Tag Archives: Scotland

Happy Scotland Week!

In the USA (and for the first year in Canada) this week is Scotland Week, which runs from the 3rd of April to the 10th of April and celebrates all things Scottish.  4.8 million Americans reportedly have Scottish ancestry (2000 census) and 4,719,850 people in Canada can be described as ‘Scottish-Canadian’ (2001 census), so both countries’ strong heritage links to Scotland are represented by this weeklong exploration of Scottish culture.

We’re quite obviously biased, but we think Scotland Week is a great idea.  There is indeed so much to celebrate about our fine country!  One such example is our excellent (and unique) cuisine, from Haggis to Selkirk Bannock, Cock-a-leekie Soup to deep-fried, battered Mars Bars we Scots have an interesting variety of ‘traditional’ foods.  Therefore, it is only right that as part of Scotland Week one of our renowned chefs, Michael Smith, shares his expertise with Scotland’s kindred spirits across the pond.

Born in Inverness, Michael Smith is scheduled to appear on a number of well know TV programs in American and Canada, including the ‘Martha Stewart Show’.  However, for those closer to home who wish to sample the culinary delights of this highly commended chef, he will then return to his usual stomping grounds as Head Chef at the highly rated Three Chimney’s restaurant on the beautiful Isle of Skye.

On the edge of Loch Dunvegan, the restaurant offers a first class dining experience on an island that can accurately be described as magical!  Unique Cottages has some wonderful self-catering properties within easy reach of this acclaimed eatery, including The Missionary’s House (sleeping 5) only a 5 minute drive away, Kinlochfollart (sleeping 10) and, new for this year, the extremely inviting Claigan House (sleeping 4).

Although dinning out every night at the Three Chimney’s may not be within everyone’s budget, the joy of self-catering in Skye is that you can recreate the experience back at your home base, with a variety of fresh, local produce available from suppliers on the island.  For more information about our self-catering properties in Skye (because, let’s face it, on an island so beautiful it’ll not just be the fine food that tempts you to visit), send us an email enquiry or call 01835 822277 and we’ll be happy to help you find your dream island get away.

And to those celebrating across the Atlantic, from all at Unique Cottages, may we wish you an splendid Scottish Week this week and an terrific Tartan Day tomorrow!

A unique gift.

So, this Sunday is Mother’s Day which, for me, always brings with it the quandary about what to give my dear old Mum as a token of my appreciation for her and all she has done for me (a great deal if I’m honest).  When I needed her she was always there and continues to be there for me no matter what (Mother’s job you may say) but considering my poor attitude and obnoxiousness at times (especially during my teenage years), I really have pushed the limits of a mother’s love in my time!

I know that people often say that it is the thought that counts and that Mums especially will be pleased with whatever you give them because it’s from you, but still, considering all she has done, I feel the need to get her something that she really will be pleased to receive.  But this is not the easiest of tasks!

I’ve made my mistakes over my lifetime when it comes to choosing that all important Mother’s day pressie. In this particular matter is seems I take after my father, who also, more often than not, purchases presents for my mother that antagonise rather than delight!

After numerous mistakes and leaving my parent’s home with a feeling of failure, despite my Mother’s efforts to reassure me that she “really does appreciate the thought” (my mum could never have made it as an actress) a solution had to be found. And I think I have finally found one, which, over the last few years at least, seems to ensure a happy Mother’s day for all.

My secret weapon in the battle of choosing an appropriate present for the woman I owe my life to is (drum roll please)…..Gift Vouchers!   Yeah, I know sounds boring but I have found that the benefits of buying a gift voucher vastly outweigh the fact you are not giving a gift that you can wrap.  The joy of gift vouchers is that the recipient gets some element of choice, meaning that it is harder to go wrong when making sure the present is something they really like.

However, as with everything in life, there are rules to make gift voucher giving work for you!  Some thought is still involved. It would be fair enough to get your Mother a voucher from Halfords if she’s really into her car, but my Mum’s main concern when it comes to her car is that it gets her from A to B (with plenty of space for shopping bags).  Therefore, a Halfords voucher isn’t going to work for her.  My Mother works hard (keeping an eye on me, my siblings, and my Dad, as well as earning a living) so I find that getting a gift voucher which allows her to treat herself and take time out from the daily grind goes down well.  Last year I got her a gift voucher for a spa day, the year before that I got her a voucher for a posh meal so she could get some ‘quality time’ with my Dad and not have to cook.

With the increase in things you can get gift vouchers for, they really have become a very simple way of giving something that the recipient can tailor to their own tastes, therefore ensuring they like what you give and you can truly show your appreciation of them.  A potential idea for a gift voucher, which may suit some Mothers this year, is one that gives her money off a holiday and offers her a chance to escape and relax for a while.

At Unique Cottages we offer Gift Vouchers for a holiday retreat to Scotland available in multiples of £25 which are valid for 2 years, so your mum not only has a choice of fabulous holiday cottages to choose from but also plenty of time in which to book her well deserved break.

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.

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!

5 things you might not know…

As the readership of “Our Unique Blog” continues to rise, it occurred to me that we’ve never really taken the time to let you get to know Unique Cottages a wee bit better. So, in an attempt to address this, I’ve put together –
“5 things you might not know about Unique Cottages
1)We’re completely Scottish!
First established in Scotland, based in Scotland and only letting cottages in Scotland, you can rest assured that we know this fine land and how to help you get the best out of your stay here.
2)We’ve been around for a good while.
Since 1994, long before the days of the internet and our website which launched in 1993, we have produced a quality brochure full of unique properties in the best locations in Scotland.
3)We’ve got a lot of experience
Jill Bristow, the founder and Senior Director of Unique Cottages has over 40 years of experience letting holiday properties and ensures that the knowledge she has gained over the years is used to benefit all guest who book with us.
4)We’re small enough to care.
Our dedicated team of booking office staff have an in-depth knowledge of our properties and if they can’t answer your question about a cottage then they’ll be happy to find out the answer for you.
5)We turn down more properties than we take on.
Our commitment to bringing you well situated, beautiful and unique properties means that we only take on properties that we feel meet our exacting standards.
Whether you’ve booked with us before, learnt about us through a friend or accidently stumbled across us in an internet search, one thing you can be sure of is that we’re glad you found us and look forward to helping you find your ideal, unique Scottish escape.

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!

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?