Living on a private island can be seen by many as a dream.
Whilst the reality can be somewhat different it does have many advantages too. Having been brought up on Eriska I naturally thought, if naively, that all children grew up with a 300 acre play ground at the back door with endless tracks and trails to investigate and no boundaries other than the tideline. However I eventually realised that this is not always the case for others and how lucky and fortunate I was in my childhood.
Eriska, the house itself, was built just over one hundered years ago and in truth was true was at its height in the early part of last century when every year in the summer it was a constant house party with visitors dropping by from both land and sea to join the Clark Hutchiesons in their summer retreat.
Those days have gone now and whilst Eriska remains a wonderul retreat and is a combination of a hotel and country house it is only really when it is booked as a private house for a weekend that it returns to what it must have been like in its hay day as a private house. Whilst we do not have Arnott the redoubtable butler nor the steam yacht moored off the peir we can still create a wonderful setting for a unique occasion. I always stress that Eriska is a combination of three factors- the place, the team who work here and those who choose to stay with us.
This could be no more true than when we have a private party taking the island.
So it was this weekend as we held a joint birthday celebration over three days, golf competitions, masked cocktail reception, reels in the drawing room, tennis challenges and many other activities filled the days but above all Eriska became a private exclusive retreat for three days for the guests and whilst I always love Christmas becasue the world outside seems to dissappear and newspapers and news takes a back seat so it was this weekend with celebration and enjoyment firmly in the front seat.
For three days the house was someone elses, meals were organised at times which fitted their programme (mostly round international rugby matches), menus were written to include many of the guetss favourites and activities arranged to allow the birthday guest to at least be victorious on their special day. In truth whilst a change and sometime slightly alien to our normal operation it was wonderful to see the house full of so much fun and enjoyment and in essence seeing it being used in all its glory and in the way it was designed from the outset.
So now - as our guest leave down the drive and return to every day life we too must return to normality and get back to being a country house and hotel! However we have now resolved that we must try and do it more often and will offer Eriska as a private venue again in the autumn.
Indeed we have set some dates in December aside for such an occassion and unlike some of our collegues who would charge a supplement for an exlcusive use venue, we will offer a reduction on our normal charges if guests wish to take the whole island and return it to its rightful role as a private escape desitination. So in December for one weekend we will be offering the Island for exclusive use at the rate of £16,000 for two nights dinner bed and breakfast for up to 50 guests. For more information please contact us an we can put together a program for you.
As we begin another year- our 40th here at Eriska, we also close one behind us.
Its time to get all the data to the accountants, some of this is easily collected by simply pushing buttons, others is collected by sending team members off into dark stores to count bottles or into the fridges to weigh and measure. However the most difficulty and challenging tasks are always left to me it would seem, whether that be counting books, and brochures or explaining anomalies-
One year I was left explaining how we had valued two donkeys at £50 when this was clearly not market value - how the accountant knew any better I am not sure but clearly my father had made a guess -all be it educated- and then this figure had simply never been challenged - over the years we had looked after many donkeys and never really counted them on or off the balance sheet but on this occasion we had an over officious accountant who wanted proof and evidence- evidence was easy pictures and bruises to the golf course accounted for their existence but but evidence of a valuation plucked from the air was more difficult to fabricate so we had them removed from the paperwork- probably at a loss!
Anyway this week has been spent counting brochures- every time we reprint I always believe that this will be the last edition as the internet takes over and then the panic sets in as we reach the last box and decide we better reprint and off we go again. The hard decision however comes when we do have one box left and the new edition arrives- do we use to less potential guests (insuring they will never be Eriska Guests!) or throw away the old copies. Hopefully the better we get the less surplus copies will be left and we can simply phase out and phase in!
So with brochures counted the next chore was our eriska book. For many years we were asked and especially my father was asked to write a book about the hotel. Then as I began to notice his stories gaining legs and arms I too started calling for a definitive edition to be written down to stop exaggeration and bad memory lases filing the void. Eventually after much deliberation my father started writing "Eriska - the story of an island". In stead of concentrating on the hotel and his time here he chose to concentrate on the island. The first chapter was to cover the early years and years before we arrived - the second the years under my parents stewardship , the third the years under our joint control and finally a chapter on the flora and fauna.
In dividing the book in such a way he not only turned it into a far more interesting read but also forced us to realise that our time here is only a minimal impact on the islands history. This is especially pertinent as we move to become the family with the longest tenure of the island and indeed leads us to be reminded of my fathers credos -
We do not own the island but simply hold it in trust for others to come after us.
