Avernish Lodge, Lochalsh Luxury, Scotland

According to the website Avernish Lodge is situated on the banks of Loch Alsh, with stunning views over Eilean Donan Castle, is miles from any passing traffic and serenity is guaranteed.  This is a 100% accurate description and just what we needed before winter took hold in Scotland.

Slightly further north than our trip in October back to Crosple Cottage Loch Melfort, Avernish Lodge is ideally placed to explore the Kyle of Lochalsh and another great excuse for a journey via Glencoe.

We set off a little later than planned meaning we arrived at Avernish just as the sun was going down; when we approached the village of Dornie, Eilean Donan Castle was magically lit up to honour the 100-year Armistice celebrations.  What a welcome to the area!

As we turned off the main road it felt like the local pipistrelle bats were guiding us along the track as the light faded for the day.  Avernish Lodge, completed in 2016, is about a mile off the main A87 road down a quiet single-track road which gives access to several crofts scattered along the banks of Loch Alsh.

The lodge sits in an elevated prominent position on the hillside with unrestricted views over the loch and over to Glas Eilean, a small island in the middle.

It was a first for us arriving in the dark and little strange, however, as soon as we entered the lodge we were at home.  The lodge is finished to an extremely high standard and has been very well looked after by guests and owner James.

You enter the lodge via a handy utility room with a sink, washing machine, tumble dryer and a drying cupboard for hanging up outdoor clothing.

The living area is large with a high-pitched roof, it’s a modern open-plan well equipped space complete with a log burning stove, HD television with Sky TV, Wi-Fi Internet and a solid wood dining table separating the living area and the kitchen.

The bathroom and en-suite are also very impressive adding to an already luxurious experience.

Our biggest decision when we arrived was which of the two bedrooms, we were going to sleep in. 

The largest bedroom can be set up as two single beds or a super king, but the views from the slightly smaller en-suite bedroom overlooking Eilean Donan made it an easy choice for us.  

There was something enchanting about falling asleep with the castle lit up in the distance.  We didn’t fully appreciate the stunning view until the next morning – waking up to a glorious sunrise over the loch was even more special.

When we entered the living space the next morning the extent of the views of Loch Alsh from the floor to ceiling windows was mesmerising.

We both had our eyes on the luxurious rotating chair positioned in the corner window – luckily it was big enough to fit two!    Many a morning started sitting here with a coffee enjoying the views.

Our ‘batch’ cooking at Crosple Cottage was a real success so we did the same again for our break at Avernish.

Again, we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is fully equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some local delights, but a must visit place is Buth Bheag seafood shack in Kyle of Lochalsh to stock up and sample some local produce.

The dining table was perfect place to relax, enjoy the view whilst tucking into a piping hot bowl of soup or casserole as well as a glass (or two) of red.

All rooms, including the living space, are fitted with independently controlled underfloor heating, which is great.  A word of warning though, it can get very warm if the temperature is set to high so take it easy on the first few nights especially if you need to use the log fire as it heats up the large living area in no time.

During our week we were very lucky with the weather; November in Scotland can be sometimes unpredictable and very cold however we managed out every day to explore and most of the days the sun was shining.

On a couple of occasions, it was that warm we had to ditch the fleeces and jackets.

At this time of year, the daylight hours were short with the sun going down just after 4pm so as we returned to the lodge most days we could enjoy watching the sun go down.

Each of the bedrooms and living areas has a glass door that opens onto a paved patio area, offering outdoor access which you could make use of during the warmer lighter months.

Although the lodge is remote the broadband connection is not too bad and at a little over 5mbps allowed us to keep an eye on the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy via our own Apple TV.  The Smart TV also has a full Sky Sports and Movies package as well as access to a suite of apps such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, Netflix etc, perfect for those cosy autumn evenings with a roaring log fire burning beside you.

As we said before when holidaying in Scotland there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 3 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – no spoilers, but we can’t wait for Season 4 to complete so we can binge on it during our next stay wherever that may be.

