All posts by jennifermacl

Exploring Scotland’s Best Beaches

Clear blue waters, giant dunes and stretches of soft golden sands. No, we’re not talking about the Caribbean, but Scotland, the surprising home of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Scotland’s beaches have a charm and character unique to the country and often feature fabulous wildlife and activities galore to try out from windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and surfing to swimming, sandcastle building and rock pooling.

We’ve picked five of our favourites beaches that, like all of Scotland’s beaches, are perfect for exploring at any time of year – you don’t have to save them just for the summer.

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1. Seacliff Beach near North Berwick, East Lothian

Situated on the gorgeous East Lothian coast, this is a gem of a beach that’s accessed by a private road (small charge). Visitors are treated to a beautiful sandy beach, a fascinating tiny harbour plus fantastic views of the dramatic Tantallon Castle on the cliffs overhead.

Out to sea, the famous Bass Rock dominates the horizon, a former prison island that is now home to one of the largest gannet colonies in the world. If you are really lucky you may even catch sight of the beautiful Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

Shore Cabin, Driftwood and The Beach House are all in easy reach of Seacliff and sit on yet another sandy beach of their own!

2. Morlich Beach at Glenmore, Cairngorms National Park

Loch Morlich Beach
Loch Morlich Beach

Did you know that one of Scotland’s loveliest beaches is actually 25 miles from the sea? Loch Morlich is a fresh water loch in the Cairngorms with wonderful sandy beaches, a water sports centre and yacht club.

It is surrounded by acres of forest and has a stunning backdrop of the beautiful northern Cairngorms. It really is a perfect beach resort like no other.

Alvie Cottage is just over 15 minutes’ drive away and is new to our portfolio so currently has plenty of availability, a week’s stay starts at just £365.

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3. Camusdarach Beach at Arisaig

Made famous when it featured in the film Local Hero, Camusdarach Beach is a fantastic place to while away the hours. There are stunning views over the islands of Eigg, Rum and Skye plus wonderful walks and lots of places to explore with the family. It is a true gem.

Orchard House and Achnahanat are both set just a mile away from this wonderful beach.

4. Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris

Luskentyre Beach
Luskentyre Beach

Luskentyre Beach in the south of the island of Harris frequently makes it onto lists of the country’s best beaches and it is very easy to see why. The seascape is truly spectacular with clear blue waters, white sands and amazing scenery that wouldn’t seem out of place abroad.

We have a range of lovely properties on both the isles of Harris and Lewis.

5. Coral beaches at Claigan, near Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye

Claigan Coral Beach
Claigan Coral Beach

The wonderful coral beaches at Claigan on the Isle of Skye are, despite their name, actually made up of scraps of hardened algae and seaweed from the sea. A lovely walk leads along to the beach which is great to walk along whatever the weather to admire the remarkable sparkling turquoise waters. You may even see some of the local cows that like to have a nice lie on the beach themselves.

Mag Findargat is just 11 miles from the coral beaches and offers a spacious, contemporary getaway with plenty of room to spread out into. A week’s stay starts at just £575 and discounts are available for couples.

We have dozens of coastal cottages right round Scotland that are perfect for exploring the country’s shoreline. If you are ready to hit the beach, just visit our coastal properties to find your perfect Scottish holiday cottage. A lot of our beachside properties are now booking up already for 2018 so get booking while there is still some availability! If you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, our booking team are happy to help on 01835 822277.

Bustling Book Festival Come to the Borders

Guest blogger Markus Stitz fills us in on an interesting upcoming event.

This week sees a celebration of literature in the Scottish Borders as the annual Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival arrives in Melrose from 15 to 18 June 2017.

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Stars of stage and screen will make their way to Melrose for the four day festival that is opened by actress Anne Reid’s one-woman show about her 50 year long TV career, including her time on Dinner Ladies and Last Tango in Halifax. Some of the other big names appearing at the festival are Fawlty Towers star John Cleese; TV wildlife adventurer Steve Backshall; international tennis coach Judy Murray; bestselling novelist Joanna Trollope and TV’s one and only Michael Parkinson.