The book whilst a guideline to keep my fathers stories on track was never seen by him before he passed away in 2005 but it has not only been a conceded reminder of him to us but also a great way of independently explaining to visitors and potential visitors about Eriska. We can stress and tell people that Eriska is more than a hotel or more than an island but when the visit or read the book they start to get the impression that it is simply Eriska a unique place- and for that reason above all whilst we strive to evolve and keep up with modern life we also protect the heart and soul of Eriska every day not for us but for those who will follow on.
Last year we were treated to the celebrations of James Bond 50 Year anniversary.
This combined with the release, I am sure by pure chance, of Skyfall meant that many Bond arguments were raised- best film, best bond girl, best car best moment to name a few but for those of us who simply enjoy Bond films it was an opportunity to add another one to the repertoire and for us at Eriska even better when so much of the scenery around Skyfall is so close to Eriska.
Having rushed off to watch the film I happened to meet our friends at McKinlay Kidd who help put special weekends for their clients together and Robert Kidd and I engaged in a conversation about what is the best bit about Bond and naturally our conclusion came to the fact that it must be the lifestyle, cars, drinks and scenery. It was therefore not long before we dreamed up the Eriska Bond Weekend escape and before long our minds had wandered and the concept had leapt form dream into reality.
As is often the case with the best ideas is that they soon grow arms and legs until a complete plan is made and only then do the nitty gritty details of cost, timings and practical matters get in the way. As ever this was a perfect example on how a plan is sketched out on a napkin after dinner and then when the booking start to flow in the time is right to really get the details ironed out! Or so that is how I am trying to tell the team others work and so do we now!
So The bones of the plan are in place- the car and the hotel, now comes time for the flesh of the otehr details such as the boat transfer to Duart Castle or the Martini Masterclass in the Eriska Library and the detailed itinerary- Although Robert has already spoiled this be vetoing my suggestion that I should dry run the Aston Martin through Glencoe just to make sure it all works!
And then finally there will be all the fluffy bits such as the CD of Bond Music for the car, and the DVD pack awaiting arrival at Eriska in their suite. So we now have a fully constructed and fleshed out Bond Weekend for sale and whilst I am sure we will fine tune it as it takes off we are also able to be flexible so that
t it can fit individual needs and desire- for example we have had to extend one stay by a couple of days as the guest wants to see a bit more of Scotland But it is still very much an individual and personalised gift and when we were asked by a guest if we could arrange 10 cars for his company meeting we had to turn it down as there were not 10 available in Scotland, nor did we really want to do it as the concept of 10 couples all following the same route at the same time seemed to take a big part of the concept out of our hands.
So for now we are standing by to welcome our first budding 007 , stroking down the white cat and opening the door with " We've been expecting you Mr Bond" !
We have never been open at Eriska for the month of January and therefore as we enter our 40th year here at Eriska why should it be any different?
In truth Eriska has always been a seasonal property - not in the sense that we simply open for a summer season and close for the winter but in the sense that what we do and how we do it varies with the seasons. This is I hope not to say that the standards of service and products change but more that the house changes with the seasons, whether it be long days and short nights of the summer with windows open and daylight flooding in, the gardens in full bloom and the smell of freshly cut grass everywhere - or the winter with -conversely-long nights and short days roaring log fires and cosy times in front of them or time spent swimming in the spa, relaxing in the sauna or playing tennins in the indoor hall.
In reality the weather can be pretty interchangable and whilst this unpredictability is part of the charm of the west coast it is probably the legnth of days that varies the seasons of the year. Certainly as the south of the UK sinks under snow and rain and Eriska basks in sunshine - although its not exactly tropical- we could be excused for believeing that guests would not wish to venture to the west coast for a post Christmas break. Indeed that is one of the reasons that we are closed for business at present with the festive period behind us the team all needed a break away and well deserved too. So as they all set out to explore different areas of the globe or simply return home to visit relatives we set about our own work here at Eriska.
With the pool and facilities closed for a fortnight it is all hands to the paint brushes, and tools to get that work done which can only be achieved with an empty house and no passing shoulders to brush against paint or need for peace and quiet in the spa as hammers and drills go to action. At the same time it is also a chance to catch up on paperwork and chores that we have for the past 11 months ignored or postponed.
Normally at this time of year I try to escape and leave Eriska behind but this year for a number of reasons we decided to stay put and help with the chores. In short it has given us a chance to appreciate where we live more than ever and really enjoy Eriska as our guests do.