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Makar was this week’s choice (one of Linda’s favourites) with a wee Drambuie to finish off most evenings.   Afraid, we made the fateful mistake of discovering a Bonnie Prince Charlie’s aka Prosecco and Drambuie!  Very nice – they certainly had the desired effect.

Worth pointing out that while fibre optic isn’t yet in the area the coverage of EE’s mobile 4g signal at the lodge was impressive at lmost 20-25mbps and Vodafone’s 4g was around 5mbps. Always good to know for those social media hungry people who like to keep in touch or book up their next trip!

The lodge is very close to a number of popular tourist attractions, such as; Eilean Donan Castle, The Isle of Skye, Plockton and numerous other castles, mountains and tourist hotspots.

A wee pit stop went down well at the Plockton Inn before we ventured over to Duncraig Castle to explore.  That’s on our radar for a visit next year!

During our stay we always turned left when we left Avernish along the main tourist route towards Skye, maybe next time we’ll venture right.

All our walks and the towns / villages we explored were generally within about a 30-minute drive although we did venture over to the Fairy Pools on Skye on our last day – well worth a trip.

Wildlife encounters included seals, otters, mountain goats, red deer and roe dear not forgetting the local bats!  Highlight was this close up encounter with a very friendly chaffinch as we set of to explore the Fairy Pools.

Would highly recommend spending time having a look at walkhighlands.co.uk  our go to website before you arrive and plan a few walks to get you started.

This is our second year we have holidayed in Scotland at this time of year and we would highly recommend it.  The roads are generally quiet, and, on many occasions, we didn’t encounter any other walkers when we were out exploring – check out the scenery in these pics.

Yes, some venues are closed or have restricted hours, but the great outdoors are well and truly open and not to be missed.

James has created a real place to get away from it all and it was a wrench to leave at the end of our stay.  For those looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting Avernish Lodge is up there with the best.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here overlooking Loch Alsh and Eilean Donan Castle and we would highly recommend a visit.

With so much to do in the area James has created a perfect base for you to return each day to relax, recharge and reflect on your adventures and, of course, sip a wee refreshment.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.  Thank you to James for use of some property images in this article.

Spring Sunshine, Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Scottish Highlands

This was our second trip to Ardnamurchan in less than 6 months, staying again at Garmoran Square, Mingarry, Moidart.   Our first trip can be found here.

Moidart is best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie country as he arrived in Kinlochmoidart in August 1745 landing at Castle Tioram on route from France setting sail up Loch Shiel from Dalilea.

It’s worth reading up on the history before you arrive as you’ll immediately fall in love with these stories and the folklore the area has to offer.

Full blog to follow shortly…..enjoy pics just now!

Pangkor Laut Resort, Malaysian Five Star Island Luxury

Sea otters, monitor lizards, hornbills, fruit bats and macaque monkeys with a background track of enchanting jungle noises played out for us during our morning walk to breakfast – we couldn’t believe how lucky we were – this was our kind of island!

We hadn’t visited this part of the world for over 15 years, so there was an unusual air of excitement before we set off from Scotland.  This was also our first big trip of 2018, kicking off a year of special birthday celebrations.

With an almost 27-hour trip from our home in Scotland via London ahead of us, we’d bagged a great deal on Business Class flights, so the journey was a breeze and started as soon as we arrived at the British Airways Lounge at Glasgow Airport.

The James Bond style speed boat trip at the other end of the journey was another story!

Located off the Straits of Malacca, Malaysia, Pangkor Laut Resort is a five star luxury resort situated on its own 300 acre privately owned tropical island.

We arrived shortly after 8pm at the Resort’s reception at the Marina Island Jetty on the mainland.  The Resort had arranged private transfers for us from the Airport. Fully air-conditioned, with comfortable leather reclining chairs, the luxury theme of our trip continued, making the 250 kilometre, 3 ½ journey much more enjoyable.   A great touch was the mobile Wi-Fi device which meant we could catch up on social media etc. during the journey!

