On my recent trip to the Scottish Borders I was fortunate enough to have one of those spectacular and memorable experiences which occasionally come with being a travel blogger, which I assure you isn't normally as glamorous as you might think. Although staying at the Hope Scott Wing of Abbotsford House is every bit as glamorous as you might think!
An extension to the original private home of Sir Walter Scott and the former living area of his descendants, it has now been refurbished and opened as luxury accommodation. Available on a self catering basis for up to 15 people, it is possible to hire all or part of the wing for yourself. There is also a bed and breakfast option, subject to availability.
I stayed here along with my fellow Scotlanders as part of our Borders Railway campaign and it's fair to say we were all lost for words, which was definitely a first for our normally chatty group. On arrival we were taken on a tour of our accommodation by the fantastic and passionate House Manager, Marianne. We followed her around excitedly on a goggle eyed tour of our private wing, in amazement at the number of lavish rooms we had to ourselves.
Decorated with some of the family's belongings, furniture and artwork, the whole place has an authentic and historical feel which at times makes you wonder if you have actually stepped back in time or onto the set of a period drama.
Sympathetic grand design and modern convenience is how I would best describe the decor and facilities. The seven luxury en-suite bedrooms are individually designed with period style pieces and furniture while the HUGE bathrooms have modern roll-top baths and walk-in showers.
There is Wi-Fi throughout and although some might appreciate a TV within the bedrooms, I would have personally been happy to do away with mine as it felt too out of place in the stately surroundings!
My own bedroom was literally fit for a princess and named after one, the Queen's aunt, Princess Alice to be precise. One of many notable visitors and distinguished guests that also included Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Incidentally, Queen Victoria was so impressed that she chose to model her own home in Scotland, Balmoral Castle, on Abbotsford’s Scottish Baronial style.
When you are looking for a home from home with the added benefit of some of the amenities provided on a hotel stay, a serviced apartment ticks all the boxes. On my recent visit to Edinburgh I was invited to stay at the Princes Street Suites, award winning serviced apartments in the centre of the city. When I recommend accommodation on my blog it is because I think it offers something special or unique, and for me these apartments provided the best views of the city out of all the places I have stayed at in Edinburgh previously and are reason enough to book.
Although I was lucky enough to stay in the Penthouse which has the most amazing vistas, you don't have to book the top floor to enjoy the 360 degree perfect panoramas of Edinburgh as all guests have access to the roof terrace which provides stunning views from Arthur's Seat to the Castle and Calton Hill in the other direction.
On my recent Whisky Tour of Islay with Scottish Routes, I was lucky enough to stay at The Bowmore House on Islay, one of their regular accommodation providers for the tour.
I must that initially I had no plans to do a whole review about my stay here as I was going to include a short bit in the review of the tour itself, however I was so impressed I left wanting to share this gem with anyone thinking about a trip to the island. Not planning a proper review meant that I didn't do my usual photography tour of the rooms prior to messing up the beds and dumping my bags. It meant I didn't take images of my food and every little detail that made my stay here so special, a lesson learned on my part. Although I may not have the photos to back up my review on this occasion I hope that you will realise that the very fact I am telling you about this great place despite not setting out to do a review will convince you even more of how much I rate it!
I did fortunately take a few snaps on my phone and although not the best quality they still allow me to share a few images from my stay.
From the first moment our group wearily walked through the door we were warmly welcomed by our hosts, Andrew and Alison who couldn't be more helpful through out our stay. The main house has a relaxed, homely feel with five en-suite bedrooms. I stayed in the refurbished Fisherman's Cottage which is less than a 30 second walk away and is tucked around the corner off the main street.
The cottage has three bedrooms, 2 en-suite and 1 with a private bathroom. The bonus of staying here is the self catering facilities, including a large sitting room and well equipped, spacious kitchen which really felt like a home from home.
The cottage is available for B&B stays or as a self catering option and I highly recommend either. Tastefully decorated with great attention to detail and every convenience you could need, I really wish I had more time to enjoy relaxing here!
