The view from our balcony at the sumptuous Links House at Royal Dornoch is one you could never grow tired of.
A few yards to our left is the 1st tee of one of the world’s greatest golf courses, abuzz with greenkeepers, golfers and walkers. To our right is the conservation village of Dornoch with its history and effortless charm. And ahead of us is the dramatic sweep of the Firth with the white horses charging towards the unspoilt beach as if going into battle.
We may have come here with our golf clubs on our backs, but it’s soon clear that the Links House experience extends well beyond its proximity to Royal Dornoch.
From the moment we arrive, it’s clear we’re in the hands of people who understand all the little details which separate the great hotels from the good ones. It isn’t something you can always sum up with words, but an intangible feeling created by the small personal touches, by being put immediately at ease, made to feel genuinely welcome and special, whether it is your first visit or you’ve been coming to Links House for years. And it is all done with effortless elegance, relaxed class and in a way that’s devoid of pomposity or pretension.
We are shown to our home from home, The Mallart suite, which is nothing short of breath-taking. We’ve been fortunate to stay in many wonderful hotels but we’re soon asking ourselves whether this is, in fact, the most impressive of the lot. The bathroom has heated flooring, an opulent shower, a bathtub as deep as a pot bunker and marble throughout. The living room is beautifully finished and comes complete with library and fireplace, with logs and kindling ready to light. Beyond that is a kitchen, diner and snug, which is, as you’d expect, beautifully done. No detail has been overlooked.
All the suites and apartments at Links House at Royal Dornoch are named after the 15 principal salmon rivers of the Scottish Highlands: The Beauly, Brora, Carron, Cassley, Conon, Evelix, Fleet, Halladale, Helmsdale Laxford, Naver, Oykel, Shin, Thurso and Mallart itself. The paintings, antiques, maps and small touches reflect the surroundings and, in many cases, the subtle and unique beauty of each river. Each piece of furniture is there for a reason, the fabrics are warm and weighty, the whole place just drips with class and authenticity.
Local artisans and suppliers were used to create these touches and that adds a depth and sense that whichever room you enter, it is a truly special place in its own right. Links House even has its own tweed, designed by Hunters of Brora and manufactured by Johnson’s of Elgin. Beyond the windows, there is more majesty.
The Highlands may have witnessed some of Scotland’s bloodiest conflicts over the centuries, but it’s a canvas of rare beauty. Plunging glens and glistening lochs, snow-capped mountains and deserted beaches – the natural wonder is all around you. And of all that is enhanced by a wonderful sense of isolation and tranquillity that comes as standard. It calms the mind, stirs the soul and refreshes the body in a way few places can.
A few days in Dornoch is the perfect tonic to the bustle of life in the 21st century. It somehow allows you to feel as though you can step back and view your day-to-day challenges through a new lens. Time slows and it really isn’t hard to see why so many who visit this place not only return, but move their lives here to a greater or lesser degree. Links House at Royal Dornoch exists because of that air of romance.
American Todd Warnock had already fallen for Royal Dornoch before he saw a small postcard in the window of a building close to the clubhouse which read – ‘for sale.’ Royal Dornoch has long held a power to bewitch people like almost no other golf destination on the planet. The cocktail of the fresh air, the sunlight, the ambience and the surroundings, convinced Mr Warnock – like countless others before him – that this was a place of rare magic and the chance to transform this 19th century manor house into a boutique hotel.
The main house was originally built in 1843 and was used as officers’ quarters during the Second World War. A second building, The Mews, was soon added before a Sporting Bothy was built to house the fishing rods, bicycles and to store and dry golf clubs and shoes. A putting green was then built on the hotel grounds, designed and maintained by Royal Dornoch’s own master green keepers. The final piece of the Links House puzzle was added in 2012 with the purchase of Glenshiel, originally the kitchen gardens for Links House and now home to our beautiful suite, Mallart.
The sprawling lounge and library on the ground floor of Glenshiel is another special room. It’s wonderfully opulent and exactly the kind of place you imagine yourself picking out a book from the shelves, pouring yourself a wee dram and settling down in front of the fire. But with so many outdoor pursuits on offer, we find ourselves torn away from our sumptuous escape for now.
We walk the five or so minutes to take in the sweeping white sands of Dornoch beach, walking past the 1st tee of the golf course, which is no more than 25 paces away. Golf aside, Links House at Royal Dornoch also offers salmon fishing in local rivers, bicycles to explore the local area and even deer stalking in the hills. And when you have worked up an appetite, Links House also has that covered.
Mara, the restaurant here – named after the Gaelic word for sea – is overseen by executive chef, Craig Byiers. We ate from the tasting menu on our first night, complete with accompanying wine flight, and were blown away by the wonderful variety of flavour combinations and the freshness of the ingredients, which ranged from locally sourced mackerel and crab to pork cheek, hogget and gorse. Edible flowers and herbs are grown in the garden just beyond the windows as are vegetables which appear on our plates. It is a truly memorable meal. So too is the meal the night after, breakfast too. But after a day or two here you just come to expect top quality service.
So how to sum up Links House at Royal Dornoch? In short, it’s spectacular, truly the perfect retreat whether you have been drawn here by the golf or by the prospect of an escape from life. This is a boutique hotel bursting with homely grandeur, history and beauty and we could not recommend it highly enough. Excellence comes as par for the course. You must go.
For more information about Links House or to book, visit LinksHouseDornoch.com
*Benjamin Smith was a guest of Links House