Living like a Laird at Skibo Castle

I’m going to admit I have a wee bit of an obsession…

with the TV show Outlander.

The series is a time-traveling fantasy set in the highlands of Scotland and featuring one very bonny and brawny Scot named Jamie.  May I just say, he wears a kilt well.

So, I was thrilled to have the chance to spend the weekend up in the eastern highlands of Scotland at Skibo Castle. The occasion was a friend’s 50th birthday party that united groups of cronies from childhood, college, career, Boston and London.  It was, in essence, a gathering of the clans!

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Skibo is a beautiful castle that dates back to the 12 century and sits on a site that was once a Viking fort  near the shore of the Dornoch Firth.  The name Skibo derives from the Norse meaning “Fairyland of Peace”, and it was the allure of the beautiful bucolic landscape that drew Andrew Carnegie to the castle in 1897.   He lavishly renovated and expanded the castle with care, and it stayed within the Carnegie family until 1982 when it became a members-only club.

From the moment I stepped foot in the grand hall, I was given the member’s royal treatment.  Oak paneled rooms, roaring fireplaces, stained glass windows, sweeping staircases, and private libraries were just some of the special features of my castle home for the weekend.  Not bad, living the Laird’s life.

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Like the castle itself, the grounds are grand and spectacular, and I enjoyed exploring the property, wandering through a walled garden busting with colorful flowers…

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strolling along a wooded path surrounding the loch where two swans met under a bridge…

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treading through vast fields filled with pheasants who are enjoying peace before hunting season opens in two weeks…

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and gazing across grassy dunes where a russet sunset glowed and cast an orange hue across a brackish pond.

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In true Scottish tradition, we listened to the distinctive wail of pipers wake us in the morning and serenade us in the evening.  We played our own version of Highland games, including Haggis Hurling, Tattie (Potato) Spoon Races, and Walk o’ Death (across a low balance beam).  All as ridiculous in task as they were competitive in spirit!

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We dined on Scottish salmon, prime rib and, most notably, haggis.  I dared to try this Scottish specialty, a savory dish traditionally encased in an animal’s stomach containing sheep’s pluck (the heart, liver, and lungs).  This gross mixture is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt and then mixed with stock. The contents alone are enough to turn your stomach, and yet the haggis croquettes served at our formal dinner were quite delicious with a nutty texture and unique flavor that defies description.

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The men donned kilts for the last night’s festivities, and both the women’s and men’s skirts were twirling during the carefully choreographed highland dances that took place after dinner.  This Scottish square-dancing had us stepping, clapping, spinning, and essentially doe-si-doing around the grand hall.  Hot and thirsty from our efforts, we all concluded the evening in the whiskey cellar, quenching our thirst and quelling our exertion late into the wee hours of the morning.

I came to Scotland obsessed with a fictional Outlander and left in love with a castle Highlander.

In the words of the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who wrote the famed “Auld Lang Syne” and coined the term “of mice and men”:

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,

My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;

A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,

My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

And yet, a place is only as good as the people in it.  And this collection of people was spectacular.  In true clan fashion, we raised many glasses of champagne and whiskey to toast the good fortune of our hosts.

Mòran taing!  Many thanks!

 

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