The welcome at the Marina Island reception is what we expected – refreshing drink, cold towel and air conditioned lounge – what came next was not!  We were shown to a private jetty where our speed boat transfer was departing.

It was a little dark for any great pictures, however, the experience was exciting and exhilarating with the boat crashing through the waves – only thing missing was Sean Connery!  As the bow of the boat began to settle we saw the lights of the sea villas gradually come into focus and the magic of the island began to take hold.

We were given a great welcome on the island and shown to our Spa Villa to the south of the island.  A unique and mesmerising walk along the raised boardwalk ended our 27-hour trip from Scotland.  It was also the very first resort that our luggage had arrived at the villa before us – simple things make such a difference.

These private villas on stilts over the sea provide access to the Spa Village.   Linked by raised wooden boardwalks, they really are the signature accommodation of the Resort and provided us with an incredible level of privacy and exclusivity.

Our villa had an oversized bath, large balcony with padded sunbeds for private sunbathing and a great view of the Straits of Malacca.

One slight negative we had heard about the resort was the number of industrial ships which spanned the horizon of the Malacca Straits, especially in the views from the Spa Villas.  While it would have been nice to have had a clear horizon, we would have to say they really didn’t affect our trip at all and at night their lights provided an interesting feature to the sky line.   Really not a problem.

One piece of advice is to ignore weather forecasts.   Weeks before we arrived these had us worried, with very poor weather predicted.  The region has its very own micro climate.  For the periods we were there, we had the same poor forecast, which bore no resemblance to the weather we enjoyed.   Overall the weather was excellent, but very humid, just don’t move anywhere too fast and you’ll be fine.  For female readers, your hair can have a mind of its own and in Linda’s case its own personality – remember those hair clips!

The large oversized bath with overhead shower had shutters that folded back for a real ‘outdoor’ shower experience!

We even had our very own Nespresso machine to enjoy refreshing morning coffees on our balcony.   The mini bar was very reasonably priced and the complementary bottled water a great feature throughout the resort.

Complementary WiFi was provided via a small pocket size device, which worked very well.  Keep it charged and, except for the jungle trek, you’ll enjoy decent internet speeds across the island.  Top tip though, it’s great to leave it back in your villa on occasion and simply enjoy what the island has to offer.  There’s plenty time for social media later.

A minor comment was the limited number of power outlets in the villa, so we would highly recommend some form of ‘multiple’ USB charging plug to keep your various devices topped up.  A mobile power bank also goes down well if you’re out and about a lot.

The resort is very linear in nature and excellent if you want to work up an appetite or work off your evening meal!  Our villa was probably the furthest away as possible from the main lobby area, down at Coral Bay, and took around 15 mins to walk between these points.

Every walk though gave us a different experience with an abundance of wildlife to look out for.  Short video here.

The highlight being the sea otters that regularly joined us on our trips to and from restaurants.

Or was it the other way around?  Were we joining them on a visit to their restaurants?

Worth saying there were also air-conditioned shuttles available across the resort, but we rarely used them.  For the more adventurous there was the ‘jungle trek’ which took us through the 2 million year old rain forest to Emerald Bay, considered by some as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

The short trek is approximately half a kilometre long through the northern perimeter of the lush rainforest, while the longer more challenging two and half kilometre trek offers great views of the sea from the top of the southern perimeter.

On our first day we had planned to accompany the resort’s resident naturalist on his daily trek through the jungle, but we were delayed at breakfast.  After lathering up on sun cream and mosquito repellent, we were brave and decided to venture out on our own.

The jungle trek is part of the Chapman’s Challenge an event which celebrates British Colonel, Freddy Spencer Chapman, who made Pangkor Laut his destination for thirty-six hours in 1945. After spending three and a half years in hiding from the Japanese in the jungles of Malaya, he made his way to Pangkor Laut’s Emerald Bay to escape by submarine.

We obviously had much more of an enjoyable and luxurious encounter with the island, than Mr Chapman, but our daily circular trips reminded us of the conditions he must have experienced.

The packing of our walking shoes, digital camera and binoculars were great decisions and a must for anyone with an interest in wildlife.  Have patience and you’ll get great rewards, especially at the end when you see Emerald Bay.

We were on a full board package meaning we could enjoy all the dining options from the resort; this really was great value for money.   For a 5 star resort the drinks prices were not too bad with a pleasant New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as one of the house wines.

Situated in the Spa Village, Fisherman’s Cove provided western grill, fresh seafood and Italian cuisine and was clearly our favourites restaurant, dining here five nights during our stay.  A great excuse to dress up.

With an open show-kitchen and stunning sea view this really was what we had come to the island to enjoy.  Peaceful, relaxing, fine dining and great service from a team of staff to make your evening special.

Highlight of the menu was the Fried Marine Prawn with Citrus Aioli and caramelized walnuts starter and the Banana Crumble dessert, both amazing dishes.

Mains were great, but the Catch of the Day Chargrilled Lobster with garlic butter was something special.

On one evening we were treated to a unique ‘lightning’ show as a storm rolled over the mainland – there’s that micro-climate again.  You might be tempted to go for an outdoor table, but the secret is to be one row inside where you’ll get the luxury of a cooling ceiling fan.

Uncle Lim’s Kitchen was another restaurant we enjoyed, although not as exclusive as Fisherman’s Cove.   The restaurant is built atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea and named after the chef who has been with the resort since it opened.

Uncle Lim’s Kitchen specialises in Nyonya and Hockchew Chinese style home cooking and would have to say it went down very well and we enjoyed a few more casual evenings there.

Perhaps a little rushed at times but make a point in asking for service to be slowed down and you’ll be fine.  Certainly a restaurant not to be missed.

The Straits restaurant is another experience not to be missed, set on the rocks by the beach, and only open three nights a week, serving a maximum of 10 couples per evening.

It provides a very exclusive fine dining experience with bespoke personal menus drawn from South East Asian influences.  Private dining booths line both sides of the restaurant with one side offering exclusive views of the sea.

Another unique experience for us was the fruit bats flying overhead just metres above our head as we enjoyed our pre-dinner G&Ts.

The overall experience here was first class, however the food on offer at Fisherman’s Cove edged it for us.

The team at the Royal Bay Beach Club were great and helped us enjoy our afternoon lunches.  Overlooking the infinity pool, the menu had a selection of Asian and Western dishes and was the perfect setting to cool down with a warm beer or glass (or two) of wine.

The Feast Village featured a patisserie, café, Chef’s table and wine cellar where guests could purchase wines of their choice and is open for breakfast and dinner.

This was the main restaurant and quite busy.  Although the food here was good, we preferred the fine dining / leisurely experience at Fisherman’s Cove and the Straits.

The Spa Village located in the south east comprises eight treatment pavilions, a deluxe Belian Treatment Pavilion, three Healing Huts, two Bath Houses, three Thai Pavilions and a Herb Garden really is a unique retreat.

We were able to enjoy the Spa surroundings and use of the infinity pool and sun terrace, but we also tried out the treatments including the bath house ritual.   A soothing footbath and an invigorating chinese foot pounding, started off our experience.  We were then escorted to respective male or female Bath Houses to enjoy the traditional Malay “circulating” bath.

A Japanese-style cleansing with a goshi-goshi cloth in followed, before a dip in the heated rock pool.  An exfoliating Shanghai Scrub then set us up very nicely for our 80 minute Balinese massage.    An all-round great experience which really took us into the relaxation zone for the rest of our stay.

Our trip went by at a reasonable pace, not too fast and not too slow.  We really enjoyed the privacy and intimacy of our Spa Villa and were able to switch off and just be in the moment for most of the stay.

Our return trip home was pretty much the same but obviously in reverse.  It was light enough for us to enjoy the speed boat journey back to the Marina a little more before our journey to Kuala Lumpur and onward flight to the UK.