A particular highlight of the festival is the story of two Yorkshire mums’ adventures rowing across the Atlantic and Rory Stewart talking about his experience of walking 600 miles over 30 days in the borderlands between England and Scotland.

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Louise Gray © Nancy Macdonald

On Friday Louise Gray hosts a discussion of her new book ‘The Ethical Carnivore’ that explores how she decided to only eat animals that she had killed herself, starting with fishing and oyster shucking and moving on to rabbits and deer.

Fans of Top Gear will enjoy hearing from Richard Porter on Sunday. He worked as script editor on Top Gear from 2002 all the way through to 2015 and is now script editor for The Grand Tour. His book ‘And On That Bombshell’ gives a behind the scenes insight into the show and what it is really like to work with Jeremy Clarkson!

Richard Porter

In her new book ‘The Children of Jocasta’ Natalie Haynes reimagines the Oedipus and Antigone stories from the perspectives of two of the women who have often been overlooked: Jocasta and Ismene. Natalie combines stand-up comedy with her passion for classical literature and will wow the audience on Thursday evening.

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Border Book Festival

The Family Book Festival runs through Saturday and Sunday with fun for the whole family and an array of children’s authors including Philip Ardagh, Petr Horacek, Guy Bass, Vivian French, and bestselling author Derek Landy.

Entry to the festival site is free and there will be live music, street food, gift stalls and a food village with some fine local produce. There are also free events for children including storytelling, stilt walkers and circus skills.

The festival runs every June, so why not get booked in at a Scottish Borders holiday cottage ready to enjoy the festival in 2018? More information on the Borders Book Festival can be found at http://www.bordersbookfestival.org.

Markus Stitz, Guest Blogger

Scotland – Star of the Silver Screen

The scenery of Scotland plays a starring role in a new film that has just been released. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Eric Bana in this latest portrayal of the legendary medieval king.

The blockbuster is the latest in a growing number of films to use Scotland’s glorious scenery as a backdrop, a trend that has been accompanied by increasing numbers of tourists searching out the locations of their favourite movies. And no wonder, when you consider some of the locations that have been chosen. From Braveheart and Bond to Outlander, Monty Python and the Da Vinci Code, Scotland could certainly win an Academy Award for its movie settings.

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The wonderful Quiraing, Isle of Skye

The iconic cliff face of the Quiraing on the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye is one of the stunning locations in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. It’s a dramatic backdrop that has also featured in the 2015 version of Macbeth and in fantasy movie, Stardust, staring Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a truly spectacular setting and well worth a visit, even if you haven’t seen the films.

Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides and was voted fourth best island destination in the world by National Geographic magazine. There are activities aplenty on land, including fantastic walking and climbing opportunities, and at sea, plus a host of attractions offering a peak at island’s unique history. Visitors can explore Dunvegan Castle, one of the greatest Hebridean castles and the only one that has been continually occupied by the same family for 800 years. And you can quite literally walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs if you visit the beautiful beach at An Corran, Staffin to see the remarkable footprints that were left by a family of dinosaurs 160 million years ago.

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Mag Findargat

There are lots of beautiful cottages to choose from when you visit Skye including Mag Findargat near Dunvegan. This pet-friendly, contemporary home sleeps 6 people and has large windows that flood the cottage with light and provide wonderful views. It is close to Dunvegan Castle and an easy walk from the award winning Three Chimneys restaurant. Prices start at £575 for 7 nights.

Or you could try Garbh Bheinn, a beautiful cottage overlooking the Sound of Sleat. Stylish and modern, it sleeps up to 7 people and 2 pets, with prices starting at £595 for a week’s stay.

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The Three Sisters, Glen Coe

No article about Scotland’s fantastic film locations would be complete without a mention of Glen Coe, arguably Scotland’s most scenic and historic glen. Its wonderful light and unpolluted atmosphere are loved by film makers from across the globe and it featured prominently in Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie, starring Daniel Craig, and provided a stunning setting for scenes in Rob Roy and Braveheart.

