“Ah, what have we got here,” Mitchell Partridge says with a glint in his eye as he jumps into a thicket of what, to the untrained eye, looks like a patchwork of half-dead plants heading into hibernation for the winter. “Aha!” he shouts, pulling a thread of leaves from the ground to reveal three snow-white roots. “This is hemlock,” he says, passing it around for us all to smell. “It smells like celery, don’t you think? It’s also incredibly poisonous. Eat some of this and you’ll be dead in twenty minutes. It’s the plant that was used to kill Socrates.”

We move a little further down the path and, not five minutes later, he jumps into another scrag of leaves, returning with a branch laden with bright red berries, not dissimilar to cranberries. “This is foxglove,” he says. “You eat one of these and your heart will slow into cardiac arrest. You’ll be dead by tomorrow.” Right, I think, looking at the stretch of immense greenery with a newfound sense of suspicion.

In contrast to Mitchell’s findings, this corner of the Isle of Skye we’re currently visiting is one full of abundant life. A short wander down the water’s edge after we’ve been suitably cautioned on the perils of foraging, we set up with a long-range scope and a series of binoculars, prepared to trawl the water and surrounding headlands for any signs of life. Boy, do we get lucky. A commotion of water on the horizon appears, at closer glance, to be a couple of dolphins playing near the water’s surface, feeding on the fish that inhabit this incredibly fertile sea loch. Birds leap and play along the shoreline, and seals bob and glide through the brackish water.

We’re sitting in an inlet on the shores of Loch na Dal, having set out from Kinloch Lodge just an hour earlier – the former hunting lodge turned hotel which calls this remote slice of Skye home. Arriving 48 hours earlier on a frigid November afternoon, the sun was starting to slip below the horizon at just 3:30pm, turning the sky various shades of candied pink. It seems that in the 620-odd miles we had travelled from London – first by plane to Inverness airport, and then by car for 2.5 hours – winter had well and truly arrived, while autumn was still holding court down south, with lingering balmy days.

The purpose of our trip is the hotel’s recent collaboration with Torabhaig Distillery, the second of its kind to open on Skye. People come to Scotland for many reasons, but without a doubt two of the biggest are its spectacular natural surroundings and Scotch whisky. Kinloch has the former by the bucketload, and Torabhaig are in the process of establishing themselves as a market leader in the latter, so the partnership was intuitive.

The edifice that houses Kinloch Lodge is a sight to behold as you round the corner and spot it across the bay. First built in the mid-1600s on land that has been under the stewardship of Clan Donald for much longer, the building operated as a shooting lodge for a while, before the MacDonald family turned it into a hotel sometime in the 50s. However, it wasn’t until Godfrey MacDonald and his wife Claire inherited the lodge from his father upon his passing in the early 1970s that it became a hotel in the modern sense, with hot water and comfortable beds and that intangible, indefinable sense of warmth and hospitality that comes from a good host.

Birds leap and play along the shoreline, and seals glide through the brackish water

It’s this feeling that first washes over you when you step into Kinloch Lodge for the first time, not least because the current owner, Isabella MacDonald, daughter of Godfrey, is one of the most natural hospitalitarians I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard not to be immediately swept up in the quiet luxury of it all, the sudden and all-consuming feeling that, at least for the time you’re within its four walls, Kinloch Lodge is going to look after you and do it extremely well. It's just in their nature.

Isabella – in fact, all of the MacDonald children – were raised in the Kinloch Lodge house, so hosting guests to her really is like welcoming them into her home. She tells stories of taking guest bookings over the phone as a kid and failing to ever write them down in a book, leading to people showing up months down the line with the expectation they would have a room and a perplexed Godfrey and Claire. While Isabella left for London for a few years to experience the big wide world, she ultimately returned to Skye at just 27 and, over the period of a few years, slowly assumed the running and modernistaion of the lodge from her parents.

Given the emphasis whisky has on the weekend, our experience fittingly starts with a Penicillin cocktail by the fire in the living room, kicking off a 48-hour period in which I don’t think my blood alcohol levels drop below 90% at any point. With plush couches and decades-old family heirlooms and artworks (including a painting of Isabella herself as a tot), it really does feel like you’ve upped and plonked yourself right in the middle of her charming home.

