It's not every day you get invited on a trip to a mystery destination in Scotland (well I certainly don't!), so needless to say when I received such an invite from VisitScotland, I immediately cleared my diary and packed my bag for all eventualities. Okay they did specify dress cosy and warm but that seemed a bit vague so I stuffed my rucksack with as many clothes as I could fit, although the fact that one of the zips burst was a sign that I might have packed a few things too many, oops! The trip was a media event to coincide with the launch of their new global marketing campaign 'Scotland - A Spirit of its Own'.
In search of some top secret #ScotSpirit I boarded a minivan in Glasgow, accompanied by a group of journalists and bloggers from around the UK and Ireland and we quickly set off towards our still undisclosed destination.
I was delighted when we eventually stopped and I realised we were in the depths of Galloway Forest Park in a stunning spot overlooking Loch Riecawr. It seemed rather fitting that our secret destination turned out to be in Dumfries and Galloway, a region which still remains secret to many tourists despite it being rich with scenery and steeped in history. Our immersive local experience provided an opportunity to discover some of the elements that make up the Dumfries and Galloway #ScotSpirit.
After a quick chance to stretch our legs, a children's playpark provided a viewpoint and variety of unconventional seating for the group to sit quietly, while we were encouraged to reflect and inhale the unique detail of the surrounding landscape, looking for original photography ideas rather than randomly clicking away with our cameras and phones. Thankfully we had some expert advice on hand from one of the park's new Dark Sky Rangers, Morag Paterson, who handily also happens to be a professional photographer and artist.
In 2009 Galloway Forest Park gained status as an International Dark Sky Park, the only one in the UK and only one of four in the Western world. In a bid to increase tourism to the area in the quieter months, four Biosphere Dark Sky Rangers, from a variety of backgrounds, have been trained to use their personal specialisms in a way that will encourage wider use of the park, with photography being just one of the activities on offer.
Getting a literal flavour of an area, is an essential ingredient to any immersive local experience but how do you provide an authentic fine dining setting in the middle of a remote and commercially undeveloped forest? Well naturally you deliver the restaurant to the park! This is much easier when the restaurant happens to be a converted shipping container on wheels pulled by a tractor.
Once you realise it is one of the latest brainwaves from brothers, Tom and Dick Lewis, of the family run Mhor brand, the quirkiness of it all makes perfect sense. Owners of a hill farm in Perthshire, an esteemed hotel, motel, fish restaurant and bakery among other smaller ventures, a transportable eatery seems like a perfect addition to the family.
However, it is also their passion for local produce that made them the perfect hosts for the evening and both brothers were on hand to tell us more about the ingredients behind the delicious dishes which were either sourced from within 30 minutes of our location or raised on their own farm.
Back in 2014 I wrote a blog on 10 quirky places you can stay the night in Scotland and it seems that lots of you love staying in unique accommodation as much as I do as the blog continues to be very popular.
Since then I've stayed in a few more unusual places and even managed to spend the night at one of the recommendations on my list.
I thought it was about time I shared some of the new quirky accommodation choices that I have discovered that I would personally love to try out and have complied an updated list with 10 more quirky places you can spend the night in Scotland.
1. Float you boat on board The Four Sisters Boatel in Edinburgh
Moored on the Union Canal, this static luxury houseboat has been purpose built to offer self catering accommodation with a difference in the heart of Edinburgh. Visit website.
2. Stay in a High Seas Hobbits home in The Shire (Aberdeenshire to be precise!)
These hobbit pods in Rosehearty provide everything you need for a luxury glamping holiday with the bonus of dramatic cliff top scenery on the doorstep. Visit website.
3. Relive your childhood by swinging from a Treehouse in East Lothian
These en-suite Treehouses have been designed to offer the highest degree of space and comfort, with sea views from the deck above and swings at the rear. Visit Website.
4. Follow the whisky trail from Barley Bothy near Huntly
Situated on a farm in a field of barley grown for malting whisky, this upcycled tin shed provides all the comforts you need while allowing you to get back to nature. Visit website.
5. Take command of the Gatehouse at Ayton Castle in Eyemouth
This impressive pink sandstone holiday cottage is actually the gatehouse at the entrance to Ayton Castle. Guests have access to the extensive castle grounds including a river walk along the Eye Water. Visit website.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.