Category Archives: Things to see

Break Away to ‘Giant’s Land’

This year Roald Dahl would have celebrated his 100th birthday and enthusiasts of his books are already queuing up at cinemas across the country to see one of his best loved creations that has been brought to life in Steven Spielberg’s live-action adaptation ‘The BFG’.

The $140 million extravaganza hit our screens on 22 July and taking a starring role within the movie is the beautiful island of Skye. No stranger to the silver screen, Skye has featured in several films including Prometheus (2012) and Starlight (2007). Spielberg’s scouts scoured northern Europe for scenery that would perfectly capture the atmospheric ‘Giant’s Land’ of Dahl’s book and found the ideal match in this stunning location.

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The Old Man of Storr

Thanks to the Skye Bridge, this is one of Scotland’s most accessible islands and boasts iconic scenery including the Old Man of Storr and Cuillin mountains, both of which feature in the new film. A firm favourite of walkers and climbers, Skye is also home to Michelin Star restaurant Kinloch Lodge, the world-renowned Three Chimneys restaurant, Talisker Distillery, an array of wildlife and a host of atmospheric hostelries just waiting to rejuvenate any weary traveller. It is a perfect island escape for couples, families, groups and adventurers.

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Dunvegan Castle

History lovers will be enticed by attractions including the Skye Museum of Island Life and The Clan Donald Visitor Centre featuring 40 acres of gardens to explore, a café and Museum of the Isles detailing Scottish history. There is also beautiful Dunvegan Castle to visit – the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and the stronghold of the chiefs of the clan for more than 800 years.

Families can enjoy the great outdoors exploring the many beaches, take a half day boat trip from Elgol out to the Small Isles, with the chance of spotting basking sharks, dolphins and minke whales on the way, or try out the new activities including quad biking and archery that are now available at the Clan Donald Centre.

For thrill seekers Skye presents the opportunity to scale the Black Cuillin that is renowned as the most challenging mountain environment anywhere in Britain. This is the only summit in the British Isles which can only be reached by serious rock climbing skills and technical knowledge. The less adventurous can enjoy stunning views of the Cuillin mountain range from many locations on the Island including Elgol, where you can take a boat trip into Loch Coruisk in the heart of the mountains.

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The Cuillin Mountain Range

For most however what Skye offers is breathtaking scenery, interesting attractions and space to relax – washed down with a fabulous dram and some amazing food, courtesy of the Island’s many wonderful eateries.

If you fancy an escape to this picture perfect island, our properties on Skye range from cosy crofts for two right through to spacious, architect-designed houses that are perfect for group gatherings.

Scottish Borders Saddles Up

Towns and villages across the Scottish Borders are gearing up for the upcoming season of special events and one of the area’s most spectacular traditions – the Common Ridings.

Hundreds of horses and riders will turn out in 11 separate festivals to take part in each town’s annual ride-out – a celebration of the centuries old riding of the Boundaries. The tradition harks back to the days when the magistrates and burgesses of the town made an annual inspection of the various markers that outlined the ground belonging to the town. Each town has its own special week of events each summer that combines with various ride-outs with parades, music and song.

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Jedburgh Callants Festival

The rides are the most spectacular element of each festival and can over 300 horses and riders gallop across open fields, through rivers and up hillsides and parade through town centres behind an elected principal rider that bears the town flag as they follow the historic boundary lines. They can last anywhere from four to ten hours and often include a ceremonial element.

It’s an amazing sight, with almost everyone from each town turning out to cheer on the riders and wish them luck and a safe journey with the phrase – ‘Safe Oot, Safe In!’ Many of the rides start first thing in the morning so if you want to see them for yourself, you’ll need to be prepared for an early start.

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Galloping Across the Fields

Hawick is the first of the larger town ride-outs and this year’s Common Riding Festival takes place from 5 to 11 June, with the main ride-out being held on Friday, 10 June 2016.

In Hawick the traditional ride-out is combined with a commemoration of the young men who successfully defended Hawick from a raiding party at the Battle of Hornshole in 1514. Following the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, where all Hawick’s menfolk between the ages of 16 and 60 were killed, it was heard that a raiding party was approaching and the young men of Hawick decided to defend their town. They surprised and defeated the invaders who had camped at Hornshole, taking their banner and riding triumphantly back to town. Although small in scale, the victory was a huge boost to the town’s pride after the Flodden defeat.

The main ride outs for each town take place on the dates below, although dates should be confirmed before travel:

  • West Linton – Saturday, 4 June 2016
  • Hawick – Friday, 10 June 2016
  • Selkirk – Friday, 17 June 2016
  • Melrose – Monday, 13 June 2016
  • Peebles – Wednesday, 22 June 2016
  • Galashiels – Saturday, 2 July 2016
  • Jedburgh – Friday, 8 July 2016
  • Duns – Saturday, 9 July 2016
  • Kelso – Saturday, 23 July 2016
  • Langholm – Friday, 29 July 2016
  • Coldstream – Thursday, 4 August 2016
  • Lauder – Saturday 6, August 2016

These events are the most familiar example of the heritage and traditions of the Scottish Borders but the region is also filled with stunning countryside and history and makes a wonderful holiday destination at any time of the year.

