Category Archives: Things to do

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.

Scotland’s First Snorkel Trail

Scotland is famous as a location for a wide range of active holidays, from golf and fishing to skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, and many more.

Now, thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust, it also boasts its first ever snorkel trail – a set of nine, self-led trails in the waters off the North West Highlands that allow both beginners and advanced snorkelers to dive down and see the impressive variety of Scotland’s marine life.

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Exploring the Waters

Many people might think it is too cold to snorkel in Scotland, but the British Sub Aqua Club disagrees, saying that the colours and life under the surface in places like the north west coast are up there with the coral reefs you can find abroad.

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Sunstar Starfish

So while you won’t be able to ‘Find Dory’, the Pacific Regal Blue Tang of the recent animated blockbuster, in Scottish waters you are likely to see lobsters and various species of crab as well as a surprising variety of starfish including common starfish, sunstars and brittlestars. Scotland’s living seas are also home to extensive beds of Maerl (an unusual red coralline algae) and colourful sea urchins that cling to rocks around the coast and harbours. Keep your eyes peeled too for sea squirts, sponges and anemones, as well as cuttlefish, dead man’s fingers, dogfish, butterfish, jellyfish and periwinkle. If you are lucky you might even manage to see dolphins or the impressive, but harmless, basking sharks.

The North West Highlands Snorkel Trail comprises of sites at beaches and bays along the coast near Gairloch, Ullapool and Lochinver. It is a stunning part of the world with truly majestic scenery and that, in addition to its rich marine life, is famous for other wildlife including ptarmigan, golden eagles and deer.

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Pebble Coast

We have several beautiful self catering properties in the area that would make a perfect base for exploring both on land and at sea. The Old Schoolhouse at Achiltibuie, north west of Ullapool is set just 200 yards from the sea with beautiful views across to the Dundonnell Mountains. The nearby Kirkaig Falls and Suilven Mountain are well worth visiting, as is the ruined and rumoured to be haunted Ardvreck Castle.

Other accommodation options in the area include the gorgeous Pebble Coast that is set in an amazing clifftop location near Gairloch with magnificent views out across The Minch to the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides and direct access down to a lovely pebble beach.

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The First Officer’s Quarters

Also near Gairloch are The First Officer’s Quarters in the spectacular setting of Rua Reidh lighthouse, which comes complete with a private wildlife hide for the use of guests. It is known as a great spot for witnessing the beautiful natural light show of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

If you do decide to go snorkeling, please read the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Snorkel Safety information on their website before you go. It contains lots of vital information to keep you safe and help you make the most of your watery adventure.

To discover more about our properties in the North West Highlands, click here or call us on 01835 822 277.

Scotland’s Golfing Greats

If you’re a golfer who is thinking about a sporting break in Scotland, then you are in luck as you have over over 550 fabulous courses to choose from.

We’ve all heard of the big hitters – Gleneagles, Carnoustie and, of course, Royal Troon which plays host to this year’s British Open in July. They are certainly amazing places to enjoy a round, but there are also lots of hidden gems right across the country that have some of the most beautiful scenery to admire as you play.

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The Burn on the Carnoustie Course

Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Course is just a few miles from Inverness and as it is situated on a narrow peninsula it has incredible sea views, with dolphins being a regular sight near the 4th hole. While St Andrews in Fife is famous the world over, the region also has some great golfing alternatives. Anstruther is a pretty fishing village with a multi-award winning fish and chip shop and a very picturesque golf course with wonderful views out to the Isle of May and the Bass Rock. Nearby Aberdour is another great course that is set in beautiful parkland with breathtaking views across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh Castle. It is also very easily accessible as it is just 30 minutes away from Edinburgh Airport.

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So Near and Yet So Far

Further south in the Scottish Borders, The Roxburghe Golf Course in Kelso is the region’s first Championship course and was recently voted the 6th best golf experience in Scotland by ‘Bunkered’, the UK’s best-selling golf magazine. Situated on the Duke of Roxburghe’s estate, its 14th hole (known as the Viaduct) looks right down to the River Teviot and has been described as one of the best driving holes in Scotland.

The Boat of Garten Golf Course near Aviemore is situated by the River Spey in the beautiful Cairngorms National Park and the scenery that surrounds it is simply stunning. Each hole in this 6,000 yard, 18-hole course has been cleverly shaped in tune with the natural landscape. Its location, close to some of Scotland’s finest whisky distilleries, is another excellent incentive for a visit.

Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course can be found near Campbeltown alongside the better known Machrihanish Course. It opened in 2009 on a Site of Special Scientific Interest and features spectacular views, exciting blind shots over the dunes, uneven fairways, some enormous bunkers and joyous fast greens, as well as some grazing sheep that do a good job of keeping down the rough.

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The Standard Diameter Hole

Mary Queen of Scots is reported to have played golf at the Musselburgh Links course way back in 1567. One of the world’s oldest courses, it is from here that the 4 and a half inch diameter of the hole became standard. It just happened to be the width of the implement used to cut out the hole at Musselburgh and in 1893 the R&A made the size mandatory. The course hosted the Open six times between 1874 and 1889 and still offers the chance to play The Old Golf Course the way it was intended with original Hickory golf clubs (available to hire).

Whether you are teeing off on one of Scotland’s showcase courses, or playing your way round some of the country’s lesser-known golfing treasures, at Unique Cottages we have fantastic accommodation that’s great for golfing groups and/or couples.

Find out more on our website or call 01835 822 277 and speak to a member of our helpful booking team.

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 >

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 >