I had been promised all sorts of delights up in Aviemore. The Micklethwaites decamped from east London last summer when their grandmother died, leaving them as the only family members who wanted to hang on to the house. And hanging on they are, with all the rambling inventiveness that is reflected everywhere in the house. I am greeted like a long lost friend and can't believe my luck when I'm given the most desirable room in the whole place, Lairded over by an enormous Princess and the Pea style bed.
The grand tour of Inshriach is fabulous and poignant all at once. There is the air about it of a Nancy Mitford novel...mixed with Enid Blyton and a bit of Noel Streatfield. All the rooms have names and relate to the time when it was a fully functioning upstairs/downstairs kinda place. There's a nursery - complete with old Beano annuals and metal nursery beds, then we have the housekeeper's room, the French maid's room, loads of other bedrooms, bathrooms and, my personal favourite, the 'poor room'. Here we find a bare bulbed, crumpled bed, curtainless hovel which, if made a feature of, could be a deciding factor for parties looking to rent the house. Imagine this, a whacky old pile up in the Highlands, surrounded by great rollicking grouse moors, the River Spey and endless Douglas Firs, and replete with themed bedrooms just crying out 'role play'!
The dining room is being brought out of storage and a big feast is under way. There are loads of great strapping lads everywhere with names like Hamish and Angus and lots of activity - people returning from fishing trips, gin and tonics being made, kitchen table laptopping, pheasants being prepared. I position myself amongst it with a large G&T and get to work on the nights treat - hot chocolate fudge pudding. The crowd looks pleased. I size the Aga up and worry how it might cope with the responsibility of cooking it in time.
We eat dinner by soft candle light. We're a depleted group because most of them are glued to the Champion's League. The pheasant is served with broccoli and a kind of frozen med veg medley - Walter swears by it - along with healthy dollops of redcurrant jelly. We knock back bargain red wine bought from Tesco in Aviemore and talk about fly fishing, festivals and what the rental guests will require from the house that's not already there (duvets and a dishwasher, we decide).
The pud takes forever - long enough for us all to watch Man U grab it from Chelsea - but when the moment comes there is a roar of joy. This is a real, proper, straight up and down pudding and is entirely befitting of this kind of log fired, sheets and blanket kind of scenario. I lug the beast over to the hot plate and set about plunging a silver serving spoon through its top and into the molten underbelly. We cover our helpings with double cream and all have seconds. It is like getting into a warm bed on a cold night and there are eyes closed with pleasure as I scan the table.
I can't resist spending two nights when they insist. "You can't just be here for a night!" cried Walter "We've got to go fishing and swimming in the river and eat more cake and play squash". Cripes. And not only that but the house makes me want to curl up on a chair somewhere - in the Orangerie or the Cluedo-esque library - and devour novels and fill journals. It feels far far away from time or place; that very special Scottish sort of feeling of really and truly getting away from it all.
So the next day or so is spent doing all of this, as well as lots of congregating round the kitchen table and discussing minutae and rifling through granny's old utensils. We make pancakes from the eggs laid in the garden and talk about their friend who's training to be a spy. A course in international espionage - imagine! The house will be ready for rental soon and I'm already thinking of which 16 special people I'd like to take up there with me for a week - and who might be best suited to the 'poor room'...