Aspen Times Weekly: A taste of Scotland’s Skibo Castle
NEED TO KNOW
There are currently a limited number of memberships available for The Carnegie Club. Members pay a joining fee of £25,000 and an annual membership fee of £8,000. Members can stay as many days a year as they like and have the opportunity to bring guests. The additional daily rate includes accommodation, all food, all drinks including teas, coffees, wines, champagne and spirits by the glass and most of the activities on the estate.
There are some moments in life that you never forget — the birth of your children, meeting the love of your life — and for the very lucky few, a stay at The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands.
Tucked away on a peninsula of Dornoch Firth, four hours north of Edinburg, is Skibo, a very real castle, the kind that we Americans once tried to emulate (i.e. copy), when Gilded Age millionaires attempted to out-gaudy their wealthier friends. But while the nouveau riche scrambled to show off their new money, the wealthiest of them all, Andrew Carnegie, shunned the shores of Newport and instead steamed his way back to his homeland, his “heaven on earth,” in the beautiful Scottish Highlands at Skibo.
Although the castle, nestled amongst the estate’s 8,000 acres of gardens, woodlands and moors, dates back to the 13th century, it is Carnegie who was the most famous occupant and, after acquiring the property in 1898, made significant changes and improvements to the interior and exterior of the Scottish-Baronial sandstone residence. Today, The Carnegie Club operates Skibo Castle as an uber-exclusive, private-members club
Back to those moments you never forget. For me, it was the instant I heard the bagpipes. Dressed in my favorite black dress, I was standing in the drawing room, savoring a Dalmore King Alexander single-malt scotch, when precisely at 8 p.m. the horns began to blare, and the butler announced dinner was served.
Twenty four of us moved to Carnegie’s private dining room to sit at the same table used by the Carnegie family and their many guests over the years. The table was populated by members from the U.S., the UK and EU. We talked about business, art, politics and of, course, golf. (We were in Scotland after all).
There were toasts among new friends, stories and a lot of laughter amidst the lavishly wood-paneled room. The relaxed atmosphere at Skibo is more like an Edwardian house party than a hotel, and there is a real feeling of connection between members for whom Skibo, they say, is more than a residential club: it is their home away from home.
After dinner, the guests of the castle gathered around the original Bechstein piano in the Drawing Room where there were more Dalmore and songbooks to sing along with into the early morning. I was living out every “Downton Abbey” fantasy I had ever harbored, without the restriction of actually being an heiress or wearing a corset.
But while the nights are an event, the mornings are the time of great anticipation. Every morning, a bagpiper circles the castle to wake guests. Descending from our expansive room, along the grand staircase, past the elaborate stained-glass mural commissioned by Carnegie himself, the 1904 organ played during breakfast with offerings like smoked salmon, croissants baked fresh that morning by the Skibo patissier, fresh fruit or a “full-fry” (traditional English breakfast).
After a breakfast of homemade granola (with Skibo honey) and a few strong cups of tea, my husband and I took out bikes to ride through the property, through fields of barley and fescue where fat partridge and pheasant were trying in vain to roost. Later, we spent the morning shooting clay pigeons with Colin, a lifelong local of the Highlands, who was softspoken but direct in showing us how to handle the shotgun.
And while I took a trip to taste whiskey at The Dalmore distillery nearby, my husband played what he describes as the “best round of golf in his life” at the very private and very quiet Skibo links course — 18 holes of deep traps and pristine fairways to play in whatever order you wish.
The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it has undertaken a conservation programs investing over £20 million with the aim of preserving as much as possible of the Grade-A listed building while improving the existing facilities on the estate. Some say Skibo hasn’t looked this good since the early 1900s and it is felt in every comfortable room. There is no sense in tiptoeing through a museum, but rather a step back into the home of Carnegie himself.
There are 21 guest rooms within the castle, some have four-poster beds, original Edwardian fixtures and fittings, including tiling and roll-top baths, others have balconies and one even has a private library tucked away up a tower. For those traveling with a larger group, families with children younger than 16 or members who prefer more privacy, there are 11 additional lodges on the estate.
No matter where you are on the estate, guests are free to enjoy all of the activities offered, including biking, falconry, shooting, horseback riding, swimming in a steel-framed, glass-paneled pool, a game of tennis on the French clay court, fishing, archery or the aforementioned round of golf. And if you are there to say, finish a novel, or just read a novel, your activities might consist of breakfast in your room, time at the on-site spa, lunch on the moor, croquet on the front lawn, afternoon tea with cream scones and shortbread, and then, of course, cocktails in the drawing room, dinner and music.
Spending time here, it’s easy to see why the man with the most money in the world knew that a castle isn’t a home without friends or family to fill it. Carnegie’s generosity, in both money and hospitality, is felt throughout Skibo. So much that at times you half expect to see him.
My last night there, while surrounded by 2,500 original books in his library, I sat at Mr. Carnegie’s desk, the same desk where he likely gave away much of his fortune (he was essentially responsible for beginning America’s public library system), and before me was his calling card — the original social network. It wasn’t yellowing or frayed, just simply propped up as if ready to be sent.
At Skibo it was easy to feel like the world around us didn’t exist. For the days spent at Skibo, times ceases.
Amiee White Beazley writes about travel for The Aspen Times and would be happy to join you at Skibo for a dram and a shoot (not in that order) should you become a member. Email Amiee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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