Category Archives: Tips

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?

Valentine’s Rules.

It’s that time of year again! The one day of the year when even the most unromantic among us are forced by social pressure to consider how we show the one we are closest to just how much we appreciate them.

Whether you’re a believer in Valentine’s day or not, failure to show your partner a gesture of how much you cherish them can result in all manner of unpleasant consequences, unless of course you enjoy sleeping on the sofa!

But romance, which of course, forms the basis of Valentine’s Day, is such a difficult entity to define. For different people it means different things, and trying to get it right for that one special person is never as easy as it sounds (I speak from experience). Although romance in its entirety is a difficult thing to pin down and describe, there are a few basic rules that I now stick by which make things a wee bit easier ensuring that even me, without a romantic bone in all my body, can show the one they love that they really are special! I hope that other people who (like me) are generally deemed as failures in the romance stakes can draw some benefit from these fairly simple rules that have served me well (so far…)

  1. Your time is one of the most valuable things you can give. Whatever your budget, your time is possibly the most valuable thing you have to give in a relationship. Taking time out of your usual routine to be with your beloved, alone as a couple if possible, will no doubt make them feel more greatly sought after. In today’s society time is such a valued asset that often the day-to-day pressures of modern life result in work, family and other commitments over taking your ability to have time together as a couple. Leaving the daily grind behind and going somewhere away from it all is a great way of ensuring you can focus your attention on one another.
  2. Romance has to be personal. Considering your beloved’s likes and tailoring your Valentine’s gesture towards this is essential if you want to show that you not only care, but that you care enough to find out what they like and include this in your token of love. In order to show your partner that it is them, as an individual, that you treasure you can’t go wrong if you include something you know they like! If you do choose to take time out from your usual routine to spend with your loved one then using it to do something they enjoy will only add to how valued they will feel.
  3. Romance is not practical. A new steam iron or a subscription to Weight Watchers maybe what you think your partner really needs, however this is not the time for sensible, practical gifts and gestures. Valentine’s Day is all about doing things out of the ordinary, so forget (as much as possible) the practicalities of your gesture, and go with the spur of the moment. Fair enough, a week away in the Bahamas may not fit in with your boss’s demands and your new year’s commitment to attend the gym daily, but taking a short break, not too far from home, somewhere secluded and private, to indulge the one you love might just be possible even with your tight schedule and everyone likes nice surprises! I remember one of my most successful Valentine’s day offerings was to take my long suffering partner on a short break in a wee cottage on the Isle of Cumbrae, we turned off our mobiles, left the world behind and enjoyed the beautiful sunset over the Firth of Clyde, together. Even a few years on we still both remember it as a time that was just about us and what we have together.

There is no doubt that being able to relax, in beautiful surroundings, with the person you think most of in the world is a wonderful way to spend Valentine’s Day, and when the flowers have wilted and the chocolates have been eaten, the memories of quality time spent together remains. Whatever you get up to this Valentine’s Day, I hope you have a great time and avoid relegation to the sofa, at least for tonight!

A Glorious (Romantic?!) Clyde Sunset.

Danger Valley

The fact that grew up in “the most dangerous valley in Scotland” was brought to my attention this week!  Why was I not aware of this before now you may ask?  And how did I survive?

It seems that the key to my continued existence, and my obliviousness to my home’s worrying reputation, is simply the century in which I was born.  Had I entered the world 450 years earlier things could have been very different, and the location where I was given life would most likely been responsible for my early demise!

Brutality, violence and conflict were the way of life in the Liddesdale valley throughout the middle ages, and it was this ferocious culture that earned the stretch of land its forbidding reputation.  The land through which the Liddel waters flow straddles the England-Scotland border, making it the front line for battles between the two opposing countries long before the concept of a ‘united kingdom’ was ever suggested.  However, it was not just warring between nations that bloodied the ground.  Neighbouring clans would raid each other’s land to steal livestock (and even women) from their fellow countrymen.