YTL Hotels owns and manages Pangkor Laut Resort and a prestigious collection of other award-winning resorts, hotels, boutique experiences across the world.  This was our first experience with them and have to say it was very special indeed.  Their resort management, headed up by Emmanuel, and supported by Stephen and Dashni were outstanding and made us feel so welcome.

We’ll no doubt be visiting more YTL Resorts and when we return to Pangkor Laut we’ve already got our sights on the famous Pavarotti Suite who understandably fell in love with the island!

Autumn Rainbows, Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Scottish Highlands

Any trip to the Scottish Highlands for us begins shortly after we leave our house and this trip didn’t disappoint.   Although the weather could have been kinder, the scenic journey along the A84 via Callander and the A85 via Crianlarich was very enjoyable and the haunting and dramatic views along the A82 via Glencoe are always impressive in any conditions.

Just after Onich, we crossed Loch Linnhe via the Corran Ferry to Ardgour.  A short crossing, but this cut around 20 mins or so from our journey time compared to the Fort William route; always worth considering if you’re comfortable with ferries.

We were heading for Garmoran Square, a development of four luxury self-catering apartments situated in Mingarry, Moidart in the picturesque west coast of the Scottish Highlands and north of the Isle of Mull.  Each apartment has a historical link to the area and you can find out more during your stay if you take time to delve into the well-stocked book shelves.

Moidart is best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie country as he arrived in Kinlochmoidart in August 1745 landing at Castle Tioram on route from France setting sail up Loch Shiel from Dalilea.  Worth reading up on the history before you arrive as you’ll immediately fall in love with these stories and the folklore the area has to offer.

Mingarry is a small crofting township with several public dwellings as well as a mixture of traditional crofts, some private houses and Mingarry Park, which we will tell you about later.

Garmoran Square is at the gateway to Ardnamurchan, just 1 hour from Fort William, Ben Nevis and Nevis Range in the north east and just over an hour to Ardnamurchan Point in the west.   It is also within easy reach of Mull, Skye and the small Isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum during the summer season – although worth pointing a boat or ferry is needed for these visits!

Garmoran Square opened in 2006 and is built on croft land to the side of Susan and Kenneth MacDonald’s home.  Their concept was to build a luxury treat to allow people to share the beauty and history of this area.   In our view they’ve certainly achieved this – watch Susan tell you about it here.

Although Garmoran Square is rural it’s only a 5 minutes’ drive from a baker, grocers, tearoom, hotel, pubs and restaurants.   We were aware early November is the beginning  of the low / winter season, so some places had limited opening hours, but it didn’t really affect our stay at all and just meant we spent more time outdoors.  There’s nothing better than trekking through the Scottish Countryside, pouring yourself and enjoying a nice cup of coffee / homemade soup before your return leg.

We were staying in the Tioram apartment (pronounced cheerum) at the southeast corner of the development overlooking Ben Resipole.   The three main apartments are well orientated to maximise the sun in the afternoon and evening and to enjoy the early morning sunrise over Ben Resipole.

Susan met us on arrival, which is always a nice touch, and we immediately felt at home with her.  She gave us a brief tour of Tioram, essential tips on the heating controls and some advice on places to visit and walk in the area.   She was welcoming and warm; and it was clear that she had a passion for the area and was proud of what she and Kenneth had achieved at Garmoran Square.

Tioram is a 3 bedroom five star ground floor apartment, sleeping 6 with 2 double and 1 twin rooms all with en suite.  The large lounge has floor to ceiling windows with outstanding views of Ben Resipole to the south.  Three large settees make this an ideal space to settle down or gather with friends if there are more of you.

The kitchen  / diner is bright and modern and in our view one of the best kitted out in terms of crockery, cooking implements and gadgets; it’s a perfect space for cooking and socialising at the same time not to mention the view to be enjoyed through the full length windows.

Watch the video here.

