Greywalls Hotel & Chez Roux Restaurant, East Lothian

Greywalls Hotel is located on the edge of Muirfield championship golf course with views over East Lothian and the Firth of Forth in Scotland.

Overlooking the famous greens of the 9th & 18th holes, Greywalls has a reputation of being ‘a golfers paradise’. We weren’t there to enjoy the golf and the weather certainly wasn’t going to allow us to do that; instead we were there to sample the famous Chez Roux dining experience and enjoy the surroundings of this Scottish Edwardian Country House.

As soon as we stepped foot in the hotel you felt very much at ‘home’.

The surroundings were cozy and warm, staff were very friendly and helpful and nothing was too much bother.

Greywalls was built in 1901 and retains all the character from these times. There were several drawing rooms to allow a catch up, glass of prosecco (or two) and game of cards before getting ready for dinner. A few guests were taking advantage of afternoon tea, which was very tempting, but we had dinner to look forward to later.

Our rooms were nice and cosy and perfect for our overnight stay with all the amenities you would expect.

Before dinner we enjoyed canapes and drinks in one of the large wood panelled drawing rooms, which was a very nice and relaxing way to start the evening.

One of our parents is coeliac and Greywalls had absolutely no problem in adapting the dishes to ensure we all enjoyed the experience. A nice touch indeed.

Dinner was served in the original dining room seating up to 20 and sharing the same views as the main dining room overlooking the 10th tee at Muirfield championship golf course.  Albert Roux himself says Chez Roux offers “french classical cuisine with a flair and lightness, using local products as much as possible.”

The menu at Greywalls offers this in abundance with Orkney scallops, Alladale Estate deer, the more local North Berwick crab and guinea fowl from East Lothian to name but a few. It is certainly nice to see produce from all over Scotland being served in such a high quality restaurant.

We must say that the ‘Roasted Orkney Scallops’ and ‘Duck Liver Ballantine’ starters were first class and the ‘Poached Lemon Sole’ and ‘Perthshire Squab Pigeon’ mains outstanding.  Our images may not do them justice, but trust us the dishe tasted amazing!

Breakfast was also a very relaxing and pleasant experience with the usual choices you would expect from a five star Scottish Hotel.

We had plans to explore the walled gardens more, but sadly the weather didn’t allow it – maybe next time!

All in all, if you’re looking for an elegant, tranquil and peaceful fine dining experience Greywalls certainly offers this for you.  We absolutely loved our stay as did our parents who have been raving about it ever since!

(Some pics courtesy of Greywalls / ICMI Collection)

Edinburgh West End Luxury, The Chester Residence

We sometimes forget exactly what we have on our own doorstep here in Scotland, so we decided to spend time exploring our capital city of Edinburgh. Two days were never going to be enough so were keen to stay as central as we could.

The Chester Residence was the perfect choice. These award winning Georgian town house apartments in Edinburgh’s west end offer five star serviced apartments with full reception / concierge service and suites serviced daily.

All the luxury and service you would expect from a five star hotel, but with the freedom to come and go as if it was your very own apartment.

As there was only the two of us we chose the one bedroom apartments and managed to grab the Penthouse at Rothesay Place. The 100 steps to the top are worth it as you climb to your very own romantic city centre pad.

The Penthouse had a large roll top bathtub with tile television, huge walk-in double rain shower and a super king sized bed. We chose the penthouse for the large open plan living room / kitchen area.

The sloping ceilings were quirky and the fully fitted kitchen offered all the comforts of home including our very own Nespresso coffee machine which was a nice touch. If you didn’t fancy making breakfast , a nice touch was being able to order a continental breakfast delivered to your apartment.

Our bedroom faced out onto beautiful residential gardens which must have had such a fascinating history over the years. You also had a glimpse off the famous Edinburgh Castle from the bathroom over the adjacent townhouse rooftops.

The welcome we received when we arrived from Jill and her reception team was first class – topped off with a lovely Scottish welcome pack in our apartment.

Our stay included complimentary Wi-Fi, which was fast, a selection of Molten Brown toiletries, robes and slippers and complimentary water. A selection of DVDs was also available for us during your stay, but we never had time as we were out exploring.

