Urban Quarters Review
My recent visit to Dundee was my fifth trip to the city in the last couple of years and as I had already covered most of the Dundee attractions on previous visits, I was looking forward to exploring the city like a local rather than a tourist. Thanks to an invite to experience the centrally located Urban Quarters apartments, I even had my own luxury Dundee pad for the weekend and you can't get much more local than that!
Since it was also my wedding anniversary that week it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate with Mr Adventures Around Scotland as Dundee is one of our favourite places.
Urban Quarters is made up of 4 individual apartments, each named after a famous Dundonian. We were allocated the two bedroom Patrick Geddes apartment on the top floor.
From walking in, we felt immediately at home. The designer apartment is fitted out to a high standard with lots of creative and quirky touches which I just loved. It is definitely the first (and will probably be the only) accommodation I have stayed at with a popcorn maker, 3D glasses and a record player (complete with an eclectic mix of albums). If you were watching my Instagram story you might recall me playing some Scottish tunes from the legendary jimmy Shand as our Friday night entertainment. I really know how to party!
If you would rather chill out than dance the night away to some cheesy tunes then a yoga mat and book of mindfulness is provided to help you relax. Personally, I was really impressed by the unique touches which all helped us to feel at home, in fact it felt better than my home as I don't have a popcorn maker or a Jimmy Shand album.
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.
Ullapool is somewhere I should have first visited in July had all my #ScotCoast plans gone to, errrr, well, plan! Waiting an extra 3 months to finally get to this part of Scotland was worth the delay, especially as I could spend a whole week based in the picturesque Wester Ross village, much more relaxing than the quick stop I had planned in the summer.
Ullapool and the surrounding area have certainly been put firmly on the tourist map this year thanks to the excellent marketing of the North Coast 500 route which passes through the village. It seemed everywhere I went there was a buzz about the increased visitors and income from what has been dubbed Scotland's answer to Route 66.
As I drove around the region there were still quite a few motor-homes and camper-vans making their way around the remote Highland roads. Although I felt a bit left out that I wasn't among the majority of visitors embarking on this epic road-trip, deep down I felt quite smug that I had almost a week to explore the area when most of them only had a day or two.
Thanks to Embrace Scotland, I had a cosy self-catering apartment to return to each day and use as a base for trips around Wester Ross and Sutherland. As you can imagine, I managed to fit in quite a lot during my week but several places really stood out for me and I thought I would share some of the highlights of my trip with you. I should say that some of these places were recommended to me on social media and I'm grateful to everyone that provided their tips.
There was one absolute highlight of the week for me which deserves a whole blog post to itself so I'll keep you in suspense for a little longer before I tell you what that was, but in the meantime here are a some of the other things and places that I particularly enjoyed during my stay in Ullapool.
I LOVE finding quirky accommodation in Scotland and it doesn't get much quirkier than the Coastal Carriage, an up-cycled vintage rail carriage set in a quiet field on a family run farm just along the coast from Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire.
When the owner Carole invited me to experience this unique retreat for myself, I was determined to find an excuse to visit and luckily for me I was able to include an overnight stay during my recent #ScotCoast adventures. The first thing that struck me was the privacy and tranquillity of the setting before I was wowed with the views of the Moray Firth and Banffshire Coast stretching across the horizon. It really felt like I had stumbled upon a little pocket of paradise.
I love watching George Clarke's Amazing Spaces and often wish I had the skill and imagination to redesign a small and quirky space into something not only charming but also functional and that is exactly what Carole and Mathew have achieved with the coastal carriage.
On the rails from 1937 until the 1960s, the carriage was later used as storage by a crofter and gradually began to fall in to a bad state of decay before Carole and Mathew rescued it. The video below shows the journey of the carriage through its restoration. The before and after shots would make George Clarke proud!
Inside is beautifully rustic with a wood burning stove to keep you toasty on colder days and you can also boil the kettle or cook your dinner on the hotplate at the same time. Wood is provided.
The cupboards and shelves are packed with all the crockery and utensils you should need.
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.
I love visiting the autumnal Big Tree Country of Perthshire to witness the vibrant tapestry of foliage as it goes out in a final blaze of yellow, orange and red glory. It really is one of the prettiest places to visit in Scotland at this time of year and on my latest venture to the region I discovered Killiecrankie Hotel is the perfect place to hibernate with a whisky by the fire when the darkness encroaches into the afternoon and wet woodland explorations have to be cut short.
