As autumn envelops and the option of jetting overseas is fraught with Covid-19 angst a cosy Scottish staycation tempts. And what could be cosier than escaping to a self-catering hideaway? You still can with a maximum of six people from two families (under-12s from the families don’t count). Here is my cream of the crop for a staycation in serious style culled from two decades of travelling around Scotland.
First up we delve into the Borders and the Gallic-tinged couples oasis of Roulotte Retreat (www.roulotteretreat.com). It’s adults-only, ideal for that romantic getaway you’ve dreamt of during lockdown. The accommodation at this bijou hideaway in the heart of the Sir Walter Scott country is so much more than a ‘caravan’. These grand hardwood dames are actually purpose-built French roulottes, more like a swish luxury railway carriage than caravan.
Each roulotte revels in its unique character with distinctive furnishings taking influences from various parts of the world. Owner Avril Berry has a real eye for style and detail, with wood burning stoves, proper double beds and steaming hot showers backing up the lush fabrics and heart-warming colour schemes. A couple of the roulottes, which recline around a meadow with a pond in the middle of it, boast eco hot tubs so you can bubble away under the stars. There are freshly laid eggs in the morning and Avril’s yoga classes too.
Just a few miles further north at the other end of the scale is Harmony House (www.nts.org.uk/Holidays/Accommodation/Harmony-Harmony-Garden/), a vast 19th-century treasure, graced with an Ionic portico and Palladian-style windows that lies tucked in the market town of Melrose just a stone of destiny’s throw from Melrose Abbey, where Bruce’s heart was interred. Scott was so impressed with Harmony that it is said to have inspired his nearby Abbotsford.
Spending time here is like being in an episode of Downton Abbey as you flit between the Dining Room and the spacious Drawing Room, with its cedar-lined walls admiring the oil paintings and grand fireplaces. Outside a large garden tempts, alive with flower borders, vegetable gardens, a sunken lawn and glasshouses.
My last pick in southern Scotland is across in Dumfries and Galloway in the town of Sanquhar. There are not many places to stay in Scotland where you can jump on a train at Glasgow Central and then hop off at your front door! The lovely old stone Station Master’s House (www.sanquharstation.co.uk/) sits right on the platform so it is a real trainspotter’s dream.
The interior is replete with all sorts of railway memorabilia, from signs and period posters, through to hulking old world suitcases, and also features two double bedrooms and a twin. The grand kitchen comes with granite worktops, a dishwasher and a dining space for eight. After dinner it’s time to retire to the living room with its cosy log-burning stove.
Deeper into Dumfries and Galloway lies Marthrown of Mabie (www.marthrownofmabie.com), an even more offbeat self-catering retreat. Here in the forest you can hunker down in a yurt, a tipi or even a massive Iron Age roundhouse.
That striking Iron Age roundhouse is the real star attraction. It will easily sleep all your party – unless you have a platoon of under-12s – with a wood burning stove at its heart. This proves ideal for cooking up dinner and then keeping the roundhouse cosy afterwards as you drift back through the millennia. You’ll find a Finnish-style sauna and a rustic wood-fired hot tub on hand too at an escape where the modern world feels very far away.
Trawling up to East Lothian now we have Harvest Moon Holidays (www.harvestmoonholidays.com/), which rests just back from a sweeping sandy beach on the East Lothian coastline. This year they replaced their old safari tents with striking new wooden beach cabins. They don’t have electricity, but they are on the right side of rustic with beds, Belfast Sinks and real peat fires to keep you cosy. On the wood burning stoves you can cook the produce they sell from their beached boat shop.
Harvest Moon also have wooden treehouses, more expansive oases sporting comfy bedrooms, large open living spaces and elevated decks. Unlike the cabins, which hunker down beneath the sand dunes, the treehouses make the most of the views out towards the water and the rugged rock stack of Bass Rock. That beach is a star attraction that helps make it very popular with families – you can ‘hire’ a hen too, which wee ones love, and have an ultra-fresh breakfast – with a campfire and marshmallows to enjoy afterwards.
How about escaping to your very own private island? You can with Eriska (https://eriska-hotel.co.uk/). Most guests stay in the stately, old world five star main hotel, but they have a sprinkling of self-catering options too. There are hilltop hideaways for two with hot tubs and family-friendly options that also come with outdoor hot tubs.
My favourite choice here, though, is the two-floor Arnott’s House. Arnott’s House hides on the on the north side of the wee Isle of Eriska. This three bedroom self-catering bolthole is far enough away from the main hotel to really feel like you’re on your own and it also enjoys sweeping views from its lofty position overlooking Loch Creran. You can savour a wee dram in the hot tub with views of Ben Cruachan for company.
Moving north now we head into Perthshire and the welcoming charms of Straloch Highland Holidays (www.straloch.com/), which lies just north of Blairgowrie on the private Straloch Estate. You can choose from the Stalker’s Lodge and the Keeper’s Cottage. It’s a gorgeous part of the country and feels much more remote than the easily accessible location suggests. You’ll see much more wildlife here than people so social distancing won’t be a problem.
The Stalker’s Lodge handily accommodates six in luxury. The feature windows offer views out across the surrounding countryside. It’s cosy too with eco-friendly heating and hot water source via a biomass log boiler that uses waste timber from the estate. The 19th-century Keeper’s Cottage meanwhile sleeps four. It’s also a green oasis with a biomass log boiler. They have a third option too, the Fishing Hut, a new glamping hideaway for couples.
If it’s somewhere seriously remote you are seeking Morvern is one of the most isolated peninsulas anywhere in Scotland. Caorann on the sprawling Rahoy Estate (www.rahoy-estate.com/) is my pick of where to stay. Getting here is all part of the fun with a CalMac ferry ride from Oban across to Mull then another across the scenic Sound of Mull. There are four bedrooms in total – if you’re savvy snare the master bedroom with its en suite and bath with epic views.
Downstairs it’s all about the open plan living space with its vaulting floor to ceiling glass wall that makes the most of the remarkable Highland scenery. Take it in as you pop another log on the wood burner and get seriously cosy. You can ramble around the local hills, or just gaze out the window. During our long weekend here we saw red deer, otters and even a pine marten from the comfort of the sofa.
Last but certainly not least we’re off on a ferry again to Harris. Here the Sound of Harris (www.soundofharris.co.uk/) is for me one of the most romantic places to stay in Scotland. There are only two hideaways, each designed with serious style in mind. Think mid-century British furniture, Harris Tweed hardwood framed sofas, wood burning stoves and deep Japanese baths, plus those amazing views.
The massive feature windows gaze out at the Atlantic and the islands of Essay, Killegray and Pabbay. You can meander along the cliffs or venture further to savour the famous white sand beaches of Harris, but from experience you may well just want to relax here and savour your surrounds and those views. With self-catering escapes like this in Scotland there really is no need to go anywhere else.
Making a self-catering escape extra special
1. Take your walking gear: Break away from the wood burner and head off for a ramble, then you can feast guilt-free later. There are a range of great walks on www.walkhighlands.co.uk.
2. Book a restaurant: A top notch meal out can make a break, so make sure to book at least one for your self-catering break.
3. Arrange food in advance: If you can snare local produce all the better, but it’s handy to book a supermarket delivery too, at least for the basics. You won’t need to worry about keeping things cold en route.
4. Take a mobile cinema: Forget screwing up your eyes streaming on your phone and bring a mobile projector. Then you can project on to an interior wall, or even an outdoor wall to enjoy a movie under the stars.
5. Treat yourself: We’re talking a special post-Covid break here so forget about upgrading from house plonk to Chablis. Go for it and upgrade from Macon-Villages to Meursault.