Hidden in a cluster of pine trees at the end of Loch Ossian stands an unusual take on the Scottish castle. There are none of the ramparts and turrets associated with the hideaways so beloved of tourists and film location scouts; instead Corrour Lodge looks part-Bond lair, part-bunker.
Commissioned by Lisbet Rausing, the daughter of Tetra Pak billionaire Hans Rausing, the lodge comprises a looming cube and cone of granite and two vertical slashes of glass. There’s nothing nostalgic or twee about this place; it’s a modernist statement that feels solid and impregnable.
The lodge took four years to build at a reported cost of £20m and, although it was completed in 2003, there have been a few teething problems to iron out. It turns out that even new-build castles get damp. The glass-roofed, double-height hall also felt a little like an airport waiting room, so an extra floor was added. As a result builders have been on site for about six months each year and the Rausings in residence for eight weeks over the summer. While the lodge has had guests (Bono has been twice), there has been little opportunity to actually rent Corrour Lodge until now.
I arrived via the 11-mile-long private drive, the car’s rear axle threatening to break with every pothole as we bumped our way through forests and moorland. After the scenery, I found myself initially baulking at Boston-based architect Moshe Safdie’s modernist structure. Yet while the exterior is forbidding, grey and in the wrong light rather bleak, the interior by British designer Suzy Hoodless is a winning blend of simple Scandinavian luxury, carefully curated classic 20th-century furniture (Arne Jacobsen egg chairs, a Hans Olsen dining table), and show-off touches (there’s a sperm whale’s jawbone at the foot of the stairs).
The lodge is packed with modern art. There’s a neon sign installation in the entrance hall and in the large sitting room where we gathered for tea laid on by Betty the housekeeper, an Anish Kapoor sculpture hangs above the fireplace.
Despite its clean lines, the lodge slowly charms you with undiscovered nooks, elegant details and deeply comfortable beds. And at every turn are gobsmacking views of the wilderness beyond. After staying in a couple of traditional Scottish castles in the preceding days, it was a shock to be somewhere so of the minute, yet the lodge shares its DNA with those grand old buildings. The great hall has hanging tapestries alongside the chrome-and-glass coffee table; the dining room is a modern take on the banqueting hall, with high-backed chairs and another tapestry. Even the structure of the building mimics the ancient hunting lodges elsewhere in Scotland – there’s the hall, the reinterpreted baronial tower and the stairwell is a wide, elliptical spiral.
After tea, I borrowed one of the lodge’s mountain bikes and rode the 10-mile circuit of the loch. The estate was originally developed in the 1890s by the Glaswegian industrialist Sir John Stirling Maxwell. Guests visiting his Victorian hunting lodge, which stood here from 1899 until it burned down in 1942, arrived by train at the private Corrour Station (the spectacularly lonely halt featured in the film Trainspotting), which stands at the far end of the loch.
From the station, they were taken by horse-drawn carriage to the water’s edge (where a lovely little youth hostel now stands as a counterpoint to the lodge), then by steamer up the loch. While the sleeper train from London to Fort William still stops at Corrour (now public), the steamer no longer runs. Instead, today’s high-rolling guests can charter a seaplane to land on the loch or fly in by helicopter.
The estate now covers around 65,000 acres, including several lochs and a handful of Munros. “That’s about the size of Los Angeles,” Philip Dean, the estate manager told me. “Except LA has 8m or 9m residents, and here there are eight or nine.”
The moorland is filled with red and roe deer, grouse, ptarmigan and pine marten. The traditional pursuits of deer stalking and fishing are on offer, but the estate is also concerned with a more modern agenda of promoting biodiversity and sustainability: birch woodland is being regenerated and there are plans for a hydroelectric system to make the estate self-sufficient.
Along the loch I biked through a 25-acre rhododendron wood (one of the UK’s most important five collections), established by Stirling Maxwell. The pine forest was dotted with pink and cherry-red blooms and at one point I found that a sudden cold snap had caused some to shed their entire load, as if a painter had dropped a tin of vermilion.
That evening I dined on a hearty stew of local venison with mash and broccoli. After dinner we descended to the games room for snooker and a few glasses of the lodge’s own Corrour single malt. Later, lying in my enormous bed, I listened to the wind gusting over the loch, relishing the combination of wilderness and luxury.
The following morning, rather thick-headed, I wandered barefoot down to the jetty (complete with sauna) for a dip in the icy water of the loch. There I was momentarily thrown by a figure in the trees – one of Antony Gormley’s silent iron men staring out from Stirling Maxwell’s old steamer pier. It’s a meeting of old and new that gets to the heart of Corrour Lodge’s appeal.
Corrour Lodge has seven double suites and a children’s bunkroom sleeping 14; a week including staff, meals and drinks, costs from £30,000. Contact Loyd & Townsend Rose (www.ltr.co.uk), who can also book numerous castles in Scotland, England and Ireland, including those listed below
Four more Scottish retreats
Ackergill Tower, Wick
Dating from 1476, Ackergill is the epitome of the Scottish castle. Close to the northernmost tip of the mainland, the tower has 12ft thick walls to withstand the force 11 winter winds, turrets galore and a sweeping panoramic view north across a white sand beach to Orkney. It sleeps up to 52 guests. www.ackergill-tower.co.uk
Aldourie Castle, Loch Ness
This fairy-tale castle on the banks of Loch Ness dates from 1626, with later additions by the Victorian architect Sir Robert Lorimer. The house sleeps 28 and has been given a stunning makeover by current owner Roger Tempest, with each bedroom boasting unique wallpapers, oil paintings and antique furniture. www.aldouriecastle.co.uk
Balfour Castle, Orkney
One of the most northerly castles in the world, Balfour, on the Orkney island of Shapinsay, is best arrived at by helicopter. Built by Victorian architect David Bryce, the castle features an indoor golf simulator and cinema alongside the more traditional
private chapel. www.balfourcastle.co.uk
Set on the River Tay, this pretty white castle is a prime spot for anglers looking to catch salmon in the river or trout from the estate’s eight lochs, while hunters can stalk stags across the 14,000 acres of grounds beyond. www.pitcastle.com