Tag Archives: History

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.

Charming New Addition – The Study at Minto

History fans and those looking for something ‘a bit different’ are sure to love the latest addition to our portfolio, which is set in the picturesque village of Minto in the Scottish Borders.

Perfectly set up for two people, The Study at Minto was built in 1889 as the village school in a location that was deemed to be ‘the most beautiful and commodious in the south of Scotland’. The views are indeed stunning and can be enjoyed from the beautiful raised patio outside after a day spent out exploring the local area.

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Open Plan Living Area

The building itself has undergone a long and careful restoration and preservation that has retained most of its stunning original features including fine Gothic windows as well as floors, doors and decorative woodwork.

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Four-Poster Bed

The interior is a fabulous eclectic mix of history and craftsmanship. An intricately-carved Tudor four-poster bed provides a rather grand place to sleep, after which you can cook-up a tasty breakfast (free range eggs can be sourced in the village) in a kitchen constructed from an early 19th century French sideboard rescued from a chateau south of Paris, with worktops formed from recycled Victorian pews from a Borders church.

Two stunning carved oak panels on either side of the south window date from 1890 and were created in the workshops of the eminent Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer. Amongst the exquisite Persian rugs and French and Scottish furniture dating from the mid 18th to the late 19th centuries, visitors can also discover a 1920s working gramophone and taxidermy including a rare Capercaille named Hector who was a pet on a Scottish estate that died of natural causes.

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Shower Room

Even the shower room at The Study is packed with history with its loo and basin being beautiful reproductions of the original Thomas Crapper line from around 1880.

There’s no shortage of history in the surrounding area as well, with lots to discover on the many walks near the cottage.

An old medieval church lies abandoned in the woods across the golf course, surrounded by the remnants of Victorian planned rose gardens. Attached to the church wall, you can still see a ‘joug’ – a terrifying chain that was placed around the neck of gossiping women as a means of punishment!

North east of Minto village is Fatlips Castle. Built as a Turnbull clan stronghold in 1530, its memorable name is said to originate from the habit of members of the house to greet guests with less discretion than was considered decent at the time. The key to the Castle can be borrowed from an adjacent village.

There’s a treasure-trove of beautiful buildings and bridges in the nearby Minto estate, as well as a hidden lake with a delightful waterfall in Gibbies Glen. The area’s natural beauty also includes the giant and famous Minto Larches. Grown from seedlings and planted in the glen 300 years ago, they are thought to be the oldest and best examples in Scotland.

Nearby Ruberslaw Hill is actually an extinct volcano and an ancient place of worship. It has been much celebrated by poets and writers in the Borders who have seen from its summit one of the most beautiful views in Scotland.

Filled with history, tradition and natural beauty, this part of the Borders is a wonderful place to visit and with its fabulous charm and character, The Study makes the perfect base. Pet friendly and sleeping two people, a week’s stay starts from just £450.

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.

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.

A Royal Appointment…

Prince William and his soon-to-be wife Kate Middleton visit Scotland this week and return to the place there their relationship first started – St Andrews University.  Their trip is prompted by the university requesting that William be patron for their 600th Anniversary appeal.  One of the main aims of the appeal is to raise money for scholarships with the noble objective of supporting bright students without financial means to be able to benefit from a St Andrews higher education (not something William or Kate had to worry about when they attended).  Obviously, I am all for everyone, no matter his or her financial position, being able to attend university and St Andrews, the first University in Scotland, should be no exception!

I was accepted at St Andrews University myself (1 or 2 years before William and Kate attended!) and, on my intrepid quest to try to work out (at the tender and clueless age of 17) which University I should choose I visited the town and had a look around the university.  I decided in the end that St Andrews was not the University for me (much to my parents and teachers disappointment) and instead the City of Newcastle suffered my ‘interesting’ student years.   But my choice not to go with St Andrews was no reflection on the university, town or the surrounding area, rather the lesser number of pubs (which at 18 was of crucial importance to me) it had in relation to the big city!

Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at Newcastle University, however now (older and wiser?) I can’t help but think that maybe I missed a trick (and the chance for a royal husband)!  St Andrews University and the town in which it is situated are steeped in history and tradition.  The architecture of the town is truly stunning and for those who enjoy golf it is definitely a place you can’t afford to miss.  My favourite building (or what is left of a building) is St Andrews Castle that stands close to the water’s edge over looking the small beach of Castle Sands, there is something quite haunting about the structure which was once used as a prison, and it proximity to the often harsh north sea just adds to its almost threatening character.

The history of the town extends beyond its boundaries; with the nearby village of Cellardyke has one of the most pretty old fishing ports in the country and Lower Largo birthplace of the ‘real’ Robinson Crusoe.    Branching further out of the town are treasures such as the village of St Monans with its superb coastal views and quaint traditional houses on narrow winding streets and intriguing stories of piracy, smuggling and shipwrecks.  Relics of the less distant past also wait to be discovered – Scotland’s Secret Bunker, built in the 1950, is well worth a visit.  And while Newcastle had its fair share of kebab shops (another staple of my student years) I have yet to find a better fish supper than the one served at the award winning Anstruther Fish Bar!

So, as William and Kate head back to St Andrews, the starting point of their romance, I do hope they get the opportunity to take some time out from their busy schedule and enjoy some of the peaceful pleasures the East Neuk of Fife has on offer before the stress of the pre-wedding frenzy!

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.