The apartment also had good internet coverage with decent download speeds for an area like this.   We unpacked quickly and easily as there was of plenty hanging space and drawers in the main bedroom.

It was also no trouble at all for us to plug in our Outlander Hybrid and Susan made sure this was possible giving us access to her small outbuilding next to the car park.

Your first night at a new place isn’t always the best, but here we felt at home and relaxed immediately.  We settled down with a box set (this time Suits Season 4) and enjoyed our customary Scottish gins.  This time we were trying Kirkjuvagr’s new Storm Strength and Arbikie’s Kirsty’s Gin.  Both went down very well – but be careful with the storm strength.

Although tempting, who doesn’t enjoy an open fire, we never needed to use the log burner during our stay as the underfloor heating throughout the apartment was more than enough, keeping us warm and toasty.

We had a very peaceful first night sleep in a very comfortable and cosy super king size bed – perhaps the gin helped a little.

We woke early to get our Autumn in Ardnamurchan adventure underway!    A key plus point for any place we stay is how good the shower is and Tioram didn’t disappoint– a great refreshing start to our day.  Our bathroom was modern, bright with a ceiling velux window and nicely finished with floor to ceiling tiles.

On a map this part of Scotland may appear vast, but in terms of distance it really isn’t.  However, given the single track roads places can take a little time to reach – not a problem mind you given the stunning scenery on route.

Being centrally located is essential to ensure you maximise your time at different places – Garmoran Square is perfect for this and an ideal base to explore this area.   Moidart and Ardnamurchan are renowned for their spectacular scenery with some of the best beaches on the west coast and the area offers wildlife in abundance.

First up on the Saturday was a visit to the Singing Sands, near Kentra.  The early morning forecast wasn’t the best, but, although cold, we ended up enjoying some lovely spells of sunshine.

The start of the walk was a 10 minute drive from Garmoran Square, the walk to the Singing Sands, there and back, was along tracks next to Kentra Bay and then through forestry plantation before emerging at the white sands.   It was low tide and Kentra Bay was a large expanse of mudflat with small fragments of salt marsh, sand dune and machair.

 Wildlife was limited along the route to water birds, although we’re sure we spotted a mountain hare, searching for food.  The section through the forestry plantation was pleasant but somewhat spoiled by the 6ft high close boarded perimeter fence left over from Channel 4’s failed social experiment Eden.   Hopefully Channel 4 and the estate return it to its natural look sooner rather than later.

The walk was worth it when we emerged from the trees to cross the small dunes and head onto the singing sands.  We had the entire beach to ourselves.

At low tide the sands stretch right across the bay and normally allow plenty of scope for exploring along the coastline to the right.  Sadly, we were midway between low and high tide and, although we tried, we couldn’t quite get around to the northern beach which formed part of the Eden ‘set’.

To make the sands sing we had to shuffle across with either bare feet or shoes – given the temperatures we chose the latter.   The noise is made by the grains of sand rubbing together.   The grains are completely round and seemingly had the right level of humidity to generate the low frequency sound.   Despite repeated attempts, sadly, we never heard any ‘singing’.

That said, sliding your feet along a beach that is littered with signs like this makes you more than a little careful about what you’re doing with your feet.

The weather was mixed, but all in all it was a very pleasant walk with stunning scenery at the end and even a rainbow making an appearance for us.    Impressively we had a 4g signal at Singing Sands, which even allowed a brief catch up on our Social Media, unfairly worrying our families, by sharing pics of the explosive signs.

Our trip to Sana Bay, Portuairk and Ardnamurchan Point the next day was perfect; the Scottish weather had played an absolute blinder for us.

One of the good things about this area is that within seconds of setting off on a trip you are immediately surrounded by breath taking scenery and wildlife including birds of prey, mountain goats, deer, otter and seals.

Just make sure you keep your eyes on the road as you never know what’s around the corner!