We never had time to try it out, but the the IX Lounge and Bar on the ground floor looked excellent. In the evening, the lounge becomes an intimate bar with a selection of local beers, wines, spirits and cocktails.

The apartment’s location was excellent to take advantage of Edinburgh’s West End, just a short walk from Princes Street and the city’s main attractions, including the Edinburgh Gin Distillery and Mary King’s Close on the Royal mile. Have a look at our blogs from our visits – top attractions.

Normally when we travel to Edinburgh we use the train, but as we were heading to the office when we left we decided to drive. Reception, for a small charge, were able to arrange parking for us nearby in their private parking area. This was a great option for us and meant we could didn’t have to worry about feeding parking meters or worrying about getting a parking space.

Our apartment really was luxurious and a perfect base for anyone interested in spending their time in Edinburgh in style. Being able to explore the heart of the City and touch down throughout the day at the apartment was great.

The Chester Residence is an excellent option for those looking for a truly luxury experience in Edinburgh – we hope to be back sometime soon.  Thanks again to Jill and Siobhan for organising our stay and making our visit so enjoyable.

Edinburgh Gin, Connoisseur Tour

What better way to start our Edinburgh visit but with a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.  Only five minutes walk from our apartment and nestled beneath the stairs at Rutland Place, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery visitor centre offered us a unique chance to discover the gin experience in a real working distillery.

A small-batch distiller and multi-award winner, Edinburgh Gin has been at the heart of the gin renaissance from Scotland’s capital. The tours available include the Gin Discovery, Gin Connoisseurs and the Gin Making Experience with prices starting from £10. We chose the Gin Connoisseur Tour largely as it ended with your very own tasting session in your own ‘Gin Haven’.

Lasting about an hour we had the pleasure of listening to Laura explain the history of gin from the traditional ‘jenever’ spirit through to it becoming popular in the UK when William of Orange, occupied the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones and finally all the way up to present day and the Gins that we now know and love.

Laura was great and really friendly and informative, even handling a few curve ball questions from the inquisitive guests. It would be unfair to retell her story, but it was fascinating and included the distillery process and a hands (and nose) on experience of the vast selection of botanicals, many Scottish, that make their way into the different types of Edinburgh Gin.

Edinburgh Gin recipes are inspired by Edinburgh’s gin-making heritage and surrounding landscape and Laura takes you through this history with great passion. The tour ended with our very own tasting experience in our gin haven? where we tried out the core range, namely Edinburgh Gin, Cannonball Edinburgh Gin and Seaside Edinburgh Gin.

With expert advice from Laura she tantalised our taste buds and shared with us the best way to serve, garnish and mix your gin with various flavoured and plain premium tonic waters. We also sampled a few of the liqueur ranges which went down equally well. Included in the visit (for both of us) was our own 20cl bottle of Edinburgh Gin – now, sadly, no longer with us!

This was easily one of our most favourite attractions and here it was in our very own capital City.  If you are gin lovers this is an absolute must visit attraction and if not you will be after your visit!

(Some pictures courtesy of Edinburgh Gin Distillery)

The Range

EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – A juniper forward London Dry style gin, given a unique Scottish identity with its carefully balanced blend of 14 botanicals.

CANNONBALL EDINBURGH GIN (57% ABV) – Inspired by the famous One O’clock Gun, this navy strength libation has an intense flavour, defined by distinct juniper, citrus and szechuan pepper.

SEASIDE EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – Distilled with foraged seaweed, scurvy grass and ground ivy from the Scottish coast, the unique gin boasts a sweet yet refreshing salinity.

Other Information:

This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.

Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh

Any stay in Edinburgh wouldn’t be authentic without experiencing some of the City’s wonderful and sometimes dark history.

Imagine a warren of streets frozen in time beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile where behind every twist and turn secrets lie waiting to be told. We had always been intrigued by Mary King’s Close, but had never had the time to visit previously.

Running perpendicular to the Royal Mile and now deep below the current City Chambers, Mary King’s Close and others were once the bustling heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, but are now sealed off and hidden from sight.