Now there are 2 crucial things to rating a bed and breakfast, the bed and the breakfast, obviously! I can confirm the bed was HUGE and super comfy and the breakfast was also HUGE and super tasty. Andrew and Alison are not only excellent hosts but also excellent cooks. Local produce, great variety and a warm welcome would be good enough for me to recommend a place, however Andrew and Alison go above and beyond in every area of their business, from their own branded mugs to a breakfast dram, they really do think of everything.
If Arran is Scotland in miniature then Lochranza must be one of the prettiest Highland villages you could ever visit and the Scottish Youth Hostel is located in a prime setting to take advantage of the breathtaking surroundings.
I was staying for my second #SYHAdventure and if I thought the view from my previous room at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, which looked on to Ben Nevis itself, would take some beating then I was happily proved wrong!
If I had a check list for my perfect Highland view then a tidal sea loch, mountains, ruined castle, wildlife and pretty little white cottages would be definite inclusions and to my delight they had all been tantalisingly arranged outside my window. It took me a while to draw myself away from observing the roaming red deer, fishing heron and the incoming flow of the tide below.
If you have preconceptions about staying at a youth hostel you really need to leave them here, with private en-suite rooms and modern shared facilities on offer alongside traditional budget dormitory options, this recently renovated accommodation is great value and a bonus for me was being able to take my dog as Lochranza is one of several dog friendly SYHA escapes.
I have explored all the villages on Arran and although all picturesque, Lochranza is without doubt the one I would choose to stay in. Other than lacking a shop which is a bit inconvenient (you can buy basics at the SYHA) it has everything a lover of the outdoors and picturesque scenery could want and I was not the only one there to take advantage of this natural playground judging by the bikes and kayaks lining the outside of the building.
With a 13th Century ruined castle, whisky distillery and abundance of wildlife on the doorstep there is plenty to keep you entertained even if you don't want to stray far.
The SYHA theme for May is wildlife and their Lochranza Youth Hostel is the perfect wildlife watching location, you only have to look out the window to spot red deer, seals, and a wide variety of bird life, venture a little further from the doorstep and you could be rewarded with a plethora of creatures including red squirrels, golden eagles and otters.
Low level hillwalking is the most popular activity on the island and provides plenty opportunity to seek out some of the island's more elusive inhabitants. There are lots of signposted trails from Lochranza so I decided that it was time to turn to social media and ask the locals for their recommendations. No surprise that I had lots of suggestions but I opted firstly to follow the route to Laggan as I was promised spectacular views across the water to my home island of Bute.
LAGGAN COTTAGE ROUTE (approx 8 miles return, moderate walking)
From the Youth Hostel turn right and follow the signpost for Laggan (4 miles) a little further along the road. The route starts just after the golf course, look out for the sheep and red deer keeping the fairways trim or sunbathing in the bunkers, I can imagine playing here has a few challenges!
The path then begins a gentle but steady climb to the summit as the views on the ascent open up to reveal the surrounding stunningly rugged glen with the miniature sized whisky distillery and cottages in the valley below.
I spotted lots of wildlife along the route with red deer, sheep and birds of prey keeping a watchful eye as I wound my way over the stony track, past waterfalls and streams.
A large rock jutting out from the side of the path about two thirds of the way up made a perfect place to pause and absorb the encompassing sights and sounds from the winding road and lush farmland far below to the jagged mountain tops brushing the clouds in the distance.
With a final push to the summit I watched the deep blue of the Firth of Clyde unfold before me and what a reward for my efforts! As promised I had dazzling views across to Bute with the mainland beyond and deciding that this was a perfect lunch spot, I sat for a while watching the toy sized fishing boats traverse the peaceful sparkling water.
As the path winds down sharply towards the whitewashed Laggan Cottage look out for the ruins of Cock Farm far below, this desolate area was once home to over 100 inhabitants before the Clearances. It was this community that built the once vital historic pathway between here and Lochranza that is now only trodden for leisure purposes.
It is possible to make this a circular walk by returning via the Cock of Arran, however I was happy retrace my route and end my walk with sweeping views across Lochranza. This is a really rewarding route with extensive vistas, varied scenery and plentiful wildlife.
