If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can catch up here:
- Romantic sleepers and hairy cows… (Book research in Scotland – Part 1)
- Ghillies and spiky booby traps… (Book research in Scotland – Part 2)
It’d be almost impossible to pick the highlight of my recent trip to Scotland for book research, but having afternoon tea in an ancient Scottish castle would certainly rank amongst the top experiences!
And in fact, it was my visit to the gorgeous Inverlochy Castle Hotel in the Scottish Highlands – and an encounter with a particular armchair in a very special games room! – that was the inspiration for A HIGH WHISK SITUATION, the 12th book in the Oxford Tearoom Mysteries.
When English tearoom owner, Gemma Rose, finds herself on an unexpected trip to Scotland, she is delighted by the chance to stay in a beautiful Scottish castle—complete with mounted stag heads, cosy fireplaces, and misty mountain views. She’s looking forward to a relaxing weekend in the Highlands, sampling traditional Scottish baking, trying her hand at fly fishing, and learning to enjoy a “wee dram” of whisky.
But when she stumbles on a dead body in the castle library, Gemma quickly becomes steeped in a country-house murder with a distinctly tartan feel! Luckily, the nosy “Old Biddies” are on hand to help with the sleuthing, and even her cheeky tabby cat, Muesli, is keen to lend a paw. But with a castle full of quirky guests, the list of suspects is long, and everyone has something to hide. Can Gemma untangle the web of lies and motives, and reel in the killer before it’s too late?
Filled with humour, suspense, and unexpected twists, A High Whisk Situation is a delightful read for fans of cozy mysteries and traditional English whodunits. So put the kettle on, grab a scone (or a shortbread, we won’t judge), and get ready for a hilarious, entertaining adventure in the Scottish Highlands.
Like the fictional castle in my story, Inverlochy Castle Hotel is situated in the foothills of the largest mountain range in the Highlands – in this case, at the foot of Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the British Isles. While it is a hotel, you can visit just to enjoy their signature Afternoon Tea or have lunch or dinner in their award-winning restaurant, without having to stay here.
Just like my heroine Gemma, I was awed by the stunning landscape of the Scottish Highlands on the drive there…
… and the beautiful entry to the estate – via a long driveway – even before we reached the castle itself!
(Of course, filtered through a mystery writer’s imagination, things become slightly more dramatic! 😉 )
The winding driveway made its way through beautifully landscaped grounds, backed on one side by a small loch, its waters sparkling in the afternoon sun, and on the other side by mature woodland which stretched up into the foothills of the Grampians. The brilliant yellow of gorse glowed from the undergrowth as we drove past, interspersed with the tall spires of wild foxgloves and pink willowherb swaying in the breeze.
“Summer is probably one of the nicest times to be in the Highlands,” said Ewan enthusiastically as he steered around a bend in the drive. “You can—”
He broke off with an exclamation as another car came shooting round the bend from the opposite direction.
“Look out!” Cassie screamed. “It’s going to hit us!”
Ewan yanked the steering wheel with desperate force, cursing viciously as he swung the car sideways to try and avoid a collision. I clutched frantically at the car door, feeling the seatbelt dig into my chest as I was thrown to one side. The Land Rover veered sharply, almost plunging off the driveway into the ditch alongside, before wheeling around and narrowly missing a stump of moss-covered oak by the roadside.
The other car careened past. It was a cream Rolls-Royce, its powerful engine gunning as it sped by. The driver was a young man, sitting back with one arm draped negligently along the open window frame, his head turned towards his companion, a voluptuous brunette lounging in the front passenger seat. He barely spared us a glance as he drove recklessly by.
(from Chapter 3 of A High Whisk Situation)
Well, I’m pleased to tell you that we didn’t encounter any murderous Rolls-Royces coming in the opposite direction and we arrived safely, gliding through a majestic carriage arch, to alight in front of the castle…
Inverlochy Castle Hotel is a 19th century Scottish baronial mansion, set in a gorgeous 500 acre private estate with its own loch. It isn’t a huge castle but I felt like I was walking into a fairytale setting, with its romantic turrets and crenellated battlements, and stunning views of the Highland mountains from the windows.