We have a selection of fabulous cottages in gorgeous locations in the area, ranging from romantic retreats for two, to beautiful family friendly cottages that are perfect for a relaxing break or a larger family get-together. We even have some properties that allow you to bring along your own horse, should you fancy riding in some of the beautiful countryside yourself.

Click here to discover more or call 01835 822277 where a member of our friendly team will have lots of suggestions of great places in the region for you to stay.

Monster-hunting Holidays!

Scotland is a land of legends, from kelpies (water-horses) to faeries and giants to selkies (seal-folk); there are no shortage of stories about supernatural creatures which thrived in the wild and untamed Scottish landscape in times gone by. Possibly the most famous of all these beings is Nessitera rhombopteryx who some believe still resides in the one of Scotland’s largest, deepest, fresh water lochs, right in the heart of the Highlands.

Famous? Then why haven’t you heard about this legendary entity?

Ah, but you have, possibly by one of her other, more common, names. For the creature of which I speak is the notorious Loch Ness Monster, more affectionately referred to as Nessie!
The first recorded sighting of a monster living in the area of Loch Ness was over 15 hundred years ago, when Irish monk St Columba was visiting the Pictish shores. After having sent one of his followers into the water to attract the ‘water beast’ he demonstrated the power of his God by commanding the creature to break off his attack and caused it to flee in terror!

The first ever picture of the Loch Ness Monster?Fast forwarding to the beginning of the 20th century, further interest was sparked when George Spicer and his wife saw what they described as ‘a most extraordinary animal’ cross the road in front of their car and disappear into the Loch. The sighting lead to numerous ‘hunting’ parties visiting the loch over the following few years determined to catch the monster ‘dead or alive’. It was at this time that the well known ‘Surgeons photograph’ was taken, which has now been exposed as a hoax. However in 1938 a South African tourist called G. E. Taylor made a 3 minute recording on 16mm colour film of the elusive creature, and although only a single frame was ever made publicly available, experts have said that it is ‘positive evidence’ of Nessie’s existence.

In 1943 the monster was seen again by C. B. Farrel of the Royal Observer Corps as he carried out his duties on the Loch. He described a finned creature with large eyes and a neck that protruded 4-5 feet out of the waters. 11 years later, the crew of a fishing boat called the Rival III reported sonar readings of a large object at a depth of 480 feet keeping pace with them for approximately half a mile as they sailed across the loch.

What lies beneath the tranquil waters of Loch Ness? (photo courtesy of conner395)In 1960 the monster was again caught on film by Tim Dinsdale, which, when digitally enhanced in 1993, showed a creature with rear flippers and a plesiosaur-like body (plesiosaurs were carnivorous aquatic reptiles which lived at the end of the Triassic Period). Sceptics have said that due to the poor quality of the film, these features could have been created by tricks of the light as it reflected on the water, but no one really knows.

Just 4 years ago the monster appeared on film again, when Gordon Holmes videoed a jet black ‘thing’, about 45 feet long, moving quickly through the loch waters, but because the footage did not include anything which could be used as a scale comparison, once again it can not be classed as definitive proof.

A visit to the Loch Ness Monster Visitor Centre in Drumnadrochit ensures you a sighting of the beast! (photo courtesy of n.hewson)So, the legend remains just that!  There is no undisputed verification of the existence of a monster living in the waters of Loch Ness, but then again, there is no sure proof that there is not! Perhaps, sometime soon, someone will get the evidence that Nessie isn’t just a myth or tale, but rather another example of how the unique, unspoilt landscape of Scotland supports species that have been long extinct elsewhere.

If you fancy taking on the challenge and take part in a bit of Nessie spotting then Unique Cottages has a selection of cottages close to Loch Ness, including two where you can actually see a great length of the loch from the window!

See cottages near Loch Ness >

Come Rally Round!

Throughout history there have been plenty of famous people who have hailed from Scotland.  Rightly so, many of them have become local heroes who are celebrated and remembered by their fellow Scots in various different ways.  Jim Clark is one such star who lives on in the hearts of his countrymen, and back in 1970 an event was started which ensures he will to continue to do so for generations to come.

The Jim Clark Rally, near ChirnsideIf you’ve never heard of Jim Clark, then suffice it to say that he was one of the best formula one racing drivers of all time.  His versatile driving style lead him to become twice world champion, no small feat for a lad who grew up on a farm not far from the Berwickshire town of Duns.

Sadly, Jim Clark died in a racing accident in Germany when his car veered off the track and crashed in some trees; however, the annual Rally that commemorates this short but exciting life ensures that the legend lives on.

