Category Archives: Things to see

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.

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.

Barking up the right tree.

We are proud to say that the winning dog at this year’s Crufts was Scottish!  Jet, a flatcoated retriever and winner of the Best Gundog Category, beat 21,000 other dogs to get the prestigious title of Best in Show at the National Championships as the show celebrated its 120th anniversary.  Jim Irvine, Jet’s breeder who is based in South Queensferry, Edinburgh, was understandably delighted by Jet’s win.  A Kennel Club representative stated that it was clear that Jet and Jim had a great relationship and that this contributed towards Jet’s success, then going on to say that Crufts celebrates “the special and unique bond between dogs and their owners.”

The mention of a “special and unique bond” between man and dog reminded me of another celebrated relationship between a Scotsman and his four-legged friend. It’s a story that still sends a shiver down my spine when I hear it, a story of a bond so strong that even death could not sever it.

John Gray was a gardener who moved to Edinburgh around 1850 when work was hard to come by.  Unable to find employment in his chosen field, John joined the police force as a night watchman thus avoiding the workhouse.  They were long lonely nights trudging through the street of Edinburgh, especially in the winter months when the colder, wetter weather would further add to John’s feelings of solitude.  John decided to find a partner to join him on his lonely rounds, and ‘Bobby’ a wee Skye Terrier was soon by his side each night.  John and Bobby went everywhere together, watchman and ‘watchdog’, loyal and faithful friends.

 John’s health began to fail him, possibly a consequence of so many nights patrolling the street and on a number of occasions he had to be treated for tuberculosis by the police surgeon.  In February 1958 John Grey died due to the disease that had plagued him, and he was buried in the town’s Greyfriars Kirkyard. 

 Bobby, still faithful to his beloved master, stayed by the grave after John was buried, refusing to leave the graveside even in the most horrible of weather.  Numerous times Bobby was evicted from the kirkyard by the keeper of the grounds, but each time Bobby returned to be close to his master.  Eventually the groundskeeper gave up ejecting Bobby, instead putting a piece of sacking in between two flat, table stones to provide shelter for Bobby beside his master’s grave. 

 Soon the dog and his remarkable behavior became renowned in the local area and people would gather at the gates to the kirkyard on a daily basis to see Bobby.  Each day, at the sound of the one o’clock gun, Bobby would leave the graveside for his lunch, with one thing guaranteed, after his meal he would return to the side of his best friend John.

Bobby kept watch over his master’s grave for 14 years before his own death in 1872.

The amazing loyalty and faithfulness demonstrated by ‘Greyfriars Bobby’, as the wee terrier came to be known, demonstrates just how strong a dogs bond with its owner can be.  The unconditional love a dog gives can give such comfort and joy to its human companion; I know this from when I had my own canine comrade Sully the Pomeranian.

Always pleased to see me, Sully would go with me almost everywhere – but fitting in my handbag made traveling with him easy!  For those of you who have larger dogs, or more than one furry pal, going on holiday can be hard if you to have to leave them behind.  So, if you’re looking for a holiday or short break where your loyal mutt can join you and avoid the loneliness of a stay at the kennels, Unique Cottages has a wide range of pet friendly properties where both of you will be welcomed!

The story of Coillegillie

With our portfolio of over 450 unique cottages throughout Scotland, we often get to hear some interesting stories about the properties and their pasts.  One such history rich account caught my attention this week, it was the story of The Cottage by the Shore, let me share it with you-

The Cottage by the Shore is one of only two habitable dwellings in what at one time was a flourishing wee coastal settlement at the south end of the Applecross peninsula.  As its name suggests, the cottage stands close to the shore, with spectacular views across the Inner Sound and over towards the Isle of Skye.  This fantastic location can truly be described as an area of outstanding natural beauty and its remote setting has resulted the magnificence of its surroundings remaining largely unspoilt.