I picked a pretty poor day to travel north as Britain's first named storm is on its way. Storm Abigail is predicted to bring battering wind and torrential rain as it traverses Scotland. As I head past Perth the sky turns an ominous black and the heavens open, roads are quickly flooded and driving conditions become more and more challenging. Relieved to reach my destination, I make a dash from the car to the entrance in an attempt to avoid presenting myself at reception like a drowned rat which I just about manage to achieve.
On arrival I am eagerly welcomed by Beanie, the resident spaniel who expectantly presents me with a squeaky toy before following me to the reception where I'm welcomed again, this time by Henrietta, the hotel's owner and manager.
My bags are transported to my room by an assistant in unique patchwork tartan trews, coffee and cake is arranged and I'm already getting the impression that despite the decor, this is not a conventional country house hotel. Henrietta confirms this when she explains that she doesn't want the place to feel stuffy, instead she treats people as if they are guests in her house and technically they are although her background working in some of the country's most luxurious hotels is reflected in the high standards throughout. The result is a quality hotel with an informal feel and some quirky touches!
My large deluxe bedroom had a Scottish country house feel with just enough tartan to be tasteful without being tacky. The fresh decor made the room feel very homely and any thoughts of the storm outside were long gone as I settled in for the evening.
With all the usual inclusions and extras you would expect from a luxury room, I couldn't think of anything else I would have needed. Real coffee, a cafetiere and current copies of several Scottish magazines were a welcome touch and if I was being picky, then a desk rather than a set of drawers would have been preferred. A stool was provided but it really wasn't a comfortable way to sit and use the dressing mirror or my laptop.
The bathroom was spacious and spotlessly clean, with a separate bath and powerful shower and the quirky duck sponge was a nice bit of fun. Although the toiletries smelled lovely it would have been nice to carry through the Scottish theme with some local products.
After a really comfortable sleep, I woke up to discover that the room also had a pretty view to the garden and the hills beyond, a pleasant surprise.
My latest #SYHAdventure may only have involved a journey of less than 55 miles but I assure you that it is a road-trip that should be on every Scotland travel bucket list and is up there with any adventure!
The SYHA in Torridon stands nestled between the water of Upper Loch Torridon and the foot of the mighty Liathach, rated by many climbers and hill-walkers as Scotland's finest mountain. As this was my third #SYHAdventure I was getting used to the fact that Scottish Youth Hostels are inevitably situated in some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring locations in Scotland and Torridon didn't fail to live up to my new high expectations.
With an outdoor paradise on the doorstep it was tempting to lace up my boots and venture off on my usual walking expeditions but I had an even bigger temptation on this excursion and it involved jumping behind the wheel and heading off on a road-trip.
Despite only being officially launched 2 months ago, the North Coast 500 has been creating a huge buzz in the global travelsphere and has already been listed as one of the top coastal road-trips in the world by Travel Now magazine and has been dubbed Scotland's own Route 66.
Split into 6 route sections, Torridon SYHA very handily sits midway along the Wester Ross segment and makes an ideal base for those undertaking this breathtaking and adrenaline pumping section, as this part of the route encompasses the notorious Bealach Na Ba (pronounced Bay-Lach-Na-Ba and means Pass of the Cattle).
WHAT TO DO IN TORRIDON
I started my adventure in the pretty little village of Torridon which is dwarfed by some spectacularly huge mountains and sits on the edge of Loch Torridon. It would be easy to drive through thinking that such a small place might not have much to offer but looks can be deceiving and delve a little deeper and you will find plenty to keep you occupied.
The modern community centre has a surprisingly large display of local arts and crafts for sale, in fact it is one of the best ranges of handmade Scottish products that I have found anywhere outside of a craft market and an ideal place to pick up an authentic souvenir of your trip while supporting the local economy.
Torridon sea tours offer a range of excursions from the nearby village of Sheildaig which take you wildlife spotting on half-day trips around the loch or full-day adventures to some of the remote isles.
The nearby Torridon Inn not only serves delicious local produce but offers bike hire and an assortment of outdoor activities including canoeing, archery, rock climbing and gorge scrambling. If that's not enough to keep you busy then the walking options, wildlife watching and dramatic scenery will!
I stayed in one of the dog friendly private rooms at the Youth Hostel and although not en-suite it did have it's own sink and was clean and comfortable. After travelling for more than a week it was great to make use of the washing and drying facilities and to finally have a choice of fresh, clean clothes.
