Tag Archives: Scotland

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! >

Calling all Foodies!

May joins us this year with the sun shining and a pleasant warmth which promises that it going to be a fantastic summer weather wise, and I for one am looking forward to the opportunities that dry and warm conditions offer!

Indulging in a little (or in my case a lot of) alfresco eating is one of my favourite ways to spend the long, warm summer evenings; especially if the food is something a wee bit more special than your normal barbeque cuisine of charcoaled sausages and bedraggled burgers.

I find that one of the best ways to get exciting recipe ideas for mouth-watering meals that are perfect for outside dining is to attend one of the many food festivals that take place throughout Scotland.  With a variety of fresh local produce, Scotland’s food fairs and festivals are a celebration of all that is great about Scottish fare and a brilliant chance to pick up some interesting (and tasty) tips to spice up your summer eating.

Whether you fancy trying something completely different like venison jerky with a wild garlic salad, or want to put an interesting new twist on old favourite by adding the award winning Crittel Cheese to your burger rather than a bog standard slice, Scotland’s food fairs and festivals are an ideal place to get inspiration.

One such festival takes place later this month in Argyll, on the banks of Loch Fyne.

The Loch Fyne Food Fair is a two-day celebration of west coast food, with the star of the show being the world famous Loch Fyne Oysters.  These are known for their superb taste which is in large part due to the exceptional cleanliness and quality of the loch in which they grow (that and the fact they’re so fresh).  Fortunately, if you can’t make it up to Loch Fyne on the 14th or 15th of this month, you can sample this exquisite local delicacy all year round at the Cairndow Oyster Bar and Restaurant which is open 7 days a week.

See cottages near Loch Fyne >

More Scottish food festivals >

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 >

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.