A Highland celebration

Forter Castle, a scottish highland destination owned by the Pooley family

The Bonnie House of Arlie

Forter Castle came into my family’s possession in the late 1980s when my beloved father, Robert, realised his dream of restoring a piece of Scottish history. He had been hiking past the castle ruins along the Cateran Trail and was inspired to restore it to its original glory.

A tower of fire-blackened stone with two mature trees growing through its centre, the way marker along this ancient route had seen better days. He insisted upon recreating the original layout, and careful observation of scarring in the stones gave subtle clues to the past structure. My family worked together to find the most experienced craftspeople from all over Scotland and sourced authentic materials and antiques to dress the unique spaces found in the castle today.

Forter Castle holds a special place in my heart for celebrating family milestones, and I am delighted others can embrace the same sentiment for their significant occasions with many couples choosing it as the location for their wedding. As we dive headfirst into the festive season and reflect, taking a moment to appreciate all that we are grateful for, I am very thankful for the journeys I have shared with my family. Whether travelling abroad or nestling in the countryside, we always make space for quality time, and I am filled to the brim with gratitude that we get to share meals, laughter and memories year after year.

A Christmas tree setting in a Scottish highland castle as designed by katharine pooley

The Great Hall

At the heart of Forter is our Great Hall which spans the length of the castle. An inlet log fireplace dominates one side whilst mahogany shelving displaying antique books borders the other. A sweeping dining table for sixteen is the centrepiece of the room and the setting where we have celebrated many occasions.

Looking up, a painted ceiling mural depicts the traditional Scottish song “The Bonnie House of Airlie.” I commissioned artist Jenny Merredew to create the piece. The ballad recalls the destruction of Forter Castle and my brother Sebastian often amusingly belts out the ballad at family gatherings.

There is nothing I love more than preparing a roast in the morning, allowing it to slow-cook as we spend the day walking in the surrounding hills and then returning as the sun begins to set to dress the table ready for a formal sit-down supper.

A red pepper souffle as made by a recipe by the UK's best interior designer - katharine pooley

Now recipes – everyone has a favourite, everyone has experimented to create their own special dish. I’ve been collecting recipes from all corners of the globe for most of my life (also publishing  a cookbook before opening my studio!) and I only have one kitchen rule – take pleasure in every dish. It is so important to cook with love!

I would love to take this opportunity to share a quick recipe with you: Roast Red Pepper Soufflé. This great-tasting dish is easy to make yet looks impressive at any dinner party, served either in one large dish or in small ramekins.

Roast Red Pepper Soufflé
50g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
40g plain flour
1.5 cup milk
slice of onion or 1/2 shallot
280g red bell peppers, roasted skinned and seeded
1tsp tomato juice
1tsp lemon juice
white pepper
50g parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites at room temperature
sea salt

Onion Marmalade
680g red onions
40g unsalted butter
85g demerara sugar
1.5 tbsp crème de cassis
2.5 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp salt

1. Butter and chill four ramekins. Melt more butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, then gently cook the flour until there is a nutty smell. Set aside.

2. Warm the milk gently with onion or shallot and allow to infuse for 15 minutes off the heat. Chop the roasted bell peppers roughly, then puree in a food processor, adding tomato and lemon juice.

3. Warm the butter and flour mixture then remove from heat and add strained milk, then add pepper pureè stirring constantly. Add a little white pepper to taste if required.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring regularly  for about 40 minutes, when the texture should be noticeably lighter.

5. Place to grated Parmesan in a heatproof glass bowl and add the pepper mixture; fold together until the cheese is blended. Cool. Beat the egg yolks and add to the pepper mixture.

6. Beat the egg whites until frothy, then add a pinch of salt and a pinch of cream of tartar. Continue to beat until firm peaks form.

7. Blend the egg white with a whisk into pepper mix, then fold in the remainder with a spatula. Fill up the ramekins smoothing the tops with a palette knife. Loosen the mixture from the sides with the knife.

8. Cook for 25 minutes in a roasting tray filled 2/3 of the way up with boiling water in a pre-heated oven at 190 degrees Celsius. They should be well raised and slightly browned.

9. Serve immediately with a spoonful of onion marmalade!

Onion Marmalade
Peel and finely slice the onions, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and sweat the onions gently until softened but not coloured. Add the other ingredients and cook uncovered on low heat, stirring occasionally for about 90 minutes until the mixture becomes moist and soft

Christmas door at Katharine Pooley's scottish castle

The architecture of the castle

Forter Castle was originally built in the traditional L-shape of a 16th-century fortified residence. It consists of a main block with a wing projecting from the southeast corner. Interestingly, the staircase is the wrong way around as John Ogilvy, the man who built Forter, was left-handed so he had the staircase designed to suit him. The ground floor of the castle was divided into two cellars and a kitchen where the dungeon would have originally been located.

These days our castle features an antler candelabra and crystal goblets glimmering below wrought iron chandeliers. Swords by Pooley Sword are mounted above the fireplace. Elsewhere, a narrow spiral staircase leads to five bedrooms named after each sibling with the spectacular Laird’s Room boasting dramatic views of the Highlands. A king-sized four-poster Ralph Lauren bed is canopied with cranberry silk.

The rich history of Forter creates an exceptionally unique holiday destination. With a limited number of bookings, we have opened the castle for weekend and week-long rentals throughout the year. For more information click through to the website.

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