“The Sweetness of Doing Nothing” on Scotland’s Isle of Eriska

Isle of Eriska Hotel Manor House (Stillman Rogers Photos 2012)

A private island, a staff to indulge my every whim, a skilled chef to please my palate, a 19th-century Scottish manor house as a setting, and a day with absolutely nothing I needed to do. My goal was to spend a blissful day basking in something the Italians have perfected to the point where they needed a phrase for it: dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Staying at Isle of Eriska’s 19th-century Scottish baronial estate is like living in a movie set.
  • There’s plenty to do (if you are so inclined) right on the island, and it’s perfect for day excursions through the Inner Hebrides.
  • Good for couples, although families with children are more than welcome.

Our three-night stay wasn’t all devoted to doing nothing. Yesterday, we arrived in the morning, and after settling into our lush room and unpacking (the closet was so big, we couldn’t resist this luxury) we spent the rest of the day walking the trails and lanes that web the 300-acre island. We climbed to its hilltop crest with views of mountains across the loch, and then walked around the shore, where we followed rocky tidal beaches to the ruins of a Bronze Age fortified dwelling. Tomorrow we’d spend kayaking on Loch Linnhe, Scotland’s longest sea loch.

Today we’d do nothing.

View from the Isle of Eriska summit (Stillman Rogers photo 2012)

The Eriska Breakfast

We began right on cue, sleeping late and slipping into the dining room four minutes before 10, when they stop serving breakfast. The waiter, who had every right to be cranky about this, greeted us as though he’d planned his whole day around the opportunity to serve me the breakfast tea I liked best, keep my bread basket filled with hot croissants and help me decide between the haggis, the finnan haddie or their own smoked salmon as an entrée. No one seemed in the least rushed, and when we left it was only a few minutes behind other guests who’d lingered over their coffee.

The day was sunny and warm. A little voice inside me chided that good weather in Scotland is something to be cherished and taken advantage of. But I ignored the voice and contemplated our options from a bench on a terrace overlooking the perfectly mowed lawns. Isle of Eriska has its own 9-hole golf course stretching along the loch, and although to non-golfers, the sport may be the next thing to doing nothing, it was too much activity to fit my plans for the day. There were tennis courts (too strenuous) and a clay-pigeon shooting range (too noisy).

Croquet and a Good Book

Instead we played croquet. We were a bit rusty on the rules, but we had the general idea of it and as long as we agreed on them, it was a fair game. The croquet lawn was even smoother and shorter-cropped than the rest and would have made Astroturf look shaggy by comparison. One good game deserved another, with a break between for tall glasses of lemonade on the terrace.

Isle of Eriska Hotel mountain view with rhododendrons (Stillman Rogers photo 2012)

To rest up from the game, my husband retired to the spa for a swim in the pool and a massage, while I retired to one of the high-ceilinged parlors. I’d expected to find the interior of this formidable granite and red sandstone pile to be furnished in the traditional Scottish baronial style, replete with dark tartan walls, hunting trophies, stag-antler chandeliers, Victorian what-nots and ancestral portraits. Instead I found cheery, light-colored rooms flooded with light from big windows and furnished in comfy sofas and arm chairs.

I sank into one, having browsed the bookshelves and found a Hamish Macbeth mystery, appropriately set in the highlands. About four, my husband found me there and wondered if it were tea time yet.

Tea on the Terrace

It was, and we moved to a pair of chairs in the shade of a huge tree beside the terrace, where we were brought pots of tea and a tiered tray of buttery shortbread and scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam.

We strolled through the gardens, and back to our room. I discovered that I’d left Hamish to solve his mystery by himself, so I browsed the two bookcases in our room, where I was surprised to find, instead of the dreary book-sale-leftovers in most inns, a well-chosen selection of current fiction and non-fiction, books about Scotland and nature guides. I chose a short book of Scottish history and fell asleep not long after the Vikings arrived.

The sun was still above the treetops as we strolled back to the main house for dinner in the long summer evening. After a glass of sherry in the library, we took our table in the dining room. Dinner was a leisurely romp through the bounty of the surrounding land and sea. Eriska’s chef, like so many of Scotland’s finest, warmly embraces the notion of using local ingredients and products, so I began with a bisque of Eriska langoustine, followed by a starter of Highland pigeon tart with crisp quail eggs, artichokes and leeks.

Although the entrée choices were alluring (loin of South Argyll lamb, hake from nearby Mallaig), I had been eyeing the “Farmhouse Cheese Trolley” as it rolled past me, and intended to do it justice. So I ordered another starter, Isle of Mull scallops with aubergine and curried cauliflower before having my way with the cheese trolley. After sampling every Scottish farmhouse cheese in sight (Isle of Mull cheddar, where have you been all my life?), we adjourned to the sun porch for coffee and bonbons, and to await the badgers.

Eriska’s Evening Entertainment

Badger eating dinner at Isle of Eriska Hotel (Stillman Rogers Photo 2012)

Yes, badgers. Each night at about 10pm, a staff member scatters peanuts and bread around a bowl of milk on the steps to the sun porch as guests linger over coffee and brandy, with one eye scanning the expanse of lawns outside.

“There’s one!” the newlywed sitting next to me stage-whispered, and sure enough there’s the stripy face of a badger ambling across the lawn. Out came cameras from pockets and handbags as we crowd at the glass door and windows. The badger waddles up the steps to within three feet of us and puts his pointy nose in the milk bowl. Moving slowly, everyone takes polite turns at the best camera angles, amid excited whispers. And so ends the day.

I had doubted that a type-A traveler like me could actually do nothing for a whole day, let alone love doing it. A Scottish resort on a private island may be light years away from Italy, but they have elevated dolce far niente to a fine art.

Practicalities

Isle of Eriska is near the port town of Oban, and the trip from Glasgow to Oban by train is considered one of the world’s most scenic rail routes. Those arriving by air can get from the airport to Glasgow’s rail station by shuttle. Reserve train tickets at least 24 hours ahead for a 50% discount on the fare.

About 

Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is the author of 32 travel books -- nine of them on New England and a dozen on Southern Europe, all reflecting her love of finding the hidden corners and secret places that escape more traditional travel guides. When she is not writing, she is likely to be found searching for prehistoric sites in Portugal or paddling her kayak in the Bay of Fundy.

Comments

  1. Fran Folsom says

    Thank you for writing this article. I have been wanting to go to Isle of Eriska and now it really is on my bucket list. I plan to be in Glasgow in late spring 2013 and am glad to learn that Eriska is a short lovely train ride from there. I have put this article into my favorites column.

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