Life, Travel

Awe-inspiring Drives, An Abundance of Wildlife & Charming Countryside Cottages – Our First Trip To Scotland

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32 years old and I’ve never been to Scotland, until now. And let me tell you, boy have I been missing out. This beautiful country is literally on our doorstep, so there’s no excuse not to set foot on Scottish soil for some epic explorations.

I hope, after this article, you’ll be itching to book a trip to Bonnie Scotland because you just feel so darn inspired. So I’m not setting my expectations high or anything. Read on to see what we got up to on our trip, where we stayed in Scotland and how we got there and back.

And as the Scottish apparently say (according to a common Scottish phrases article) – ‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye!’ Which basically means whatever is meant to happen to you, will happen to you.

So now we’ve got the introduction out the way, let’s crack onto the good stuff. What is it actually like to visit Scotland? The short answer? Pretty awesome. If that’s all you need to know you can stop reading now and go on your merry way, if not, read on…

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Getting there and back

Call us mad, but we decided to get the train to Edinburgh with our two huskies, who had never been on a train before (aside from the Eurostar). We considered driving, but it’s quite a long way in the car, and we’ve also maxed out our mileage. So we booked the train to Edinburgh and from there we hired a car, so that we could explore as much of Scotland as humanly possible in one short trip.

What was the train like?

We boarded the train at Kings Cross station in London. From there, it takes around four hours to reach Edinburgh, with four or five stops along the way. Just FYI, if you have dogs, some of the stops are just about long enough to nip out to let your dog for a wee – but I’d always check with the train assistant first.

One thing that surprised me about the train journey was actually how pleasant it was. As you get further North, the scenery changes and there are some lovely views to enjoy – especially as you get closer to Edinburgh. It wasn’t the easiest having the dogs on the train, mainly because there’s not much room for them. They were good as gold but we had to move them out the way every time someone walked up or down the aisle.

The train ride didn’t seem to take too long and it’s probably a lot more relaxing than attempting to drive across the whole of England to reach the Scottish borders (depending on where you live, but we’re based in Surrey so it’s a fair way).

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Where did we stay?

We booked our stay through a company called Cottages & Castles. When it comes to visiting specific destinations, where better to go than the experts. They specialise in unique Scottish properties and we loved the selection they have on the website. Plenty of cottages with bags (pipes) of character.

We wanted to see different parts of Scotland on our trip, but without having to travel too far North as it was too much of a long journey for the pooches. So we choose a cottage near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, and another cottage in Clatt, Aberdeenshire.

The first Cottage – Laigh of Cloichfoldich, Strathtay, Perthshire

Laigh of Cloichfoldich is tucked away up a hill deep in the countryside, right next to a little stream. One of the first things I noticed was the call of the mighty river, which you can just about spot from a few of the windows in the house. The sound of water flowing is so relaxing and adds to the magic of this charming cottage.

The garden is huge, and it’s encased by grazing fields filled with sheep. Look out into the garden and you’ll be treated to views of the rolling countryside. There’s a wood-fired hot tub in the garden, which although a little tricky to get going, adds to the perks of this place. You can’t beat sitting in a hot tub with a glass of bubbly whilst taking in the Scottish countryside.

Laigh of Cloichfoldich is located in Strathtay, a small village on the River Tay. Though there’s not much to do in Strathtay, the nearby town of Aberfeldy is an absolute delight. There are some incredibly picturesque walks along the river, some fab cafes and restaurants to sample and you can partake in plenty of activities.

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The Tay cafe is well worth a visit, they do the best Cullen Skink soup (a creamy smoked haddock and potato soup). We also had a delicious anniversary meal in The Inn on The Tay which is right on the river.

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Like boating on the river for example, or going on a Highland Safari. Oh, and there’s also Aberfeldy Whisky Distillery. We didn’t have the chance to visit, but we did try their 12-year-old whisky in a pub, and it was exquisite.

Now, on to the interior of the cottage. This place was a lot more spacious than I envisioned. It’s well laid out with plenty of different rooms to chill out in. As you walk inside you enter a large reception room with a rustic wooden table. There’s a good-sized kitchen. I was really impressed by the little touches and the facilities here.

They’ve got literally everything you need for a short stay including cereals, teas, condiments and even dog food for the pooches! The owners have clearly taken the time to consider their guest’s needs and the things that really make a stay stand out. It’s always nice to arrive to a welcome basket full of treats like biscuits, wine and crisps – especially after a long journey.

We had a few wonderful evenings curled up on the sofa by the fire in the lounge. It’s painted a deep pink colour, so when the sun sets it feels so warm and cosy. The two large sofas are perfect for crashing out on after a day of exploring.

There are three bedrooms, two doubles and a twin. The double room downstairs has the most beautiful horse tapestry draped above the bed. These quirky features are what sets the average cottage apart from one that feels more authentic and inviting. A painting here, a bit of artsy decor there. We just love staying in places with lots of character.

Upstairs there’s a bathroom with a large bath surrounded by lush green foliage. The bathroom is decorated simply but it’s bright and inviting. But most important the bath is big – you can’t beat a decent bathtub! And the shower is in a separate room so if there’s a few of you staying, you won’t have to wait your turn for a shower.

Oh and did I mention there’s a GAMES ROOM? Complete with table tennis and a box filled with all the puzzles and games under the sun. Here, there’s no excuse to get bored. We played a fair few games of table tennis but eventually had to give up because I’m so awful at it!

We woke up every morning to the most beautiful sunrise. If you peer out the kitchen window you can see a mixture of oranges, yellows and pinks merging together to create a picturesque sunrise over the hills at the end of the garden. 

