All posts by Unique Cottages

What is the Cateran Trail?

If you’ve perused our cottages in the Perthshire area, it is likely that at some point you will have come across some mention in the cottage descriptions of the Cateran Trail.  But what exactly is the Cateran Trail?  And why would being in a cottage in close proximity be such an attractive prospect?

With no real beginning and no real end, the Cateran Trail was the first public, marked circular walking route in the UK.  The trail takes you through 64 miles of stunning Scottish countryside displaying the best that the country has to offer.  However, the history behind the route is a reminder of Scotland’s less peaceful times!

The Caterans (most likely taken from the Gaelic ‘ceathaime’ meaning ‘common people’) were infamous cattle thieves who thrived in the lawless areas of Scotland from the middle ages right up until the 17th century.  Using the cover of darkness, often when their victims were involved in distracting festivities (such as a wedding), these parties of fierce warrior marauders would steal livestock and disappear into the night.

Not taking chances, the Caterans were generally well informed about the unfortunate folk they targeted.  They reduced the risk and avoided capture by taking a different route when leaving with their spoil than the one they had used to stealthily arrive.  Skilled at evading detection, they would commonly use the old ancient drove roads through the remote hills and valleys, some of which now make up the accordingly named Cateran Trail.

The trail is now well signposted and helpfully split into 5 sections which can tackled individually (each section is between 8-16 miles long) making it entirely possible to walk the whole trail in the space of a week.  For those who wish to experience the variety of stunning scenery the trail has to offer, and follow in the steps of these elusive raiders (without the exertion of covering 64 miles) the Cateran ‘mini trail’ provides a circular alternative totaling 20 miles (split into smaller 3 sections) which can be easily tackled over a long weekend.

If you fancy walking a route that will take you through truly stunning Scottish landscape, which remains as beautiful and unspoilt as it was years ago when the Caterans used it for rather more sinister purposes, then Unique Cottages have a choice of cottages which make the perfect base from which to venture.

Cottages in the area include:

Middleton Bothy (sleeps 2)
Dun Cann (Sleeps 2/3)
Ardlebank Cottage (sleeps 4/5)

Great News!

For all those already signed up to receive the Unique Cottages’ Newsletter I’m pleased to say that the April-May issue should have arrived in your inbox this week – we hope you enjoy!

Our bi-monthly e-newsletter has now been electronically whizzing its way to our customers in its current format for over a year and readership continues to grow.  If you aren’t already signed up to receive your copy of this valuable resource then let me tell you a wee bit about it.

Unlike many of the other newsletters distributed by our competitors, we don’t try to sell you anything or go into the boring details of changes within the business, we just share with you our specialist knowledge of Scotland in the hope that it will help you enjoy your holiday in Scotland even more!

We are based in Scotland, focus only on self-catering properties in Scotland and by doing this for over 40 years we have built up quite a repertoire of useful and interesting information well worth sharing with you.  The 6th issue of ‘Unique and Unspoilt’ is once again full of articles which let you in on some of the best of our exclusive knowledge of Scotland, giving you an inside track on how to get the most out of your holiday to our beautiful land.

However, it’s not just we who contribute to the Newsletter.  In fact, we have a talented guest who was staying in one of our cottages near Loch Sunart to thank for one of the most stunning pictures in this issue, a photo that is testament to the beauty which surrounds you when you visit Scotland!

Whether you’re a regular visitor to our fine shores, thinking about holidaying here or just have interest in what the country has to offer, then why not subscribe to ‘Unique and Unspoilt’ which every two months will arrive in your inbox bursting with details of the delights of Scotland?

Here at Unique Cottages we are always grateful of any comments or suggestions from our customers and if you have any ideas for articles for the ‘Unique and Unspoilt’ Newsletter then please get in touch.

Horses for Coarses

It is the time of year that the necessary chore of cutting the grass of any green space that you are responsible for begins. Indeed, here at Unique Cottages, the office Flymo was dragged out of hibernation in the garage and put to work in the garden this morning! However, with much of Scotland’s fine landscape covered in greenery, some of it very remote and hard to access for even the most robust of mowers, a more imaginative approach has been required for one particular east coast beauty spot. Many horses this weekend will be traveling great distances in order to race in the English Grand National (there is a Scottish Grand National, but not until next weekend). But none have probably travelled quite so far as the newest residents of the Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve in Aberdeenshire. Rare wild Konik horses have been brought all the way from Holland to help with the battle against the coarse grasses of the area taking over. The last descendants of the truly wild horse, which last ran free in Scotland approximately 6000 years ago, these remarkable animals love nothing more than eating their way through the coarse grasses, which, if left uncontrolled begin to impact on the more delicate habitats of the area. Reducing the need for vegetation to be artificially stripped away by mechanical devices, this tiny herd will help to ensure that many of the other wild inhabitants of the nature reserve continue to enjoy the unique environment that Loch Strathbeg provides. Loch Strathbeg, a designated Special Protection Conservation Area, is the largest dune loch in Britain. There are hides where visitors can watch the natural residents as well as an information centre where you can find out more about what you spied. The loch is looked after by the RSPB and more details about the variety of wildlife that lives here can be found on their website. Aside from the reserve itself there is much to be enjoyed in this attractive part of the country, to the east is the Cairngorm National Park, to the north and west is an inviting stretch of Scottish coastline which boasts the title of ‘sunniest corner of Scotland’! Unique Cottages has two fabulous properties not far from Loch Strathbeg, Cairness Lodge and Beach Retreat both ideal bases to explore this charming region.

