A Highland Safari into the Wildlands of Scotland

Glenfeshie Cottages nestled in the Scottish forest
Glenfeshie Cottages nestled in the Scottish forest | Alex Baxter

Away from the big cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, many visitors to Scotland are drawn to the serene landscapes of the rugged Highlands. We take a trip north and find out more about about a modern conservation project that aims regenerate the environment whilst offering visitors the chance to stay in a variety of exceptional properties.

Kyle House in Scotland

Wildland Scotland is a fascinating attempt to combine refined luxury with regeneration in some of the remotest parts of Britain. The long term goals are to protect and enhance the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands through conservation – by long term we’re talking a 200 year vision – whilst also giving visitors the chance to experience the best in local hospitality.

When you look at some of the places to stay on offer here you realise there are no short measures when it comes to the properties that have already been prepped for your arrival. There are a range options from rustic manor houses to opulent castles on the banks of Loch Ness. Another choice, a modern cottage with clean Scandinavian style interiors and a weatherbeaten facade in keeping with local conditions hints at the main drivers behind the project.

Killiehuntly Farmhouse

Billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen is both the richest man in Denmark and the largest private land owner in Scotland. Thankfully one of his core interests is conservation and as part of a carefully planned re-wilding project, Wildland properties are engulfed in unspoilt nature. In most the renovated buildings you can stay in as part of Wildland you’ll find several nods to Denmark and in at least one case an obvious architectural build has been centred around Scandinavian style.

Lundies House in Sutherland

Most visitors will fly into Scotland via the international airports in Edinburgh and Glasgow, although if you have the option its far more convenient to fly to Inverness. The tiny airport is further north than the bigger terminals but this makes it an ideal spot to start your journey into the Highlands. This is also a popular destination for tourists embarking on the North Coast 500 road trip, which is regarded as one of the most scenic routes in the world. One final option is rail, which won’t get you to some of the more remote areas in Scotland, but with several connections to smaller stations you can get close enough to get local buses or taxi services.

Of course with a little advanced planning you can arrange a pick up with Wildland from the airport if you’re going on to one of their estates.

Killiehuntly Farmhouse

Protecting, regenerating and restoring over 200,000 acres of land and the estates that sit on it is a mammoth task. As I visited in early 2024 a recent storm had ripped through the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands and felled hundreds of trees. Most winters see large snow drifts which allow for skiing in the area and in the height of summer you’ll have to contend with midges, thousands of tourists and increasing temperatures. Aside from human visitors, Wildland is looking to embrace the natural challenges and build a series of experiences that showcase the raw beauty of Scotland. The trees were cleared from the roads but otherwise left where they lay to create natural habitats for animals that have seen urban sprawl claim other regions.

The idea of a ‘safari’ is at odds with the environment you initially picture when thinking of Scotland. You won’t find any of the big five here but there is a chance to take an overland adventure to observe nature and immerse yourself in a world free from digital distractions. That said, and just to reassure some of you, I had full mobile service for most of my time here and only really went offline by choice to take it all in.

Kinloch has an outdoor sauna, cold water plunge pool and freshwater river perfect for swimming in

Going from a cosy cottage to a sleek lodge via a castle with a view of Loch Ness is exactly the kind of safari I want to experience. Glenfeshie Lodge is one of the main attractions of the 200 year Wildland project. Full of heavy furnishings and copious amounts of tartan, the estate as a whole comfortably sleeps 12 people. You can take up residence in the main building, which boasts a large dining room and roaring fireplace, or one of the attached rooms. This is a convenient first stop if you plan on visiting multiple destinations and if you take a bike ride you can also visit Killiehuntly Farmhouse. Opt for the e-bike unless you are a regular cyclist as the terrain can be challenging. This ride will give you a great view of the efforts being made to bring wildlife back to the area and at your destination you can also see a Range Rover once owned by royalty!

Over the winter months the some of the estates are closed to visitors allowing the staff, most of whom are local to the area, to take a break too. Renovations of all types also take place during this period, and being one of the first to step into these properties in any given year is a joy. We drove further north for our next stop after a relaxing night at Glenfeshie and soon the unmistakable lure of Loch Ness was calling. 300 year old Aldourie Castle is nestled on the bank of the giant loch and is surrounded by 500 acres of curated, private gardens. The rooms on the upper floors give you incredible views as do the gardens, meadows and woodland that surround the castle. There’s a modern boathouse that leads straight onto the water and its also a great spot for lunch. There is a classical ambience here, different from our previous stop, but its just as welcoming regardless of its inherent grandeur.

Aldourie Castle & Estate

Our final visits were much further north, almost three hours away through the mountains, fields and remote roads of the Highlands. It was here we were able to join part of the North Coast 500 and end up at the small village of Tongue. Looking straight out onto the North Sea, Lundies House is a 19th century former church manse now operating as a contemporary art hotel. The incredible hospitality on offer here, consistent throughout all of the Wildland collection, makes it feel far more elevated than any other ‘hotel’ I can think of. From personalised room amenities including boots, coats, hot drinks and knowledgable staff to a fire pit with warm blankets and made-to-order cocktails, you can ask for pretty much anything to complete your stay. For some reason, perhaps it was the fresh air making us giddy, we decided to take a dip in the sea at a nearby pebble beach. We were furnished with everything we could possibly need and shown the best place to go.

Come back from a dip in the sea to a warm bath at Lundies

Not too far away from Tongue is the more intimate Kyle House, which I have to confess was a personal favourite. The small, two person cottage is the perfect bolt-hole for couples looking to get away from the world or solo travellers in need of recuperation. I saw it as the ideal writers retreat, with inspiration coming from the large windows looking out over lush fields and dramatic mountains. This is more of a self-catered affair although there are teams from Wildland within easy reach at a nearby property as well as the option of using e-bikes to get around.

Finally, combining a little bit of everything we saw elsewhere, Kinloch Lodge is an expansive house which has so many additional rooms and open spaces, you’ll be surprised it only has a handful of bedrooms. For this reason its only available for exclusive lets and you can see why a group of friends or extended family would want to spend time here. A new conservatory is a pleasant, sun-soaked environment for tea and scones, with an outdoor deck leading into a river and a relaxing bathing area.

The variety available with Wildland demand further exploration and if you want a complete Scottish safari, this is hard to beat.

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