And inside, the castle was even more impressive, with a magnificent Great Hall that had soaring ceilings decorated by blue frescoes and dominated by crystal chandeliers. I think I must have taken over 20 photos of the Great Hall alone (!) but none of them really seem to capture the majestic splendour of the place…
It was the perfect setting for a “country house murder”, with a cast of characters practically ready-made! There was a wonderful mix of people staying and/or dining there, from all over the world (the guestbook made fascinating reading!) and I had great fun imagining who could play the role of a murderer…
The room that really captured my imagination, though, was the games room, with its mounted stag heads and sense of stepping back in time. It was just the kind of beautiful, creepy, atmospheric place to fire up a mystery writer’s imagination! I kept walking around with my mouth open, feverishly thinking: “Ooh… what if…? What if…?”
I did make a few tweaks in my fictional version, of course, such as making the room larger and turning it into the castle library, but it was all inspired by the wonderful ten minutes I spent in that fascinating room.
And I was particularly inspired by an unusual leather armchair that I discovered in a corner of the room!
I’d never seen anything like it before – have you? It’s just the kind of thing that a mystery author would LOVE to have in a corner of their study! Wouldn’t you love to curl up in there and read the afternoon away…?
Well, my husband literally had to prise me out of that armchair 😉 but I couldn’t dawdle any longer…
It was time for the “main event”: the castle’s famous Afternoon Tea!
This was served in the absolutely gorgeous Drawing Room, with its gold Rococo mirrors and sweeping views of the Highlands countryside.
I don’t think I’ve ever had afternoon tea in such grand surroundings and the Scottish certainly know how to bake! Everything – from the dainty finger sandwiches to the miniature Dundee cakes – was delicious. Nothing was overly decorated or fancy, the way some modern Afternoon Teas are these days, but everything was just freshly baked and of wonderful quality, full of rich, wholesome flavours.
As for the scones… well, I have to say, these were probably the best I’ve ever tasted (yes, even better than ones from tearooms back in the Cotswolds – shhh! 😉 ) and my husband, who is a hardcore scone connoisseur, heartily agrees!
You know, afternoon tea never seems like much – all those tiny bits of finger food don’t seem like a proper meal – and yet, I always find it surprisingly filling. In fact, it took us over 2 hours to finish the whole tea and I certainly didn’t need dinner that evening!
It was an absolutely amazing experience, enhanced by the magical surroundings… just look at the view from the Drawing Room window:
The staff at Inverlochy Castle Hotel were wonderful and so patient with all my questions – and I must say, they were the one thing that didn’t inspire fictional versions in my book – haha! Especially the manager, who was nothing like the castle manager in my story! 😉 She was warm and lovely, and so helpful; she even showed me the hidden door in one of the castle walls.. can you see it??
I actually walked past it several times and never even realised! It leads into a secret inner chamber, which serves as the castle’s library and also as a private dining room. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make my plot fit around it otherwise I would have loved to include it in my story… Never mind, I’m sure it’ll be tucked away as inspiration for a future book!
I really didn’t want to leave the castle – I could have stayed there for weeks, probably, soaking in the atmosphere. It felt like there was creative inspiration around every corner!
In fact, as the hotel guests – formally attired for the gourmet five-course dinner – assembled in the Great Hall for pre-dinner cocktails, they were joined by a young lady playing a harp… something which set my imagination racing again! 😉
And as we were leaving, a glimpse of a metal fire staircase fitted to the outside of the castle had me smiling to myself as I suddenly imagined four nosy old ladies creeping up those steps, on a mission to snoop in one of the castle suites…
Well, if you’re visiting the Scottish Highlands and are in the Ben Nevis/Fort William area, I highly recommend stopping at Inverlochy Castle Hotel and sampling their wonderful Afternoon Tea.
And if you want to see just how my time there was transformed into a country-house whodunit, then come and join my tearoom sleuth, Gemma Rose, her naughty tabby cat, Muesli, and the meddling “Old Biddies” in their latest adventure! 😊
For more fun facts and background about the series: