EILEAN Donan is up there with the most photographed castles in Scotland, the star of everything from Highlander and James Bond films through to shortbread tins. Often visitors just stop to take a photo and then zoom onwards to the Skye Bridge, but last week I decided to linger a while to see what else the area offers.

57 Nord (www.57nord.co.uk) is the sort of place you want to linger, a brace of new top-end self-catering hideaways. We stayed in Hill House, as it sounds a bit further up the heather-clad hillside. No simple self-catering escape, Hill House is all Grand Designs with a huge central open-plan space bathed in light from wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows. These walls of glass make the most of the views down to Eilean Donan. 

I really appreciated its setting, cloaked in a majestic soar of Highland massifs and sea lochs. Eilean Donan is the most dramatically set castle in the land for me; let’s just not go into that it was only rebuilt in the 1930s. 

Hill House proved the ideal base with a massive kitchen, one of the best equipped I’ve come across on the road in Scotland. Not just all the quality crockery and pans you need, but wee extras like white truffle olive oil and a wine cooler you can opt to buy some decent vintages from. We cooked up a storm here with fresh local eggs, peppery venison salami and smoked salmon from Argyll, with delicious chocolate from the Isle of Skye too.

Our guests were red deer strolling by the windows, otters splashing in the loch and the meteors streaking across the night sky.

The National: Coral Beach.

“There is something about this region of the Scottish Highlands, with its dramatic landscapes, rich history and ancient, often mythical, customs that get under your skin,” Mumtaz Lalani, owner of 57 Nord, told me. “Here you are alone with nature. I think this really resonates with people in today’s world, particularly if you’re living in a big bustling city and are constantly connected  to technology.”

The hamlet of Ardelve, which 57 Nord is tucked above, is home to one of Scotland’s most remarkable bakeries. Manuela’s Wee Bakery is what you get when you marry the setting of Hansel and Gretel with a superb artisan bakery. Wee paths eke around the pools and wackily shaped fairytale-esque buildings in this surreal corner of Skye and Lochalsh. They bake ace bread and the cakes are superb, as is the gin you can buy here from the tiny distillery.

Pushing north we headed for my favourite beach in the Plockton area, known simply as Coral Beach. On a sky-splittingly blue day, it looked positively Caribbean, the fine 
white coral gleaming by aquarium-clear waters. Swimming, even in early autumn,  was irresistible.

This refreshing dip was rewarded with lunch at my Plockton go-to. We tucked into Plockton Prawns (actually hulking langoustines) and squat lobster tails at the Plockton Hotel, washed down with a pint from the Glen  Spean Brewing Co just down the road in the Great Glen.

The National: View from 57 Nord Eilean Donan.

Plockton may really struggle with housing due to the prevalence of second-home owners, but it always looks winningly pretty. I was desperate to visit after rewatching the first episode of Hamish Macbeth at 57 Nord the night before. Watching it reinforced that arguably Plockton is the prettiest village on Scotland’s entire west coast. And that is really saying something.

We pushed west too, with Skye looming large on the horizon with its epic amphitheatre of the Cuillin mountains trying to steal the show. I was determined to resist the temptation to cross the Skye Bridge. Instead we stopped at Duirinish. 

The common grazing Highlands cows may be lost to Plockton, but those gorgeous beasts still saunter happily round the streets of this crofting community. Savour superb cake and coffee at the Croft Café and you know you’re putting money back into the community too.

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With that ace kitchen at 57 Nord, we only ate one meal out. It was a corker. The Black Sheep Hotels guys have done a brilliant job of reinvigorating the landmark Cluanie Inn. This whitewashed inn sits in the midst of an epic vault of mountainous scenery, Munros struggle hard against each other for supremacy on a scarcely believable skyline. 

Down below we cosily tucked into dinner while deer peered through the window at us. I kicked off with a seafood medley of scallops, mussels and prawns, followed by a delicious dal makhani. The pecan pie was a comforting nod to autumn.

All too soon it was time to turn tail south again after a long weekend wrapped in the charms of Skye and Lochalsh. We may have been right by Eilean Donan, but we didn’t even pop in once, such are the wealth of charms in the area around one of Scotland’s most photographed castles.