NAIRN might not be an obvious choice for a weekend break . . . but if it appealed to one of Hollywood’s first A-list actors, then it’s got to have something going for it. Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin used to stay at the sumptuous Newton Hotel in the heart of the Highlands and I can see why he went back year after year. The town boasts more hours of sunshine than any other in Scotland and it’s just four hours’ drive from the not-so-sunny Central Belt. Throw in the fact that Nairn is family-friendly, has plenty of golf courses and long sandy beaches and you are on to a winner. After a few hours there, you feel like you have gone back in time to a more peaceful and less hectic age. A classic seaside promenade runs along the length of the sleepy town, punctuated with an elegant mix of mainstream shops and quaint boutiques. Mobile phones off and internet connections laid to rest meant we had peace for two idyllic days. The town has a wealth of elegant Victorian mansions and we stayed in one of its finest.
The Newton Hotel was first built as a family home in 1872 but has played host to weary travellers since 1951. Chaplin holidayed here with his family every year and the hotel’s bistro is now named after him. The building has been transformed since his time and with the new addition of the highland Conference Centre and wing of luxury bedrooms it can now cater for any size of function.
Our beautiful bedroom — fit for a movie star — was on the top floor of the new wing. The plush interior was pipped only by the breath taking view overlooking the lawns. On warm and sunny days, couples exchange their vows amidst a backdrop of summer blooms overlooking the Moray Firth.
Being so close to the coastline means that a daily abundance of fresh produce is available to the talented chefs at The Newton. Hubby and I took advantage of this during our stay, sampling the freshest of langoustines, scallops and monkfish. Head chef Edwin Blackhall is the jewel in the Newton Hotel crown. Every dish was lovingly prepared and presented with the latest culinary techniques.
Feeling like we were taking part in an episode of MasterChef, we two self-proclaimed foodies and wannabe Greg Wallaces of the north lapped up the exquisite offerings. The icing on the cake, literally, for me and my sweet tooth was the sticky toffee pudding. The next day we ventured along the coast to Fort George, on the outskirts of Ardersier. Built after the Battle of Culloden to prevent further unrest amongst the Highlanders, it is still used by the Army today.
We enjoyed spectacular views along the coastline as I was persuaded to take a bracing, but predictably sunny, walk around the outer walls of the garrison. I couldn’t help but feel an eerie sense of history within the walls of the fort — ghostly soldiers teeming in every undisturbed corner. There has famously never been a shot fired in anger at the fort and it must have had a good effect as there wasn’t a single shot fired from husband to wife throughout the duration of the visit either!
We happily headed back to The Newton for our final evening. There was excitement in the air because of the arrival of wedding guests for nuptials the following day. What a perfect venue choice. The Victorian setting with a modern twist, the grounds and the delicious food and wine combine to make this a luxurious and inviting four-star hotel. As the sun set on our trip north we sat back and enjoyed the convivial mood in front of a roaring log fire. All too soon we had to bid a fond farewell to this beautiful hotel . . . and the big yellow bright thing in the sky.