Anna Bance talks about her love of Scottish tweed and Scottish delicacies, all housed under one roof in Perthshire.

There is one place that has been on my mind since regrettably not having time to visit, when I was north of the border, on the enchanting west coast of Scotland last year. Ever since, I have been dreaming of a return to the highlands, and luckily this particular location has an addictive online shop to alternatively use in the meantime.

I am not alone. The House of Bruar must be doing something special to become a retail destination in such a magical remote spot. Situated more than 80 miles north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, halfway to Inverness and at the edge of Cairngorms National Park, the luxury country clothing store sells the best of Scotland in Scotland and is a mecca for anyone such as myself, that loves everything about the countryside.

Built on the site of what had previously been a quiet country pub situated at the foot of the historic Falls of Bruar, this 100,000 square foot retail business now attracts over 1.5 million visitors a year, in 11 acres at the foot of the Cairngorms, and sells everything from £16,000 paintings of the Highlands to £5.99 smoked salmon.

Founded by 65-year-old Mark Birkbeck in 1993 from the sale of his successful Jumpers chain of high street clothing shops in the 1980s, he doesn’t mind invariably getting called the Harrods of the North. "Mind it? I don't care if they call me the Al-Fayed of the A9, as long as they keep coming."

Those people travelling up the A9 to visit include The Duchess of Cornwall, or The Duchess of Rothesay as she’s known north of the border, who visited Bruar last month.

Together with his wife Linda, Mark had a clear vision to stock quality clothing, fine food and gifts. They saw a unique gap in the market to sell an aspirational, aristocratic country lifestyle for everyone – classic tweed, cashmere and lambswool.

The concept proved to be an instant success, bringing together the top brands in the country clothing world to create a shop window for Scotland where tourists and travellers could see the best of what Scotland has to offer - an invaluable showcase, helping to grow Scotland’s reputation as a producer of high quality textile manufacturing on an international stage.

The store continues to draw in visitors from throughout the UK and across the world. The high volume of tourists who have visited The House of Bruar over the years means that profits from the business have been ploughed back into the store, allowing for a series of investments and expansions. A 600-seat restaurant, Food Hall, Delicatessen, Butchery, Homewares and Cook Shop, as well as expansive Menswear and Ladieswear departments which house the largest collection of cashmere clothing anywhere in the UK, if not Europe!. Also an art gallery, a fishing tackle shop

...and an exciting recent addition, a fish and chip shop where you can choose your lobster from the tank and have it battered, grilled, thermadored, whichever you wish.

It is important to the Birkbecks that Bruar represents the best of traditional Scottish industry. Much of their Tweed collection is sold under their own brand, with exclusive designs produced from authentic Harris Tweed under the auspices of Bruar’s own buying team. Although Mark has taken a back seat from the day to day management of Bruar, he is still fundamental in the design decisions. He and his youngest son, Tom, design the collections, alongside brands such as Barbour, Seeland, Musto, Beretta, Schoffel and Mackintosh.

And after all that shopping? The House of Bruar food hall is one of the focal points. Scottish food and drink – the best in the world fish, seafood, meat, game, fruit, cheese, shortbread, preserves, honey, whisky and gin. The emphasis is on fresh, quality and organic produce sourced locally, across Scotland and the British Isles: bread from local Dunkeld bakery, seasonal asparagus, Orkney crab, Highland venison and speciality Foie Gras, Confit du canard, Terrines and Cassoulet from Clos du Marquis, Hampshire. As well as stocking well known brands such as Inverawe smoked salmon, Walkers shortbread, Brodies tea and Blackwood gin, there are now own brand products.

With Balmoral only a 60-mile drive to the Cairngorms, may be The Duchess of Cornwall will be making a visit for some wedding gifts.

I hope to be heading up the A9 very soon, and like both the locals, and visitors from afar who return all year round, I cannot wait for this charming white building to appear into view through the mist of the Scottish hillsides. Of course stopping first for a hearty Scottish meal in their country kitchen style restaurant before I begin my shopping.

January 2018

Anna Bance