Happy Scotland Week!

In the USA (and for the first year in Canada) this week is Scotland Week, which runs from the 3rd of April to the 10th of April and celebrates all things Scottish.  4.8 million Americans reportedly have Scottish ancestry (2000 census) and 4,719,850 people in Canada can be described as ‘Scottish-Canadian’ (2001 census), so both countries’ strong heritage links to Scotland are represented by this weeklong exploration of Scottish culture.

We’re quite obviously biased, but we think Scotland Week is a great idea.  There is indeed so much to celebrate about our fine country!  One such example is our excellent (and unique) cuisine, from Haggis to Selkirk Bannock, Cock-a-leekie Soup to deep-fried, battered Mars Bars we Scots have an interesting variety of ‘traditional’ foods.  Therefore, it is only right that as part of Scotland Week one of our renowned chefs, Michael Smith, shares his expertise with Scotland’s kindred spirits across the pond.

Born in Inverness, Michael Smith is scheduled to appear on a number of well know TV programs in American and Canada, including the ‘Martha Stewart Show’.  However, for those closer to home who wish to sample the culinary delights of this highly commended chef, he will then return to his usual stomping grounds as Head Chef at the highly rated Three Chimney’s restaurant on the beautiful Isle of Skye.

On the edge of Loch Dunvegan, the restaurant offers a first class dining experience on an island that can accurately be described as magical!  Unique Cottages has some wonderful self-catering properties within easy reach of this acclaimed eatery, including The Missionary’s House (sleeping 5) only a 5 minute drive away, Kinlochfollart (sleeping 10) and, new for this year, the extremely inviting Claigan House (sleeping 4).

Although dinning out every night at the Three Chimney’s may not be within everyone’s budget, the joy of self-catering in Skye is that you can recreate the experience back at your home base, with a variety of fresh, local produce available from suppliers on the island.  For more information about our self-catering properties in Skye (because, let’s face it, on an island so beautiful it’ll not just be the fine food that tempts you to visit), send us an email enquiry or call 01835 822277 and we’ll be happy to help you find your dream island get away.

And to those celebrating across the Atlantic, from all at Unique Cottages, may we wish you an splendid Scottish Week this week and an terrific Tartan Day tomorrow!

A unique gift.

So, this Sunday is Mother’s Day which, for me, always brings with it the quandary about what to give my dear old Mum as a token of my appreciation for her and all she has done for me (a great deal if I’m honest).  When I needed her she was always there and continues to be there for me no matter what (Mother’s job you may say) but considering my poor attitude and obnoxiousness at times (especially during my teenage years), I really have pushed the limits of a mother’s love in my time!

I know that people often say that it is the thought that counts and that Mums especially will be pleased with whatever you give them because it’s from you, but still, considering all she has done, I feel the need to get her something that she really will be pleased to receive.  But this is not the easiest of tasks!

I’ve made my mistakes over my lifetime when it comes to choosing that all important Mother’s day pressie. In this particular matter is seems I take after my father, who also, more often than not, purchases presents for my mother that antagonise rather than delight!

After numerous mistakes and leaving my parent’s home with a feeling of failure, despite my Mother’s efforts to reassure me that she “really does appreciate the thought” (my mum could never have made it as an actress) a solution had to be found. And I think I have finally found one, which, over the last few years at least, seems to ensure a happy Mother’s day for all.

My secret weapon in the battle of choosing an appropriate present for the woman I owe my life to is (drum roll please)…..Gift Vouchers!   Yeah, I know sounds boring but I have found that the benefits of buying a gift voucher vastly outweigh the fact you are not giving a gift that you can wrap.  The joy of gift vouchers is that the recipient gets some element of choice, meaning that it is harder to go wrong when making sure the present is something they really like.

However, as with everything in life, there are rules to make gift voucher giving work for you!  Some thought is still involved. It would be fair enough to get your Mother a voucher from Halfords if she’s really into her car, but my Mum’s main concern when it comes to her car is that it gets her from A to B (with plenty of space for shopping bags).  Therefore, a Halfords voucher isn’t going to work for her.  My Mother works hard (keeping an eye on me, my siblings, and my Dad, as well as earning a living) so I find that getting a gift voucher which allows her to treat herself and take time out from the daily grind goes down well.  Last year I got her a gift voucher for a spa day, the year before that I got her a voucher for a posh meal so she could get some ‘quality time’ with my Dad and not have to cook.

With the increase in things you can get gift vouchers for, they really have become a very simple way of giving something that the recipient can tailor to their own tastes, therefore ensuring they like what you give and you can truly show your appreciation of them.  A potential idea for a gift voucher, which may suit some Mothers this year, is one that gives her money off a holiday and offers her a chance to escape and relax for a while.

