Hello from Doune, where our final 2023 guests have left and our winter projects have begun. We enjoyed a fabulous 2023 season with great guests, great weather and great adventures. This was our second season and it’s safe to say, we were better prepared and more confident.
There were many guest highlights including –
Jane’s Munro completion on Sgùrr na Ciche.
Ilona scaling Corbett #217 of 222 on Sgùrr a’ Choire-bheithe on her way to completing them all in September.
Keen lepidopterist Ian spotting more butterflies and moths here at Doune than he’s ever seen before.
The Coates family from London stayed with us for four nights last year, seven nights this year and have already booked for ten nights in 2024. We can’t wait to welcome them back, it’s always lots of fun.
Guests Jonathon and Richard joined us on our first ever trip to Eigg on a beautiful balmy day in June.
Eoin and Katie visiting after ‘winning’ their stay in a charity auction – read the full story here on X https://x.com/Doune_Knoydart/status/1705961925861859328?s=20
Guests make Doune, and we’re looking forward to welcoming many more, first timers and returners. We hope this newsletter inspires you to be amongst them or to recommend us to your friends, families and colleagues.
What’s new at Doune, Knoydart
We’ve begun to put our mark on things here at Doune, starting with a new name and logo. Out with ‘Doune Stone Lodges’, we’re now ‘Doune, Knoydart, Restaurant and Rooms’ with a logo featuring one of our most iconic images, Gripper II. Our new website enables guests to book and pay for their stays with us, reducing the administrative workload for everyone.
In April we built a 20m x 6m polytunnel and Rebecca has done incredibly in leading the planting, growing and harvesting. Almost everything green served in the restaurant was home grown, including all the salad leaves. Tomatoes and aubergines ripened later in the season, so nearly everything red, yellow and purple was Doune produced as well. After the havoc wreaked in the orchard by the pigs last year, we’ve planted many more soft fruit canes and six new fruit trees, so lots of fresh fruit, fruit tarts and preserves to come.
Our other big investment was in a new energy system. We installed a powerful new inverter, lithium-ion batteries and solar panels. This year’s sunshine got us off to an incredible start, providing 24-hour power in the rooms and restaurant for the first time and reducing generator time by about 75%. Incredible, and with many more panels yet to install we’re hoping to be self-sufficient in 2024. The kitchen now even has a toaster an ice-cream maker! As well as drastically reducing our reliance on diesel, it also reduces our use of bottled gas, a huge boon for Andrew who has to wrestle the 78kg cylinders from Mallaig to Doune on Gripper II, and a big plus in the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The furniture at Doune have served well, but it was time for a few changes in the restaurant. Last year Rafael and Miriam visited from Germany. Rafael told us he was a furniture maker, so we invited them back this year, along with apprentice Leo, for a holiday in exchange for making a table. Using oak that was felled near Arisaig many years ago and stored since at Knoydart Forest Trust, the three of them made two dining tables and a coffee table using Japanese saws and chisels. They are works of art as well as practical furniture and we love them. We had a launch party the night they were finished with 28 people dining. We’ve also created a comfy seating area and, for three days a week, a café. It’s proved popular and our guests use it every day. A new, very bespoke and practical Ordnance Survey map now adorns the wall in place of the sea chart that was there before, and which is now in one of our rooms.
Our tiny Fiat car that ferried guests back from Inverie last year has been replaced by something altogether different – a 12-seater mini-bus! It’s been fantastic and at times every seat was taken!
The chickens continue to be productive and we’re self-sufficient in eggs for the first time. We’ve moved 16 on to new homes in Mallaig and Roshven, but still have 12 happily free ranging in the garden, up the hill and on the beach. Our new light sensor doors mean we don’t have to stay up till midnight in June to close up and we can get a long lie in in October.
Our two new SUPs and sit-on-top kayaks have been highly popular for exploring the bay and the coastline and Gripper II has often become an impromptu diving platform, so lots of fun has been had. We’ve treated ourselves to a 1972 Wayfarer dinghy and Rebecca regained her freedom of movement with an ex Portree Sailing Club rescue boat that she’s called ‘Wee Belter’ – not as practical as Gripper II but a good deal faster and a lot of fun.
Best of all however is our new pup, Rubha. She’s an absolute superstar and loves getting out on the water. She joins Annie as our second Double Doodle (Cockerpoo x Labradoodle), but she’s nothing alike in terms of looks! She’s been unconditionally adored by all the guests and is a fantastic addition to life here, Andrew being uncharacteristically besotted.
What’s planned at Doune, Knoydart?
This year we closed 10 days earlier than usual to get an early start on the improvements for 2024. We’re not going to say too much about the plans at this stage as we’re not certain how much we’ll manage to get done, but they mainly revolve around improvements to the rooms and restaurant. No need to worry though, maintaining the ethos, calmness and simplicity of Doune is foremost in our minds, any changes will be sympathetic to that which Alan and Mary created all those years ago.