Once this cottage was among a number of traditional, stone-built properties that made up the secluded community at Coillegillie, where its inhabitants woke each morning to these stunning surroundings, but now only ruins remain as a haunting yet intriguing reminder of the families that resided here.  What made me curious about Coillegillie was the question as to why a hamlet in such a delightful location, once so full of life, was all but abandoned by its inhabitants?   Finding the answer to my ponderings required a little research and thankfully, the residents of the other property in Coillegillie were only too willing to oblige.

The original inhabitants of Coillegillie were varied in their occupations, there were weavers, fishermen, quarrymen and carpenters as well as those who worked as servants at Applecross House just under 5 miles up the coast.  Apparently in the late 19th century Coillegillie had as many as 28 inhabitants whose diet mainly consisted of fish and seafood (no wonder considering it proximity to the sea).

At this time apparently there were some quiet famous characters living in the community, for example, Kenneth MacLeod who was the last weaver in the district and was said to be the greatest walker in Scotland.  Apparently, he once walked from Dingwall to Coillegillie (over 71 miles) in the space of a day and then walked to Lonbain, North Applecross and back again (a total trip of over 100 miles)!  But it would seem you had to be a good walker to live in Coillegillie back then, the nearest vehicle access is still 1.2 miles away along a path which has its own extraordinary story.  It is one of the last unimproved stretches of ‘desolation road’ in the area – desolation roads (also known as hunger roads) were built during the Highland potato famine of 1846-1852 when the rural population were forced to labour on local roadways in order to receive poor relief – their own means of surviving.

It was the tuberculosis outbreak in the 1920’s which eventually led to the majority of homes in Coillegillie being abandoned and the houses stood empty and locked, just as the residents had left them, for almost 50 years.  Despite its unrivalled scenery, living in Coillegillie must have been fairly hard going all those years ago and now I know a little more about the community’s past it is understandable why the inhabitants choose to leave as they did (tuberculosis was little understood at the time).

Nowadays Coillegillie retains the same charm and allure as it did in centuries past – just without the disadvantages!  Still as tranquil and breathtakingly scenic, 12 years ago they installed electricity (bought in by helicopter) as well as a pumped water supply.  One of the original stone buildings, The Cottage by the Shore, has been beautifully and sympathetically restored over the last two years retaining many of its delightful, unique features.  Those wishing to holiday in this really amazing location can arrange to have their luggage etc. bought in by boat, making the abundance of surrounding beauty the only thing you need to focus on when you stroll along the ancient path to the magical Coillegillie.

Puts a ‘spring’ in your step

I don’t know about where you are, but for us here in Scotland this weekend it has really started to feel like spring has arrived!  No longer do I have drive to work in the dark as the days get increasingly longer.  The sun which was shinning most of the week (and is doing so again today) has taken the crispness out of the air and I’m pleased to say that my trusty hat and scarf remain on the coat hooks at home!

However, it seems that I am not the only one who has noticed this welcome change of season.  Indeed, there have been some obvious signs that nature also is beginning to revel in the winter drawing to a close.  The birds definitely sound happy about it – their chirping is distinctly more cheerful.   Ewes look proud and content as their recently born lambs race each other across fields that appear increasingly green and lush with each day that passes.  The bright colors of spring flowers brighten a landscape that appeared bleak just a few weeks ago. 

My favorite of these early (and almost valiant) flowers has to be the daffodil.  As it has rises from the cold, hard ground and spreads its bright yellow petals towards the sun it reminds me that after the harshness of winter new life always (thankfully) ‘springs’ anew.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty pleased to see these beautiful flowers begin appearing in the garden around the Ecosse Unique office, providing a jubilant greeting each morning to all employees and visitors!  In case you weren’t aware, our company headquarters is a attractive white washed cottage in the Scottish Borders which has been (sympathetically) converted into office space (I know, ingenious isn’t it, not only do we do we provide quality holiday cottages throughout Scotland, we have also based ourselves in one!)

It is not only our cottage headquarters that are benefiting from an abundance of these striking golden blooms; throughout Scotland they are now adorning the gardens of a number of our properties – providing proof that Spring is here!  But don’t take my word for it – take advantage of the Unique Cottages’ spring deals and come see for yourself.