If you wander through this beautiful valley now it is so peaceful and unspoilt it can be difficult to believe that it has been witness to such treachery and betrayal, although there are a few ancient buildings and stone built memorials dotted around the landscape that remind you of times long past.  Hermitage Castle, which sits about 6 miles from the village of Newcastleton, is one such relic.

Sinister, stark, and somehow almost threatening, it stands ominously amongst the hills.  Unlike many historic attractions, it is a building that I think is best to visit on a day when the sky is dark and the air is cool, making sure you get a real appreciation of just how menacing and intimidating this castle can feel!  Complimenting the building’s haunting ambience is the tale of ‘Bad Lord Soulis’ who apparently lived in the castle and was eventually wrapped in lead and boiled to death by the Liddesdale clans – and if you believe the story it was one of the more justifiable murders they committed!

I have to admit that I am rather glad I was not quite so aware of the valley’s terrifying history when, in my youth, I had a very overactive imagination.  But I’m glad that I watched the first programme in the BBC series ‘Scotland Clans’ (which was shown on BBC Scotland this Wednesday) from which I gained this increased knowledge about the significant blood-shed which once took place so close to my childhood home.

Those who missed it (or are out with the catchment area for BBC Scotland) can catch it on BBC iplayer until Wednesday 16th February.   If it inspires you to explore the area for yourself and indulge in the rich history and traditions of the Border country, my personal recommendation for a place to stay is Braehead Cottage, just 11 miles from Hermitage Castle itself.

Small Cat, Big Attitude.

When I was at school (not so long ago – honest!) there was a period of time when sightings of unidentified big cats in places such as Cornwall and Dartmoor were common place in the tabloid newspapers.  As a teenager I found these stories rather intriguing.  Perhaps it was the allure of the unknown that fed my imagination, or the idea that these predators were surviving against all odds out with their preferred environment and eluding humans in the process.

Rarer animals that avoid human contact and lurk far from civilisation often do have that bit more appeal than the common, every-day species of animals that share our lives and lands.  I think it’s the air of mystery which they create, through the privacy they crave and their almost secretive nature, which sparks our imagination.  One such example, which has quickly become a favourite of mine, is the Scottish Wildcat.

Wildcat at the Highland Wildlife Park, Inverness-shire

I share my home with two gorgeous (although I recognise that I am slightly biased) Siamese cats and I am incredibly fond of them.  They’re cuddly, affectionate, comical, cute and amazingly human-like, but the thought of them surviving without the comforts with which I provide them is almost not worth considering.   Their breeding and the way I have raised them has resulted on them being almost entirely dependent on me.  A good example of this was provided during the period of heavy snow at the end of last year.  As I trudged in and out of the house collecting wood from the shed for the fire I left the back door of the cottage open.  Isis, the more inquisitive of my two cats, decided to venture out on to the door step, putting her front paws into the snow that had gathered.  Next thing I heard was an almighty cry (more like that of a baby than a cat) and a flash of black fur as she shot past me back into the warmth of the house – she hasn’t attempted to venture out since!

Pampered Pets!

As much as I love my cats (I even got rid of my husband because my cats were allergic), I found myself even more greatly charmed by their native cousins when I visited the Highland Wildlife Park this weekend.  Just as beautiful as my domestic felines, these cats are truly enthralling creatures – in their natural environment they are extraordinarily illusive and extremely wary of humans, keeping well away from populated areas.  It is thought that there are as few as 400 of them left in the wild, hiding out in the remotest, most isolated parts of the Scottish Highlands – so seeing them in their natural habitat is a very special treat for those lucky enough to do so.

Seeing these untamed, independent and self-sufficient wild animals, with their perfectly honed instincts, determined nature and resilient attitude it was difficult to believe that the delicate, indulged, wimpy wee ‘scaredy’ cats that I live with are related to them at all!  In my eyes Scottish Wildcats resemble larger cats such as tigers, lions and pumas, more than they do our domesticated pet moggys and I think it is the inherent unpredictability and enigmatic attitude that they share with larger predators which makes them so enchanting and fascinating.  If you have the opportunity to visit one of the centres which is supporting the survival of this scarce, and often underappreciated, native prowler I wholeheartedly recommend you do so.

