It felt that the holidays this year approached quicker than it has in previous years. One minute I was starting my Masters program, the next I was handing in the final paper and answering the question of the season: are you going back home for Christmas? We knew as soon as we moved to Aberdeen that time off for David was not going to happen. So we accepted the fact that we’d have our first Christmas in Scotland this year.
In Scotland, Christmas (Dec 25) and Boxing Day (Dec 26) are bank holidays. Since they both landed on the weekend this year, that meant David got Monday and Tuesday off in lieu. Having felt a bit of cabin fever leading up to the holidays, we knew we didn’t want to hang around at home for the four-day weekend. In my research of places to stay, I noticed a common pattern. Many hotels and guesthouses offered Residential Packages over Christmas (and also over New Year’s Eve). Residential Packages generally include all your meals… not just breakfast. When I started researching in November, many places were already sold out. Luckily, I found Bunchrew House Hotel on the shores of Beauly Firth, just 10 minutes west of Inverness.
Christmas Program at Bunchrew House
Bunchrew House has a history that goes back to the 1600s and has beautiful views over the water. With only 16 rooms, it offered the small, cozy atmosphere we wanted for a quiet Christmas. We arrived on Christmas Eve after a quick lunch stop in Elgin. We were treated to afternoon tea by the open fire and later in the evening, a 3-course dinner. We went to St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Inverness for midnight mass then came back to the hotel to Skype with family and open a few gifts. My family has always opened gifts on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day started with a full Highland breakfast. Then back to our room, David and I opened the rest of our gifts since his family tradition is to open them on Christmas Day. At Bunchrew House, the main meal on Christmas Day was a 4-course lunch which we didn’t eat until 2:30pm simply because we weren’t hungry! The rest of the day was spent napping, lounging by the fire, playing Scrabble and drinking tea. We didn’t even have their buffet dinner because again, we weren’t hungry.
Boxing Day was another relaxed day with a late breakfast and a drive up the coast to go exploring. We returned for afternoon tea and then much later had another amazing dinner. After another uneventful quiet evening of tea and Scrabble, we spent our last restful sleep at Bunchrew House. The next morning, we filled up on the traditional breakfast and then headed back to Aberdeen.
Everything about the weekend was just perfect. It is exactly what we wanted. A weekend away from home, something quiet, charming and cozy with nothing else to do. We didn’t have to cook or even worry about where to go for dinner. We could enjoy a few glasses of wine with our meal and relax by the fire. Staff were always on hand to ask if there was anything we needed… a drink or some more tea. The meals went above and beyond for a little place. Every dish was beautifully presented and tasted divine. We had smoked eel risotto, salmon tartare, roasted venison, slow cooked beef filet, plaice fish in a light curry sauce, Christmas pudding, French apple tart…. just thinking of all this food makes me feel full again. The showstopper was the Christmas dessert: a completely edible winter scene with a meringue and ice cream snowman.
All the Magical Details
The staff at Bunchrew House put so much thought and care into all the details. After Christmas Eve dinner, we returned to our room to find a stocking stuffed with chocolates, hazelnuts, almonds and oranges. That same evening, a Scottish piper serenaded us and dazzled us with all his bling (as his put it). On Christmas Day, we found evidence that Santa had been there. Partially eaten mince pies and carrots, some coal and a half drunk glass of whiskey were on top of the coffee table. White foot prints led from the fireplace to the Christmas tree filled with gifts underneath.
Then Santa came, ringing his bell and saying ‘ho ho ho.’ With two little helpers from the crowd, he gave each couple and each child a gift. Each got the same thing, a bath set full of bubble bath, lotions and soap. And whether we really cared for the gift or not, it was a wonderful touch and created a lovely atmosphere among all the guests. It was more than I ever expected from a weekend away at a hotel.
Christmas music played in the background all throughout the public areas of the hotel. Every main meal came with Christmas crackers. And there was only one rule all weekend: you must wear the paper crown on Christmas lunch. We happily obliged.
The Area around Bunchrew
We purposely picked a hotel outside of a city with nothing but countryside surrounding us. In typical Scottish fashion, it rained but in a surprise twist, it was unusually warm on Christmas Day. About 13C! The light rain did treat us to a magnificent rainbow, a double rainbow in fact. I was sad we didn’t have snow… to me Christmas and snow go hand-in-hand. That would have just been icing on the Christmas cake.
On the way back home on the 27th, we stopped nearby at the Culloden Battlefield. For fans of Outlander, you’d know this well. It marked the end of the Jacobite Uprising in 1746 and happened to be the last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil. The battle was between British Army loyalists and the Jacobites, the Scottish Highlanders who wanted their Bonnie Prince Charles Stuart back on the throne. After the defeat, the government dismantled the social structure of the Highland culture and the kilt and tartan were banned.
It was a remarkable sunny day so we took the Highland Tourist route through the Cairngorms. We saw a little bit of snow and sweeping vistas of the valleys and mountains. Our anticipation for spring and summer couldn’t be greater… we can’t wait to return to this part of Scotland for hiking and camping. But alas, it’s still December and we’re just a few days away from a new year. On the bright side, the days are finally getting longer, bit by bit.
Our first Christmas in Scotland was just what we needed. Of course, being surrounded by family and friends would have been better, but since that wasn’t possible this year, this was the best way to spend Christmas.
Tips for spending Christmas in Scotland when you’re away from family:
- get away to the countryside
- find a small guesthouse or hotel that offers a residential package
- book way in advance (we luckily got the last room, but some of the guests had booked in May!)
- try all the traditional Christmas foods: mince pies, Christmas pudding, bacon wrapped sausages
- bring a good book or a game
- wear a Christmas sweater
- go to Midnight Mass, even if you’re not religious, just to see how the locals celebrate
- make sure you have at least one gift to open, even if it’s to yourself!
How did you spend Christmas this year?