Tag Archives: Heritage

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.

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.

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.