One ‘word’ admirably sums up the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey – WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get. There are no pretensions here − even though Queen Victoria and Prince Albert once stayed − just the welcoming and quiet efficiency of a mainstream 50-room, 3-star Gold hotel and restaurant.
The result is an agreeable and easy-going service that makes you feel at home; indeed, it’s quite evident from eavesdropping into conversations that many visitors return to the Grant Arms on a regular basis. It’s a few miles from the hyped bustle of Aviemore, and all the better for it.
Grantown was founded in 1765 as a planned settlement on a low plateau at Freuchie beside the river Spey at the northern edge of the Cairngorm mountains, about 20 miles south-east of Inverness (although it’s 35 miles by road). It is a peaceful, one street town, quietly going about its business, but making the most of a renaissance that can be set at the doors of wildlife tourism in a spectacular mountain and forest landscape, and aided by its inclusion in the Cairngorms National Park. The Grant Arms hotel was part of this settlement, although significantly smaller today than of old, indeed part of what is now the hotel was originally used as a butcher’s and a baker’s. Later, it saw service as a posting house on the run up to Inverness.
Like Queen Victoria, my wife and I stayed in a four-poster room, overlooking the main street, and it is of a good size and well furnished, and, in spite of being on what by day is a busy thoroughfare, was remarkably peaceful. A magazine rack serves as a hostess trolley, but the range of magazines to hand underscores the links the hotel has with wildlife and those who come to Speyside in search of it; the hotel is branded as ‘The Wildlife Hotel’.
What sets this gaunt and grey edifice apart, is that it is the HQ of the British Wildlife Watching Club, set-up in 2008. It really is a unique and symbiotic enterprise that provides visitors with information on what wildlife has been seen recently, and where visitors might go to look for it. Of course, it is the osprey that has top billing here, nesting as they have done for decades at Loch Garten, less than half an hour’s drive from the hotel. But there is much more here than ospreys, and early evenings in the Capercaillie Bar and lounge are filled with chatter about the day’s exploits and discoveries – much as you might find at a golfing hotel, but without the near misses.
The club enjoys rather splendid rooms in the hotel, including a natural history library and 100-seat lecture room, and exists for anyone interested in wildlife, from those who come armed with a telescope and a Tick list of ‘Must see’ species, to those who simply wish to enjoy a good walk with the chance of seeing wildlife along the way.
Each morning guests at the hotel are issued with a news sheet of sightings and events for the day, while guests will find the Club’s monthly newspaper ‘The Watcher’ in their bedroom, alongside wildlife magazines and a copy of the BWWC Map, which lists 50 different wildlife watching sites in the Cairngorms and North-East Scotland area. And, a particularly pleasing note, each morning, a volunteer from the Club is available for an hour or so to discuss plans for the day, and make suggestions, as well as doling out the sort of local knowledge so essential to successful wildlife watching expeditions. In the evening, there’s a debriefing to discuss the day’s events. And what is especially pleasing is that while ‘musak’ provides the background in the bar, in the lounge it’s a tape recording of birdsong; very relaxing. If only more hotels were so in tune.
Queen Victoria dined on soup, ‘hodge-podge’, mutton broth with vegetables, fowl with white sauce, good roast lamb, and ending with a good tart of cranberries. Little of that is on offer today in the spacious dining room, but head chef Chris Grant does play to the strengths of the local cuisine, embracing such traditional favourites as Cullen skink, venison and lamb cutlets, but augmenting those with a daily changing menu that includes red kidney bean, chilli and peanut paté, oven-baked and caramelised beetroot tart. Those with a sweet tooth will find temptation in dark and milk chocolate terrine, and a coconut and lime panna cotta.
Breakfast is a familiar selection of hot plate dishes (the black pudding and sausages are local and especially tasty), some ‘Continental’ offerings, and a choice of freshly prepared dishes that include porridge, kippers and smoked salmon with scrambled egg.
The thing about Grantown-on-Spey is that for anyone heading for Inverness, this is not the way to come, that lies a little to the west, up the A9. So, if you are visiting Grantown, it’s for a Grantown reason, and a good deal of that is to do with walking and wildlife.
With that in mind, the Grant Arms Hotel provides a perfect service.
Tell me more about the Grant Arms Hotel
25 The Square, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3HF
Tel: 01479 872526
Standard rooms April-October are £150; Superior £170, and 4-poster £190. Prices are lower during the rest of the year. Dogs re welcome at a charge of £20 per stay. Wheelchair accessible rooms are available.