Those who love nature and untamed places will enjoy Killiehuntly as a slow travel destination like no other. The remote 1,618-hectare estate lies within the majestic Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands, about 64km south of Inverness and 6km from the hamlet of Kingussie. And what was once a 17th-century farmhouse is now a luxury, four-room guest house with communal living and dining spaces, and self-catering cottages. Each has been tastefully decorated in a style that combines Scottish ruggedness with Scandinavian warmth.
After chatting with the cook and other guests over a scrumptious breakfast (blackberries, apple compote, dried figs, granola with yogurt and Scottish smoked salmon, asparagus, and a poached egg), I explore the Caledonian pine forests, lakes and glens surrounding the farmhouse with my ham, cheese and chutney sandwich and homemade flapjack in a brown paper bag tied with string. Along the way, I see a black grouse and a red squirrel, and I am awed by the magic of ancient woodlands and lochs coming back to life.
Killiehuntly is one of 13 Scottish estates managed by Wildland Limited, a hospitality and nature conservation group owned by Danish billionaire and fashion mogul Anders Holch Povlsen. The CEO of multibillion-pound fashion company Bestseller, the largest stakeholder in British online fashion retailer ASOS, and the richest man in Denmark, he purchased his first Scottish estate Glenfeshie in 2007 and refurbished the estate’s lodge that was built around 1880. Today, the Glenfeshie Lodge—featured in The Crown and The Queen—is just one of many properties available for rental through Wildland.
In total, Polvsen has bought around 93ha of private estates in Scotland since then. That is more land in the UK than the Queen and the Church of Scotland combined. On these estates, historic mansions, farmhouses and cottages have been meticulously restored and transformed into luxurious, off-grid, private self-catering lodges, event venues and bed and breakfast accommodations that employ locals and provide economic revival in these rural parts of Scotland. Wildland’s tourism business profits go towards nature conservation.
Polvsen’s goal with Wildland is to help “rewild” and “repeople” Scotland by restoring woodland and marine habitats and creating hospitality jobs within small rural communities near his estates. The ancient Scottish lairds destroyed the natural landscape for farming and hunting, which led to deforestation and the loss of native wildlife. Wildland plans to undo this with an ecological rehabilitation for the Scottish Highlands.
In an interview with Britain’s The Sunday Times, Polvsen said, “This [the Highlands] is not a natural environment any more. When you’re out there, there’s only heather, heather, heather. In some places, you will not be able to see a single tree for miles. Then we dig into the peat, and you will find it used to be a forest, and not only that, we can change it back to its splendour and natural state.”
To achieve Polvsen’s goal, the Wildland team has removed overgrazing sheep and planted more than four million trees across all the estates.
“We wish to restore our parts of the Highlands to their former magnificent natural state and repair the harm man has inflicted on them. Not just the land itself, but also the other parts of Scotland’s rich heritage for which we are now custodians. There are many vulnerable properties in our holdings that we have the wonderful and privileged opportunity to rehabilitate and restore to life. There are also archaeologically important structures that we have the responsibility to protect,” said Polvsen.
Among them are Aldourie Castle, a classic example of Scottish baronial architecture on the shores of Loch Ness, Kinloch Lodge—formerly the private shooting lodge of the Dukes of Sutherland— and Lundies House, a stone rectory built in 1842 in Sutherland, a historic county along Scotland’s scenic North Coast route.
Polvsen, who spent many childhood holidays with his family in Scotland, has a deep connection with the land. “This land moves me, it motivates me. Here in Scotland, it feels like we are at the vanguard of something,” he said.
Using tourism and conservation together, he hopes to regenerate the natural environment and improve the quality of life for the local residents.
It may seem romantic to imagine wealthy Highland clans, but Polvsen believes this idea is misplaced. “Yes, in some of the glens there might have been many families, but they had an impoverished life. The future of many places in the Highlands needs to be reimagined, and we hope conservation will be a part of this,” he said.
As I make my way back to the farmhouse for afternoon tea, I wonder if I will be lucky enough to spot a pine marten. Maybe when I return here in the future, when the woods have become wild and hospitable enough for more animal species, I might even see the lynx, which has been extinct for at least 500 years in the Highlands.
Planning a holiday? Here’s your guide to travel rules around the world: Click here.