Glen Coe is a haven for walkers, climbers, mountain bikers and those who simply love to stop, stare and enjoy the sight of the towering mountains. Laraichean at the Pap of Glencoe is the perfect place for doing just that with its upstairs wall of windows leading to a raised deck that has one of the best and most exclusive views across the glen. You can walk straight out of the property onto the hills, or stroll through the woods to the village. Laraichean sleeps 6 and prices start at £550 for 7 nights.

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The view from Laraichean

Laraichean would also be a great base for visiting another of Scotland’s best-known film locations – the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Famous to a generation of Harry Potter fans, the viaduct carried the Hogwarts Express as it transported dozens of eager young wizards to school, stopping off at Glenfinnan station en route. The Jacobite Steam train runs regularly from Glenfinnan to Fort William and Mallaig throughout the summer months, allowing fans to experience their own piece of Potter-magic.

Why not experience the set of some of the movie greats for yourself this year? Just visit our website or call 01835 822277 and speak to our friendly booking team who can help you choose the perfect cottage for your stay.

Adrenalin and Adventure in Mountain Biking Heaven

Scotland is a haven for mountain bikers. Whether you’re just heading out for a few hours of adventure or taking to the tracks for some serious cycling, the country has the forests, hill, glens and awesome scenery to rival any of the world’s mountain biking destinations.

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Photo Courtesy of Stewart Meldrum

One of the most popular places for the sport is the South of Scotland. The area is sometimes overlooked by visitors as they head to the central belt and beyond, but it’s somewhere that mountain bikers in the know return to time after time.

Stretching from the Scottish Borders in the east to Dumfries and Galloway in the west, the area features the famous 7Stanes – a series of mountain bike trail centres comprising a mixture of different graded trails running through fabulous mountains and hills.

One of the most popular is Glentress in the heart of the Tweed Valley near the pretty Borders town of Peebles. The centre boasts a skills area for beginners, plus excellent Green and Blue routes. More experienced mountain bikers will love the Red route with its Spooky Wood descent, as well as the epic 30km Black route.

Adrenaline-junkies can pop along the road to Innerleithen and experience the leg-burning climb and thrilling single track descents of the centre’s XC route, or the exhilarating, ‘extreme’-rated Innerleithen Downhill with its Cresta Run, Matador, Make or Brake and Gold Run sections – definitely not for the faint-hearted.

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Downhill course at Innerleithen – Photo Courtesy of Stewart Meldrum

Further west, in Dumfries and Galloway, another highlight of the 7Stanes is Mabie, just south of Dumfries. It offers something for every level of mountain biking, from peaceful rides through the forest to the 17km Red-graded Phoenix Trail and The Dark Side, a 3.8km orange-rated bike park graded trail that’s strictly for experts.

A recent visitor to the South of Scotland is famous cycling adventurer, Markus Stitz. Born in Germany but now based in Edinburgh, he is known for cycling around the world on a bike with just one gear. Markus recently stayed at Whitmuir Steading Cottage – a delightful converted farm building that sits between Melrose and Selkirk and is surrounded by stunning countryside.

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Markus Stitz on his recent visit to the Whitmuir Estate – Copyright: markusstitz.com

Markus has kindly created some new cycle routes around this beautiful part of the Borders. These Ale Water Trails range from the 9-mile Selkirkshire Ward Route, which is great for beginners and starts and finishes in Selkirk, to the 108 mile Reiver Raid loop that offers 11 hours of exhilarating riding.

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Whitmuir Steading Cottage’s Games Room

Whitmuir Steading Cottage sleeps four people from just £450 for 7 nights and comes complete with a games room and pool table for enjoying downtime together, plus important cycling accessories including bike tools, a puncture repair kit and an air pump. It is one of three of our cottages that are set on the beautiful Whitmuir Estate.

