A holiday that gives back to the planet - Alladale Wilderness Reserve
Thinking of an environmentally SUSTAINABLE holiday? Great! How about we take this one step further and check into a hospitality business that actually PROMOTES the environment – through encouraging biodiversity, growing forests, and natural re-wilding. Putting things back to the way they were basically – before man made problems set them off course.
A holiday that can have a genuinely positive impact on the environment, rather than a negative one sounds appealing. Knowing you’ve put back into the earth, rather than taken away. That is what’s possible if you choose to stay at a wilderness reserve - where any profit goes back into the important work.
But what exactly is re-wilding and biodiversity? why should we care about it? and what kind of holiday is possible there? Yes, these were my questions exactly, so I thought I’d try to demystify it all a little bit for you.
I’ve teamed up with Pieter-Paul, manager at the truly unique and wonderful Alladale Wilderness Reserve to help me out with this one. Alladale is one of the largest privately run rewilding projects in the UK, which also offers accommodation, so there was no better reserve to use as a showcase.
But firstly, biodiversity and rewilding. Put VERY simply, there was once huge natural forests covering the Scottish highlands where the number of different species of plants, animals and microorganisms was extensive and able to thrive – the land was bio-diverse. Of course, man came along and cut the forests down meaning many of these species lost their homes and some disappeared. Our world depends on being bio-diverse for so many reasons. Just some of these reasons include – diverse and resilient food crops to feed our expanding population, medical research from plants, protection of a variety of animal/plant species from complete extinction, carbon reduction to avoid a complete catastrophic disaster wiping out the human race… I mean I don’t want to be dramatic, but lets be honest – I think we are at that stage now where we simply MUST get concerned.
So, we just grow a bunch of trees right and the whole thing is sorted. Well, not exactly – there’s more to it than that. Pieter-Paul picks up the story now, covering the experiences you can enjoy whilst staying at the reserve and also the epic amount of work being done to promote bio-diversity and help, em save the planet!
“Seeing our fold of Highland Cattle at Alladale is one of many guest favourites. And I had the pleasure of driving an international group of lodge guests out into one of our glens to do just that, on November 11th 2018.
We spotted the coos around 10am and I parked the Defender out in the meadow along the river Carron, allowing both groups to get acquainted. Excited human cheers and very loud moos indicated a mutual curiosity, on this surprisingly sunny November morning.
As the eleventh hour was approaching, our energy levels dropped, and this had an amazing effect on the coos. They seemed to sense the change in our behaviour, and on the 11th of the 11th at 11, on the 100th anniversary of the armistice, we stood in total silence, amidst a fold of 40 silent cows and their calves, the tranquil sound of the meandering river in the distance, the song of birds whizzing by.
None in our eclectic mix of nationalities wasn’t moved. And I failed miserably to keep a straight face when a misty eyed gentleman in the group asked me: ‘Your colleague Neil, how old is he?’ ‘He is 17 sir.’ ‘Well, just over 100 years ago, towards the end of the great war, it was boys like him, from these parts of the country, who were sent out for the final battles. He was so amazing yesterday when he took us clay pigeon shooting. Can you please make sure to tell him how much we appreciated his help and efforts!’
An instant new life memory made.
We’ve stopped all commercial stalking at Alladale as per February 1st 2018. So for a Ghillie like Neil, who grew up with sports, work has changed considerably. We welcome guests from all over the world, who want to experience our rewilding efforts: we’ve planted over 920,000 native trees, built 35 kilometres of deer fences to protect the saplings, relocated red squirrels to our area, don’t allow for salmon fishing as our rivers are their spawning grounds, and Alladale is part of the captive breeding programme of the critically endangered Scottish Wildcat.
Our 23,000 acre wilderness reserve allows us to combine hospitality and nature conservation and restoration in a unique way. We’d love for our guests to reconnect to nature by going on 4x4 tours, long hikes, mountain biking, or foraging and trout fishing with our rangers. Or to join one of our many world-class retreats. Alladale is the only location in the world where guests can suffer the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, learn the amazing Wim Hof Method, or join one of the yoga retreats Alladale hosts.
The balance between our rewilding and hospitality efforts is reflected in the mix of accommodation and activities we offer. A stay in Alladale Lodge is inclusive of a private chef, who can also send dinner down to our two high-end cottages, but a stay in Deanich Lodge is fully self-catered as it is one of the most remote buildings in Scotland. Located almost 8 miles from Alladale Lodge, ‘Deanich’ is set amidst some stunning scenery. But having said that, the scenery at Alladale is quite amazing just about everywhere.
