Steve loves Luna, and I'm pretty sure Luna loves Steve. The barn owl rests contentedly on the Scotsman's gloved hand as he gently caresses her from nape to tail. “It’s like touching a cloud,” he says of her snowy white feathers. I lightly run my fingers down her back, matching his careful motions. He’s right: Luna is the softest thing I’ve ever felt.
Dapper in a flat cap, tweed jacket, and green tie embroidered with a tiny pheasant, Steve Brazendale would be the epitome of the classic Scotsman, even if he weren’t carrying a giant bird on his wrist. The founder (and titular personality) of Scottish Countryman, an experiential company that shows travelers what he calls, quite simply, “Scottishness,” he leads guests on archery, falconry, fly-fishing, and other classic endeavors. He’s joined me on a typically gray afternoon at Pittormie Castle, where, on the trim lawn dotted with daffodils, he introduces me to a handful of his feathered friends.
There’s Luna, of course, who I come to think of as the princess of the group — gentle, calm, precious yet sophisticated. Then there’s Ilsa, the sassy eagle owl who keeps Steve on his toes; Eltai, the majestic golden eagle whose wingspan is a sight to behold; and Murray, the Harris’s hawk that nimbly flies to and fro between his owner, who dangles sweet morsels of meat, and my own gloved hand.
Finally, there’s Arabia, the Saker falcon Steve has trained for years. The bird of prey is so skilled at hunting that falconers have come from as far as the Middle East in attempts to buy her from him. (The answer is always no.) She takes wing, soaring nearly 1,000 feet in the air, then swoops down at more than 100 miles per hour, as Steve swings a “lure,” a rope with feathers of prey attached to the end of it. “Arabia can fly for miles,” the Scotsman tells me after the falcon has taken her perch once again on his arm, feasting on a chick he’s procured as a reward for her performance. “There have been a few times that she’s gone so far, I’ve nearly lost her. But she always comes home.”
KEYS TO THE CASTLE
I had only just arrived at Pittormie a few days earlier, but the notion of home at the baronial castle had already begun to take hold. In 2022, it’s not often you consider something built in the 18th century to be the pinnacle of luxury, and yet, the estate, which today is owned and operated by the prestigious Eden Club, sits at the perfect tipping point of historic authenticity and modern comfort. The fiefdom of various noble families over time (including, most recently, the owners of Drambuie Scotch), it is a patchwork of turrets, crenelations, towers, and finials. Inside its five Exclusive Resorts apartments — built from the former stables — classic refinement and contemporary style collide: At the foot of the canopied beds, flat-screen TVs are nestled into tartan-upholstered ottomans; the electric fireplaces come roaring to life with the touch of a button; and the kitchen, while outfitted with the latest technology, retains a trace of antiquity with vintage-inspired ranges and Georgian silver candlesticks.
Of course, Bridgerton has taught us that every castle has its cast of characters, and Pittormie is no different. Among the maze of living areas — the lounge lined with portraits of noble Scotsmen, the grand dining room where the high-backed chairs feel like thrones, and the Wee Bar, aptly named for its intimate size and exquisite collection of whiskies — general manager Fiona McIlroy and her team ensure everything is just so: every pour of whisky or shaken martini; every elegant dish served on crisp white linens; every pillow fluffed, every window polished, and every experience — whether a round of golf or day of falconry — perfectly planned.
Pittormie Castle is located at the apex of Scotland’s past and present too. Ten miles to the north lies Dundee, where a creative counterculture is driven by a contingency of students attending the local art and design academy and bolstered by the V&A Dundee. The first branch of the prestigious Victoria & Albert to open outside of London, the museum is a modern reflection of the landscapes of Scotland, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma in undulated concrete “cliffs” above the Tay River. Its first curated exhibit Tartan, now on display, has already established the institution as a contemporary arbiter of Scottish culture, exploring the fabric’s role as a symbol of royalty and establishment, as well as rebellion and provocation.