Mary King’s Close took its name from one Mary King, daughter of advocate Alexander King, who in the 17th century had owned several properties within the close.

The Real Mary King’s Close tour offers a social history considering the stories of the real people who lived, worked and died on these now underground streets.

Each tour is led by a costumed guide based on a one time resident of the close.

Agnes Chambers (aka Mel) was our guide and she was very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and witty. She quickly took us back in time to 1535 guiding us through a network of closes and houses which to this day still have the original smells and feel about them. Needless to say a walk through Prince Street Gardens (formerly The Nor Loch) now takes on a whole new meaning!

Agnes was a maid in the household of prominent merchant burgess, Alexander Cant in 1535. She told us about life in the town house on Craig’s Close, where there was a dramatic turn of events in the form of a MURDER!

We’ll leave it there as we wouldn’t want to spoil your visit, but needless to say it is pretty authentic and chilling to hear what happened in those days including how the plague was spread and ultimately ‘controlled’.

We heard about the trials and tribulations of everyday life, learnt why it was wise to avoid the streets at 7am and 10pm and discovered how all social classes lived together stacked on top of each other in tenements that are said to have been the world’s first skyscrapers.

The Real Mary King’s Close was a truly unique five star attraction, and is a must see on any trip to Edinburgh.

(All pictures courtesy of The Real Mary King’s Close)

Key Information

The Real Mary King’s Close is operated by Continuum Attractions.

Pre-booking is recommended; advance bookings can be made by calling 0131 225 0672, online at www.realmarykingsclose.com or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.

The attraction is open throughout the year closing only on Christmas Day with tours departing every 15 minutes throughout the day.

November to March: 10am-5pm (Sun-Thurs) 10am-9pm (Fri-Sat) April to October: 10am-9pm

Due to the nature of the site under 5s are not permitted on the tour.

Other Information:

This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.

Ballathie House Hotel, Fine Dining in the Heart of Scotland

A long landscaped tree lined avenue meets you on arrival at Ballathie House Hotel with a stunning turreted 19th century house appearing through the trees at the end. Before we even entered the hotel we understood why it was named Country Sporting Hotel of the Year earlier this year. The setting on the banks of the River Tay is truly amazing and it immediately gives you a sense of tranquillity and relaxation.

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Ballathie is a luxury country house hotel in Perthshire with a 2 AA red rosette restaurant.  Its setting in a quiet secluded area on the banks of the River Tay offers a really high standard of hotel accommodation in Scotland.

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Located just over 1 hours drive from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Inverness Ballathie House Hotel is easily one of the finest 4 Star hotels in Scotland. Our trip up from Lanarkshire was pretty good with an unusually warm, sunny, but windy day, to enjoy.

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As we were only staying for an overnight we arrived early so we could enjoy what Ballathie had to offer. We never had enough time to enjoy everything, but the fishing beats on the River Tay are highly regarded amongst anglers, and, in addition to fishing, the Estate also offers a variety of outdoor sports and activities including walking, cycling, clay pigeon shooting, all just a short stroll from the hotel.

Our check in was great and the welcome was one of the best we have had at any Scottish country house.  We were given a short tour of the ground floor so we could get our bearings. What stood out within the first few minutes of our arrival was the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff – nothing staged, just very natural and friendly.

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Room 10, Inverness, was impressive indeed with lots of period features and a large dark oak four poster dominating the traditionally Scottish country house room when we entered.

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A traditional, and good sized bathroom was off to our left and whole room immediately gave us a feel good factor.

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We already had our eyes on the two easy chairs overlooking the river Tay to relax in after we had explored the area and had a soak in the super-size, incredibly fast filling bath tub!

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Before we explored the estate we nipped down to the cosy Restaurant Bar for a light ‘soup and sandwich’ lunch. The malt whiskies were very tempting, but it was only early afternoon – plenty of time for that later!  The Restaurant Bar and rest of the house is adorned by hunting and sporting memorabilia throughout and you could easily have spent the entire afternoon exploring the displays.

