Is there a more forlornly romantic spot in Britain than the moors east of Inverness where the Jacobite dream died? There is surely no more romantic location from which to explore the area than Brodie Castle, a turreted fortress looking out towards the Moray coast.
Now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle allows groups of up to 14 to live like a laird, playing croquet on the lawns, eating in the grand dining room, spotting red squirrels and generally absorbing the dark history that culminated on the moors of Culloden.
The adventure has to start at Euston. You could fly to Inverness and arrive with the taste of Gatwick coffee still in your mouth, but what would be the point? The Caledonian Sleeper, especially with kids, is an essential part of the Brodie experience. Lonely Planet rightly observes that the overnight service from London ‘isn’t a train ride, it’s an escape — an overnight teleport from hubbub to Highlands’.
The experience begins in the legendary buffet car where MPs like John Smith and Robin Cook spent late nights enjoying improbably reasonably priced malts before tottering off down the corridor to bed.
The train rumbles its way north before emerging from the night into another world of heather and fast-running streams. Brodie, built by the clan of the same name in the 16th century, is a short drive through Nairnshire countryside from Inverness station .
I know what you’re thinking. Summer has just arrived and do I really want a staycation in the far north? Well, when we were there at Whitsun, this corner of Scotland sweltered at 27ºC, the hottest place in the UK, thanks to our old friend the Fohn wind. This freaky phenomenon occurs as westerly winds rush down the leeward side of the Scottish mountains, having dumped their rain on the hills. Drier air warms more quickly than moist air, so it reaches Brodie Castle in a superheated state, much warmer than when it began its journey.
The laird’s apartment, with its dining room, games room, epic kitchen and sleeping accommodation spread over three floors of magnificent castle gives a taste of the life lived here by the late Ninian Brodie until 2003. It is tempting not to leave the castle and its superb grounds (shared during the day with National Trust visitors, splendidly all yours in the evening) but that would be to neglect the vibrant city of Inverness, whisky-tasting in nearby Speyside or crabbing at Findhorn, where we bumped into Tilda Swinton in her local.
But perhaps the most fascinating spot is Culloden, a bleak battlefield now accompanied by a tremendous visitor centre. Many English visitors may be only dimly aware that the Jacobite army was little more than 100 miles away from Georgian London in 1745 before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s commanders lost their nerve at Derby. The Highlanders were harried and chased back to Culloden near Inverness, where the Duke of Cumberland’s army brutally finished off the rebellion on the windswept moors in the last pitched battle fought on British soil. Forlorn but fascinating.