The 30 mile journey along the windy, narrow single track road from Salen was nothing short of stunning; the sun was shining, the blue skies were clear and Loch Sunart waters were glistening.  It was one of the most idyllic and scenic drives we have ever taken and took so much longer than planned as we kept stopping for the photo opportunities and glimpses of majestic stags and their hinds in the distance.

We also stopped off on route at Kilchoan to scout out the ferry terminal for a future trip back over to explore Mull.

We parked up at Portuairk and set off on foot towards Ardnamurchan Point and a visit MacNeil Bay; a beautiful sandy beach with views out to the lighthouse.

We had a lot planned that day, so never took the detour to the lighthouse; that was on our radar for a stopover later.

After leaving MacNeil Bay we headed back to Portuairk and had a very special, if not slightly nervous, close encounter with these two lads.

It was the end of the rutting season, so hormones would have been running high, but as we approached they thankfully scarpered off into the hills and we returned to Portuairk.

In the afternoon we drove to Ardnamurchan Point.  As the most westerly point on the British mainland, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849.    The Lighthouse itself stands 36m high, and its top is 55m above sea level.

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Ted and Peigi the two lighthouse keeper’s dogs who guided us on our way to the lighthouse viewing points.

The lighthouse was closed for the season, so we couldn’t climb the 152 steps, plus two ladders to the top.  We did spend some time at the viewpoints near to the bright red foghorn on the rocks below the lighthouse and at the inside viewing area beneath the front of the foghorn platform.

Ted and Peigi had our hearts in our mouths as they bounded across the rocks on the edge of some dangerous / steep drops into the rough seas below.  Ted even had some time to pose for a photo – you can see he’s done that pose many times before.

The views were great and we could see the island of Rum to the north, with the Cuillins of Skye beyond.

Final stop for the day was Sanna Bay.  Dominated by beautiful white, shell sand and turquoise sea, the bay is well-known for its magnificent beach and scenery.

Although it was late in the day, we had superb views of the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and the sun was beginning to set to the west. This led to some incredible views and photo opportunities.

Sanna Bay is so mesmerising, and its sheer remoteness makes it a special place to visit.

We headed back to Garmoran Square along the single-track road towards Salen.  The falling light gave the journey a different ambiance along with some brief encounters with low flying bats and mountain goats. 

It had been a long day, so we decided to treat ourselves at the nearby Mingarry Park.  This recently awarded AA rosette restaurant was a 3-minute walk from Garmoran Square and a bonus to have so close to us; more importantly it meant we could both enjoy a nice Sauvignon Blanc with our meal.

We ordered Steamed Cockles and Smoked Mallaig Mussels and a Mushroom Bridie to start and mains of Sous-vide Moidart Venison Loin and Pan Seared Sea Bass.

One of us even managed a wee clootie dumpling for dessert!

The food, especially the venison loin, was excellent; even better the restaurant was practically on the doorstep of Garmoran Square.   Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring Ardnamurchan , followed by a delicious meal after which we headed back for a few more episodes of Suits and a glass or two of gin!

In fact, we were so tired from the day, and given the forecast wasn’t the kindest our laziness rolled over to noon the next day.  We spent the morning relaxing and enjoying the cosiness of the apartment, freshly brewed coffee, toasted muffins and crispy bacon and reading up on the history of the area.

We did venture out later to explore Castle Tioram for a few hours – this was a must given we were staying at its namesake.   The ruined Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) is sited on the rocky tidal island Eilean Tioram (the Dry Island) where the waters of Loch Moidart & the River Shiel meet.

The castle is closed to visitors, but we were still able to visit the island at low tide and managed to get some pictures.

We didn’t really have enough time to fully explore and the weather wasn’t the best.   Castle Tioram is first on our list to visit again when we next return and we’ve already started to read up on its fascinating history.

Our journey home was an experience in itself.

