Novar Estate, Ross-shire
Driven partridges, salmon fishing, grouse over pointers, walked-up woodcock, sika and red stalking, and first-class accommodation.
Driving through the deer park on arrival - holding some 300 fallow, including several magnificent bucks - you get the immediate impression that you are in for something special. Any remaining doubt is then swept aside as the pastel yellow building of Ardtalla bursts into view.
Sitting at the heart of the 20,000-acre sporting estate, this conversion of the original 18th century stable square was the efficacious opus of owners Ronald and Erica Munro Ferguson. And the results are truly fantastic.
Adjacent to the building is Novar's immaculate five-acre walled garden, complete with tennis court and croquet lawn, where much of the produce for the lodge is grown.
Inside, unabashed comfort is a given. Little wonder that the house also plays host to numerous weddings and parties throughout the year. Nine en suite bedrooms ensure space for a large party, which, given the huge variety of sport available with rod and gun, is just as well.
In addition to Ardtalla, Novar also has three smaller holiday cottages from which to explore the estate.
The Munros of Novar are descended from John Munro, 1st of Milntown, who in turn was the second son of Hugh Munro, 9th Baron of Foulis (d.1425). The lands of the Novar Estate were acquired in 1589 from Keith of Delny by Neil Munro of Swordale, whose brother Andrew Munro was the ancestor of the Novar branch of the Clan Munro.
The current family house and estate are largely the creation of Sir Hector Munro, 8th of Novar (1726 - 1805), who made his name and fortune in India as an officer and director of the British East India Company.
Over four centuries on from the initial acquisition, the estate remains in the Munro family, currently owned and managed by Ronald and Erica Munro Ferguson.
Utilising some 1,500 acres, keepers Roland van Oyen and Sam Milne have crafted 12 drives, varying from short, explosive cover chunks with Guns snap-shooting from beside a peaty burn, to moorland beats where birds soar high over the line dotted along a deep ravine, and even butts where partridges are driven like grouse.
To read an article on shooting at Novar, click HERE.?
Novar has six beats on the River Alness, each about a mile of double bank fishing with 15-20 named pools. The five-year average for Novar Fishing Rods is 360 salmon and grilse, with the peak of the runs generally from mid-July until the end of October. And when the water is right, believe me you are in for some euphoric sport.
To read an article on fishing at Novar, click HERE.?
Where variety is the spice of the driven shoot, this too can be applied to the stalking. The estate offers opportunities to pursue reds on the hill, and sika and roe in the forest - usually from a high seat.
The views across the Black Isle add to the magical experience of hill stalking - seemingly cut off from the helter skelter of everyday life, it is hard to believe the estate is only 20 minutes from Inverness.
Spring counts allowing, the moor also offers exhilarating sport in the way of walked-up grouse over pointers for guests staying at Ardtalla. Like much of the Highlands, grouse have suffered dramatic population diminutions, however, bags of up to 10 brace have been achieved in recent seasons.
In addition to stalking, the driven shoot and the salmon fishing, the estate also has some fabulous rough shooting.
The abundance of thick forest dissected by rides and clearfells provide perfect habitat for woodcock - something that huge numbers take advantage of every autumn - and walked-up days deliver testing and truly exhilarating sport.
And given the estate's setting on the Cromarty Firth, with the right katabatic gales, the wildfowling can be truly awesome.
A few years back, with sideways rain and a bitter wind keeping the sane behind doors, I joined five Guns on the estate's wee moorland loch. The action was constant, with teal and mallard visible as pin-sized dots over the estuary growing ever bigger. After a 45-minute fusillade we called it a day with 19 in the bag.
Loch fishing for brown trout can also be arranged on the estate, with some large specimens having been caught on Loch Morie.
If, by some mad chance, you fancy a break from wielding a rod or gun, there is a wealth of other activities in the locality to fill your day.
The estate has over 150 miles of tracks that are ideal for walking or mountain biking. A two-mile hike from Ardtalla leads you to Fyrish Monument, with fantastic bird watching en route. Sticking with culture, the castles of Dunrobin, Cawdor, Urquhart or Eilan Donan are well worth a visit to discover some of the turbulent history that unfolded in this part of Scotland.
And for when the weather restricts fishing from dawn till dusk, there are 21 golf courses within an hour's drive, including Royal Dornoch, Nairn, Brora and Tain.