After our incredibly relaxing and re-energising stay at Eagle Brae, we got thinking about simple things we could do to have a more sustainable lifestyle. We also had quite a few questions we wanted to ask Mike and Pawana, the owners of the log village. Hubby was interested in their vision, the children wanted to know more about the animals and I wanted to know more about the food.
|Can you tell us a bit more about you? A strong vision like yours can’t possibly come out of nowhere.|
|Yes no probs! I’m Mike, around about 40, both parents from Scotland but moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands just before I was born so I was raised there. Pawana is from the Indian part of the Himalayas and is 7 years younger than me. She is the first person from her valley of 100,000 people to ever leave India.|
We met out there by chance in 1998. We were both on our way back from the same festival and happened to bump into each other in a village on the way home. We were impressed we knew each other’s language and we became friends. I visited Pawana’s house about 5 times for tea and a meal and then all the locals started chatting that we were going to get married.
There’s no boyfriend/girlfriend culture in the Himalayas so it was serious stuff, a case of either stop being friends or get married! So we decided to get married before we’d even kissed. Nuts eh!? We had a local 3 day long Himalayan wedding with 400 locals and 15 Brits, a honeymoon baby and another one close after and here we are owners of Eagle Brae 15 years later with a son Rowan (14) and Ishbel (12).
I had built a Himalayan style house for myself back in 1993 long before I met Pawana and then Pawana and I built another one for ourselves in 2003/4 so having a bit of experience in building Himalayan mountain homes the original plan at Eagle Brae was to build a Himalayan village called something along the lines of ‘Himalayan Highlands’. The idea had to be canned as the planners didn’t like our Himalayan engineering and the UK border agency didn’t want to issue visas to our Himalayan craftsmen who had never had a passport or a bank account in their lives. So that was that.
We thought to ourselves, ‘What’s the next best thing? Let’s go for the real deal, proper full scribe log cabins’ and here we are! The vision was simply to make the ultimate self-catering experience, to create a destination that we ourselves would like to stay and want for nothing, to celebrate traditional craftsmanship with everything being hand-made like the good old days and enable our guests that sense of escape.
We all live in a production-line world these days so we wanted everything to be hand-crafted to immerse our guests in a hand-crafted environment removed from their everyday lives. We figured this is exactly what everyone is looking for on holiday and it seems to be hitting the right notes so far!
|Why did you choose the eco-friendly route for your log cabins?|
|We wanted to burst the assumption that a green holiday entails roughing it. We wanted to successfully synthesize luxury with a genuine rustic wilderness experience. We wanted to anticipate a future trend for an increasing public concern for the environment and wildlife, and we wanted a smooth run with the planners because planners don’t let you build anything half way up a mountainside unless it’s extremely sensitive to the environment and the surrounding landscape.|
We wanted to try and be as independent as possible and have no utility bills! So we set about coming up with a solution whereby we could generate our own power, heating and water supply. We didn’t quite succeed in this mission in that we have to buy in wood pellets for the biomass boilers (the original idea was to have wood chip boilers and we would produce the chips ourselves) but we nearly got there, and at least the wood pellets still tick the renewable box.
|Pawana, you were born to be a hostess. You are kind, patient, friendly, tending to the needs of your guests beautifully and you always have time for a chat. What do you think contributed to your welcoming manner?|
|I can answer that one! Pawana was born and bred in a guest house! Her mum and dad rented out rooms in their family home to backpackers etc. so from day 1 in Pawana’s life she has been surrounded by European tourists living in her house asking her for this and that. I think this has made looking after guests second nature for Pawana…|
|How many red deer graze on Eagle Brae?|
|It totally depends on the time of year and what’s going on. Eagle Brae is only fenced to the Southeast to keep the deer off the public road but they are free to go to the West coast without any fences if they like! The hinds and calves tend to be hefted to a certain area and we have a group of around 8 or 9 that have become semi-tame and used to us here at Eagle Brae.|
During the summer there are no stags down around the cabins but in winter there can be 50 outside one cabin, especially at night. Stags are a lot more mobile, so a stag here today might have been chomping on seaweed in Applecross 60 miles to the West a month ago! We don’t tend to recognise the stags that often.
Eagle Brae is part of Struy estate which is around 8000 acres and we count the deer from a helicopter once every 3 years. As an average there are usually about 125 stags and 180 hinds and calves when we count. Any of these animals are free to come and entertain the guests in and around the cabins!
|Where are they from? |
Nowhere in particular, there are thousands of red deer all over the Highlands (between 300,000 and 400,000 in Scotland) and the stags particularly move around a lot. They are a very common animal in the Highlands but it is not common to see them near habitation so easily like you can at Eagle Brae. Normally they are very afraid of people, but here at Eagle Brae they seem to tolerate us and don’t seem too scared. They must be picking up on that relaxed Eagle Brae holiday vibe!
|There used to be a young stag with two straight needle-like antlers that we called Chopsticks. But now he’s grown into a big bot we can’t recognise him anymore!|
|Kyla is the friendliest dog we have ever come across. Tell us a bit more about her (children’s request!). |
Kyla is a Bernese Mountain dog (Swiss breed). She is 5 years old and loves everybody! By all accounts nearly all Bernese are very nice characters but we have only ever had one so cant vouch for that. One thing for sure is she doesn’t have a bad bone in her body. You could poke her in the eye and she wouldn’t bite you!
She loves the rain and the snow, the colder the better, which makes sense since she is from the Swiss Alps. She has absolutely no interest in chasing other small animals, doesn’t have the hunter gene at all and running away would be Kyla’s worse nightmare. She’s a human’s companion through and through so she doesn’t need a lead.
She just hangs out at Eagle Brae, does the rounds around the cabins to see who’s cooking bacon and meets and greets people. Great life! She’s the no1 personality at Eagle Brae, and I think we should set her up her own social media accounts!
|What inspired you when creating the homemade dishes guests can buy through the concierge service? |
Again we just wanted our guests to want for nothing, so we thought, “Let’s make it catered self-catering!” If guests are feeling lazy or out for the day, they can order our meals and not have to cook. In terms of ingredients they are all made with our own meats (we keep our own pigs and sheep, and plenty of venison walking around as well (although we never hunt the deer resident around Eagle Brae).
As for the actual recipes, they are just our own family favourite recipes that go down best with us 4. We figured if 4 of us in the family all like something there’s a good chance everyone else will. They are supposed to be high quality comforting home-cooking, not fancy restaurant style. Where else can you buy home cooking?
Thanks a lot for answering all my questions Mike. Kyla was the star of the show with our kids, who are normally quite wary of dogs (especially this big!). We were all pleasantly surprised the deer kept coming so close to the cabins, but we had no idea they were not fenced in! The meal we ordered through your concierge service for an evening with friends was incredible. I would definitely recommend your home-cooked dinners!
Disclosure: We spent three nights at Eagle Brae free of charge. I asked Mike and Pawana whether I could interview them because I was genuinely interested in their vision. All photos: credit Eagle Brae.