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Armed with a map and advice from reception we ventured down to the edge of the River Tay and, although a little muddy, followed the river bank for a good 45mins or so, explored a few salmon fishing jetties before returning on a circular path via a wooded path. All in all, a very enjoyable walk with some amazing scenery, just what we needed to start our mini-break off. Back to the room for coffee, and some relaxing time in those easy chairs before our evening dinner.

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We headed down for pre-dinner drinks and were spoiled for choice from an extensive and exciting menu. There was also a good wine selection, reasonably priced, to choose from.

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The dining room is plush and opulent with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the front lawn which slopes down to the River Tay. The food is what we came for and although we hadn’t heard of Head Chef Scott Scorer – a sneaky peak at his menu over pre-dinner drinks gave us a sense of excitement.

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There’s no point in trying to describe in fanciful words the food we were served as our pictures tell a thousand words.

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The smoked salmon parfait amuse-bouches were an instant hit, although they disappeared in the blink of an eye – oh well they are meant to be bite sized after all!

Our starters of Salad Gourmand consisting of smoked salmon, cured beef, marinated venison, quail egg, asparagus and truffle dressing and a Confit Duck Terrine with ginger crumb, golden raisins and truffled brioche set the standard for precision and detail very high for the rest of the evening.

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A real hearty and flavoursome cream of mushroom soup, served with freshly baked breads, followed our starter before we both enjoyed a succulent Roast Loin of Sutherland Venison main accompanied by sweet potato dauphinoise, homemade sausage and a red wine jus.

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Our dining experience was topped off with an amazing sweet of Dark Chocolate waffle with caramelized bananas, peanut butter cremeux and fudge ice cream.

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Needless to say the food was excellent and Chef Scott Scorer’s precision and attention to detail is simply outstanding.

The menu brings together the finest produce from around Perthshire and Scotland and I have to say Ballathie certainly offers a real special dining experience. Service was top notch and again very attentive and friendly.

After our dinner we moved through to the drawing room and finished off our night with freshly brewed coffee and petit fours. We retired to our room around 10pm, crashing out on the four poster bed – all that walking and eating had obviously been too much for us and we needed a good night’s sleep as we knew we had breakfast to finish off in a few hours.

Breakfast was what you would expect, with a freshly prepared full Scottish breakfast to your liking. Perfect for the day ahead and journey home to Lanarkshire.2016-08-08-11-11-40

As a past winner of Rural Restaurant of the Year, Ballathie is known for its food, but they openly state they don’t like to make too much of a meal of it, but why not!

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They should be shouting it from the rooftops and should be really proud of consistently achieving their 2 AA rosettes.

Ballathie is certainly on our ‘visit again’ list, hopefully next time for a little longer.

Other Information:

This was a sponsored visit, however, the review / article is an independent, honest and true reflection of our experience.

Sun, Sea, Palm Trees and…. the International Space Station!

Port Logan and the surrounding area was never really on our travel radar before, but it most certainly is now and our accommodation of choice will 100% be Kirkbride Farm Holiday Cottages.

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As you soon as you arrive at Kirkbride Farm Holiday Cottages you can sense that it isn’t your normal farm style / holiday cottage conversion. The entrance is straight out of an episode of Dallas and the long sweeping access road, lined by amazing workmanship stone dykes, makes it a ‘wow’ entrance.

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When we arrived Aileen met us with a really warm welcome and showed us round the property. Leaving us with a dozen eggs from her own hens, a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates, it was a great start to our break.  She had even managed to find us 4 sun chairs for our stay, not something you normally get to use on a break in Scotland.

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The Cottages are located in and around a working dairy farm near Port Logan in Wigtownshire, Dumfries & Galloway.  Millwheel Cottage gives spectacular views of the sea, with the Irish Sea to your left and Luce Bay to your right along with views of the rolling countryside stretching to the Galloway Hills and beyond.

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Millwheel Cottage has been designed to enjoy 360 degree views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The cottage is open-plan and has a large kitchen / dining living area; it was perfect for our 5-day break with our parents. With underfloor tiled flooring throughout it really was finished to a very high standard. The Cottage is more than deserving of its five-star rating, is well-equipped, modern and very spacious and relaxing.