That said it still remains a wee bit earie with no one around at night and the house clothed in darkness as we walk round on our twice daily inspections to check that the old house is safe and well. 2012 was long year for us with so much happening both here at Eriska and outside in the real world and in reality 2013 looks like being no different as the world continues to turn and evolve. Indeed whilst it has been nice to step off the daily changing environment roundabout - and often in the summer we might wish we could do so more often -it is also time to start gearing up for the year ahead and make sure that we are all ready for what is in store.
As with most things in life whilstb you dont appreciaet them tioll they are gone it is teh fact that we change and can seek change that makes life so interesting and recharges us for the future. So less than two weeks form now Eriska will open it sdoors again and this yera more than ever we hope we wre ready for it - but as ever despite planning and preparation we will still have to react to everchanging demands from the 1st of February as ever before and nothing can fully prepare us.
As the guests begin to depart back down the drive Christmas for another year is over and we start to look forward to the end of another year and the start of another 12 months of opportunity.
There are times that I am conscious that I am a glass half empty kind of person and at others I am a glass half full. Christmas and New Year always seem to pose such a dilemna for me. Whilst it is always great to look back and reflect on where we have come and how we have reacted to the changing landscape it is also important not to dwell too long on these and look forward to the future.
It is strange that the festive period at Eriska is so different. Christmas is one of my favourite times as the clocks seem to stop, newspapers are ignored and guests join us to celebrate and most importantly relax, unwind and recover. Whereas New Year is always a time where many see it as an opportunity for new beginnings and a chance to draw a line in the sand and analyse our predicament. Curiously this leads to a very different atmosphere in the house.
Christmas sees the house full of joy and laughter with few cares in the world but guests simply enjoying the moment, New Year sees lots of discussions and debate , great talks and deliberation in the library and whilst there is always an element of serious consideration there is also inevitably some fun as well.
This dichotomy of atmospheres does however show what a wonderful place and building, Eriska is, as it lends itself to both and allows our visitors and guests to benefit from whichever style they need.
As the guests leave this morning - some a little more tired than others- mostly self inflicted and brought on by the Scottish country Dancing last night, I hope they not only enjoyed their stays and the hospitality but feel ready to face the world yet again as they return to immerse themselves in this 24 hour life we now live in.
So On Saturday we will begin to welcome our next house party and try to provide the location and scene for them to get the most from their Highland Break, but for today its a chance for all the team here to take a well deserved break and catch up on much needed rest, a little Christmas cheer and hopefully- for me - a large pile of surprise form Father Christmas as his stop at my fireplace to fill my stocking was delayed a day or too as he has I am reliably informed , been quite busy elsewhere!
One of the advantages of being quieter in the winter is that it gives us a chance to pause and reflect.
It also presents us with the perfect opportunity to dream and imagine, in a way, for a few days we can retire into the life of our guests and immerse ourselves in another world and another life!
With Eriska having paused before the frantic Festive period we have all been dashing around getting both ourselves and the island ready but at least a little respite from Christmas shopping could be achieved by hiding in a cinema and enjoying the recent release of "Skyfall" and the celebration of 50 years of James Bond.
This all coincided with a request from a guest to see if we could put together a James Bond Escape and whilst this might sound a little fanciful it at least allowed an opportunity to research the character and see how well connected we could become.
The first schoolboy knowledge is that 007 was of course educated in Scotland but a less well known fact is that it is rumoured that he is based by Ian Fleming, his creator, on a character from Argyll who helped run operations behind enemy lines.
The exploits of soldier and diplomat Fitzroy Hew MacLean, who parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist the resistance in WW2, are said to have been the origins of Ian Fleming's James Bond and 007 and his family are based at Duart Castle on Mull which can be seen from Eriska.
It is therefore not surprising that not only was Scotland the base for Bond to retreat to in Skyfall but also a location for a few of the films over his last fifty years. Whilst there may be a romantic and exotic need to visit the Bahamas, Africa or California - his true home is Scotland and therefore it has been included in many sets whether being a fictictious trip through the Bosphorus in "From Russia with Love" or a true location as with the Faslane Naval base used in "The Spy who Loved Me"
So we have put together a package which combines the scenery and places from the films and the comfort and style of an Aston Martin DB9 and private speedboat visit to Duart castle along with the lifestyle of a Vespa Martini and a weekend at Eriska. So in conjunction with our friends at Mckinlay Kidd we have now launched a wonderful break away - living the life of James Bond and it is all especially pertinent given the recent release and scenery of the west highlands.