As there are no hiking or bicycle trails around the reserve, our guests are free to explore anywhere they like. It’s a great (but challenging!) way to see the impressive amount of growing young trees. It’s quite inspiring to see them, especially when one realises that the Highlands used to have vast forests. The great Caledonian Forest of old must have been a sight to behold, but today there is no more than 1% of it left. Together with peat extraction and sheep and cattle farming, deforestation has resulted in immense stretches of barren land that are basically ecological dead zones with an over population of deer that ensures no plants or trees can grow back. They simply graze on everything that pops up amidst the heather.
Wolves would drastically change deer’s grazing behaviour, as they’d need to be on constant high alert with such a predator around. Bringing back wolves to the Highlands as a controlled release within a fenced area, is part of Alladale’s mission. The project would see two packs of European grey wolves, 6 animals in each pack, in an area of 50,000 acres. As all animals would be neutered, the project would be finite. It would provide all data needed to see if nature can restore the Highland ecosystem with our help.
The project would also have a tremendous economic impact locally, and provide a lot of jobs in the area. Just imagine the number of pubs, restaurants, B&B’s, cottages, shops, taxi services that would emerge because of the number of people wanting to see or hear the wolves. Just imagine how many students from local schools and Scottish Universities would come up to learn from the project. We call this eco-localism.
Guests sometimes ask me about ‘Alladale and the wolves’, but the project isn’t just for Alladale, it isn’t just for us. It’s for the Highlands, for Scotland, for the UK, hopefully for future generations. In the now, do we dare to ask ourselves the question: will we accept that we share our beautiful planet, our home, with other species?
The essence of that question resonates in everything we do at Alladale. It is the reason why we’ve restored peat lands, planted trees, run outdoors programmes for our local schools. It is the reason why we run our electricity from our own hydro generator, and why we are currently building our unique aquaponics vegetable garden. It’s the reason why we sent Neil and his fellow ranger Ryan to Samara game reserve in South-Africa to learn from our friends there. And it is the reason why we offer our own unique level of hospitality at Alladale.
We would love to welcome you here, and hopefully help create some life memories of your own.
Pieter-Paul Groenhuijsen, General Manager, Alladale Wilderness Reserve”
If you'd like to stay at Alladale and help save the planet, here are the costs and details -
There are 4 separate houses on the reserve. All of the accommodations can be booked individually and on an exclusive-use basis.
Alladale has two cottages on site: Ghillie's Rest (sleeping 4) and Eagle's Crag (sleeping 8). Ghillie's is self-catered, but Eagle's can be fully catered if needed. Either way, they do offer a dinner service to the cottages: they can deliver a 3-course meal prepared by their chef, with instructions on how to reheat the various courses. Because of the distance between the lodge and cottages, they cannot deliver hot meals. The minimum stay in the cottages is 4 nights. The week rate for Ghillie's is £1,990, for Eagle's £2,990.
Alladale Lodge sleeps a maximum of 14, and comes with a private chef. All meals, staff, and non-alcoholic drinks are included. The chef uses local produce as much as practically possible - home grown venison, Scottish fish, beef from the local family farm butchers. As of summer 2019, Alladale will have its own aquaponics vegetable garden which will provide all vegetables needed. The week rate for exclusive use of the lodge is from £12,243.
Any stay at Alladale is quite bespoke. They go to great lengths to ensure guests enjoy a personalised stay. Either in the big lodge, or in the cottages.
They offer a wide range of activities:
- 4x4 tour: £180 per vehicle
- Clay pigeon shooting: £45 per person
- Mountain bikes: £25 per bike per day
- Hikes with a ranger: £90 half day / £180 full day
- Fly fishing (trout only): £180 per day
- Whisky tasting session: tasting 5 local whiskies. £350
- Traditional Scottish music: starting at £175
- Foraging when possible, as this is highly seasonal
They can arrange off-site day trips:
- Golf at award winning Royal Dornoch golf course
- Visit whisky distilleries
- Trips to the west coast
- Helicopter flights to various locations
- Dunrobin castle
- Dornoch Beach
- Fishing on the Alness river
- Horse riding
- and much more