Somewhere in Scotland there is a place in some gardens where time has stood still. It doesn’t matter that its actual location is about 20 minutes drive from tiny Inverness Airport; nor that the 19th-century building is small but proud, flanked by columns and trailing ivy and surrounded by miles of farmland; Real-world facts detract a bit from the otherworldly vibe that takes root upon arrival at Boath House.
“We wanted to create a space for people to disappear into,” says Jonny Gent, the artist and one of Boath’s founders, as he descends a spiral staircase and opens a door to a room stacked with salvaged oak furniture that is currently covered are stamens. Dressed in white painter’s overalls and chestnut-brown leather hiking boots, he leads me through the room. And there’s a lot to get lost in. Other hatches lead to an intimate library, a shared pantry, and a soundproof listening room, where guests can tune in to a curated selection of vinyl or the enveloping hum of silence. Meanwhile, outdoors, there’s the option to snooze in a hammock over the winding waterways, sweat the city in the off-grid sauna, or shower in Scottish waters pulled straight from the creek.
Last year, Gent, along with architect Russell Potter and later chef Florence Knight, opened the Sessions Arts Club in London; It’s quickly becoming one of the liveliest restaurants in town thanks to its unusual cuisine, old-world glamour, and touches of decadence. But Boath House is more wind in the willows as Great Gatsbyand it’s an intriguing next step: inspired by Jonny’s old cabin studio and by Frances Hodgson Burnetts The secret garden Part of the moodboard is the nine-bedroom Boath House — which is sparse but cozy and filled with dark-wood antiques, airy window voiles, and tactile jute textures — a haven of tranquility. “It’s about switching off and discovering and the joy of analogue striving,” says Gent. “We even got all the TVs out.” It’s also home to a garden restaurant, walled vegetable patches, and on-site artist huts. Soon they will be hosting in-residence programs.
Gent was introduced to and fell in love with this stretch of coast at the head of the Highlands near Cawdor by Tilda Swinton after living here intermittently for two years. “I’ve had about 40 studios around the world, but this was my favourite,” he says of the spacious log cabin in the grounds of a castle just minutes from Boath. “It’s a portal to another world; you drive 30 minutes and suddenly you have wild deer and golden eagles. It feels prehistoric.” A keen host, he invited friends over for weekends of creativity, hunting and cooking. Around 60 of them set off and the idea for Boath was born.
This is the trio’s first With Rooms venture. Placing it about 570 miles from London might be a bit risqué for those city dwellers looking to commute back and forth — especially for Knight, who will be cooking in both kitchens. But that’s also part of its appeal: it’s one of the most remote places you can fly and stay within the UK. Potter describes his first trip to Inverness as “like some kind of mind-altering drug…everything is so much slower, it forces you to relax”. In fact, even when empty, Boath is imbued with such a horizontal sentiment that pulling out a laptop to fire off some emails seems borderline inappropriate.
The house was owned by the Dunbar family for centuries. Built by Archibald Simpson, known as the Architect of Aberdeen, in 1827, it’s filled with arched windows, domed vaulted ceilings and myriad nooks and crannies. After the death of the last Baronet of Dunbar in 1938, it remained a private home until it was converted into a hotel in the 1990s: Gent found it traveling. “The decor was absolutely hectic,” says Potter, recalling the gilded coves and ceiling rosettes and lots of “ugly” purple paint; He sympathetically helped restore the original features and turned the palette to neutral.
About 20 percent of the furniture was salvaged from the old room. 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 it’s all been pieced together over time,” says Potter. Some bedrooms have cork boards for guests to leave notes or reminders of their stay: every visitor, like any resident artist, is treated as a custodian 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 to catch some. It brings a village ambiance with odd jobs to their hospitality. And if Boath were a village in its own right, visitors to his pub would likely meet the Nairn resident known as ‘History Alan’ – a keen storyteller, fountainhead of Scottish knowledge and gardener in Boath. He has created a hand-drawn map of the river for guests, which includes places to fish, picnic, and swim, and has some real gems. “It’s the best kept secret that only locals tell you,” says Gent, who’s been on the hunt for horses for a paddock after Alan tells him part of the garden was once used as such.
Sympathy for Boath’s story doesn’t mean giving in to the classics, however. There are no tartan blankets here, no taxidermy; Nor is haggis a staple on Knight’s innovative menu. Instead, Scottish traditions are subtly maintained. The texture comes from sheep and deer pelts, while the huts are built from local wood and the colors are mixed with ash from the fireplace to create an ancient patina – like an original geotag.
“It’s about doing what’s not expected,” says Knight, who uses the words in the kitchen. Haddock is mashed potatoes and topped with a poached egg; Mussels are deep-fried, while pinhead oatmeal is used in cakes or served with a dollop of local heather honey for breakfast. Anything not grown or caught is sourced locally, but by August she will have a pickling station and beehive whose produce will be served and sold. “Rather than spending time with suppliers, the garden gives me space to experiment,” she says. “Of course it will feed into what I end up doing in sessions.”
If guests or an artist on site would like to try their hand at creative pickling, this is also welcome. Just ask and get started. Perhaps that’s why time is such a fluid concept at Boath. Visitors are invited to explore and discover in such a way that no area of the house or grounds appears outside the confines. A completely different kind of adventure for every city dweller.
From £250; boath-house.com