I’d say this cottage is perfect for a family or a small group of say two couples. I couldn’t help thinking it would be good to have our friends here, especially when we were in the games room. Our stay was perfect and I’d definitely recommend staying here. :-)

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The drive between the two cottages through Cairngorn National Park

Just. Wow. We decided to take the scenic route instead of going on the motorways, as it wasn’t that much longer, and boy did this decision pay off. We were treated to the most jaw-dropping scenery.

Now I’ve been on a fair few scenic drives, most notably, Tuscany, through the Pyranese and the Austrian mountains – and I have to say, this road is up there as one of the most incredible roads I’ve been on. As you pass through the park the scenery starts off quite rustic with heathland and rusty brown warm colours, then it eventually transforms into a snowy wonderland, with ice caps and towering mountains either side of you.

We even stopped off en route and climbed a mountain with the dogs in order to witness some awe-inspiring views. I’d highly recommend visiting this place or simply driving through if you get the chance.

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The second cottage – Mar Lodge, Clat, Huntley, Aberdeenshire

I’ve never stayed anywhere quite like Mar Lodge before. If you imagine a ridiculously cosy lodge in a quiet corner of the Scottish countryside, this is just a snapshot of Mar Lodge. To get there you have to drive down a long track that meanders through dense forest, leaving you feeling in awe of the place before you’ve even arrived.

Just before you decide you’re lost in the middle of nowhere, you stumble upon the cottage nestled in a clearing on the corner of the forest. And wow, it’s a breathtaking spot. There’s something so special about turning up somewhere like this. Its far away location means you can really mentally switch off, and escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. We all need this every once in a while, and most of us don’t do it enough.

When you walk up to the front of the house, and spot the birds flying onto the birdfeeder, it kind of feels like a scene from Bambi, where all the animals gather in a clearing. Because Mar Lodge is so remote, it’s ideally positioned to attract all sorts of wildlife.

During our stay, we saw plenty of birds including woodpeckers, a red squirrel and even an enormous herd of deer in the field right in front of us. We had an incredible experience standing out towards the boundary of the garden watching as the Stag made a warning call and one by one about 20 deer ran across the field and over a fence into the safety and shelter of the forest.

Despite it’s out of the way position, the lodge is very well equipped and has all the mod cons you’d expect from a holiday home – plus some welcomed added extras. Like a heated blanket in the bedroom for example. Oh and not one, but TWO log fires. One is inside the bedroom right next to the bed, making this room feel oh so snuggly and welcoming. The fur throw on the edge of the bed was also much appreciated.

The bed was so comfy I slept like an absolute log. And although we knew we needed to get out and explore, we did not want to leave this place. Waking up to a seemingly endless view of the countryside and even mountains in the distance was pretty special.

As we had the dogs, having access to countryside walks literally right on our doorstep was a big plus. You just walk down the end of the garden and there’s a path boasting some gorgeous views. You can stroll up through the lush forest and uncover what the local scenery has to offer.

Though the lodge is off the beaten path, a local shop and a great butchers are only about a 15-minute drive away. We actually didn’t eat out at all because we were quite happy to enjoy home-cooked meals so that we could spend more time unwinding in the cottage.

Mar Lodge is full of character, from the tartan curtains and stone-walled fireplace to the fur rugs and wooden ceilings. The bathroom really does feel like a luxury wooden cabin, and there’s a view out into the forest which reminds you that you’re truly next to nature. The owners had kindly left us some marmalade jam and there were fresh flowers in the kitchen and bedroom.

The kitchen is surprisingly large for a one-bed cottage, and so is the bathroom. The whole place is well laid out which makes it feel bigger than it is. We particularly loved sitting in the front observation room which has been created specifically for bird and wildlife watching.

The bird table is full of nuts, and you can top it up whenever you need. This attracts a constant flow of birds and even squirrels. There’s nothing more peaceful than sitting in this room, living in the moment. No phones, no technology – just you and a pair of binoculars. The garden is big enough for dogs to have a good run around in, although we didn’t let ours off the lead due to the sheep in the distance. 

We had such an enjoyable stay here I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d say this cottage is perfectly suited for couples as due to the location adn the style of the decor, it feels very romantic.

There are plenty of things to do nearby if you’re willing to drive. Like go to a falconry centre (which was unfortunately closed for winter), visit a whisky distillery and visit the coastline. We went to Strathisla Distillery and the tour there was excellent.

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During our stay at Mar Lodge, we visited a beach about 50 minutes away.

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You can break up the drive with a stop off at The Coffee Apothecary, where they do an amazing lavender white hot chocolate and a dark hot chocolate, and some warming meals like beef stew and soup. Trust me, a visit to Newburgh Beach is well worth the trip if you get to see the seals.

We turned up at this beach expecting seals to be chilling out somewhere on the shores in the distance. They were, but it was where else they ended up that took us by surprise. They do this thing called ‘bottling’ where they swim along the shore and pop up, bobbing their heads out the water. It’s really quite surreal, as they’re only about ten metres from the shore.

I can’t describe how awesome it was to be so close to them and watch them doing this. They followed us as we walked all along the shore. I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit scared of them coming out the water and I kept the dogs well out of the way – but they stayed in the water, keeping a safe distance. It was mainly the pups that kept coming over, with an occasional large male following for protection.

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Edinburgh

It takes about three hours to drive from Mar Lodge to Edinburgh, so instead of driving straight to the station and travelling home, we decided to stop off in the city for a night. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Edinburgh so I was excited to see it for myself. Although we were only there one night and half a day, so we were limited with what we could do.

So we went to the Christmas markets of course! I did end up liking Edinburgh, it’s not too overwhelming for a city and the buildings are rather picturesque. There are loads of cool places to eat out and go for drinks, we’ll just have to explore them next time!

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