Lovers of evocative design, Downton Abbey, or Agatha Christie mysteries (where intriguing characters gather at dinner parties in grand manor houses), will fall in love with this historic holiday retreat.
While at Westside Woodshed – the cottage I was in before I arrived at this place – I had tea with the property’s owners Michael Rummey and his wife Jenny Cowan. I shared that was a little anxious about heading to my next destination – Killiehuntly Farmhouse & Cottage – where I’d be dining nightly with other guests I didn’t know at a communal table.
“The people who come here are not your average travellers. Certainly not mass market. It’s quite out of the way, so if you make it to Killiehuntly, chances are you’ll have quite a lot in common with the other guests who have sought it out,” said Rummey, who had visited Killiehuntly when it first opened in 2016.
He was right. There is nothing mass market about this place, and the other guests I met here were really friendly and interesting.
Owned by the richest man in Denmark – billionaire and fashion magnate Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife Anne Storm Pedersen, Killiehuntly is a 17th century farmhouse estate nestled within the rugged and awe-inspiring Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands.
Between 2011 and 2019, Povlsen purchased large swathes of land within the Highlands with a long-term plan to rejuvenate the local flora and fauna, and bring jobs to the rural Highland communities. Today, he is the largest private landowner in Scotland, and through his company Wildland Ltd., he currently owns 13 estates, one of which is the regal and atmospheric Killiehuntly Farmhouse & Cottages.
Here, likeminded travellers – often creative, cosmopolitan individuals who love nature and thoughtful design – come together to experience the majesty of the scenic Cairngorms, and the calming effect of impeccable interior design.
Space: The property includes the main Farmhouse, two self-catering cottages – Geordie’s Cottage, which accommodates up to five guests, and The Bothy, which is ideal for two adults and two children – and The Hayloft – a new extension for two guests with a small kitchenette.
Within the upper level of the main Farmhouse are four guestrooms – The Alder Room and The Elm Room, which have their own private bathrooms, and The Birch Room and The Oak Room which share a bathroom – and a communal kitchen, dining room, and two living rooms on the ground level for guests in all four rooms to use.
Guests staying in the Farmhouse and The Hayloft can enjoy breakfast, tea, and dinner daily in the communal dining area.
Previously owned by an eccentric widow named Mrs Sandison, the Farmhouse and cottages were renovated by Edinburgh architect Nicholas Groves-Raines who specialises in restoring historical buildings. Povlsen’s wife Pederson, who is passionate about interior design, collaborated with her Swiss friend, interior designer and hotelier Ruth Kramer on the interiors. Carefully blending masculine elements of Scottish décor with softer Danish aesthetics, and dusky and haunting modern art, they created a spellbinding and elegant style that’s been dubbed “Scandi-Scot”.
A moody palette of grays, blues and browns from UK paint purveyors Farrow & Ball combined with traditional sash windows, modern lighting, brass fixtures, as well as midcentury and antique furniture (some of which belonged to Mrs. Sandison), work in harmony to create a sensual oasis that whisks you away from the present day to a time when the Highlands were steeped in myth and magic.
The Hayloft: This property is located a short distance from the Farmhouse, and is ideal if you want more privacy and space. On the ground level is compact dining area, a small wooden kitchenette with an oven and fridge, and a small bathroom with a shower.
A wooden staircase leads up to a pitched-roof loft bedroom with a cute closet, a study, and a reading lounge which has its own separate entrance from the parking lot.
The windows in this stone cottage are small but they work well with the raw stone and exposed wooden beams to create a snug, den-like ambience. There are about a dozen beautiful art, design, and nature-themed coffee-table books on the shelves, including one about lynx, which the Wildland team hope to rewild in the Cairngorms. At the back of The Hayloft is a garden with a fireplace.
The Alder Room: The largest of the four rooms in the Farmhouse, The Alder Room where I stayed for one night, has a four-poster bed, an antique wardrobe, a large, bright bathroom, an armchair for reading in the corner, and a small study desk facing the front of the property with a window that looks out to misty mountain views. With its restored wooden floors and windows, and a number of carefully selected vintage furniture items, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped into the world of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austin when you’re inside.
Amenities: The rooms all come with luxurious towels and bathrobes, hairdryer, and Aesop toiletries. In the Hayloft, there was milk in the fridge and complimentary Highland coffee, loose green tea, cutlery, and basic cooking utensils; near the entry vestibule were raincoats, an umbrella, electric lanterns, and a backpack that you can use. Guests staying in the Farmhouse have access to an honesty bar in one of the living rooms, and to coffee, a variety of teas, milk, water, and soft drinks in the kitchen.
On the property, there a spacious greenhouse, an outdoor heated wooden bathtub and a yurt sauna under the trees, and two outdoor fire pits that all guests can use. Parking is available, and there is also a communal laundry area with a washer and dryer.
Service: This place feels more like an affluent, esthete friend’s country home than a commercial hotel resort or B&B. There are usually two members of the knowledgable, friendly but unobtrusive Killiehuntly team in the Farmhouse. The staff usually retreat to their private quarters during the afternoons so guests have the Farmhouse to themselves. Your rooms are cleaned and freshened daily. The team is always happy to suggest walks and things to do, or just have a chat with you when you pop round the kitchen during meal times.
Food: Between 8am to 10am, a sit-down breakfast is served in the communal dining room. This includes cheese and dried fruit, toast with butter and homemade jams, fresh juice, a sweet dish, usually muesli or granola with yogurt, fruit compote or berries, or porridge, followed by a hot, savoury dish of eggs and either grilled vegetables, bacon, salmon or sausage. You’ll be served a different fresh juice, sweet and savoury dish every morning.
For lunch the chef prepares a sandwich and flapjack, wrapped in brown paper and tied in string that you can take outdoors for a picnic lunch.
Around 3:30pm, freshly baked treats such as scones or bakewell tarts are set out for tea.
Dinner is the grand event where you’ll get to meet other guests at the communal dining table at 8pm and enjoy a starter, main course and vegetables, and dessert along with wine pairings, and coffee or fresh mint tea after.
Location: The landscape of the Cairngorms with its Caledonian forests, snowcapped mountains, heather glens, moss-covered rocks, enigmatic lochs, and bubbling brooks is like something right out of a fairytale. The estate is surrounded by a grand mountain range and woodlands. There’s a lake close by, and plenty of greenery and peaceful quietude.
Most guest drive to the estate, but I took the train from Edinburgh to the town of Kingussie and was picked up by the estate’s manager. Killiehuntly is about a five-minute drive from Kingussie and the nearest village to it is Drumguish.
Things to do while here: Killiehuntly offers activities such as deer stalking, pony picnics, wild swimming, fishing, and guided bike or 4WD tours to the nearby estate of Glenfeshie where Polvsen owns another property. Activities need to be booked at least a week before your arrival. There are also mountain bikes available for free usage, and e-bikes for rental at £30 per hour.
But if you’re in good shape, you’ll do just fine walking along the many paths and trails that will take you through dense woodlands, lakes, rivers, valleys and even to a bothy – a traditional Scottish hut built for crofters that campers can now use free-of-charge. You can also visit the Ruthven Barracks, one of the best preserved British barracks built during the Jacobite uprising, or Speyside whiskey distillery, which are not too far from the property.
Dinners are often convivial gatherings where strangers meet and swap travel tales, share jokes or ghost stories, or discuss culture, design, sociology or current affairs over food and wine, becoming much friendlier before the night is over. One couple – a Swiss architect and his Japanese-Swiss art teacher wife – described dinners at Killiehuntly as “backpacking for grown-ups”, mostly very sophisticated and accomplished grown-ups I should add. Not a big extrovert, I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable with nightly “dinner parties” with people I didn’t know, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had much in common with many of the good folks I met. Indeed the marriage of nature and solitude in the day and camaraderie and feasting in the evenings proved to be a wonderful way to enjoy this remote, wild, and ethereal destination.
Room rate at time of review: £395 per night for The Hayloft, and £415 for The Alder Room.
Address: Killiehuntly Farmhouse & Cottage. By Kingussie, Highland PH21 1NZ, Scotland.