A large well equipped self catering kitchen allows easy cooking and a choice of heat your own meals are available to purchase in case you didn't realise that rather surprisingly there are no supermarkets in the remote Highlands!
The social interaction is one thing I have really enjoyed on my SYHA trips and finding out what has brought my fellow hostelers to the area. In Torridon I was surprised at the mix of nationalities and found out most of them were also there on a scenic Highland road-trip or cycling adventure.
As Torridon SYHA has an alcohol licence and two panoramic lounges where you can relax and watch the wildlife and landscape, there is every reason to spend your evening chilling out there. However, for those wanting to eat out or venture to the pub, I highly recommend the nearby Torridon Inn which is also dog friendly.
I drove anti-clockwise along the coastal road from Torridon following the breathtaking route to Applecross before negotiating the steep and sharp narrow curves of Bealach Na Ba, an unmissable driving experience although not for the faint-hearted!
My first stop was at the village of Shieldaig which dates back to 1800 and and is mainly comprised of a row of pretty whitewashed cottages sitting on the shore of Loch Shieldaig. A short distance out in the loch rises the distinctive Sheildaig Island, clad in Scots pine trees and home to a pair of nesting sea eagles. A birders paradise, look out for a thoughtful set of binoculars fixed on the shore allowing you to zoom in for a close up.
The best views of the village, island and loch are definitely from further along the road as it rises up the hillside and the little cottages shrink to toy size!
As you travel further along the route look out for the well photographed cottage with the red roof and try not to be too envious of their view!
There's nothing like going on a Scottish road-trip, cruising over hills, along coasts and through glens. However, if you are one of the growing number of electric vehicle owners wanting to take off on a journey along the highways and byways of Scotland you might have to plan a bit more carefully. particularly when it comes to finding accommodation as few overnight stops currently provide the facility to charge your vehicle.
For those wanting to seek out the delights of Edinburgh and the surrounding area you will be pleased to know that you can now make use of new free twin charging points at The Edinburgh Marriott, handily situated near the city airport.
Having no experience of the logistics of taking an electric vehicle on such a road-trip, I was intrigued to take up an invite to stay at the hotel with the use of an electric car to explore the area during my stay and find out just how far I could go on battery power.
Here is how my 2 days went...
The Edinburgh Marriot is a large and functional hotel mainly used for business travel, coach tours, corporate events and airport stopovers. As you would expect from this size and type of hotel it has facilities such as a leisure club with swimming pool, business suites, beauty salon and hairdresser.
The rooms are more functional than luxury although they provide all the extras you would need. A couple of nice touches I appreciated were the sculpted swan towels on the bed (a dying art in my opinion!) and rather nice L'Occitane toiletries. Unfortunately WiFi is only free in public areas with a charge applied to access it from the bedroom, not ideal for someone like me who needs frequent online access.
I stayed in one of the deluxe bedrooms which had a huge and comfy bed and after a good nights sleep I enjoyed a tasty breakfast from a large buffet selection. I can also highly recommend the bar snacks as the pork belly bites were totally delicious!
My Nissan Leaf vehicle was provided by eCorporate Travel, who offer a professional and discreet 'green' chauffeur service, based in Edinburgh Their concept is to provide environmentally sustainable travel at competitive prices and after chatting to them I was impressed at how passionate they are about their business and their vision to provide a more environmentally friendly travel service, something we should all be embracing.
After some quick tuition in driving and charging the vehicle I was ready to set off on my first electric adventure in my silent, green machine!
Where did I go?
The Edinburgh Marriott is situated on the outskirts of Scotland's historic capital and this is a bonus if you are driving and don't relish the thought of navigating the one way streets or rush hour traffic going in and out of the city centre, not to mention finding an affordable parking space! With plenty of free parking and sitting next to the city bypass, this is ideal accommodation for those wanting to explore the gems that surround Edinburgh.
With over 100 miles of charge and the sun shining I was firstly drawn towards Edinburgh's own coastal suburb and a proper Scottish road-trip to visit the seaside delights of Portobello Beach. A 32 mile round trip wasn't too much of a drain on the battery, however I found it easy and convenient to top it up in the hotel car park whilst I checked in to my room and planned my next adventure.
On the second day I again opted to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and made my way to Castlelaw Iron Age Hillfort in the Pentland Hills near Penicuik. At just over 10 miles from the hotel this makes an interesting alternative to the historic city centre attractions. There are also walking routes for those wanting to explore more of the outdoors and I highly recommend heading a few miles along the road to visit the famous Rosslyn Chapel while you are in the area.
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