In 2015 we invited Alec Finlay, a Scottish artist and poet, to collaborate on the research and design of The Fife Arms and ensure the landscape and culture of the Upper Deeside remain central to the philosophy of the project. We are so excited to now be able to share gathering, an innovative mapping of the Highland landscape in poems, essays, photographs and maps which guides its reader to modest, forgotten places in this complex region.
Can you briefly describe gathering in your own words?
Gathering is a guide to the Cairngorms made using place-names and their meanings as a way to understand the landscape, ecology and the lives that have been lived there from fresh perspectives. The landscape features iconic scenery and it has come to belong to what I call the twin crazes of mountaineering and deer-stalking, but with these local names as a guide one becomes aware of a wonderful range of locations that have been overlooked – forgotten shielings (summer huts), and springs, or lost forests, as well as modest patches of berries, and places that have names because they were once useful to peasant farmers. I term this approach place-awareness, and I hope it will give readers a new appreciation of the region.
What excited you about this commission when you were approached about it?
The possibility to make the most ambitious place-aware or ecopoetic project in the UK, in one of the most remarkable landscapes: sub-Arctic Tundra, with relict pinewoods, and places associated with totemic animals. As well as the book I made an accompanying jukebox with Chris Watson, recording blackcock at Preas Bad nan Coileach-dubha, golden plover at Coire na Feadaige, an eagle at Sgòr na h-Iolaire, and ptarmigan on The Ptarmigan Brae. That gives a sense of how the names are markers of habitat and species memory. We even re-recorded the call of a wolf at The All-mhad Barn, which means the wolf rock. I also worked with three photographers and the book is richly illustrated. The images keep to the same principle of avoiding a scenic or heroic account of the landscape and, instead, expressing the remarkable weave of species.
The opportunity to make artworks based on the place-names and my field research, and combine this with the book, photographs and recordings, was a unique opportunity to make a contemporary expression of the local.
How long did it take to put together this work?
I worked on the project almost continuously for four years, along with a collaborative team of five or six people. It opened up ideas that I continue to explore, considering a place-aware approach to rewilding.
Is there a story relating to the landscape or a name that is particularly memorable?
On the way into Glen Ey, beyond the lower bridge, in Coire an t-Sìdhein, sìth corrie, there‘s a hillock, Cnoc Chadail, which is a perfect example of a traditional fairy knowe. William Alexander’s translation is knoll of the sleep. It is a natural drumlin, but this is where a young man was said to have been bewitched as he dozedIn Jean Bain’s telling, ‘He heard the most lovely music, and he stoppit an listened, an then he went awa ower an gaed inti this hillock where the faeries wis.’
In some versions he sleeps for the archetypal spell of seven years; in others he dances before the shee (fairies) release him. I found this site memorable as, when you are there, you can see how the form of the hillock gathered that story to it. Who can say what state of mind induced such tales? Peasant bewitching may recall traditional shamanic retreats but, for me, what matters is the reality of the glen itself, abandoned, in need of rewilding, but touched by the beauty of mosses and adders, and by the name and it’s story.
What is your favourite walk in the Cairngorms?
If place-awareness has a purpose it is the erasure of standard measures of distance: a walk of a few hundred yards becomes not only possible but also enjoyable. The east and west ends of the Felagie Burn, by Invercauld and by Inver, were the short walks I made most often, either along the gravel track to the pines and larch beneath Craig Leek, or, at the east end, near Creit an Roide, which means the bog-myrtle croft, where I liked to watch the gentle passage of the stream below a few birches. It always amused me to see the profile of Creag na Spàine, the spoonlike crag, alter as the walk headed between these two spots.
The book is available to buy HERE
Image: Hannah DevereuxMeet our Ghillie, Ros Evans
From stalking to skiing meet our hotel Ghillie, Ros Evans, who will be in charge of our guests experiences and concierge department. Born in Aberdeen and growing up on a farm 10 miles south of Aberdeen, Ros spent much of her childhood exploring Deeside’s walking and skiing. After studying hospitality management in Dundee and spending six years in the Swiss Alps, Ros and her husband decided to return to Scotland, falling for the hills and beauty of Braemar. They have now been in Braemar for over 15 years where they set up a coffee shop/restaurant.
What are you most excited by with The Fife Arms?
The Fife Arms is going to be an amazing one-off destination with the attention to detail being key. As the months have progressed and the team is getting larger, the knowledge, commitment and drive amongst us all is buzzing. We are all so excited with the progress of this beautiful prominent building and the design throughout.
Talk us through your role as the Ghillie?
Initially I am researching the local experience offerings as well as further afield and working with local suppliers to put together special packages. We’ll be offering everything from skiing to wildlife photography and mountain biking to fishing. Traditionally the name Ghillie is given to a boy or man who is an attendant for fishing, hunting or stalking primarily in the Scottish Highlands, so we have taken a play on this title.
Image: Sim PhotographyWe’re moving in!
The first of our furniture arrivals… #takingshapeMeet our Executive Chef, Robert Cameron
Introducing our Executive Chef Robert Cameron. Originally from Glasgow, this is Robert’s return to Scotland after working in Dubai for the past 12 years. He’s passionate about Scottish produce and using local suppliers and his menus will be brimming with classic Scottish dishes.
What are you most excited about with The Fife Arms?