In April 2024 we’ll run our first ‘Munro Bagging Week’, a trip dedicated to climbing six Munros on and around Knoydart with a guide. There’s already a huge amount of interest, so we may find ourselves organising another week later in the season. Click here to find out what is in store.
Volunteering at Doune
Last year we struggled for staff, like everywhere in the hospitality industry. After much deliberation we decided to look for volunteers to help out at Doune, just as Alan and Mary have done over the years. We have not looked back since. Volunteers at Doune come in from all walks of life and when people ask how we find them, it seems that most have found us. Click here to meet this years volunteers and learn more about volunteering at Doune
This year we’ve had no full-time staff, it’s just been Rebecca, Andrew and Bob and the volunteers. Let’s meet them…
Textile artist Alice was a guest in 2022 and returned for April. She was expecting to do a lot of gardening, but instead found herself building the polytunnel. She was a tour de force, leading the build with spade in one hand and instructions in the other!
Bob was a guest for four nights in April with his wife, Linda, When he stepped off Gripper II back at Mallaig Andrew said “you don’t want to go home yet, do you Bob, why don’t you come back to volunteer for a couple of weeks?”. Bob kissed Linda, got back on the boat and came back to help build the polytunnel! He came back for a week in June, two weeks in August and another two weeks in September – he’s been an absolute legend.
Hilton and Sharon joined us from Australia in May. Hilton, a retired GP, was a guest here about 15 years ago with their daughter Aliza and continued to receive these newletters. They saw our plea for volunteers and got in touch. What a month we had! Expert gardeners, they reformed our approach to composting – our two hot Aussie composters introducing us to hot Aussie composting! Having Hilton and Sharon here can best be described as having a month-long hug, they taught us to slow down and take time for ourselves. Wonderful people, wonderful month.
Sam was exactly who we needed in June. As a lone volunteer she had a lot of work to do, and boy could she work! Never without a smile and a positive approach, Sam was superb to have here, her work ethic was off the scale. As well as everything else, she painted, restored furniture and generally just kept us going with more tea than is normally healthy.
July brought the whirlwind that was theatre producer Steph and horticulturist Chris to Doune! We’re not sure we’ve fully recovered from their energy and enthusiasm – just brilliant. Chris introduced us to hügelkultur, building our first bed and getting it planted. They planted, harvested, strimmed, composted and planted every day and brought great changes to the garden and our approach.
Rebecca’s older son, Joe W, joined us for the summer before going travelling and climbing at the end of September as a gap year before University. Joe has a wise head on his young shoulders, worked hard and we loved having him and his laughter around.
Andrew gave Pat and her brother a lift while they holidayed in Inverie in May, chatting about volunteers. Pat got in touch and asked if she could come in September. It’s hard to describe how great she was – a talented cook, self-starter, caring, funny and positive – she was the perfect tonic at the end of a long season. She was joined by Joe H, who volunteered with us in 2022, and the pair of them were a real dream team – it was brilliant to see Joe again.
We’ll need volunteers again in 2024. Any work in the restaurant is paid with volunteering tasks being in the garden, looking after the chickens and generally helping out. It’s hard work with some long days, but it’s rewarding and fun. Please get in touch if you or someone you know might be interested in staying with us for a month in 2024.
Bob turned 13 in May and has settled into his new school life in Mallaig, staying in the residence from Monday to Friday and home at weekends. It’s been a huge change and Bob has matured alongside it, making good friends along the way. He plays football for Mallaig under 18s and is learning the guitar, taking lessons next door with Andy Tibbetts. We desperately hope he keeps it up as neither Rebecca or Andrew can play an instrument and it would be a great addition. His capabilities on the boats are beyond compare for a person of his age. Andrew would choose no-one above him as first mate on Gripper II, he’s a major asset to our business and to Doune.
Doune, Knoydart in the media
BBC Scotland’s ‘Scotland’s Greatest Escape’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m001kcyc/scotlands-greatest-escape-series-1-6-adventure
The Times Travel Section
Mobile Phone Launch
A quick reflection
Doune and Knoydart have proved a fascinating place to live and operating the business is extraordinary. It’s not always an easy place to live and work and we’ve had to learn a huge amount, but the longer we do it the better we become at it, learning far more from what goes wrong than we ever do from what goes right – if we made any more mistakes, we’d be bankrupt!!!
The highlight for us is all about people. Our guests are simply wonderful and make all the hard work worthwhile. We love facilitating amazing holidays and experiences, it’s a real privilege to do so. Working with volunteers has been a brilliant and unexpected experience; they add so much value and we build strong friendships, we couldn’t do it without them. Moving to a place like this is in some ways selfish, so we truly appreciate all our friends and families who have stuck by us, kept in touch and made the effort to visit our remote home.
We’re looking forward to the winter, to making the changes we feel that our business and our guests deserve and making sure that Doune remains such a special place to visit. Thanks to everyone who has been part of our journey here so far, we feel like we’re off the mark!