You realise you are about to experience a dramatic transformation as soon as you board the Caledonian Sleeper at London’s Euston Station destined for the Highlands.
Drop off your bags in the (rather compact) cabin, ensconce yourself in the lounge bar, unscrew the top of an Edradour single malt miniature, tuck into smoked haddock risotto (delivered by tartan-tie-clad staff) and start your adventure.
Almost 12 hours later, flip up the blind to see rugged hills and stags munching lazily on heather.
Wonderfully remote: Moor of Rannoch, with Loch Laidon in the background. The hotel is set on the edge of one of Britain’s most expansive wildernesses
Our destination was the Moor of Rannoch Restaurant & Rooms, set on the edge of Rannoch Moor, one of Britain’s most expansive wildernesses.
The 19th Century lodge provides just enough tartan and tweed to give the desired fix – but not an overdose.
The bar glitters with more than 100 bottles of amber whiskies, a stag’s head stares out from above the wood-burning stove, and dotted around the walls are framed vintage posters promoting the West Highland rail routes.
Looking out from the double-aspect glass-fronted dining area, you are delivered the greatest Highland treat – a sweeping view of the bleakly beautiful moorland, forests and hills.
The best way to reach the Highlands from London is to take the Caledonian Sleeper. Pictured is one of the new carriages, which will be entering service from May
But merely admiring the view isn’t enough. We quickly pulled on our walking boots for a three-hour leg-stretch, taking in the shimmering Loch Laidon, passing burns frothing with beer-coloured water, and encountering a dozen deer and a bouquet of plump pheasants on our way.
After our walk, we returned to the hotel for a snooze before enjoying a fabulous three-course dinner made with local ingredients from a menu changed daily and prepared by chef Stephanie Meikle on a four-oven Aga.
The USP: Be prepared to embrace extreme but beautiful remoteness (the hotel is 16 miles from the nearest village) and varied weather. It is also perfect for urbanites eager to escape the stresses of city life. There is no television, radio or guest broadband – and mobile phone reception is patchy at best.
The rooms: Five en suite bedrooms each with views of the moor – and equipped with binoculars. There is also a dainty decanter of complimentary malt from the local Aberfeldy distillery.
The food: Fabulous breakfast choices include a full Scottish (like an English but with the addition of haggis), and a divine omelette with buttery slices of portobello mushroom. The three-course dinners (£42) are sophisticated – dishes during our visit included a starter of whipped crowdie (a soft cheese) with tenderstem broccoli, a rich and juicy venison fillet, and honey and almond treacle tart.
B&B stays at the Moor of Rannoch Restaurant and Rooms cost £180 per night, based on two sharing. Visit moorofrannoch.co.uk.
One-way trips on the Caledonian Sleeper cost from £170, based on two sharing a classic room. Visit sleeper.scot.