Alladale Wilderness LodgePosted by in Sustainable Travel Journal - 28 July 2010
Restoring the Scottish Highlands
This was the first of many ecological facts we learnt soon after arriving at Alladale Wilderness Lodge, a luxury retreat in Scotland’s northeast highlands. The ‘resort’ consists of the original hunting lodge, which can be hired for exclusive use for 14 guests, along with two stone bothies, each remote and self-contained, one sleeping four, one up to eight.
The accommodation is impressive. Built sustainably using local materials, and powered by hydroelectricity from local rivers, the bothies exude the perfect balance between tradition and modernity, combining stag-antler chandeliers with state-of-the-art media technology.
The project at Alladale is ambitious in its intentions; owner and visionary Paul Lister is convinced that in order to really regenerate the environment, all parts of the original ecosystem should be present. This may sound like an obvious conclusion, but when it involves reintroducing wolves, elk and wild boar to an area long rid of wild animals, controversy rears its ugly head. Only a lunatic would reintroduce wolves, say livestock farmers in the area. But anyone building a perimeter fence contravenes the right to roam, legislation revered unanimously by Scots regardless of their environmental convictions.
Without wolves, though, the deer population remains unchecked and continues to rise. Deer feed on young tree saplings, stopping reforestation in its tracks and potentially hindering the environmental regeneration project. But while the wolf debate remains at loggerheads, the project moves on with an undeterred ingenuity that would inspire even the seasoned cynic.
Deer culling takes place as a matter of course, providing income from ever popular stalking holidays, as well as luxurious meals for guests, prepared on-site by a creative, Michelin starred chef. Saplings are protected by deer-proof fences which are moved once the trees mature.
A stay at Alladale includes all food and soft drinks, a guided ranger walk, a 4×4 safari, mountain biking, fly-fishing and seasonal activities such as salmon-leaping or snow shoeing. You also get to meet the eccentric highland cows, the surprisingly charming wild boar and the new pair of shy elk, all currently living in extensive enclosures. Our guide and ranger, Ronnie, patiently taught us how to cast a fly in the pouring rain. He drove us round the 23,000 acre estate explaining how, as the ranger in charge of tree-planting, he had coordinated the development of hundreds of thousands of new trees, having done most of the planting himself. Witnessing the staggering success and achievement of almost ten years’ work, I was moved by the enormity of one person’s practical and positive impact.
After a wholesome day out in the glen we returned invigorated and inspired back to the efficient luxury of our bothy, tucked into a venison lasagne, all the more satisfied to feel (if only temporarily) like ethical carnivores.
We travelled from Berlin to London via Brussels on Deutsche Bahn (€39 pp) and Eurostar (£29 pp), then picked up a connecting train from Euston to Edinburgh (£16.50 pp), where we collected a hire car.
On the return, we dropped the car off at Newcastle and took an overnight ferry to Amsterdam (£37.50 pp in a two berth cabin) and then a train back to Berlin. (€39 pp).
A Moose in the Glen (BBC documentary)
The Real Monarch of the Glen (article on the BBC series)
After 3,000 years, the Highlands delivers a bonny baby elk (article in the Telegraph)