At Unique Cottages we offer Gift Vouchers for a holiday retreat to Scotland available in multiples of £25 which are valid for 2 years, so your mum not only has a choice of fabulous holiday cottages to choose from but also plenty of time in which to book her well deserved break.

Going out on a limb.

After the ice age, when the glaciers melted, greenery once again reclaimed the lands of Scotland and pioneer native trees began to grow and spread.  At one time, much of Scotland was covered in indigenous forest, with trees such as Birch, Willow, Ash, Hazel, Yew and Rowan dominating the landscape.   However, now only 1% of Scotland’s land is covered by this type of ancient woodland, but the area’s where it still remains have become a priority in relation to preservation and we definately have some champion trees that deserve a mention (and a visit if you’re in the area).

Let’s us start with the Fortingall Yew.  Estimated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, this conifer is thought to be the oldest known tree in Europe.  Standing in the churchyard of the village of Fortingall in Perthshire, the tree has stood longer than the church itself.  It stood before the introduction of Christianity to Scotland and it was likely to have been regarded as a sacred place since the Iron Age.

The tree is now surrounded by a wall built in order to protect it from souvenir hunters who, over the last few hundred years, have visited it and taken parts away with them.  However, the wall has come to serve two purposes, not only protecting the ancient Yew but also supporting many of its ageing branches.

Local legend says that Pontius Pilate, the judge at Jesus Christ’s trial, was born in the base of the tree and played in its shade as a child; allegedly, he was the illegitimate son of a Roman legionary stationed in the area and a local girl!  In times past Yew trees were referred to as “trees of eternity” – in the case of the Fortingall Yew it would seem to be true!

Not only is Scotland home to the oldest tree in Britain (and probably Europe), but it is also home to the tallest tree in the UK.  Although the overall winner in the category of tallest tree has been a matter for debate (due to technicalities in their measurement) both of the finalists are Fir trees and stand at over 200 feet tall.    In 2009, as part of the “Tall Trees Project” a tree known as the Stronardron Douglas Fir in the grounds of Dunans Castle, Argyll was crowned the champion, with Diana’s Grove Grand Fir at Blair Castle, Fife coming in a close second.

Then there is the Capon tree in the Scottish Borders that is also worth a mention; it is the last remain tree of the once very extensive Jed Forest and is estimated to be 500 years old.  This old Oak’s trunk is now split in half and many of its branches are propped up with wooden supports, yet each year it still has a central role in the local summer festival when the principals of the celebrations make their way to the tree and a sprig from its branches is pinned to the lead-man’s lapel.

These are just a few individual trees in Scotland which we think are worth a little praise but if you would like more information about areas in Scotland where ancient woodland can still be found then the Woodland Trust website gives details of woodlands throughout Scotland as well as useful information to help you plan your visit.

Bathed in Glory!

Here in Scotland we have enjoyed a fabulous week weather wise. In fact, on Monday Aberdeen was reported as having the highest temperatures in Britain and hotter than many well know sunny holiday spots including Ibiza, Majorca and Malaga! The bright sunshine and warm weather seems to have a greatly uplifting effect on people, and here in the Unique Cottages’ office we are no different. Even Laura, (one of dedicated booking office staff) who has been faithfully attached to her coat all winter, has left it at home every day this week – a real indication of how lovely it has been in Scotland!

As the weather improves, and the sun brightens everyone’s mood, thoughts turn to opportunities to enjoy these glorious conditions by getting out and about. When the weather is good, and the sun is beating down, the seaside always has an almost magnetic allure for a great deal of people. Although it may not yet be quite warm enough to bathe in the sea, it’s definitely getting to around the time you might be thinking about the pleasures of doing so in the summer! But, where do you go to find a fabulous beach? This morning, when I was watching the news, I was informed that the Environment Agency has just published an online guide to beaches in England and Wales that have been found to meet the European Standard which determine that the water is safe to swim in.

In England and Wales, out of the 500 beaches included in the report on the quality of coastal bathing water, 449 were passed as safe, an inspiring 89%! However, when I looked at the same statistics in Scotland I saw that we get an even more impressive figure of 95%, (and yes, I realise we’re a little biased) making Scotland appear to be your best bet for finding good quality beaches for swimming! But where in Scotland are the best beaches? Let us share some of our insider knowledge with you and tell you about a few of our favourites.

Tralee Beach is our Property Manager Eelin’s recommendation. On the west coast of Scotland, over-looking the Ardmucknish Bay, this fine beach is ideal for families, with its soft sand and multitude of interesting rock pools it provides a great space for all ages to explore.

I fondly remember Coldingham Beach, where I have enjoyed breakfast cooked on the barbeque while watching the waves break gently on the sandy shore. Another great beach for rock pools and with a lifeguard on duty at the weekends during the summer, its not just me who is tempted into the inviting sea waters!

These are just a taster of the many beautiful beaches that await you in Scotland, but we have so many it would be impossible to list them all. I’m sure you’ll understand if we don’t tell you about some of the better hidden ones – for one of the greatest thing about our beaches here in Scotland is that often you can come across a secluded wee area of sand and have your own private beach for the day!