The Ultimate Staycation: Highlands and Islands of Scotland
✨ FREDDIE HUTCHINS
Honeymoons are a strange thing. The imperative to spend your time blissed-out and zenned off your tits, wallowing in post-nuptial rest and relaxation, can, for the highly-strung amongst us (me) end up making the whole enterprise seem curiously stressful. And of course the occupational hazards don't stop there. I have dear friends who jetted off to spend their honeymoon on paradisal beaches halfway across the world, only to have the whole trip blighted by jet lag and food poisoning. I have also heard tales of couples who planned the ultimate post-wedding adventure of a lifetime, only to discover that, whilst being the best of friends back home, their soul-mate status didn’t necessarily translate to the rigours of the Australian outback or the wilds of the Serengeti. And then there’s the couple who fell in a volcano on their honeymoon. I mean, there are just no words.
My husband and I have always been pretty good at holidays. I happen to think that holidaying as a couple is a particular skill - it requires a different dynamic to life spent together at home. For one thing, you’re together all the time, and for another, there are no routines to fall back on - no familiar kitchen in which to make coffee, no familiar sofa on which to watch the Antiques Roadshow. You’re thrown together in a strange new place with the hope / expectation of having a great time. The amount of money you’ve spent getting there can also be burdensome - a kind of ultra-expensive Bootcamp of Enjoyment: have an awesome, loved-up time, or else. And if you're not, try harder.
Cripes. All that being said, I was confident we could ace our honeymoon. What we needed was a real break and real space, but with minimal pressure and minimal fuss. Because of this, it began to dawn on us that a staycation was what we were after. And where better than Scotland? It's one of those places everyone knows a bit, and means to get to know better. It’s always there, close-ish by, promising scenery and splendour and grandeur, but also threatening rain, midges, drizzle, austere guesthouses, damp and a bit more rain.
We decided to give it a go. And gosh, was it lovely. From the midnight sleeper train we took to get there to the cottage on the shores of Loch Lomand in which we ended our trip, the whole trip was impossibly romantic, utterly escapist and just what we needed after the heightened emotions of our wedding day. Perhaps we were lucky: our mid-September travel date meant the midges were on the retreat and the weather still (broadly) fine. Or else perhaps, as I suspect is more likely, there’s simply no place on earth like it for sheer, undimmed beauty. I couldn't encourage you more fervently to go see for yourself - what follows are some particularly special highlights from an altogether special trip.
This was our first stop, 90 minutes north of Edinburgh, nestled in the heart of the Cairngorms. Part of an enormous, privately-owned estate, the properties at Killiehuntly offer rest, relaxation and utterly delicious food. Indeed, mealtimes are a defining characteristic of a stay here - all guests dine together in the main farmhouse, seated around a table adjacent to the kitchen. Whilst this might be off-putting to those seeking solitude, it really does elevate the experience to that of being private houseguests in one of the most beautiful, remote places in the British Isles, being looked after by a host with the most extraordinary culinary abilities.
This is North-West Scotland, Assynt to be precise, and a wilder, more remote region it would be difficult to imagine - or to get to. The driving here is slightly trickier, as roads become single tracks with multiple passing places, the sheep claiming the predominant right of way. We arrived on a blustery day perfect for hunkering down in the bar with a pint and Scrabble, only to wake the following morning to the most stunning sunrise over Loch Gleann Dubh. Over breakfast, the seals came to say hello, bobbing their heads up above the water and gazing dolefully in our direction. Needless to say, the seafood in this part of the world was something else - a highlight being the deliciously sweet squat lobster - a crustacean so local it’s practically swum in the door and onto your plate. On our second evening we opted for humble fish and chips - and I'm so glad we did. They were easily the best I've ever tasted.
The first of two Unique Home Stays properties we stayed in, Supernova was a great bolt-hole for our excursions on Skye. This was where we encountered our only really torrential rain of the honeymoon, and Supernova proved the perfect place in which to spend the day in bed, reading books and watching Pointless. Equipped with sauna and twin bathtub, this really is the place to go all-out on the heightened romantic pampering experience.
I don't suppose one could, in all good conscience, honeymoon on Skye without visiting the Three Chimneys. We made our reservation the requisite 6 months in advance, and felt that little bit smugger for it being in the diary as the honeymoon approached. When the great day came, we found we were staying a good hour's taxi ride away from the restaurant, so some careful planning was in order. Logistics aside, a warm welcome and some fabulous food was in order. We opted for à la carte as opposed to the multiple course tasting menu, enjoying oysters from the loch outside the window, and red deer from the fields above the restaurant.
With apologies to the Three Chimneys, this was the undisputed culinary highlight of our honeymoon. Our meal here was a totally off-the-cuff affair: we'd read it was the place to go when staying on the Isle of Mull, but hadn't planned a visit - let alone made a reservation in advance. Thus we found ourselves snuck in at 17:30 table for dinner. I'm so glad we did. The fish was incredible, the service lovely, and the setting fabulous, perched atop the pier at one end of Tobermory's iconic sweep of harbour houses. This place is good enough to plan a whole weekend - or even week's - holiday around. It's that good.
This place was really special. The second of our Unique Home Stay properties, it looked exactly like Miss Honey’s house in Matilda. The visitor’s book is filled with people offering to buy the place should the owners ever think to sell it, which is testament to its charm and the air of peace and tranquility it radiates from every thoughtfully-chosen throw and cushion. We could happily have spent the whole honeymoon here, wrapped in our dressing gowns in front of the fire. There wasn’t even Pointless to keep us company this time, since the extreme remoteness of the location meant the TV signal was patchy at best. But no matter: Little Eden is a place to stare into space, stare at the water - and reluctantly contemplate a return to the real world. But never have we been so sure about coming back.
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