Casey would arrive first, given they had driven half way and, like us, stopped in Northumberland. But surprisingly, it was Hannah and Nathan, who had driven all the way up from Hitchin in one hit!
We wandered around in awe together. The photos made it look grand, but in person it was exquisite.
There were 2 lounges up on the top floor. One was huge, with vaulted ceilings, tapestries on the walls and a grand stone fireplace surrounded by heavily embroidered sofas. They looked old and lumpy but were incredibly soft and comfy. There was a table at the loch end of the room which is where I imagine we will be playing the different games Hannah had brought with her.
The other lounge was smaller with a large solid wooden cabinet built along one entire wall. It cleverly disguised a TV opposite to which, was a huge sofa built into the other 3 sides of the room.
On the top floor landing was a staircase up to the tower. This spiralled up to a small circular room with tall thin windows that overlooked the gate and the road leading to the manor. The pointy roof outside was mirrored inside in beautiful wood panelling and in the centre hung a big crystal chandelier. You could walk around the whole room protected from falling down the stairs by iron railings made from what looks like unfinished sword blades. Very mediaeval!
Down the spiral stairs, lit by fancy iron wall sconces (with flame shaped modern electric bulbs) was the ground floor entrance hall. This room is bigger than our living room with a desk and circular table, and plenty of space for a duel, if you should require. There was also a carved wooden frame with curtains which cut off part of the room near the spiral stairs. This is where I imagine seeing Aimi tomorrow. I can’t wait!
Off the entrance hall, through heavy double wood doors is a grand dining room with an incredibly long dark wooden table flanked with plush dining chairs. At the far end are big windows overlooking the loch with deep reveals and cushions so you can sit and look out.
Next door is the kitchen which is, again, massive and all made in solid wood of a farmhouse style. There is the largest aga I have ever seen here, sitting beneath a large hood, we struggled to turn on. We made ourselves at home in this kitchen, filling the fridge with food and the drinks fridge with all our cola and beers. While we cooked we sat at the kitchen table, chatted and snacked with music coming from Nathan’s speakers.
Then lastly, down to the basement were all the bedrooms. As we had arrived first, we chose the one overlooking the loch. Even though it wasn’t as fancy as the master room, the bed in this one didn’t have an end – very important for a tall person like me. The other room had a four poster bed which was gorgeous but just too short for me. All the rooms were ensuites with beautiful big bathtubs surrounded by thick solid stone. It was the most magnificent bathroom I think I’ve ever used. No amount of luxury stops Aimi’s poops from stinking. But I suppose I’d better get used to them… We’re getting married tomorrow!