I'm not going to lie, 2016 was a real rollercoaster of a year for me and as it drew to a close I felt more than a little burnt out. A family getaway at the start of 2017 was very much needed and the prospect of visiting a new part of Scotland had me excited for the New Year to start.
Is there anything better than staying in a wooden lodge during the winter? I doubt it! When that lodge has plenty of space, three bedrooms (1 en-suite) is dog friendly and overlooks a cute lochan which you can admire from the conservatory or the porch, it pretty much ticks all the boxes for a relaxing family break.
All that space meant that Mr Adventures around Scotland, my parents and of course my little lurcher Willow could join me on a proper family getaway.
Tullochwood Lodges are set within 28 acres of tranquil woodland which means there is plenty of outdoor space on the doorstep, however there are also numerous places within a 30 minute drive that have lots to offer all members of the family including furry companions.
When we weren't chilling out in our cosy lodge, these are some of the places we discovered nearby and really enjoyed exploring.
Forres is only a few miles from Tullochwood Lodges and is one of the oldest small towns in Scotland. The main street is lined with historic buildings and it has been the winner of Scotland in Bloom competition several times thanks to its pretty floral displays.
Although a Royal Burgh since 1140, it might be best known as a location featured in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is claimed the history of Forres dates back over 2000 years when it first appeared on a map under the name of Varis.
With lots of independent shops, a couple of supermarkets, a public park and some historic attractions there are plenty of reasons to spend time in this quaint town.
I have wanted to visit Findhorn for a long time as I have heard so many good things about it over the years. As it was only a 20 minute drive from our accommodation, it seemed the ideal opportunity to see what this cute coastal town had to offer. Despite the blustery January weather we made a beeline for the beach with its miles of powdery sand stretching in every direction. It would be a stunning place to enjoy a long walk in the warmer weather but the biting winter wind meant our visit was a brief one although Willow was in her element bounding across the sand.
I was pretty taken by the colouful beach huts that punctuate the coast, although not so taken by their £25,000 price tag!
Our next stop was The Finhorn Foundation, a spiritual community that is home to 400 people and attracts thousands of visitors each year. We enjoyed strolling around admiring the quirky eco-houses with their interesting little details.
We discovered a little cafe and if you read my blog regularly you might have noticed that tea and cake stops area a regular feature on my travels and this seemed like the perfect place for a break to refuel. Although dogs aren't allowed inside the cafe, we enjoyed sitting on a picnic bench outside among the bird feeders. We finished off with a walk through the nature garden and Willow enjoyed taking some time out to meditate next to Buddha under the trees.
On the road back to Tullochwood we made a couple of short but interesting stops, firstly at the ruins of Kinloss Abbey. Founded in 1150 by King David 1, it was colonised by Cisterian monks from Melrose Abbey. It attracted many Royal visitors over its 400 year history and had its fair share of immoral scandal. To be fair there is not much left of what was once one of the wealthiest abbeys in Scotland, however if you are interested in history it is worth a quick look.
Our second stop was at Sueno's Stone a 7m tall Pictish slab which is the tallest and most complete piece of medieval sculpture in Scotland. Sadly some mindless vandals had smashed some of the glass panels that protect the stone a few days before our visit causing £10,000 worth of damage.
The scale and intricate carvings are really impressive and it's worth seeking out when you're in the area.
While flicking through the pile of leaflets in our lodge, I came across one for the nearby village of Burghead and was immediately intrigued. Tales of Picts, Vikings and a mysterious well had me drawn in and I knew this was somewhere I had to visit.
Arriving in Burghead it would be easy to think that the village is nothing more than a pretty holiday destination with its extensive views across the Moray Firth. However this unassuming place once held a strategic position of power, with the sea on three sides making it an ideal location for what is reputed to have once been the largest Iron Age fort in Britain. Subsequently it was a site of significant power for the Northern Picts and later it was captured by Sigurd the Powerful, the Norse Earl of Orkney.
More recently Burghead was an important centre for the malting industry supplying, Speyside's many distilleries.
One place I was curious to visit was the Burghead Well and picked the key up from the local Bothy Bistro. If you didn't know the history you might be unimpressed by the small pool of water. The main purpose of this man-made sunken pool is unknown although objects found within including carved stones and a metal jug have led to various theories including it being used as a shrine, a Christian baptistery and even a place for ritual executions.
Researching the backstory of the well makes a visit quite atmospheric, although I recommend taking a torch if you want to have a proper look inside.
It would have rude not to have my obligatory tea and cake at the Bothy Bistro when returning the key. Dogs are welcome in the courtyard around the back and it was a pleasant and sheltered space to sit outside on a mild winters day.
