Somewhere in Scotland there is a place in gardens where time stands still. Never mind that its actual location is around a 20-minute drive from the tiny Inverness airport; nor that the 19th-century building is small but proud, flanked by pillars and creeping ivy and surrounded by miles of farmland; the real-world facts are a bit of a distraction from the otherworldly vibe that takes hold upon arrival at Boath House.
“We wanted to create a space for people to disappear,” says Jonny Gent, the artist and one of Boath’s founding duos, as he descends a spiral staircase and opens the door to a room piled high with furniture reclaimed oak currently covered in dust sheets. Dressed in white painter’s overalls and brown leather hiking boots, he gives me a preview tour of the space. And there is plenty to get lost. Other hatches lead to an intimate library, communal pantry and soundproof listening room, where guests can listen to a selection of vinyl records or the enveloping hum of silence. Meanwhile, outdoors, you have the option of dozing in a hammock above the winding waterways, sweating the town in the off-grid sauna, or showering in Scottish waters drawn straight from the stream.
Last year, with architect Russell Potter and later chef Florence Knight, Gent opened the Sessions Arts Club in London; it quickly became one of the liveliest restaurants in town, thanks to its unusual cuisine, old-world glamor and air of decadence. But Boath House is more Wind in the willows that Gatsby the magnificentand it’s an intriguing next step: inspired by Jonny’s old cabin studio and by Frances Hodgson Burnett The secret garden Part of the mood board, the nine-bedroom Boath House — which is sparse but cozy, filled with dark wood antiques, breezy window veils, and tactile burlap textures — is a place of calm. “It’s about disconnection and discovery, and the joy of pursuing analog,” says Gent. “We even removed all televisions.” It also has a garden restaurant, walled vegetable gardens and on-site artists’ cabins. Soon they will host residency programs.
Ghent discovered this stretch of coastline, at the tip of the Highlands near Cawdor, by Tilda Swinton, and fell in love with it after living here on and off for two years. “I’ve had about 40 studios all over the world, but this was my favourite,” he says of the spacious wooden cabin in the grounds of a castle a few minutes from Boath. “It’s a portal to another world; you drive for 30 minutes and suddenly you have wild deer and golden eagles. It feels prehistoric. A passionate host, he invited his friends for weekends of creativity, hunting and cooking. Around 60 of them made the trip, and the idea for Boath was born.
This is the trio’s first chambered business. Putting it around 570 miles from London might be a bit audacious for those city dwellers planning to commute – especially Knight, who will be cooking in both kitchens. But that’s also its appeal: it’s one of the most remote places you can fly to and stay in the UK. Potter describes his first trip to Inverness as “like having some kind of mind-altering drug…everything is so much slower, it forces you to relax”. In fact, even empty, Boath is imbued with such horizontal sentiment that pulling out a laptop to email seems borderline inappropriate.
The house belonged for centuries to the Dunbar family. Built by Archibald Simpson, known as the architect of Aberdeen, in 1827, it is filled with arched windows, domed vaulted ceilings and countless nooks and crannies. After the death of the last Baronet of Dunbar in 1938, it remained a private home until the 1990s when it was turned into a hotel: Gent found it while travelling. “The decor was absolutely hectic,” Potter said, recalling the gold-painted cornices and ceiling roses and lots of “ugly” purple paint; he sympathetically helped restore the original features and make the palette neutral.
About 20% of the furniture was salvaged from the old space. This includes the gleaming oak four-poster bed in my bedroom which, combined with the huge sash window overlooking the gardens, and my free roaming of an otherwise vacant house, made me feel like a millennial Mary Lennox. “We want the house to feel like everything has been collected over time,” Potter explains. Some rooms have corkboards where guests can leave notes or memories of their stay: each visitor, like each resident artist, is considered a guardian of sorts.
Staff are also encouraged to be stewards. The young team of gardeners and chefs, who grew up fishing with their fathers and grandfathers in the local waters, will also take guests fishing. It brings a village vibe and odd jobs to their hospitality. And if Boath were a village in its own right, visitors to its pub would likely encounter the resident of Nairn known as ‘History Alan’ – an avid storyteller, fountain of Scottish knowledge and gardener in Boath. He’s created a hand-drawn map of the river for guests, with spots for fishing, picnicking and swimming, and it includes some real gems. “It’s the best kept secret that you only find out about by locals,” says Gent, who is looking for horses to put in a paddock after Alan told him that part of the garden was formerly used as such.
Being sympathetic to Boath’s history doesn’t mean giving in to the classics, though. There are no tartan blankets, no taxidermy here; nor is haggis a staple of Knight’s innovative menu. Instead, Scottish traditions are subtly retained throughout. The texture comes from sheep and deer skins, while the cabins were built with local wood and the paints mixed with ashes from the hearth to impart an age-old patina – like a primitive geotag.
“It’s about us doing the unintended,” says Knight, who delivers this conversation in the kitchen. Haddock is whipped into mashed potatoes and topped with a poached egg; mussels are fried, while pinhead oatmeal is used in cakes or served with a dollop of local heather honey for breakfast. Everything not grown or fished is sourced locally, but by August she will have a pickling station and beehive, the produce of which will be served and sold. “Instead of spending time dealing with suppliers, the garden will give me space to experiment,” she says. “Naturally, that will fuel what I end up doing at Sessions.”
If guests or any artists on site are keen to try their hand at creative stripping, that is also encouraged. Just ask and get stuck. Perhaps that’s why time seems such a fluid concept at Boath. Visitors are encouraged to explore and discover in such a way that no area of the house, or the grounds, seems off limits. For any city dweller, a completely different adventure.
From £250; boath-house.com