Further north, the hills and glens of the Scottish Highlands also feature some mountain biking treasures including two great routes on the Glenlivet Estate in the heart of Cairngorms National Park just 4 miles from the village of Tomintoul.

The 9km Blue trail is idea for novice or experienced riders and comprises sweeping single track trails and forest roads. It is suitable for families and is great for a bit of wildlife spotting along the way.

The 22km Red route includes sections of the Blue run, but then branches off to take riders across moorland and through woodland on monster climbs and flat-out fast sections. Technical trail features include drop offs, rollers, stone staircases and berms. The centre also has a café, bike hire and bike washing facilities. It is also close to Tomintoul Distillery, if you fancy a wee dram after your ride.

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Cosy Corrunich Cottage

One of our wonderful wilderness retreats, Corrunich Cottage is also close-by. With a previous life as a barn, it has now been lovingly converted into a spacious, open-plan cottage for two people that is warm, light and airy and includes a fitness room with rowing machine, cross trainer, weights and table tennis.

Corrunich Cottage is pet friendly and costs from just £450 for 7 nights.

Find out more about mountain biking breaks or call 01835 822277 and speak to our friendly booking team who can help you choose the perfect cottage for your stay.

Discover Dolphins off Scotland’s Beautiful Coastline

Dolphins have long been amongst the most beloved of all animal stars with documentaries, television programmes and films all focusing on these intelligent, friendly, playful creatures and enchanting people of all ages. So much so, that a BBC poll of the public’s top 50 ultimate ‘things to do’ wish list placed swimming with dolphins in the number one spot.

The best way to enjoy these fascinating creatures has to be through seeing them in the wild. Ecotourism has taken the world by storm, more than trebling in the last 20 years and one of the top countries for dolphin spotting is definitely Scotland.

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Swimming the Seas

Marine research expeditions off the west coast of Scotland recorded record numbers of dolphins last year with over 2,300 common dolphins being sighted. Visitors can get involved both by spotting them from the shore or by taking one of the many Seafari boat trips that are offered from locations including Gairloch, Oban and Crinan.

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Chanonry Point Lighthouse

Scotland’s east coast is also enjoying a dolphin and porpoise boom with sightings occurring from the Fife coastal path south-east of St Andrews to South Queensferry and of course on the highly dolphin populated Moray coast where Chanory Point is regarded as the best location to dolphin spot from the land.

If getting up close to these beautiful animals is something you’d like to experience, we can offer ideal places to stay. The best time to spot dolphins in Scotland is from April to September so now is the perfect time to book a gorgeous holiday cottage as a base for your next ecoadventure.

We have dozens of cottages ideally situated for sealife spotting but have a selected a few that are in particularly prime locations.

The First Officers Quarters forms part of Rua Reidh Lighthouse near Gairloch on the West Coast. Built in 1910 by David Alan Steveson it has a truly spectacular location and this ground floor apartment within the lighthouse has been modernised to create a cosy and comfortable holiday home for up to five guests.

There are views from the property to the Isle of Skye, the Shiant Isles and the Western Isles, cliff top walks and beaches to explore and fantastic wildlife spotting opportunities with whales, dolphins, otters and eagles all regularly seen from the lighthouse wall. A stay in the First Officers Quarters is just £365 for 7 nights – it has three bedrooms and pets are welcomed.

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Mallard Cottage’s Wonderful Location

Also enjoying an enviable location is Mallard Cottage in Tayvallich. Sleeping up to 5 adults this stylish cottage features panoramic views of the marina with a stunning galleried landing and an open plan double height living/dining and kitchen area. Priced from £495 to £795 for week long stays it is just a short drive from Crinan harbour where boat trips are offered for wildlife watching and out to the dramatic Corryvreckan whirlpool.

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Cherry Cottage’s Garden

Alternative options on the east coast include The Old School House that is very close to Chanonry Point) and Cherry Cottage. The Old School House sleeps 8 people in four bedrooms and also welcomes pets. Priced from £550 a week it is set in a secluded location in Rosemarkie in the Black Isle, just 5 minutes from the beach. For a couple, picture perfect Cherry Cottage offers a fabulous romantic retreat and is the ideal place for dolphin spotting with views of the Moray Firth from the garden. The cottage is located near Ardersier by Inverness and costs from £295 to £495 per week.

Peruse our range of cottages or call 01835 822277 and speak to our friendly booking team who will help you choose the perfect accommodation for your Scottish dolphin spotting experience.

Treasure Hunting in Scotland

If you enjoy the thrill of a treasure hunt and also love spending time in the great outdoors, then a break spent ‘geocaching’ in Scotland might just be the thing you need to harness your inner adventurer.

A term first coined in 2000, geocaching is an activity that now boasts millions of devotees all over the globe and is a fantastic, fun way to get people of all ages out and about and enjoying their surroundings.

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One of Many ‘Caches’ to Track Down

All over Scotland, and indeed the world, special boxes or ‘caches’ have been hidden, awaiting discovery. The only equipment you’ll need is a GPS enabled device. Simply log on to the official geocaching site (free) and pop your location into the search box. You’ll then see the coordinates of the ‘caches’ nearby and you can just pick one and off you go.

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Logging Your Visit

Once you find the cache, look inside and sign the log book. You may even find some trinkets to swap, or a stamp to mark your own personal log book before putting the box back for other geocachers to find. All that’s left to do is to log your experience on the geocaching site when you get back. There’s quite a community of geocachers out there, most of whom are keen to share their experiences with fellow treasure hunters and many will have left reviews of their searches for your chosen cache.

Geocaching is a great way to find out more about your own area, or a place you may be visiting. Take Melrose, for example, a beautiful town in the Scottish Borders. A quick look on the geocaching website reveals a host of beautiful walks, amazing scenery and fascinating facts ready to be discovered as you search out your treasure.

As you look for the Rhymers Bridge cache you can learn about the reputed prophet, Thomas the Rhymer and his fairy friends and see where JMW Turner painted a waterfall when visiting Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford in the early 19th century. You could even follow this up with a visit to Abbotsford itself, Sir Walter Scott’s wonderful ‘conundrum caste’ on the banks of the River Tweed on the outskirts of Melrose.

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Hollybank Barn

Wherever you decide to head to on your Scottish geocaching adventures, our cottages make the perfect base. If you do decide to geocache in the Scottish Borders, why not stay in Hollybank Barn in the charming village of Gattonside with its winding lanes and chain footbridge that links the village with the town of Melrose. With a 5 star rating from our guests, it has a chic modern style and sleeps four people. Prices start at £460 for a 7 night stay.

The Trimontium Stone Summerhouse cache is hidden at another fascinating Borders landmark that few people discover on their visit to the region. The Summerhouse is a fascinating little building built with stones taken from a nearby Roman Fort in 1908 and while that wouldn’t be approved of by our modern day preservation standards, it’s fascinating to see and may well whet your appetite for all things Roman and encourage you to find out more about the region’s history in Roman occupied Britain at Melrose’s Trimontium exhibition.

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Eildon Cottage

You could try one of our newest properties, Eildon Cottage in Melrose. This secluded cottage sleeps 4 people and up to 2 pets and is in easy walking distance of Melrose’s many shops, pubs and restaurants. It is ideal for exploring the region and has a lovely wood-burning stove to curl up in front of after your day’s exertions. Prices start at £345 for 7 nights.

Browse our range of cottages that are spread out across the whole of Scotland or call 01835 822277 and speak to our friendly booking team who will help you choose the perfect accommodation for you and your treasure hunting team.

Discover Scotland’s Rich History in 2017

Scotland has just been placed at an impressive number 2 on the Rough Guide’s list of Top Ten countries to visit in 2017. As far as we’re concerned, it’s right at the top of the list of must-see destinations at any time, but with 2017 being dubbed Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, there are even more reasons to visit.

