It hardly seems possible that another year is coming to an end and we have certainly packed in a huge amount over the last 12 months across the whole estate and Walled Garden. From the fishing to the castle, the cottages to the garden, from the professional to the personal, it has been a busy time.
After one of the driest summers last year, Ed (our Head Gardener who you may know from his monthly diary feature in the P&J) & our brilliant team were once again toiling in the rain and cold which helped replenish our water supplies and the lake. This didn’t make for an easy growing season, with a cold spring (apart from the glorious Easter weekend where the highlight was Angus’ nephew Alexander being the “giant Easter bunny” hopping around the garden and even waving to the children from the top of the wall!) into a very changeable Summer with more rain by May than we had in the whole of 2018! Our big project for the winter was planting up the soft fruit area, which we have all but completed and looking forward to a fantastic crop of strawberries, raspberries, black currants, gooseberries, tayberries and many more in 2020. We may even do a few pick your own weekends so keep an eye out for those on our events page. Our first flower festival weekend was a great success with five local florists using our beautiful, Scottish grown flowers to create arrangements placed around the garden for visitors to enjoy and I gave a few guided tours showing how to condition and cut flowers & to explain that we sell our flowers for weddings, parties, events so please pass on the word.
The outdoor theatres were as popular as ever and luckily only one was “brollies up” but still the show went on. Our annual birthday celebration was very well attended and we were able to showcase a couple of talented youngsters who sang in the courtyard entertaining visitors sitting outside. We even hosted the very first Speyside Gin Festival which attracted over 400 revellers to the ‘garden party’. It was a huge success and will be popping up at another location next year!
Our big news for the Garden was the visit of Arne Maynard who designed the layout of the Garden but had not been back for a couple of years. He was impressed by the progress we had made and produced his new plan for our amazingly long central borders which we can now start to plant with more perennials, rather than the 22,000 annual seedlings we are currently growing! We are also going to plant “Rowan trees” in between the pear tunnels which will give more height and make those vast paths seem more enclosed. It was lovely to have his expert input once more and discuss planting rather than building so exciting times ahead. Davy – who does all our hard landscaping – is currently laying bricks around the planting squares and we have completed another 500m of metal edging allowing us to finish two paths around the cherry orchard. Children still enjoy running up and rolling down the sides of the mounds and the grass maze proves popular with all ages. The permanent planting of copper beech will have to wait another year!
Our many different types of salad leaves kept the café supplied and we even found some other local outlets so if you know of any business who would like fresh produce locally grown then please ask them to get in touch. Sadly our market day was a “washout” with torrential rain all day but the brave souls who did come and support us were shown an incredible array of apple and pear varieties and beautiful veg straight from the Garden available to buy. The pick your own sweet peas suffered but flowered right into October. A special mention to our wonderful volunteers and “woofers” who make such an invaluable contribution to how the garden looks and a real difference to what we are able to achieve. It is a lovely way of keeping fit, enjoying some good company and taking some fresh produce home with you so do come and join our merry band.
We have had some amazing publicity for the Garden this year from the dizzy heights of Gardens Illustrated to the Telegraph, English Garden and Daily Mail. This will make a huge difference in terms of our visitor numbers and has been a huge boost to morale to have 3rd party affirmation and praise of what we are trying to do and achieve a centre of excellence in kitchen gardening. Thank you to all the journalists and photographers who made the Garden come to life for a wider audience.
As I write this, we have had wreath making workshops, a Christmas market and welcomed Santa to the Garden for the first time, his grotto looks magical and we hope everyone enjoyed the reindeer parade. It takes a huge amount of effort from our small team to put on events like this, in time, effort and financially and we try our best to think of every eventuality and make every experience a good one. Our December long Winter Festival was a huge success and we hope to plan another selection of events for next Christmas!
We had an equally busy year with weddings, a delightful lunch in aid of Macmillan, the NGS AGM, the Moray chamber of commerce dinner and of course providing first class service to our fishing parties throughout July, Aug and Sept. Refuel festival had better weather than most, the circus big top appeared once again and we have started work in the Tower Hall which will give us a fabulous space able to seat 200 people for any event so if you are looking for a venue after May 2020 do get in touch. The first film festival on the lawn of the Castle was a huge success mainly due to the fact the sun finally came out and shone brightly all weekend and allowed many of us to relive our youth to such classics as top gun, grease and for the wee ones we had Jungle Book and Harry Potter!
We continued to work on our several holiday cottages – including our romantic hideaway Quarry Gardens Lodge being awarded 5* by VisitScotland! We also welcomed the addition of Kennel Cottage which was the founding home to our beloved Gordon Setter.
The 2019 Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair was a huge success. With more accurate reporting, we were able to identify successful marketing streams, visitor numbers and overall awareness. This resulted in over 8,000 visitors (70% from Moray), coverage in five national newspapers, three broadcast companies and four lifestyle magazines. For our 10 year anniversary, 2020 will focus on involving the local community. We will be looking to work with local school pupils to design an anniversary emblem – a symbol of Highland Games in 21st century and what it means to them.
A much better season on The Spey (not difficult after the drought of 2018) but still not as good as we had hoped. It provided a mixed bag for fishers with high water providing tricky conditions and some weeks getting “Lucky” one party in Aug catching 64 for the week. But some big fish were caught allowing Angus to hand over to the delighted fishers our 20lb club badge.
Everyone remains concerned about the decline of the iconic Salmon and we are doing everything we can to support the Atlantic Salmon Trust in particular who have been tracking smolts from the river to the Moray firth to try and get scientific data as to where the problems are. The river or the sea or a combination of both. We await over 15 million points of data currently being analysed and hope for a clearer picture of what needs to be done.
We have made good progress as far as getting our Gin and bath and body products out to a wider audience and into some hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. We would still love to hear of any businesses you think we should approach as personal introductions are usually much more productive than trade fairs! Our Inverness airport shop is attracting rave reviews and reaching over 850,000 travellers as they pass through so definitely a few more people will have come across our G logo.
On a personal level we must thank Dave Duncan, our factor, who retired in Sept and his wife Lyn for their unstinting support and hard work in helping us achieve so much over the last 11 yrs and we welcome Toby Christie who has arrived with great enthusiasm and ready for the challenges ahead. Our tribe of children continue to thrive at their various careers, the youngest Geordie, having just spent 3 days up here with 26 friends has made us feel very old and our gin played a full and numerous part in his 21st celebrations! Feeling even older, my gorgeous granddaughter Sienna, is adorable and we hope that she will greet the arrival of no 2 (due over the Highland Games w/e!) with a smile.
A very merry Christmas and happy New Year
We are looking forward to all the developments in 2020 and would just like to thank all our hard working and committed staff without whom none of the above would be possible. Huge thanks to you all , friends, customers, clients and visitors for your continued support which means so much to us as a family and business. Hoping for a kinder and more understanding 2020 and wish you all wherever you may be.
Wherever you may be we wish you all a happy and peaceful festive break, Angus and Zara