I was fascinated by the history of Burghead but also charmed by what it still has to offer today. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking over the fort, around the colourful harbour and enjoying the obligatory dog walk along the beach.
One of the things I love about Historic Scotland is that many of their attractions are dog friendly which meant we could take Willow with us on a visit to Elgin Cathedral. For me, what set the cathedral apart from the many other impressive ruins I've visited in Scotland was its display of over 100 medieval carved stones. I spent ages admiring the detail on each one and the amount of work which must have went in to creating them.
Even though it is a ruin there is still plenty to see and the climb to the rooftop overlooking Elgin towards the Moray Firth is worth the effort. Exploring the remaining buildings and the many interesting graves, including the tallest grave stone in Scotland took a good couple of hours and I particularly recommend seeking out the effigy of Bishop Archibald which has been brought back to its former colourful glory thanks to some clever lighting technology.
Logie Steading Estate is only a 15 minute drive from the lodges and is an ideal place to spend a few hours. You can visit the shops and cafe, or as we did, go on one of the river walks. We followed the path to Randolph's Leap which is approximately 2.5 miles there and back. The scenic trail takes you past dramatic rocks and fast flowing rapids to a viewing point overlooking the infamous leap where It is said 4 members of the Cumming clan leapt across the chasm to escape members of the Earl of Randolph's men during a violent dispute. As with many tales from Scottish history, the ending was not a happy one as the men were discovered a short time later hiding in a nearby cave and were brutally killed. Thankfully today the spot is a much more peaceful place where you can enjoy some magnificent views.
This part of Scotland is generally flat, however Califer Hill offers extensive views across the Moray Firth to Findhorn and beyond. We decided to visit on the last afternoon of our stay and were rewarded with a stunning sunset. It was the perfect ending to our time in this beautiful part of Scotland and it won't be long before I return to discover more Moray gems.
The viewpoint is only a 10 minute drive from Tullochwood and is fully accessible with a wheelchair friendly path and shouldn't be missed if you are staying in the area.
As I was lucky enough to have my parents as dogsitters, I was also able to visit some non-dog friendly attractions including the nearby Dallas Dhu whisky distillery museum and Pluscarden Abbey, which is still home to a community of Catholic Benedictine monks. Both are within a 15 minute drive of the lodges and well worth visiting.
At the end of each day we looked forward to chilling out in our spacious lodge. Despite the cold weather outside, the lodge heated up surprisingly quickly and stayed toasty warm even after we switched the heating off. The well equipped kitchen meant that we could easily cook meals for ourselves which we enjoyed around the large dining table.
We never struggled for things to do during the longer winter nights as we picked up some board games and books from the communal recreation lodge which also has a range of DVDs and local information. This is also the laundry room with a few washing machines and tumble dryers available, ideal if you're staying for any length of time. We also enjoyed some star gazing due to the lack of light pollution outside which allowed us a fantastic view of the night sky, with some local owls providing an atmospheric soundtrack.
There are 8 self-catering holiday lodges at Tullochwood with a choice of two or three bedrooms. We stayed in the Ferness Lodge which had three bedrooms, one double and two twins. The double room had an en-suite shower room and an additional shared main bathroom meant there was no fighting over the shower in the morning.
All of the bedrooms were spacious, well furnished and comfortable. I certainly had a great sleep each night and it did me a world of good to recharge my batteries.
Other useful things in the lodge included hairdryer, ironing facilities, dishwasher, TV and some initial supplies which allowed us time to settle and enjoy a cup of tea before heading to the local shops to stock up. Even Willow had some surprise treats waiting for her!
Although there is no internet as standard within the lodges (some might think this is a bonus!) a broadband dongle can be provided which you can top up at the local supermarket.
On arrival we were welcomed by Simon, the owner. He gave us a tour of the lodge and spent time going through a list of local attractions and useful information to help us plan our stay. Thanks to him we discovered some of the best local independent shops in Forres and some local hidden gems. There are also a couple of supermarkets where you can stock up if you plan on making the most of the self-catering facilities in the lodge.
Unlike many lodges, Tullochwood can be booked for short breaks and longer stays all year round, with flexible arrival days which I find really impressive as not everyone can go on holiday for a week at a time.
We all agreed that we thoroughly loved our four night break at Tullochwood and wished we could have stayed for longer. I personally found myself fully relaxed and ready to face the year ahead.
Ideally positioned for exploring the Malt Whisky Trail, the Moray coast and even day trips to Inverness and Aviemore, Tullochwood is a great base for a holiday that the whole family can enjoy, especially the four-legged members.
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