With a whisky distillery on the doorstep it would have been rude not to visit and after a long walk I felt I deserved a taste of the local dram. Apparently this is the third most visited distillery in the country and I joined a mix of nationalities on one of their basic Oak tours. With a well stocked whisky shop and a cafe onsite this is a good visiting option.
The Four Seasons Hotel sits dominantly overlooking the picturesque Loch Earn in St Fillans, Perthshire. If it is accommodation with a view that you are looking for then booking one of their loch facing rooms or chalets would be enough of a reason to stay. However, I was there to not only admire the views (which are stunning) but also check out their pet friendly credentials, or rather my furry companion Willow was going to run the hotel through it's paces.
It is hard to find a truly dog friendly hotel in Scotland, believe me after 20 years as a dog owner who travels I have tried many to various degrees of disappointment. I understand not all hotels and their guests want to embrace travellers with a furry companion but those that claim they do often fail on the most basic levels. I'm glad to say that The Four Seasons passed every dog and human test with flying colours and at last I feel as if I have found a hotel that truly welcomes humans and dogs with equal measure.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised as owner Andrew Low is himself a dog lover and boss to the resident canine reservation managers, Sham and Pagne (it took me a while to get the connection, perhaps Andrew's favourite tipple?). It is also a wedding resort...for dogs and yes they have had a canine wedding, can you get any dog friendlier than that?!
Before we even arrived I was impressed by the pet concierge service on the website with options to book a pet walker/sitter, groomer and order from a canine menu. As I was planning to take advantage of dinner at the hotel's Meall Reamhar Rosette Restaurant I decided to call and inquire about the pet sitting service. A quick phone call back confirmed that the local pet sitter Norma was booked at the time requested and myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland could enjoy a relaxing, romantic meal for a change, now I was getting excited, this seemed to good to be true!
I was also delighted to see that they didn't charge any pet supplements on to their rates, usually an excuse to bump the price up for the privilege of bringing your dog, how is that ever pet friendly?
On arrival the whole family was warmly greeted and while I was busy admiring the STUNNING VIEWS from our room, Willow was delighted to discover a Bonio on the bed. A handy list of walks in the area suitable for humans and dogs was a useful addition to our welcome pack along with bottled water and homemade shortbread for the humans.
The bedroom and bathroom looked as if they had been recently partly refurbished and I was delighted to find Arran Aromatics products in the bathroom to pamper myself with!
The hotel is a mix of modern bright decor with quirky objects decorating the corridors and walls which owner Andrew has picked up on his many exotic travels. I loved wandering around admiring his eclectic acquisitions from around the world and there is a very interesting guest lounge with an opium bed imported from Bangkok which was not what I expected in a lochside hotel in Scotland!
The hotel also has six separate dog friendly chalets onsite which would be ideal for families.
This year I am delighted to be teaming up with the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) and joining in on their campaign to encourage people to go on a #SYHAdventure. In 2015 they are inspiring people to try something new or to visit places in Scotland they have never been before, each month they will also have a theme to give people ideas for activities, places to see and key events based around a stay at one of their hostels.
The theme for March is walking and I chose to head to their Glen Nevis hostel which provides a multitude of walking options for all abilities and is conveniently situated at the foot of Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, for those wanting a more challenging experience.
I opted to follow two very contrasting walks, the first taking me through the start of The Great Glen Way and the urban environment of Fort William and the second journeying into the heart of the imposing natural surroundings of Glen Nevis itself.
DAY 1 - The Great Glen Way, Fort William to Banavie (4.5 miles each way, easy walking)
When you visit an outdoor haven like Fort William, flanked by mountains and a loch, it would be all to easy to head for a hike in the wilderness and ignore the urban pathways that weave through the housing estates. In fact had it not been for The Great Glen Way signpost and thistle markers encouraging me along I would have been guilty of this myself.
The Great Glen Way was officially opened in 2002 and spans 79 miles between Fort William and Inverness, the stretch I did was ideal for an easy stroll and exploring the area around the town.