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It has everything you will need including Sky, Wi-fi and the garden room, furnished with comfortable easy chairs, is perfect for relaxing and enjoying the views in all weather. We were really fortunate though and had one of the best weeks Scotland has had for many years. Every night we were able to watch the sun go down on the patio with a glass or two of Prosecco in hand.

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There is so much to do around the Port Logan area including the Mull of Galloway experience, Logan Botanic Gardens and, if you fancy a treat Knockinaam Lodge is worth a visit. There are also plenty of walks and nature trails scattered across the Rhins of Galloway peninsula which will? keep you active and there is some impressive wildlife on offer also. The RSPB seabird experience at Mull of Galloway was special, but it was the barn owls and sea otters that were the highlights of our visit.

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We never really got a chance to experience the ‘Galloway’ dark skies given the time of year, but on our second last night we looked and saw a shooting star streaking across the night sky. A quick check on the iPhone app confirmed though it wasn’t a shooting star, but instead the International Space Station! A quick tweet to Major Tim Peake followed, but we think he must have been packing for his trip home, as he never replied!

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Matthew and Aileen are so passionate and enthusiastic about what they have done with Kirkbride Farm Holiday Cottages as well as their farming business. It’s clear they work really hard at both and have really created an amazing holiday destination.

Finally, if you get the offer to go on a ‘tour’ with Matthew, then grab it.  This guy is so passionate and enthusiastic about what he and Aileen have done it is contagious. Quite simply he has ideas coming out of his head, left right and centre. From further holiday cottages, fish ponds, walking routes and the ambitious observatory / restaurant atop Kirkbride Hill, he will grab your attention and give you a great experience. The ‘tour’ also included sight of some new born calves and all the farm animals – which even for 4 adults was a great experience.  We won’t spoil the stories he’s got, needless to say the tour around his wood (yes he has his own wood!) is exhilarating and not for the faint hearted.

Thanks again Matthew and Aileen for giving us a great experience and we’ll definitely be back in the future  – hopefully enjoying a view of the International Space Station from Matthew’s ‘Observatory’.

Nocturnal Wildlife Tour, Castle Douglas – Technology Meets Wildlife, Up Close!

We had set off early from Lanarkshire that day and had spent most of our time walking / birdwatching at Caerlaverock WWT trust and so were pretty tired when we arrived at Castle Douglas for our long weekend.

It was around 5pm and we were staying at Lochside Apartments, which as luck would have it, was only a 5 minute walk from the Nocturnal Wildlife Tours (NWT) main office. You’d have thought we had planned that – well done Linda.

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We had been advised to meet up at 6pm at the NWT office for an introductory session before our tour started and to come prepared for wet weather. It was a cold, slightly windy and crisp night, but it was dry and the forecast looked pretty good.

We have taken part in many wildlife tours over the years, but we really didn’t know what to expect and were quite excited, so much so, we arrived 20 minutes early.  We had kitted ourselves out in as much dark gear as we could; we were taking this night mission seriously.  We did although resist the temptation to paint our faces with camouflage paint!

We arrived that early we met up with Keith on Castle Douglas Main Street as he was opening up for the evening.? Keith was the ‘TV star’ we had seen earlier in the week on BBC Autumnwatch demonstrating the equipment they use and what they get up to on the tour. Keith has been a wildlife ranger for over 35 years and is really passionate about what he does, the area and photography / filmmaking in general.

The NWT office, at the rear of a narrow lane, is what we expected being bright, modern and the walls adorned with wildlife images and technology.  Another couple were joining us, but Keith was so keen he started to give us a run down on the night ahead before they arrived. Cowan arrived shortly before the other couple; he is the technology / technical guru (and driver!) and his knowledge and experience coupled with Keith’s wildlife experience proved a great partnership.  So we could get started Keith nipped outside to find the other couple, who were seemingly ‘internet bloggers’ – sorry Keith that was us!