If you want to get £2 off per person, per ticket, to visit the Highland Wildlife Park , Scottish Holiday company ‘Unique Cottages’ are running a discount promotion, just sign up to their free E-magazine or join them on Facebook to gain access to the offer.

A right to roam.

For me, one of the greatest advantages of living in Scotland is the ability to enjoy the countryside around me! Whenever I choose I am fortunate to be able step out of the front door of my cottage on to the hillside and roam across the landscape, as long as I do so responsibly. I’ll often walk to places far from the beaten track and not see another soul for hours, discovering places I never knew existed and sometimes feeling like I might be the first person in years to have explored a certain area or to have had the opportunity of appreciating an unusual land formation, hidden cave or secluded waterfall.

It’s all yours!

Somewhere in my subconscious I keep on waiting to hear a farmer cry “get off my land!”…but I’m in Scotland, so that call will never come, after all, up here we have the wonderful ‘right to roam’ and enjoy the natural riches of our beautiful landscape. This right has to be part of what makes our country so special and each one of its inhabitants so blessed. It also has to be one of the things which helps attracts so many visitors to our shores.

This blessing is not bestowed in all of Great Britain, all the land throughout the UK belongs to someone, but in England if you go on to land without the owner’s permission, you are trespassing! There are exceptions of course, for example if there is a right of access for the public, or if you personally have the right to pass over the land to reach some land of your own. But it’s not like here in Scotland where, happily, we are not bound by the same restrictions!

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established universal access rights to most land and inland water and it is this act which ensures that no matter who you are, you can responsibly enjoy the varied, and often breathtaking, terrain of this most unspoilt of lands.

With so many activities in today’s society incurring some type of cost for those who wish to partake, the fact that Scotland offers so much potential enjoyment for free is not to be sniffed at! So roam, explore, discover and revel in our limitless fine lands with the peace of mind that the only price you will pay is that of being respectful of others right to do the same!

If you are heading out exploring in Scotland this weekend, then it’s worth having a wee look over the “Responsible Land Access Code” which gives guidelines about how you can ensure we all continue to get benefit from this rare, fantastic and liberating ‘right to roam’! http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Celebrate the Summer solstice tonight in Scotland

It’s not just Stonehenge where all the Gandalf-wannabes gather, you know. Apart from the Beltane Festival which already took place this year in April to mark the beginning of Summer, there are a few more places we can think of to whet your astrological appetite.

The Callanish stones on the Isle of Lewis are famous not for their alignment with the midsummer sun but with the midsummer moon. Some astrologists claim that the position of the moon on midsummer night behind one of the stones to be pure coincidence but what does it really matter when we all know that Stonehenge was rebuilt in the 1950′s.

The Maeshowe cairn on Orkney is of particular interest for those celebrating the Winter solstice for the angle at which the sun descends through the tunnel towards the inner chamber and its alignment with the Barnhouse stone 800m away. What we find truly amazing is that the sun even makes it to Orkney in December.

It is only in recent years that the stones at Ballochroy, Kintyre has sparked interest amongst astrologists. The stones are best seen tonight but it will involve leaving your car and climbing a hill to the site which you carbon-guzzling hippies may find hard to get your head around.

But why bother with all those crusty old sites when you can be a new-age hippy. And by new-age we mean pay a visit Britain’s newest stone circle. Sighthill in Glasgow was to be the site for the first stone circle built in the UK for 3000 years but plans were cut short in the 1970′s when half way through building, the plug was pulled on spending.

Blame Thatcher.

Its creator, David Lunan, (we’re starting to wonder if he changed his name – Lunan, luna, moon – see where we’re coming from?) wants to see the project completed for party-goers to come and enjoy the midsummer celebrations. We’re sure Somerset would be all to happy to pass on your details to the bearded men dressed in bedsheets, Dave. Not so sure however what the residents of the nearby tower blocks would say though.