Scotland’s fantastic scenery, rugged landscapes and Highland hospitality offers some of the best ingredients to escape lockdown. Combine it with luxury accommodation, the finest food and an idyllic setting and there are few places in the world to compare.

Demand is soaring as more of us are discovering the best of our wonderful country. Why endure the uncertainty of quarantine restrictions and the constraints of flying abroad when there is much to explore here?

I’ve long been an advocate of staycations and explored most of Scotland, down single track roads, over mountains and along the coast.

However, it will take some beating to surpass my break in glorious sunshine at Links House in Dornoch.

Having toured the NC500 several times, I know the area reasonably well and had watched the development of the five-star accommodation, earmarking it for a future visit.

The investment by American Todd Warnock, who was captivated by the area while visiting, is a labour of love. He spotted the for sale sign as he walked to play golf at Royal Dornoch, finished his game and then knocked at the door. So began the transformation of Links House from a period manor house to bespoke luxury accommodation.

The addition of The Mews where each suite has a sitting area and bath and walk-in shower and Glenshiel with five luxury suites and a penthouse apartment completes a choice of rooms, all offering warmth, charm and elegance.

Normally, we would stop en route from Glasgow but we couldn’t wait to check in. The pressures of months of remote working eased as we headed north through the changing landscape of the city, suburbia and the Perthshire hills before the more rugged mountains as we approached Aviemore, finally set free by the wonderful seascapes as we crossed the Moray, Cromarty and Dornoch firths.

The only small fear was how Dornoch was adapting to tourists amid lockdown restrictions and what impact it would have on our stay. Thankfully, it was a world away from the crowds at destinations such as Loch Lomond or Portabello beach. Even with the sun bursting the skies and hundreds flocking to Dornoch, the miles of golden sands ensured everyone could enjoy themselves in almost splendid isolation. In the shops and bars, locals and tourists were friendly and polite. The pace of life here lets you breathe and feel free again.

And the welcome from Links House was relaxed, full of warmth and with that personal touch that makes you feel special. The bedrooms and suites are worthy of the five stars. There are also sumptuous public rooms, including a single-malt honesty bar in the wood panelled Main House library and another in the Glenshiel’s drawing room.

We stayed in The Mallart, Glenshiel’s fabulous penthouse suite with its views across Royal Dornoch and the Dornoch Firth. From the marble bathroom with heated floors, power shower and deep bathtub, to the fireplace and plush lounge and kitchen/diner it was hard to draw yourself away.

Lockdown meant breakfast was delivered to the stylishly appointed rooms. And what fun it was. The wonderfully creative hamper was different each time, from tasty scrambled egg souffle to haggis sausage rolls, salmon and smoothies. Breakfasting in sunshine on the balcony was a slice of heaven and set us up for our days exploring.

The area is full of easy walks of various lengths and you can stroll along miles of beautiful beaches or wander through forests. The drives, too, are quiet and peaceful. And the scenery, be it mountains, lochs or coast, is magnificent.

The town itself has a 13th century cathedral where Madonna’s son Rocco was christened, and nearby a Witch’s Stone marks the death in 1727 of the last person burned as a witch in Scotland.

At the centre of Dornoch is the renovated Courthouse, now part of the Links House operation, which offers superb food in a great setting. The lovely Courtyard garden was built in lockdown as an outside partner to the Courtroom brasserie where the food, with the emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, is fantastic. A large mural of court proceedings featuring famous and infamous faces presides over you as you dine.

The Courthouse also houses a splendid whisky shop and an Aspen Spa offering wonderful massages, as my wife will testify.

Further afield, Links House also arrange guided walks and off-road bike rides, salmon and trout fishing and rifle and clay pigeon shooting. And golf, of course. It’s like a mini-Gleneagles in Sutherland.

That perfect combination of luxury, great food, and stunning scenery will have us return time and time again. It’s that Links effect.

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Royal Dornoch’s stunning championship course is ranked among the best links courses in the world. The top 100 golf course website describes it as spellbinding and there is certainly something magical about the challenge on each hole and its beautiful setting. With reasonably wide fairways, Old Tom Morris’ course layout and undulating greens are a fun test for golfers of all abilities. Its sister Struie course is fantastic too. A few miles away is Tain Golf Club, another Old Tom Morris layout, and the wonderful Brora and Golspie Golf Courses, both designed by James Braid making the area one of the UK’s best golf destinations.


Dornoch has miles of golden sands and as a shallow Blue Flag beach is safe for paddling or swimming. No matter how busy it is on a sunny day there is plenty of space to find your own bit of paradise. If you are lucky you may spot seals or dolphins in the firth. A couple of miles walk along the coast from Dornoch is a lovely beach at neighbouring Embo – a great spot for rock-pooling.


The area is a paradise for walkers and from Dornoch itself you can explore miles of beach in either direction. The path to Embo runs alongside the golf course and is perfect for a gentle stroll. There are also plenty of forest walks, and just a short drive away is the highly recommended Big Burn waterfall walk in Golspie. For the more adventurous the seven-mile coastal path from Golspie to Brora winds past small harbours, beaches, the iron age broch at Strathsteven and Dunrobin Castle. You can even hop on a train back.


Whether you tour the NC500’s majestic route north or take quieter roads, the scenery is not to be missed. A few miles away is the nature reserve at Loch Fleet, a tidal basin haven for wild fowl, fauna and flora and a perfect place to spot the seals basking on the sandbanks. For the more adventurous take the back road to Rogart, across the cobbled ford at Doll’s Bridge (weather permitting) which crosses the River Brora. Or just walk over the shoogly bridge. Either way it’s great fun. Make sure you take a look at the railway station at Rogart, where converted carriages offer a place to stay for walkers and cyclists.


Links House has opened the Courtroom brasserie offering superb dining in an interesting setting. Spot the celebrities in the court case mural as you feast on Scotland’s finest ingredients. Their sister Courtyard is open air, serving drinks and delicious fayre. Dornoch also has a great selection of pubs and cafes plus a lovely Italian restaurant, Liugi’s. And for great fish and chips it really is worth the short drive to Golspie.