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Scotland's Castles for Rent

Brought up at the castle, which he loves for its "huge mass of protective stone, like a giant, rather well organized cave," he studied architecture at Pratt Institute in New York before setting up his own practice in London. His father died in 1993, and Colin, then 30, moved back to Morayshire to run the Cawdor estate. He now puts all of his energy, time, and design skills to developing the small empire he inherited. In the past three years, he and his wife, Isabella, a former fashion editor at British Vogue, have overhauled three run-down farm cottages and built a new one as rentals; two more are currently being renovated. "They're simple but luxurious," Colin says, "the sort of places we would love to find ourselves."

Ideally situated for touring the northeast, Cawdor is barely a musket shot from the battlefield of Culloden, the National Trust's Brodie Castle, and the beaches of Culbin Sands on the Moray Firth. Guests can also drop in at Cawdor Castle and roam its 18th-century overgrown Big Wood ("like a forest in a fairy tale," Colin says). Groups of up to 20 can take over Drynachan Lodge on the river Findhorn. Built in the 1820's as a sporting retreat and revamped by the present Cawdors, the lodge looks onto a glen, where Colin has introduced pheasant and partridge shooting. Success, measured by the fact that he now employs six gamekeepers, may be due more to vision and good publicity—Annie Leibovitz snapped Victoria (Posh Spice) and David Beckham here for Vanity Fair—than luck. But it can't hurt having a mystical holly tree in the castle vault to safeguard happiness and prosperity for the House of Cawdor.

Cawdor Territory
30 miles northeast of Inverness (www.aberdeen-grampian.com)
STAY AT Cawdor Cottages, 44-1667/402-402; one-bedroom cottage $648 a week; www.cawdor.com.
Dunain Park Hotel, Inverness; 44-1463/230-512; doubles from $314; www.dunainparkhotel.co.uk.
EAT AT Dunain Park Hotel (see above)
Golf View Hotel, Seabank Rd., Nairn; 44-1667/452-301; dinner for two $88.
CHECK OUT Cawdor Castle, 44-1667/404-615; www.cawdor.com; open for tours May-October.
Brodie Castle, 25 miles east of Inverness; 44-1309/641-371; www.nts.org.uk; open April-September.
Culbin Sands Nature Preserve, 1 1/2 miles east of Nairn; www.rspb.org.uk.
The whisky distilleries in nearby Speyside—11 are open for tours and tastings.
The battlefield of Culloden, five miles east of Inverness.

Lord Macdonald of Macdonald
It comes as a pleasant, value-added surprise to many of the guests at Kinloch Lodge, the acclaimed country-house hotel on the Isle of Skye, to learn that their welcoming, graciously attentive host is of royal blood. An unassuming chap in his early fifties, married to Claire Macdonald, the ebullient queen of Scottish cookbook writers, Godfrey, high chief of Clan Donald, like all Highlanders takes his lineage seriously.

"As Lords of the Isles," he expounds over tea in the gleaming kitchen designed for Claire's cooking demonstrations, "the Macdonalds controlled Scotland's western seaboard from the eleventh through the fifteenthcentury, and were the largest, most powerful of the Highland clans. We were in the fullest sense," Godfrey emphasizes, "an independent royal house and, although the kingship was annexed to the Scots crown in 1493 and the title Lord of the Isles is now borne by the Prince of Wales, I am by blood the true representative of the House of the Isles." "God, darling?" Claire interrupts—the appeal to the Almighty, I'm slow to grasp, merely an affectionate reduction of her husband's name—"Did you remember to do the wine for tonight?"

High chief to 15 million Macdonalds around the world, Godfrey has his own exclusive tartan, his own personal piper, and a hereditary bard he can call upon for ceremonial occasions. "I am not naturally a showy person," he says. "But if we have a large group coming to Kinloch, I tend to don the kilt and the finery and my piper will play us into dinner. I also have a purse bearer—historically, the chief of the Macsporran clan. I tracked him down and he turned out to be a florist from Dunfermline...not in the least interested!"


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