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We were all issued with a hand held thermal camera which was central to the tour. It allows you to detect a heat source as small as a mouse, or something as big as a red deer stag at distances of up to 950m at night. Unlike traditional night vision devices, this device is not affected by objects such as bushes or grass, or adverse weather conditions such as fog or rain. The device sees the infrared energy emitted from objects both natural and man made and images are displayed on a viewfinder. The devices could display white heat, or black heat, depending on the background and the surrounding temperature.

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After a 15 minute introductory session on how the devices and equipment worked, including the customary health and safety briefing we were all set. We left the offices suited, booted and with equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Strikeback.

We boarded the NWT Landrover which again was kitted out with all the gadgets – Cowan and Keith really are ‘boys with their toys!’ The Landrover had an on-board thermal camera which allowed us to track and locate wildlife on the way to Threave Estate. The thermal camera located on the roof of the vehicle, had a 360 degrees view of our surroundings and wildlife which would normally go undetected by the human eye. Within the vehicle two LCD displays allowed us to view the action as we drove along.

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Colin had managed to bag the front seat and had responsibility for pushing the zoom button function for the roof mounted camera – you would have thought he was holding the button to a rocket launcher given how much he talked about!

www.dumfriesandgallowaywildlife.co.uk

Have to say it was a pretty cold night and viewing the images from inside seemed a much better idea than venturing out, but hey, we were SAS soldiers after all and needs must!Top tip though, when it’s cold, take thin / warm gloves as some of the camera buttons can be a little fiddly.

We had a few stops en-route to and from the Threave Estate to try out the cameras. Keith and Cowan were fantastic and knew the area very well and where best to look for wildlife. They used the same equipment, along with some new gear they were trialling, to find wildlife for us.  Although, pleased to say we did manage to track down ourselves some foxes, badgers and what we think was a hare.

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It’s a bit of a balance for the NWT guys on where best to take people, given peoples’ capabilities and potential weather conditions. Threave Estate was a safe bet given the weather; the paths were pretty level and straight and there were only a few puddles to negotiate. On a normal afternoon, they wouldn’t have been too much of a challenge, but in the deepest dark of night they still proved to be quite ‘interesting’.  Perhaps something for the NWT team to consider in the future would be to ask people to gauge their capabilities before they arrive so they can take them out on the most appropriate trip. Although, perhaps a little tame for us, we really enjoyed Threave Estate and it was perfect for our first night time experience.

We knew it was going to be dark, but we hadn’t appreciate just how dark. In some places it was solid black, with the only glimpse of light from the stunning (and we have to say again, stunning!) Galloway night sky. The Milky Way directly above us, was so clear and vivid and, if we hadn’t been in the possession of about £2.5k of gadgets to play with, simply staring upwards would have been a great night in itself. It was also so dark we lost count of how many times we started talking to each other about what we had seen, only to realise it was someone else or there was nobody actually there.

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Overall we managed to track down over 10 different species, including foxes, red deer, roe deer, badgers, field mice, rabbits, hares, small birds hunkered down for the night and various water birds. These animals are not uncommon, but it was observing them in their natural surroundings at night that made this special. We knew they were there, but they didn’t necessarily know we were there too!

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Have to say the most exciting experience was being less than 2 feet away from a small Dunnock hunkered down in the brambles sheltering from the cold, protecting itself from predators. He was sound and had no idea we were so close – he just looked like a white tennis ball in the bushes.

Nocturnal Wildlife Tours were recently nominated for the Dumfries and Galloway ‘Most Promising Developing Business’ award and we can really see why.  Keith and Cowan have only been doing this for just over 8 months and they have really stumbled onto something special here.

We’ll certainly be back, albeit it on a slightly warmer evening!

We should also have said that you could record video on the thermal devices, but we’re afraid our filming skills were abysmal! Top tip is to simply enjoy the experience and, if you get any good footage that’s a bonus, if not you’ll have great memories.

See for yourself here! Quality of filming and screenshots above don’t match the top quality experience we had, but I blame the cameraman!  Top marks to Keith for making the footage look not too bad at all though. Bear in mind people these images are taken in complete darkness.

Watch out for NWT? on the BBC’s One Show in the coming weeks.