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.
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.
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.
As our property manager Eelin reminded me, Easter is not all about chocolate, but I have to admit, for me it definitely plays a very big part of my celebration of the festival! There is something about the taste of chocolate when it’s been made into the shape of an egg which somehow makes it that bit yummier.
I have a bit of a penchant for non-brand name chocolate Easter eggs which have not just come off the supermarket shelf. I prefer an egg that is a little bit more unique, one fit for a special occasion such as Easter. The decadence of a hand-made, beautifully decorated, luxury chocolate egg that holds a secret treat inside which remains unknown until you crack open that tasty oval exterior, now that’s an Easter egg worth breaking my healthy eating plan for!
Regular readers of ‘Our Unique Blog’ will know that here at Unique Cottages we like to share with you our specialist knowledge of Scotland and tell you about the hidden treasures of this beautiful country. So, as an Easter treat allow me to tell you about a wee village in the Highlands that always comes to mind when I think of indulging in some very special chocolate, and a chocolate shop which you just have to visit if you’re in the area.
The former spa town Strathpeffer, just a 30-minute drive from the Highland capital of Inverness, is home to what has to be described as a chocolate lover’s heaven. ‘Maya Belgian Chocolates’ is run by Maître Chocolatier Fabienne De Mulder who creates and sells a range of over 40 different chocolates from her shop close to the centre of the village. Fabienne’s signature chocolates include ganache made from raspberry pulp covered in white chocolate, ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea covered in dark chocolate and ganache with Amaretto (Almond based liqueur) covered in milk chocolate (I’d tell you more but my mouth is watering with the thought of these 3 alone!)
As well as selling individual chocolates and truffles, boxes and bars, the shop is well known for its Hot Chocolate, which is truly ‘to die for’ and at certain times visitors can even watch Fabienne creating her exclusive chocolates right there on the premises.
If like me, a fabulous chocolate shop selling delicious melt in your mouth treats is enough of an attraction on its own to inspire you consider holidaying close by, then Unique Cottages have a number of delightful properties in the area which will provide comfortable and attractive accommodation for your chocolate pilgrimage.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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 –
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.
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!