The Benmore Estate is a '32,000 acre adventure playground for sporting enthusiasts' — as the owners describe it — on the Isle of Mull, at the heart of which is a quite beautiful property: Knock House.
Most holidays to Scotland’s magnificent far-flung reaches tend to offer either Highland splendour or coastal beauty. Not Benmore: it brings both. Its blend of spectacular scenery with a coastal location is truly special.
And at the heart of the estate is Knock House, a very special place indeed. This classic West Highland sporting lodge is full of charm and history, a place to relax with family or friends in a gorgeously traditional place, yet one full of modern comforts among scenery which is second to none. From the windows the house offers stunning lookouts over the surrounding hills and forests thick with deer, and lochs where seals and otters hunt for their prey, keeping a safe distance from the minke whales, dolphins, orcas and basking sharks that stalk the deep Hebridean sea in summer.
There are soft beds and fast wi-fi, but in truth those who come to this extraordinary place come for a break from a modern world of screens, phones and traffic to enjoy a place that’s a step back in time, according to owner Tim Radford. ‘It’s the world as it was 200 years ago, so raw and unspoilt,’ he says.
Yet just as much of a draw as the beautiful nature in this exquisitely beautiful part of Scotland is the house itself. The estate was held until 1650 by the MacLeans of Duart, who’d received it from King James IV, but who turned it over to the Archibald Campbell, Marquess of Argyll, in about 1650. The Marquesses of Argyll became Dukes of Argyll in 1701, holding on to this much-loved land and building the Georgian hunting lodge.
Much of the lodge was built in the next century, however, when the ninth Duke of Argyll gave the house to his new wife, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter Princess Louise. The two were married in 1871 and the Duke had the house extensively expanded as a wedding present for his royal bride. Given that connection, it’s no surprise to hear that Queen Victoria herself is among the many illustrious visitors to an island which has entranced everyone from Wordsworth and Keats to JM Barrie and Sir Walter Scott.
We caught up with Tim Radford, who has owned the Benmore Estate since 2004, to ask him a few things about this enchanted spot.
Knock House is full of history; what aspect of it fascinates you most?
I love the continued sense of family and tradition at Knock House and the Benmore Estate. Whether you go right back to the mid 15th century when Knock and the surrounding lands belonged to the MacLeans of Duart, through to the Marquesses and subsequent Dukes of Argyll who went on to own Knock House, each chapter holds a unique family story which in turn shaped the house as it stands today. John Marquess of Lorne, the 9th Duke of Argyll married Princess Louise – Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter – and gifted his Royal bride the large Victorian extensions to the house which lend it so much character to this day. Every generation writes a new chapter in the estates history – and so the story continues.
Can you give us a feel of what to expect from a week at Knock House?
Benmore is clearly a wildlife haven, and you must have seen some extraordinary things. What is your favourite wildlife spotting moment?
The wildlife at Benmore is never dull and there is always something to amaze you. You can see kingfishers darting up and down the river, dolphins leaping alongside you on the boat, whales, basking sharks and orcas swimming along while out on the sea, golden eagles and sea eagles soaring high above the cliffs hunting for their food, magnificent stags roaring in the rut, the otters playing and scavenging for food along the coast or the salmon jumping in the loch… Take your pick! I have had so many wonderful days watching the wildlife it is really difficult to pick a favourite but if pushed I think it would have to be watching the comedic puffins on Lunga!
What sort of thing can people expect to get up to on a family holiday at Benmore?
I’ve been coming to Knock House since I was 10 years old and have many wonderful childhood memories of afternoons fishing for salmon, climbing Benmore, lobster potting, mackerel fishing, crabbing, playing beach rounders, barbecuing on Iona, stalking, walking the hill, picnicking at the bothy on Loch Ba or spending the day skate fishing with my father and brothers. There is always so much to do on the estate.
Is there a particular experience that no visitor should miss?
The wonderful thing about the Knock House and the estate is it’s location on the West Coast of Mull and its access to the many island jewels that make up the Hebrides. The freedom of discovering these islands and this magical coastline onboard our estate boat – The Benmore Lady – is an experience that never fails to disappoint and one of which I never tire.
Benmore brings together history, tradition, wildlife and sport against the magnificent backdrop of Mull. But what’s your favourite corner of the island beyond the estate itself?
Without a doubt, my favourite corner of Mull beyond the estate is the beautiful and charming island of Iona. There is a peace and serenity to this island that affects everyone who visits. Its beautiful white sandy beaches and turquoise sea have attracted so many artists over the years, while the Abbey provides a stunning location for reflection and learning — it’s the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, where St Columba settled and chose to build the first Christian abbey. It is a beautiful island and has a wonderful and very special atmosphere.
The Benmore Estate is running six luxury breaks in the spring and summer of 2021 to help people further the