Following a quick refresh after the long journey, we head into the dining room for dinner, a feast of epic proportions, featuring everything from langoustines and hand-dived scallops to venison two ways and a cheese plate that seems like a grand tour of the country’s best fromagers. The food throughout the weekend is similarly impressive. The menu changes each day – and not just subtle permutations of the same dishes, either. Each day’s food offerings are as original and unique as they are a distillation of the environment around us and a representation of the seasons.

The kitchen at Kinloch is overseen by chef Jordan Webb who, along with Isabella, has worked hard to develop a culinary programme that puts the abundant local larder front and centre, focusing on modern interpretations of Scottish food – free, presumably, given we all survived, from the worrisome plants Partridge points out to us on our foraging sessions.

Our first morning at the lodge commences with piping hot bowls of porridge loosened up with a nip of Torabhaig, before whopping plates of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs are trotted out. It’s welcome fuel, as my morning kicked off a couple of hours earlier with a sunrise jog along the surrounding roads, at first squinting to see in the shadowy dawn light and then, all of a sudden, stopping every few metres to marvel as the horizon began to lighten and everything came into high definition; babbling brooks, dense, eerie forests and the golden hue of the bay that I would, just half an hour later, be plunging myself into with reckless abandon, attempting to ignore the arctic water temperatures.

I don't think my blood alcohol levels drop below 90% at any point across the 48 hours

Our multi-course breakfast was necessary to line our stomachs, too. Packing off into a series of taxis, we take the short drive through burgundy landscapes, ablaze with autumnal hues almost sparkling in the unseasonably clear weather, to the Torabhaig distillery for a tasting of the distillery’s portfolio. Facing the issues that any new distillery encounters, namely a complete lack of product in an industry that prioritises aged liquid, Torabhaig took a unique approach. Once they had perfected the whisky they wanted to put down in barrels for a decade until they could release their first core product – Torabhaig 10-Year-Old, slated for release in 2028 – they decided to bottle and sell the experimental liquids they had tinkered with along the way, one for each year from 2021 until 2028.

It’s good whisky, too. Peated, but not overwhelmingly so, the liquid is almost creamy – a mellow hit of vanilla and burnt caramel with a residual brininess, a testament to the distillery’s location on the water. As global brand manager Bruce Perry says, “you cannot distil somewhere and not capture an essence of that place.” It seems particularly apt drinking this smoky whisky when the colours of Skye in the autumn seem to be on fire.

Returning to the lodge that evening after a picnic lunch overlooking the distillery on the grounds of the ruins of Caisteal Chamuis warmed by whisky macs and the late winter sun, we settle into the front bar for a fireside cocktail session – mixing with Torabhaig, naturally. I opt for a Rob Roy, the simplicity of the classic allowing the smokiness of the Scotch to shine through perfectly. It may be the lubricating effects of an afternoon of cask-strength drams, but I find myself feeling a kind of nostalgia at the idea that I have to head back to London. Kinloch Lodge feels magic in a way – as if all the centuries of the lodge’s life have fused together to form one timeless period with no discernible beginning or end. It is, of course, 2023 when I’m there – the WiFi and the quality of the food prove as such – but take away the iPhones and it could easily be 1750 or 1863, or even the 1970s – with a young Isabella growing up around you.

It’s this feeling that takes over again on my morning run the following day, the shadows of oncoming traffic morphing to, for a minute, look like carriages, and the rustling of trees seeming to imply a feathery presence – it is believed that the woods around this part of Skye were once home to giants and fairies before humans rolled in. That evening on the front lawn, cuddled around a brazier for warmth as a kilt-clad man plays the bagpipes, the sky breaks open in a subtle mirage of colour for a few minutes – the Northern Lights, ever so delicately dancing around the edges of the haphazard clouds. Call me crazy – or call it too much whisky – but it felt like confirmation that this little pocket of Skye is special.