Instead of dismissing the route I decide to follow the first part of this long distance walk from it's humble beginnings at the remains of the fort the town was named after to the famous Neptune's staircase in Banavie, approx 4.5 miles or 9 miles return, although you can walk as far as you feel comfortable and will still be rewarded.
After approx 1.5 miles I reached Old Inverlochy Castle, with just a slight detour off the route I arrived at the ruined remains of this former 13th Century stronghold. Abandoned in 1654 this was previously one of the most important castles in Scottish history and makes an interesting stopping off point. Retracing my steps and crossing the wooden Soldier's Bridge, the path soon leads you onward alongside the shore of Loch Linnhe with a picturesque Highland landscape opening up all around.
I was fascinated by the looming, hulk of a decaying old fishing boat standing upright in the rocky beach ahead. Making my way down for a closer look at this sad vessel I felt dismayed that it appeared so unloved and I'm sure the rusty old parts strewn across the shingle were not doing the environment much good either.
As I was busy taking photos of the towering craft, the sunbeams appeared from behind the clouds and lit up the rusty red timbers, giving the old lady a momentarily new lease of life.
Continuing the short walk to Corpach and the Caledonian Canal, the route follows the canal towpath towards Neptune's Staircase, with it's 8 locks rising up like well engineered stepping stones. Several years ago I sailed down the length of the canal and as I passed the places I had moored for the night and the tricky locks I had negotiated I smiled at the memories of what I still consider my best ever Scottish holiday.
I decided that this was a good point to head back to Fort William and with Ben Nevis continually towering in the distance my bed for the night at the foot of the mountain was calling.
With historical sights, picturesque backdrop and the opportunity to admire the engineering triumph of the canal, I found this route provided both variety and an interesting introduction to the area.
I recently visited Dundee to find out what Scotland's fourth largest city has to offer. I was invited to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton which sits in six acres of beautiful landscaped gardens a few miles outside the centre of Dundee.
The hotel is comprised of a mansion house built in 1870 with a large modern extension which provides a contrast of old and new. As you would expect from an established, quality brand like the Hilton, the decor is warm and comfortable and every little extra has been thought of, even a welcoming warm choc chip cookie on arrival, yum!
There is a lounge bar, restaurant, business facilities and a fitness area with a small pool, sauna and steam room. The restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette and there is also a choice of food available in the lounge bar if you are looking for a more casual dining option.
I didn't eat dinner at the hotel as I was out and about, however the quality of food and hot and cold choices at breakfast was excellent, only surpassed by the efficient and friendly service.
There is free WiFi throughout the hotel which thankfully worked well and plenty of free parking available.
I stayed in a deluxe room which had added extras including a refrigerator, air conditioning, sofa bed, super king bed, separate bathtub and shower and of course a fluffy bathrobe and slippers for extra pampering! I also enjoyed a nice open view from my window as you can see below.
1. Step aboard a fishing boat on the River Clyde, Glasgow
Book a cabin and stay the night on the MV Reliant, a converted fishing boat situated on the river Clyde in Glasgow. Read about my stay here.
This week I'm having a staycation which when you live on a lovely Scottish Island feels a lot like you're on holiday anyway. However with the dark nights drawing in and some spare time on my hands it has given me the opportunity to start researching some ideas for Scottish travel adventures in 2015.
If you are a regular reader of my blog you have probably gathered that I like to search out places that are a wee bit unusual and wanted to share with you some of the quirky accommodation that I have come across during my internet trawling. From old fire trucks to trains to gypsy caravans, there is no shortage of fun choices of places to spend the night in Scotland. I should really have called this blog post 10 quirky places I want to stay in Scotland! I'm not sure my budget is big enough to sample them all next year but I hope to at least visit a few and review them for you on my blog.
So here is my guide to 10 quirky places you can spend the night in Scotland.
2. Enjoy a sleepover on a traditional railway carriage overlooking Loch Awe
This self catering converted railway carriage has stunning views over Loch Awe towards the historic Kilchurn Castle. Visit website
3. Let your stress melt away in this converted fire service truck in Aviemore
This converted Commer Q4 fire service truck was rescued from the Manston Fire Museum in Kent and is now situated in the grounds of inshriach House, Aviemore. Visit website
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