I’m excited about working with our local suppliers and gamekeepers. Being able to understand where our food comes from is such a phenomenal experience. Being able to talk to the gamekeepers themselves to understand what the animals are eating and how close it is to the hotel is just fantastic. I’m also excited to make the hotel a part of this incredible community in Braemar. Since arriving here I have instantly felt like part of the community and I’m excited to develop that even further once the hotel has opened.
What inspiration have you used for The Fife Arms menus?
I’ve been inspired by traditional Scottish dishes and the ingredients that are native to our surrounding areas. Being Scottish myself, it’s great to be back here and cooking the Scottish favourites.
What’s your favourite seasonal ingredient right now?
It’s got to be the famous Scottish raspberries, which I love to make into jam but I’m also looking forward to the grouse season arriving on August 13th.
Profile a supplier you’re looking forward to working with?
I’m looking forward to working with Wark Farms. We will be using their Belted Galloway cattle and Hebridean sheep. The farm is a 200 acre mixed farm on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park and has been registered organic with the Soil Association since 2006. They butcher all the meat on-site and their energy is supplied from a bio-fuel boiler for heating and hot water and a solar PV system for electricity.
The Fife Arms is fast becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated hotel openings of 2018. The renovation is continuing apace and we are now looking for talented individuals to join our team in all areas of the hotel. We’ll be at Ballater Famers Market this Saturday (May 26th), as well as on June 23rd and July 28th. Please come and see us to hear more about this exciting opportunity and we’ll also be serving some treats from our kitchen. For those who aren’t in the local area, please send your CV and covering letter to firstname.lastname@example.org Help us write a new chapter in the story of this landmark hotel!Basement, bathrooms and the beautiful heather-roof courtyard
We’ve been making steady progress at The Fife Arms in the last few months. The excavation at the back is complete and the new basement is underway. Exciting developments are being made internally with bathroom fittings being installed on the third floor and tiling of the new ensuites, giving them a truly authentic Victorian feel. Developments over the summer will include building the kitchen and private dining room, located at the back of the hotel. This will also shape our beautiful heather-roof courtyard, which will attract guests to sit outside – even in the Scottish weather!
Recruitment is starting to take a more central role and we are approaching it with a very inclusive frame of mind. We want to work with people from all walks of life, who have the right attitude and a warm smile. We will be hiring for part time and seasonal availability and will employ locally as much as possible. We have also organised some open days for the autumn and early next year, as well as attending job fairs and individual Scottish Universities and Colleges.Inspiring the future
Early this year, Federica and Katy Fennema of Braemar History Group, visited Braemar School to share with the children the exciting items we have found under the floorboards of The Fife Arms. It was an interesting history lesson for the young students and an opportunity to see objects, which have now fallen into disuse, but played a significant role in people’s lives not so long ago. They were particularly interested with the small tubs of anti-burn cream distributed to soldiers during the Second World War in the event of a gas attack.
Federica and Katy also showed the children the time capsule, our now famous bottle of Glenfinnan whisky, signed, dated and planted under the floorboards by what we believe were workmen at the hotel in 1907. They asked the children to prepare a new time capsule to be buried in the building during the current renovations. Giving them an opportunity to think about the future generations and what they would be curious to know about our world today. The Fife Arms stonemason has also offered to visit the school to look at the stonework of the building and hopefully detect signs of its history. We’re excited about getting the children interested in the hotel. Ultimately, the building is being restored for future generations to enjoy and hopefully some of them will be available for a few shifts in the years to come!The new year
The Fife Arms refurbishment has gone through its first winter without any sign of slowing down. Apart from a much needed Christmas break and an afternoon merrily spent putting up Christmas decorations on the front of the building, all contractors have continued to work at pace. The scaffolding at the back has now been removed to give way to the excavation in the back courtyard. On the new foundations, we will build the modern additions to the building, which include the beautiful heather clad courtyard and the new kitchen. This will be the real hub of the new hotel and we’re really pleased with the kitchen design development. Working closely with Glasgow based RH Morton and interior design group, Russell Sage Studio, we’re creating an exciting environment for both the chefs and guests, including a chefs theatre for the dining room. Fitted with a sizzling wood-fired grill, it will create a superb atmosphere as well as immersing the guests into the cooking of their meal.Alec Finlay
To ensure the landscape and culture of Upper Deeside remain central to the philosophy of the project, Scottish artist and poet Alec Finlay has been collaborating on the research and design of The Fife Arms to make sure these are represented within the building. Alec has been recording his fascinating journey through his Gathering blog, an eco-poetic guide to The Cairngorms, can be found here:
Image: Hannah DevereuxHistoric finds in The Fife Arms
Throughout construction we have discovered some amazing, historical objects from under the floorboards such as a draft soldier letter, bullets, tins of boot polish, empty boxes of matches and even a used flare. The most special find is a signed and dated empty whisky bottle carrying the names of some local tradesmen who buried the time capsule on 13th April 1907. We are hoping to display these finds in a cabinet when the Fife re-opens for everyone to see.
Over 50 joiners, plumbers and electricians are giving shape to the new internal layout of rooms and bathrooms, renewing mechanical and electrical services. None of the old drains, pipes or electrical cabling will be left in the building. Alongside a number of small local companies working on the external paint, stonework, roof and windows we now have two large contractors on site, both Scottish based.
The scaffolding will remain in place for a few more months but some sections at the back and along the Fife Brae will be removed sooner to allow for the next stage of the work which includes the new build elements in the courtyard.