Jim Clark action in the Scottish BordersOver the past 40 years the Jim Clark Rally has grown to become one of the biggest motor sport events in the UK, attracting drivers and spectators from all around the world.  The course winds its way through the beautiful Scottish Borders countryside in and around where Jim Clark grew up, providing a suitable challenge for those who wish the follow in the great man’s footsteps.  For the less intrepid, there are plenty of places on the various stages where you can admire others’ driving skills and get a great vantage point for watching the action.

This year the Jim Clark Rally begins on Friday 27th of May and provides a great weekend of entertainment for motor-sport lovers and those, like me, who secretly wish they could have been rally drivers themselves!  Spectator packs are available from the Jim Clark Rally official website, were you can also find more information about the event, as well as a collection of photos that demonstrate the thrills and spills of the last few years.

Something novel…

I’m of the opinion that reading is definitely ‘medicine for the soul’ and that a good book can transport you to another place, a world away from any worries or stress.  Whether it be a gritty crime mystery, a heartwarming romance, an epic historical thriller or a light hearted comedic satire, there are books suit every taste.

Melrose Abbey, Scottish Borders.Avid readers like myself will, no doubt, be delighted to hear that once a year, in the pretty Border town of Melrose, lovers of literature congregate for a celebration of the diversity and enduring appeal of the written word.

If, when you think of books and reading, the image of a dusty old library with a misery guts of a curator sharply ‘shhh-ing’ you for the slightest sound springs to mind, then prepare to be surprised!

The Borders Book Festival has a relaxing, jovial, carnival type atmosphere, which is both exciting and exhilarating!  In fact, you would be hard pushed to find such a wide collection of witty, intelligent, imaginative people all in one place at one time!  But it is one factor which unites them all and that’s a love of all things literary!

Borders Book Festival 2011, Melrose, Scottish Borders.With a range of events taking place from the 16th to the 19th of June, the Borders Book Festival offers something for everyone, no matter your age or interest.  The festival attracts famous names such as presenter Peter Snow, broadcaster and journalist Michael Parkinson, impressionist and playwright Rory Bremner, comedian Rory McGrath and actor Larry Lamb, to name just a few.

The event is eminently family friendly, and children (of all ages) can have fun while they learn about the Murderous Maths of Everything, create their own story in the Mazes and Monster Workshop or just sit back and enjoy the free Storytime sessions.

So, if you agree that sometimes there is nothing better than curling up with a novel, then why not check out theVisit Melrose, Self Catering Cottages Scotland. Borders Book Festival this year and join an exceptional celebration of the written word in some truly beautiful Scottish surroundings?

Self Catering Cottages in Melrose >

More about the Borders Book Festival >

Here’s a video about the venue where the festival is held (it refers to the 2009 festival, but will be held at the same place this year), I hope to see you there! >

The water of life

With the extended May bank holiday weekend pending, lovers of good whisky will be delighted to hear that the date coincides with this year’s Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.  Running from this Thursday (28th) to the Monday May-day bank holiday, it offers 5 days of whisky, food, music and fun throughout the Speyside region.

A wide variety of events, including a ‘Whisky Smugglers Argocat Tour’, the opportunity to bottle your own whisky, a ‘Colour of Whisky’ art exhibition and lots of traditional Scottish food and music, await you.  Of course, there are also plenty of whisky tasting sessions where you can sample what all the fuss is about!

If you’re a lover of the original amber nectar then the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is definitely not to be missed!  But don’t worry if you can’t make it this weekend (after all, there is a lot on this bank holiday weekend) because all year round Speyside remains a whisky lovers’ delight; after all, it is the home of the famous Malt Whisky Trail (the only one in the world).

The trail takes you through the beautiful surroundings of Speyside to seven working distilleries, giving you a special insight into the art of whisky making and the 500-year evolution of the process that now makes it one of the most highly regarded spirits in the world.  A journey along the whisky trail includes a visit to the smallest distillery in Speyside (but of course size isn’t everything), the only distillery pioneered by a woman, the first licensed distillery (licensed being the operative word) in the Highlands and the home of the World’s Favourite Malt Whisky, the Glenfiddich distillery.

However, Speyside is not just for those who enjoy a wee nip, in fact, it is an area of Scotland that offers some spectacular and varied scenery along with a good mix of things to do.  It is bordered to the north by the Moray Coast, which is generally agreed to be one of Scotland’s finest stretches of coastline and the perfect place for dolphin spotting, and to the south is Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands, gateway to the Cairngorm National Park.  With activities from archery to bird watching and mountain biking to rafting, there really is something for everyone to enjoy, whether you fancy a dram or not!

If you’re attending the Speyside Whisky Festival this bank holiday weekend, then I wish you “slainte mhath” and be sure to have one for me!  If your taste buds have been tantalised and you fancy a trip to the heart of whisky country then Unique Cottages have plenty of cottages close to the whisky trail where you can make yourself at home and savour the flavours of the region.

See Cottages in Speyside >

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.

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.