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Issue 37 - Going it alone

Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Going it alone

In the latest of our series on accommodation is Scotland, Richard Goslan looks at self catering.

To cook, or not to cook? That’s the question concerning most people when it comes to their choice of holiday accommodation.

There are two schools of thought here – whether to go for the full hotel pampering experience, with endless buffets and a la carte options, the extensive leisure facilities that a decent hotel or resort has to offer, and no dishwashing for the duration. Or do you opt for the independence of your own selfcatering property, being able to come and go as you please, even if it comes at the cost of having to shop for ingredients, prepare your own meals – and tackle the washing up afterwards.

If hotel food loses its appeal as quickly as the Germans bag the poolside sunloungers in Majorca, and self-catering is more your thing, Scotland has a fantastic variety of accommodation to choose from.

Options around the country range from baronial castles to cosy cottages, family-friendly farmhouses to architectural wonders. Just remember the washing up liquid.

With the growth of the internet and online booking, it’s now possible to get a clear idea of what your holiday accommodation is actually like. The best websites have lots of pictures from both inside and outside the property, along with all the information you could possibly need about the home and the surrounding area. Most sites also allow you to check availability online and will give you a specific price, depending on the time of year you want to visit.

One of the best places to start your search is through the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, an independent organisation of holiday home owners. Here, you can search different areas around the country and find out exactly what facilities each property offers. VisitScotland also allows you to search specifically for self-catering units, in different areas of the country.

If you fancy a holiday with the entire clan, you could do worse than stay at Dalcross Castle, near Culloden in Inverness-shire. Between the castle itself, the Coach House and the Gate Lodge, you can accommodate up to 23 people in this historic home, which dates back to 1620. The castle has a beamed Great Hall centering on its enormous stone fireplace, a stone spiral of a main stair, shot holes and arrow slits, as well as leaded windows in the sitting room and numerous other original architectural features. Guests also have the use of the beautifully landscaped gardens, first laid out in the 18th century.

For something more basic, head to the Isle of Lewis. The settlement at Gearrannan, near Carloway, dates back more than 300 years, but in 1974 the last remaining occupants moved from the village’s blackhouses to modern houses and the village was left to degenerate into the kind of ghostly ruins which you see scattered across the Highlands and Islands. More than a decade later Urras nan Gearrannan was formed in order to restore the village and to breathe life back into what was once a vibrant community. Now you can stay in one of the restored blackhouses, learn about the area’s history and socialise in this unique atmosphere.

Scotland is a great big open-air playground, and if huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ are more your thing – or maybe the more sedate pursuit of Munro-bagging – but you don’t want to be waited on hand and foot, the Ben Damph Estate has just the thing. This Torridon retreat has two self-catering options, the New Lodge which can sleep 14 and the Thrail House which sleeps eight. Activities include sea and freshwater fishing, deer stalking and rough shooting, or walking and climbing.

One of the most popular reasons for choosing self-catering over a hotel option is the freedom it gives a family to be able to cater for themselves and to come and go as they please from their accommodation. One option set up with families in mind is Barncrosh Farm, near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. It is a great set-up, with 16 different self-catering units scattered round the farm which provide access to a bunch of both indoor and outdoor activities.

There is an adventure playground, a pixie house for children, a football area, tennis court and trampolines, as well as fishing, gardens and woodland walks with wild deer roaming around. You never know – the kids might be so exhausted after a day’s running around that you’ll have a peaceful evening to yourselves.

If it’s isolation you’re after, there’s plenty of that on offer too. With almost 800 islands, it’s never going to be that hard to find your own little slice of solitude in Scotland. There are many choices, but one of the remotest selfcatering options is the Old Crofthouse, on Boreray Island, across the Sound of Harris.

Access involves a four-mile sea crossing from the Berneray causeway, landing on a curving beach of white shell-sand. The stone crofthouse has two bedrooms, sleeping up to four. The owner warns that although boat transfer is provided free-of-charge, it has been impossible to secure insurance cover for passengers during the sea crossing to Boreray, and that passengers (and their belongings) travel entirely at their own risk.

Once you get to the island, there are no roads, no cars, no ferries, no shops, no restaurants or takeaways – the perfect place to escape the 21st century.

Need to know
Don’t end up disappointed in your
accommodation because you expected to find the
finest Egyptian cotton bedding, only to find a
scratchy sheet instead. Before you go, you should
know the answers to the following questions:
• Has the house been graded by VisitScotland?
• Are children welcome?
• If you’re taking a toddler, do you need to bring
your own stair gate or high-chair?
• Is all the bed linen included? What about towels?
• When can we arrive on our first day, and what
time do we need to leave on the last day?
• Is there a phone in the house which we can
use, and if so what is the number?
• Are there any shops, pubs or restaurants nearby?
• Can we bring any pets?
• Is there a washing machine and powder? Or
a dishwasher?
• Are utilities included in the rental price?
• If the property has a fire, is there kindling,
firewood and firelighters available?
• How are we expected to leave the house
– spotless or just generally tidied up?

Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers
Urras nan Gearrannan
Available: All year
Price: Taigh Làta (can sleep 16) £931-£1085 per
week, Taigh Thormoid ‘an ‘ic Iain (sleeps two)
£273-£385 per week
Tel: +44 (0)1851 643 416
Barncrosh Farm
Available: All year
Price: £140-£995 depending on cottage and number
of people
Tel: +44 (0)1556 680 216
Dalcross Castle
Available: All year
Price: £5700 – £9280 per week
Tel: +44 (0)1738 451 610
Bendamph Estate
Available: All year
Price: The New Lodge £800-£1300, Thrail House
£575-£1000 per week (discounts available for off
season and small parties)
Tel: +44 (0)1241 830 258
Boreray Island
Available: May to August
Price: £705 per week
Tel: +44 (0)7733 065 382