Category Archives: Things to do

and on the eighth day God created chocolate!

As our property manager Eelin reminded me, Easter is not all about chocolate, but I have to admit, for me it definitely plays a very big part of my celebration of the festival!  There is something about the taste of chocolate when it’s been made into the shape of an egg which somehow makes it that bit yummier.

I have a bit of a penchant for non-brand name chocolate Easter eggs which have not just come off the supermarket shelf.  I prefer an egg that is a little bit more unique, one fit for a special occasion such as Easter.  The decadence of a hand-made, beautifully decorated, luxury chocolate egg that holds a secret treat inside which remains unknown until you crack open that tasty oval exterior, now that’s an Easter egg worth breaking my healthy eating plan for!

Regular readers of ‘Our Unique Blog’ will know that here at Unique Cottages we like to share with you our specialist knowledge of Scotland and tell you about the hidden treasures of this beautiful country.  So, as an Easter treat allow me to tell you about a wee village in the Highlands that always comes to mind when I think of indulging in some very special chocolate, and a chocolate shop which you just have to visit if you’re in the area.

The former spa town Strathpeffer, just a 30-minute drive from the Highland capital of Inverness, is home to what has to be described as a chocolate lover’s heaven.  ‘Maya Belgian Chocolates’ is run by Maître Chocolatier Fabienne De Mulder who creates and sells a range of over 40 different chocolates from her shop close to the centre of the village.  Fabienne’s signature chocolates include ganache made from raspberry pulp covered in white chocolate, ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea covered in dark chocolate and ganache with Amaretto (Almond based liqueur) covered in milk chocolate (I’d tell you more but my mouth is watering with the thought of these 3 alone!)

As well as selling individual chocolates and truffles, boxes and bars, the shop is well known for its Hot Chocolate, which is truly ‘to die for’ and at certain times visitors can even watch Fabienne creating her exclusive chocolates right there on the premises.

If like me, a fabulous chocolate shop selling delicious melt in your mouth treats is enough of an attraction on its own to inspire you consider holidaying close by, then Unique Cottages have a number of delightful properties in the area which will provide comfortable and attractive accommodation for your chocolate pilgrimage.

Kinkell Castle Cottage (sleeps 2)

Red Kite Cottage (sleeps 3/4)

Peediequoy Cottage (sleeps 6)

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.

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!

A Scottish Stig!

Some say he sucks haggis through a straw. We call him ‘McStig’!

If you too have watched Top Gear and observed the Stig, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond or James May getting up to their interesting antics in a variety of cars and thought “I wouldn’t mind a shot of that”, then I think I’ve found the perfect holiday cottage for you…

In a part of Scotland well known for its motoring heritage sits a rather cute, timber-clad, detached stone cottage encircled by lush green pastures.  You wouldn’t think it when you’re relaxing in the well-appointed cottage or enjoying the peaceful tranquillity of the surrounding countryside as you sit in the mature enclosed garden – but just down the road you can take your driving to the extreme!

Whiteburn cottage provides the idea retreat to get away from it all but also has the unique benefit of being closely associated with (although fortunately out of earshot of) the ‘Ronnie Dale Driving School’ which offers a very different experience from the training you received to get through your driving test!

Ronnie Dale, who has appeared on Top Gear himself, first cut his teeth rallying in a Ford Escort, before moving on to compete in the Camel Trophy, he has gained numerous professional driving and driver training qualifications and even designed the course that was used at the Royal Tournament by the RAF!

Combining his love of motoring with his occupation experience of being a hill farmer, Ronnie went on to build a basic 4×4 driving course in 25 acres of previously unproductive border hill land, turning nearby woodland tracks into a exhilarating adventure trail!  Offering a variety of courses to suit your individual needs and wishes, Ronnie not only gives you the chance to experience extreme 4×4 driving but also the knowledge you need to learn to be a safer, more confident driver in the most challenging of conditions.  And the children needn’t feel left out – as those over 6 years old can go on a mini quad bike trek, fully supervised and with the appropriate safety gear provided for them (and don’t worry, there are larger quads available for bigger kids to join in).

However, your motoring madness needn’t stop here, for just a 15 minute drive away (if you take the road) is historic Duns where you will find ‘Jim Clark room’ close to the centre of the town.  Jim Clark, the famous Formula One racing driver, who was raised near Duns, is fondly remembered in this dedicated museum.  Its unique collection of memorabilia, including trophies, awards and photographs, providing the perfect opportunity for an interesting outing.

For a limited period Unique Cottages are pleased to be able to offer those who book a holiday at Whiteburn Cottage a complimentary hour long taster session, allowing guests to take advantage of Ronnie’s driving skills – something he is offering exclusively to customers of Unique Cottages!  So why not combine the peace and relaxation that a countryside haven in Scotland provides, with a wee bit of driving adrenaline and book a stay at Whiteburn Cottage?

(Scotch) Pancake Day!

It’s Pancake Day tomorrow all across the UK (also known as Shrove Tuesday) and I for one am looking forward to the excuse to cook an old favourite.  As a child, I used to be thrilled at the thought of returning home from school to the warm farmhouse kitchen where my mother would be making Scotch pancakes on the Aga.  Also known as Drop Scones, my mother would cook the pancakes directly on the simmering plate of the Aga, but in the rather less traditional kitchen of my hilltop cottage, I now use a normal frying pan to produce just as scrumptious results.

Scotch Pancakes in comparison to normal pancakes are smaller, thicker and (in my humble opinion) much more tasty and satisfying!  If you fancy a change from normal pancakes this year I strongly recommend the following recipe, which only requires four easy to source ingredients, to bring a bit of traditional Scottish cooking to your home.

To make approximately 20 yummy Scotch Pancakes you will need:

100g/4oz Self-Raising Flour

25g/1oz Caster Sugar

1 (medium size) Egg

150ml/1/4 pint Milk

1)      Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl and then make a well in the centre.

2)      Beat the egg and pour it into the well, along with half the milk.

3)      Mix to form a thick batter, then add the remainder of the milk and mix again (you should now have a runny batter and be ready to cook the first batch!)

4)      Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and once hot spread with a little lard or oil (I use a piece of kitchen towel to do this, as it avoids putting too much on).

5)      When the fat is hazy (but not smoking), spoon the mixture into the pan using a tablespoon (one spoonful for each pancake) making sure they are spaced well apart.

6)      Bubbles should rise to the surface of the half-cooked pancakes and at this point turn them over.

7)      Cook for a further 30 seconds (or until golden brown) then remove and place between a clean tea towel to keep warm and moist and until you are ready to eat them.

8)      You may need to re-grease the pan between batches to avoid the pancakes sticking.

You can enjoy Scotch Pancakes on their own, buttered, with jam or even chocolate spread (very popular with the kids)!  You don’t have to eat the pancakes straight away, indeed, once cooled you can put them in an air tight container and store them for up to 3 days – heat them up or eat them cold, whatever your preference.

If you fancy trying this, or any other traditional recipe, Aga or Rayburn cooker then you’ll be please to hear that a number of our unique cottages do have them (in a lot of cases as well as a standard cooker ) so why not get in touch and let us help you find your ideal cottage?

From all of us here at Unique Cottages have a delicious and enjoyable (Scotch) Pancake Day!