He is a Scottish laird and a baronet, the master of seven languages, the author of a dozen books. In his time he has served as a professional diplomat and Tory MP, explored remote parts of the world, and parachuted into wartime Yugoslavia. That was when he was Winston Churchill’s envoy to the guerrilla leader who became the subject of his latest book, Tito: A Pictorial Biography. Now, at 69, Sir Fitzroy Maclean is in yet another precarious line of work: innkeeping.
As befits a man whose life has been ruled by serendipity, Maclean got into his odd job almost by accident. Back in 1957, in the midst of his demanding public career, he and his wife, Veronica, bought Strachur House, a stately 1780s Georgian mansion in the Western Highlands of Scotland. “We’re both Highlanders,” says Sir Fitzroy. “My family have lived in Argyllshire for a thousand years.” The original purchase included 1,500 bonny acres on the banks of Loch Fyne—and a six-bedroom hotel by the water called the Creggans Inn. By coincidence, Maclean had just resigned his post as parliamentary undersecretary of state for war in protest over government defense policies, and he saw in the hotel a new cause. He and Veronica set about adding central heat and modernizing; they enlarged it to 23 rooms, 18 with bath, and set first-class standards for country cuisine. (Specialties include Mrs. Grady’s Egg Dish, Aberdeen Angus steaks, venison and the world-famous local trout and salmon.)
“We really had great fun building up what was originally just the village inn into something a bit more important,” says Maclean. “What we have done is to keep its character as the village inn. The public bar is still where everybody in the village comes and has their drink every evening. And when anybody gets married in the village, they have their wedding party with us.” Their corollary aim, adds Veronica, was to create “the relaxed atmosphere of a shooting lodge. What we want are civilized customers who will appreciate what we’re getting at.”
There were times initially when the Macleans also had to plunder their own personal pantry to meet unanticipated demands on the inn’s supplies. These days, though, the Creggans runs smoothly under the full-time management of Mrs. Laura Huggins, with the Macleans on hand only six months of the year. (They keep a flat in London and, courtesy of Tito, who waived rules against alien ownership for his friend Maclean, a vacation home on the Yugoslav island of Korcula.)
The Creggans now caters year-round to a clientele of discerning American, British and continental travelers (including Happy Rockefeller), who savor the beauty of the district and the graciousness of the inn. (Double rooms with bath and breakfast begin at $67 a day.) “We try as far as we can,” says Fitzroy, “to reproduce the atmosphere of our own home.”
Guests who catch the Macleans at home are as likely as not to find Fitzroy rummaging in the cellars (“We pride ourselves on our selection of malt whiskeys”)—or tramping the hills of his estate among his 2,000 breeding ewes, 20 rams, 70 hill cows and two bulls. Veronica, 60, the author of three cookbooks, handles the menus.
Fitzroy was born in Cairo in 1911 into a Highlands military family—his father was a career officer in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders—but he was not meant to follow his father’s footsteps. “Both my parents were keen that I be a diplomat,” he says. “My mother felt that too many of their friends had been killed in the service.” After Eton and Cambridge (where he took honors in classics and became fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French and Italian), he entered the foreign service. Posted to Paris in 1934, he recalls, “I learned Russian in the nightclubs, which were full of beautiful White Russian princesses. That’s a good way to learn any language.”
In 1937 he volunteered for a post in Moscow and made adventurous side-trips to remote Soviet regions by outwitting the secret police. In 1939 he returned to the foreign office in London. He ran for parliament two years later and won, but with World War II raging, he quickly enlisted in the British army and wound up in a tactical unit that operated behind enemy lines in the Middle East. Fitzroy’s reputation as a daring diplomat and soldier led Churchill to send him to Yugoslavia to establish liaison with Tito and his Partisans. More than any other individual, Fitzroy was responsible for Allied recognition of the fiercely independent leader.
Fitzroy and Veronica, who have two grown sons, married after the war. She was a Highlands blueblood and a navy lieutenant’s widow with a young son and daughter of her own to raise; he was “a glamorous war personality,” as she puts it. Still, his winning trait was “his love for children and animals,” she says. “And he was immensely kind.”
It shows in the atmosphere of the Creggans Inn, whose attractions to visitors include the region’s natural beauty and the innkeepers’ natural charm. “I find it very satisfying to be in touch with a lot of people,” says Maclean. “Hospitality, after all, has always been a great Scottish tradition.”