Skibo Castle: a taste of extraordinary luxury and style
At Skibo Castle, instead of a genie you have a telephone. Just dial zero and make your wish. Over the course of our three-day family visit, we tried increasingly hard to test the capabilities of the estate but nothing we asked for was either impossible or too much trouble.
We found ourselves dealing strictly in first-world problems, such as: How could we get from our secluded lodge on the banks of the River Evelix to the swimming pool?
There are golf buggies outside the front door – just drive them to wherever you need to be. We love our children more than words can describe but what if we’d like an hour’s peace this afternoon at zero notice?
No problem, bring them to our Play Area, and leave them in the one-on-one care of our nursery staff. They will be able to draw, paint, read books or do some craft. They can even play the drums if they want. Failing that, they can go outside and we’ll kick a ball around with them.
At breakfast, our three-year- old asked for a bowl of porridge, a croissant, a yoghurt and some scrambled eggs, all within five minutes. To drink, she had some apple juice, a mug of hot chocolate and a smoothie. The kilted waiter didn’t bat an eyelid.
Yes, The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle, to use its full title, is an experience like no other.
Since 2003, it has been owned by Ellis Short, the American businessman whose portfolio once also included Sunderland FC. He acquired Skibo Castle from Peter de Savary, under whose stewardship the estate became a favoured retreat for high-profile celebrities. Most famously, in 2000, it was here that Madonna married Guy Ritchie.They doubtless appreciated Skibo’s sense of discretion.
This isn’t the kind of place where you come to be seen. Quite the opposite, in fact. The kind of people who are members here are beyond the stage of flaunting their wealth.
This Highlands estate is to be found, or not as the case may be, just off the A9 before, heading north, you reach the golfing paradise of Dornoch.
From Inverness, it’s an hour’s drive. You won’t notice it unless you know to peel your eyes as you cross the Dornoch Firth, and even then you could be forgiven for missing the left turn a few hundred yards later.
There are no signposts for Skibo Castle; but then most guests arrive by helicopter or in one of the estate’s black Range Rovers, having been collected from a private air field.
It isn’t possible to stay here unless you are either a member or seriously thinking of becoming one.
Estimating how many guests are on site at any one time is difficult because you very rarely see anyone else apart from at meal times. And even then, only the ones who have chosen to venture out rather than enjoy having dinner cooked for them by a Skibo Castle chef in the comfort of their lodge or room.
To say that life at Skibo revolves around mealtimes would be grossly unfair given the array of indoor and especially outdoor activities that are available without leaving the estate.
However, it is possible, either intentionally or inadvertently, to move seamlessly from one repast to the next.
That’s because the Skibo ethos is along the lines of do exactly what you want when you want. Take breakfast, which you can have any time between dawn and lunchtime.
It ranges from a bowl of locally-sourced granola, perhaps topped with honey from Skibo’s own apiary, to an extravaganza of sausages, eggs, porridge, smoked haddock, pastries, yoghurts, cheeses and cold meat.
Arrive at your leisure, taking the time to appreciate this meal in all its glory, and you might just find that morning is turning to afternoon.
It is in the evenings, though, when the Skibo Castle hospitality hits its zenith. This set-piece takes place in the castle, where guests congregate over aperitifs before being summoned to Mr Carnegie’s Dining Room by a gong.
Here, you sit around one large table and await the fruits of the chef’s labours. Afterwards, there is music and perhaps even an impromptu ceilidh.
If you would prefer something a little less formal, an attractive alternative is the golf clubhouse, which advertises a barbecue. Neither ‘golf clubhouse’ nor ‘barbecue’ are terms that begin to do Skibo’s versions justice.
The locker room is sufficiently well equipped and comfortable in which to spend a long weekend while there is nowhere to sit in the bar or restaurant that does not offer panoramic views of the golf course and beyond.
Just as in the castle, there is no need to spend time studying a menu, unless you wish to. Starters take the form of a salad buffet, but on a grand scale, and the main course involves an array of mouth-watering steaks, sausages, cutlets, chops, llets and wings.
Accommodation at Skibo Castle broadly comes in two forms: couples tend to stay in the main castle, where there are 21 rooms, while families take one of the 11 lodges. The latter are sprinkled around the estate and deliberately hidden from view.