A classic Scottish catch! World-class fishing is just one of the joys on offer at this historic Highlands estate
- Hugo Brown checks in to the two-bedroom Butlers cottage on the Mayen Estate
- ‘There’s a warmth to the Mayen Estate, impossible to manufacture,’ he observes
- He fishes in the River Deveron before tucking into a picnic on the riverbank
Something changes when driving North. The snaking tails of cars begin to thin; greens and browns meet golds and purples; gentle hills become hard, steep mountains; we’re greeted by rivers and lochs.
Crossing the border into Scotland and hitting the highlands feels like an ascension.
All of this is on show at the approach to the Mayen Estate, which perches on a hill in the Deveron Valley overlooking a stretch of the famous river of the same name. The estate is in Milltown of Rothiemay on the border of Moray and Aberdeenshire. Built in 1788, it is surrounded by 700 acres of land and a magnificent walled garden. It’s an isolated spot but the Cairngorms National Park, Moray’s coast and Speyside Whiskey country are all within striking distance.
Casting off: The River Deveron, which is overlooked by Mayen Estate in Milltown of Rothiemay
The Cheyne family bought the estate nine years ago and, during lockdown, converted six cottages into holiday lets. It’s a family endeavor made possible through the collaboration of Alfie and Valerie with their daughter Bethany.
Indeed, Valerie has spent the day escorting Princess Anne, as part of her role with Visit Aberdeenshire but, hours later, is showing us around two-bedroom Butlers cottage. It’s both clever and charming and suits my family (my brother and parents) plus Great Dane Mungo and Miniature Dachshund Tiggy perfectly.
My father’s family was from Aberdeenshire. In fact, my grandfather is buried nearby in Laurencekirk and my great-grandfather, after returning from World War I blind and missing a leg, started a menswear shop in Stonehaven.
Hugo reveals that his father’s family was from Aberdeenshire – his great-grandfather started a menswear shop in Stonehaven (pictured)
A trip to Scotland with my family inevitably involves fishing and the estate’s stretch of the Deveron opened to the public in 2020. This river is where the largest salmon in the UK was caught on fly when on October 21, 1924, Clementina ‘Tiny’ Morison caught a 61 lb fish. Most would consider around 25 lb the catch of a lifetime in Scotland.
We are less successful than she was. Between us we catch one salmon of around 5 lb (or rather my brother does, but he is a Ghillie so that’s my excuse).
Many seem to agree that 2021 was one of the worst years for salmon fishing and the situation is only getting worse. It’s a strange thought that perhaps in 20 years or so catching a Scottish salmon might be an impossibility.
Hugo and his family feast on a picnic of sandwiches, scotch eggs, cakes and home-blended tea on the banks of the River Deveron (pictured)
Our luck changes on the riverbank at lunch catered by Willows Tearoom (deskfordgardengalleries.com). It’s a feast with sandwiches, scotch eggs, cakes, scones, pastries and home-blended tea. The odd sandwich is sent Mungo’s way who agrees that this is a cracking picnic. And the fine food continues into the evening at the Forbes Arms Hotel which serves generous pub dishes.
Home away from home is such a well-worn cliché but there’s a warmth to the Mayen Estate, impossible to manufacture. Hidden among the trees, cradled by hills, wading in waist-high water, it’s easy to forget that there’s anything else going on in the world.
And that is probably why my parents have booked to return for a week this summer.