This special year aims to shine a light on Scotland’s greatest assets and hidden gems with a range of exciting events and activities celebrating our traditional music, storytelling, world-renowned history collections and heritage.

With over 450 cottages across the length and breadth of Scotland, our guests are never far from a story about Scotland’s fascinating past.

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Skara Brae Neolithic Settlement

200 year old Brekkan Cottage is located 14 miles from Stromness on West Mainland Orkney and is close to the four amazing archaeological attractions that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage sites. The most famous is probably Skara Brae, which was rediscovered following a storm in 1850 when wind and high winds stripped away the grass to reveal the outline of a number of stone buildings. Over the years, excavations and investigations have revealed a domestic settlement from the late Neolithic years (3200 to 2200 BC) with stone walls, passageways roofed with original stone slabs and stone furnishings including beds and dressers.

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The Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is a Neolithic stone circle surrounded by a rock cut ditch set in a spectacular natural amphitheatre of lochs and hills. Another of these Neolithic gems are the Standing Stones of Stenness – possibly the oldest henge monument in the whole of the British Isles. These four upright stones, each up to 6 metres tall, would have once been part of a stone circle on an ancient ceremonial site.

No less amazing is Orkney’s Maeshowe Chambered Cairn. Built around 5,000 years ago, it’s a work of Neolithic architectural genius with an entrance aligned with the setting of the midwinter sun so the light illuminates the tomb’s interior. There’s added interest in the form of some Norse graffiti left by crusaders who broke into Maeshowe in the mid 1100’s.

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Brekkan Cottage, Orkney

Brekkan Cottage sleeps 4 people and costs from £345 for 7 nights. If you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of the wonderful Northern Lights during your trip.

Scotland’s much more recent industrial heritage can be explored in a fabulously entertaining way at New Lanark in Lanarkshire. Founded in the 18th century, it tells the story of social pioneer Robert Owen and his cotton mill village. Mill owner Owen provided decent homes, fair wages, free healthcare, a new education system for villagers, as well as the first workplace nursery school in the world.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark has been beautifully restored as a living community that welcomes visitors from all over the world. The Visitor Centre includes the Annie Mcleod Experience where you can travel back in time to learn about the life and times of a mill girl in 1820s New Lanark. Other highlights include Robert Owen’s School for children, 1820s and 1930s mill worker homes, Robert Owen’s house, the village store and some working textile machinery. You can even indulge in a spot of shopping in The Mill Shop, enjoy a walk in the surrounding woodlands and see the spectacular Falls of Clyde nearby.

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Cosy Medwyn Cottage

Medwyn Cottage is an ideal location for visiting New Lanark. Sleeping 4 people with a stylish interior and wood-burning stove to curl up in front of, it costs from just £395 for 7 nights with discounts available for couples.

Many of our properties have their own special history. Heatherlea Cottage near Dalwhinnie in Invernesshire stands alone on the hillside where Bonnie Prince Charlie encamped his army after raising his standard at Glenfinnan. He may even have rested in the old crofters cottage that forms the basis of this modernised, cosy property. It is pet friendly and sleeps up to 7 people, making the ideal holiday location for lovers of the countryside, walkers, climbers, mountain bikers and also, with a location less than an hour from the Cairngorm and Nevis ski areas, winter sports fans. Prices start at £365 for 7 nights.

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Blackcraig Bridgehouse

One of our most unusual properties is Blackcraig Bridgehouse near Bridge of Cally in Perthshire. This castle-like bridge dates from the 1800s and straddles the River Ardle, just 7 miles from Blairgowrie. It has characterful notched battlements, a winding stone spiral staircase and turret, plus much of the original flooring and wood paneling.

This fantastic property even contains a sauna that has wonderful river views. Blackcraig Bridgehouse sleeps 2 people and prices start at £365 for a 7 night stay.

Browse our website at www.unique-cottages.co.uk or call 01835 822277 for friendly advice and recommendations from a member of the Unique Cottages team who can help find you the perfect accommodation for you to enjoy discovering more about Scotland’s rich history and heritage in this special year.