ST. ANDREWS, THE OLD COURSE & OLD-TIME CEILIDH
The past, however, lies just seven miles to the east of Pittormie, past rolling green hills dotted with fluffy sheep and Highland cattle, in St. Andrews. Widely considered to be the birthplace of golf, home to Scotland’s oldest university, and crammed with medieval ruins and neo-Gothic landmarks, the town is inextricably linked to its venerable history. Every golfer worth their Titleist has played — or at least dreamt of playing — the Old Course, the world’s first 18 holes, established in 1552 between the beaches of the North Sea and the edge of town. And at 609 years old, the University of St. Andrews was the third English- speaking higher education institution to be established anywhere, following Oxford and Cambridge. (Perhaps more famously today is the fact that both Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, studied there.)
It’s a rare spring day that doesn’t require a scarf or jacket when I stroll past the university and head up to 18, the new rooftop bar and restaurant at Rusacks hotel where I catch a pheasant’s-eye view of the Old Course’s 18th hole. Golfers and non-golfers alike have gathered for sunset cocktails on the terrace, and a mini green has been set up for putting practice (and Instagram posts). Below, bleachers splashed with a giant 150 have just been erected in preparation for the 150th Open Championship. As the sun peaks out from behind a sliver of clouds, casting celestial rays of light onto the fairway below, it feels like everyone in St. Andrews is clinking glasses and slurping oysters along with me.
Nearly every spot in town seems to deliver a similar sense of Scottishness, however subtly or straightforward. Homemade focaccia, line-caught haddock, and other farm-to-table cuisine are dished up alongside fresh flower bouquets and small-batch gin at Mitchell & Co. Miles of cashmere in every hue are carefully folded at the House of Cashmere. Scents of wild nettle, heather, juniper, and whisky are captured in-bottle at the Highland Soap Co. And at Forgan’s, come 10:30 p.m., the tables are whisked away, and the raucous band strikes up, turning the trendy restaurant into an old-time ceilidh, where the Britannia Twosteps and Circassian Circles last until the wee hours.
LINDORES ABBEY DISTILLERY & AQUA VITAE
While I’m already fully convinced of the friendly allies past and present make in this part of Scotland, I’m even more persuaded the next afternoon when I head west from Pittormie Castle to Lindores Abbey, the country’s oldest — and simultaneously one of its newest — distilleries. The earliest written record of Scotch Whisky refers to this very spot, just a stone’s throw from the line separating the Highlands and the Lowlands. It was here, at the behest of King James IV, that the monks made the first barrels of Aqua Vitae (as Scotch was then known) in 1494. But curiously — perhaps owing to the piety of the monks or the untimely death of the king in the Battle of Flodden— the regular distillation of Scotch would not take place for another 500 or so years, when, in 2017, the Lindores Abbey Distillery was founded.
I feel as if I am blending all that history together as I swirl a dram of one of Lindores Abbey’s first-release Scotches in the aubergine-hued tasting room. “Our Scotch is light and gentle, with caramels and orchard fruits,” one of the distillery’s guides, John Dorrian, tells me. “It’s very indicative of the Lowlands.” I can taste it all: the king’s demands and the monks’ obedience. The refuge William Wallace took here after the 1298 Battle of Black Earnside. The destruction John Knox the Reformer visited upon the abbey in the name of Protestantism in the 16th century. Not to mention a touch of citrus and hint of spice.
The sips warm my belly amid visions of battle and conquest, tempting me to take yet another dram. Then, suddenly, the image of Arabia soars into my mind, calling me back to Pittormie Castle. I have enjoyed the fruits of centuries of labor. Now it’s time to go home
STAY PITTORMIE CASTLE CLUB RESIDENCES
The Club’s Eden Club Residences at Pittormie Castle are quintessential Scottish luxury, located less than 15 minutes from The Old Course at St Andrews and 1.5 hours from historic Edinburgh. Pittormie Castle adventures include horseback riding, salmon fishing, and falconry. Located in the birthplace of golf, exquisite courses await. While a resident at Pittormie Castle, Members will also access decadent cuisine by the Michelin-starred resident chef.
Bedrooms: 2 Baths: 2.5 Accommodates: 5
Photos courtesy of Jackie Caradonio.