What a year 2018 has been!
Our year seems to have flown by, ably helped by the wind from North, South, Beast from the East and everything in between! As always, December is a time to reflect and look back at all the positives our small business has achieved and to try and learn from any hiccups along the way.
After the wettest summer last year, our Walled Garden experienced one of the driest on record. Extreme highs and lows mean a very difficult growing season for both vegetables and cut flowers. That said, our Mediterranean herbs were in their element and loving it! Watering six hours a day was a struggle but luckily our water supply from the dam kept going until the rains came, and thankfully we did not have the water ban like our friends down south. The 52 new cherry trees we planted around the grass mounds have all survived as have the (50) step over apples which completed the “run” along the length of the East wall. We had a bumper harvest of apples and pears so the cider should be delicious and we have also had some apple juice made too.
Visitor numbers increased hugely, thanks to the glorious weather, and it was lovely to see people sitting in the garden enjoying the peace, tranquility and scent of the lavender and sweet peas. The number of compliments we all received whilst talking to visitors was testament to our journey so far and a lot of weeding! We sold hundreds of sweet pea posies but hope to increase our sales of beautiful Scottish Grown flowers for 2019 so if you have a wedding, event or celebration please come and talk to us or ask your florist to source flowers locally. You can read about our Flowers For The Future campaign here.
We are making fantastic progress each year with the hard landscaping and hope to have more of the metal edging completed this winter around the grass mounds which will enable us to complete more of the paths, making another section neater and tidier! We also hope to make a start on planting the soft fruit area and possibly some permanent planting in the central borders.
Our fantastic garden team, under the leadership of Ed, have made massive strides in terms of how the garden looks and a special mention to our wonderful volunteers who make a very real and important difference to what we can achieve. Please come along if you would like an active day in good company and pick up some gardening tips at the same time.
The café won Highlands and Islands Best Eatery Award which was a fantastic achievement for Dyanne and Dylan. With no air miles it is great to see what we grow turned into tasty dishes for all to enjoy. We have hosted a whole range of events and dinners and thanks to the glorious weather our outdoor seating was in full use. Our Walled Garden Birthday party is now a firm annual event as is the market day where we can showcase all our amazing produce. The outdoor theatres continue to be popular and we will have more planned for next year. The Christmas market was a huge success and we will build on that for 2018 along with some help for Angus with the parking!
At the Castle, we had an equally marvellous year with nine weddings, the Re-Fuel festival, circus and much more. Our newly restored Orangery was taken full advantage of and benefitted from the glorious sunshine. One of our weddings, SJ and Mikes, even made it into Tie The Knot Wedding real wedding feature. We will be doing a series of blog posts from our 2018 weddings so stay tuned for that!
The Highland Games and Country Fair continues to be one of our most important events of the year and to have record numbers this year (10,000) made us dance “a little jig” and meant we could once again support “youth development” in our local area and Milnes High school were able to buy a range of musical instruments for pupils. Success of such a large event is not a given and is achieved thanks to the hard work of Dave and the whole events team and estate staff who really perform miracles to get the show on the road. We have new things planned for May 19th 2019 so put the date in your diaries.
The Re-fuel festival, circus and weddings in the newly restored Orangery all benefitted from the sunshine and hard ground! The Estate has really looked at its best this summer and whether we were watching the red squirrels, fishing, gardening or hosting people and events both Angus and I felt incredibly lucky to have such beautiful surroundings for our “office”. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, we have started on building around the tower. This will be a beautiful covered space which will be able to hold weddings, events and some shelter for the Highland Games if the weather is unkind! It is a big project but we are hopeful it may be complete by the end of next year.
Unfortunately the glorious weather didn’t benefit the entire estate. Fishing was one area that really suffered from the lack of rain and the bright sunshine and it was certainly challenging for our ghillies to maintain their normally upbeat and cheerful demeanour. HRH The Prince of Wales chose Ian Tennant as one of his rural heroes for Country Life Magazine which was a much deserved accolade. There are a whole new range of superstitions and rain dances not seen before in these parts and gave gardeners and ghillies a common bond of wishing for the wet stuff. We fared better than most other beats on the Spey and had some good days at the end of the season. We are all looking forward to the new season and are supporting the Atlantic Salmon Trust in their efforts to find out what is happening to salmon out at sea. We will also be welcoming a group to stay in the Castle in April to see the smolt tracking project which should provide valuable information.
The estate team has slowly, over the years, been renovating many of the cottages and they have transformed two including the romantic Quarry Gardens Lodge which have been added to our holiday cottage portfolio so if you have friends coming to the area please do point them in our direction. You can also now book any of our cottages on our website.
In terms of the brand – and as some of you will know from your emails – we have been focusing our efforts on getting our products out there. As a small brand this is no easy feat but through our online sales and mail order catalogue this has taken off for 2018 with our best seller remaining our award-winning Gordon Castle Gin! As the orders have come flooding in it has been all hands to the deck with everyone taking turns at packing and wrapping in time for Christmas, keeping Sarah and Jennifer happy. Giles (amongst his many other roles) has also created a beautiful new pop-up shop at Inverness airport where “Flora” our pony and cart now reside with tempting gifts for the travellers amongst you. We are also about to introduce an amenity size range of our bath and body products for the hotel, pub and B&B for wholesale so please let us know if you have stayed in a hotel that should stock our fabulous range. If you haven’t already you must have a look on our website.
It has truly been another busy year, tinged with sadness as both of Angus’ parents died and will be much missed by us all but we love seeing our children, stepchildren, grandchild and new puppy Melba all moving forward with their lives. We are excited by developments for 2019, whatever it brings, but in any event we hope it will bring us closer to making a success of this very special place. We would just like to say a huge thank you to visitors, customers and clients for your continued support and custom and to all the people who work here who make it possible. Team work really does make the dream work.
A very Merry Christmas and happy New year.