As you head to Fort William the scenery along the A86 through the village of Glenuig and onto Lochailort is nothing short of spectacular and not to be missed, neither is the ‘magical’ Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The famous Glenfinnan viaduct carries the railway to Glenfinnan Station across a 1,000 ft span, 100 ft above the ground. The Jacobite steam train runs from here to Fort William and Mallaig in summer months with regular trains available the rest of the year.   The viaduct is built from mass concrete, and has 21 semi-circular spans of 50 feet.  It is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland at 416 yards, and crosses the River Finnan at a height of 100 feet.   The viaduct is word famous and features in the Harry Potter movies.

We parked up just off the A830 and headed towards the viaduct.  The path has been much improved in recent years; passing beneath the arches of the viaduct before continuing to climb on the far side.

As we gained more height the clouds cleared, and the sun emerged giving us dramatic and ‘magical’ views looking down on the viaduct – made more special by the appearance of another rainbow.

We also had an impressive view of the Glenfinnan Monument, but that’s a whole new history lesson for another time.

The final leg of our journey home via Glencoe was equally as dramatic as the sun began to set.

Garmoran Square was perfect for us and we highly recommend these luxury apartments to anyone looking to explore the Ardnamurchan and Moidart peninsula.

With so much history and scenery Susan and Kenneth have created a perfect base for you to return each day to relax, recharge and reflect on your adventures.

Before we left we had a wee peek at the other three apartments and have to say they are all finished to the same high standard – so much so we hope to visit again very soon.

Other Information:

Although this was a discounted visit, the review is an independent and true reflection of our experience.

Mains of Taymouth & Highland Safaris – Luxury in Perthshire

We’ve done our fair share of travelling in recent years across Scotland, however, Kenmore wasn’t a place that we’ve visited before.

It’s was great to get an opportunity to try somewhere new; even better that it was only 1 ½ hrs from our home and had so much to do, see and explore.    The journey up from Lanarkshire via Crieff was very scenic and got our weekend off to a great start.

Kenmore is a village at the mouth of the 14 mile long Loch Tay and is a great base for activities on and around the Loch itself, such as sailing, canoeing and water-skiing.

We were staying at Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course for 2 nights.  The estate to the north of the village, is a 4 & 5 star award winning luxury self-catering resort, nestled on the edge of Loch Tay, comprising holiday cottages, houses, villa’s and apartments.

The estate has a range of luxury pet friendly lodges / cottages with hot tubs and private gardens and impressive facilities, including Golf Course, Riding Stables, Courtyard Bar & Restaurant and Boat Hire.  It also boasts decent 3g and 4g coverage – perfect for travel and food bloggers!

We arrived on a Friday and it was a great day in terms of weather with clear blue skies and bursts of sunshine.  We arrived early to enjoy as much of the area as we could, stopping off at the Courtyard Bar to refuel with coffee and homemade scones with jam, before we ventured up nearby Drummond Hill.   Walk Highlands, is our ‘go to’ website for Scottish walks, but Drummond Hill must be one of the most challenging grade 1s we’ve ever done – thankfully the views at the top are totally worth it.

The walk took a couple of hours and gave us a real appetite for lunch at the Courtyard Bar.  The food came very quickly, service was first class and hit the spot perfectly – all reasonably priced too.  We even managed to wash it all down with a couple of Scottish Gins, Edinburgh Gin and the Botanist this time round.

Our cottage was ready early around 3.30pm when we got the call from reception, but we were out enjoying the autumn colours and the banks of the Tay munching on the moreish gin and tonic fudge we’d bought earlier in the Courtyard Delicatessen.

We returned around 4.30pm and checked in at reception where we got a very warm welcome from the team and keys to ‘The Bothy’.

Situated in the northern corner of the resort is a 19th Century traditional courtyard; consisting of several different sizes of luxury cottages.  We were staying in the 5 star ‘The Bothy’.  This cottage is perfect for a romantic couples’ getaway and offered a level of privacy you perhaps wouldn’t have expected for such a large resort.   Perfect, especially if you wanted to enjoy the hot tub in your own private garden to the rear!

An open plan living space, wood burning stove and galleried en-suite bedroom made this a very cosy and intimate place to chill, relax and enjoy, the now customary box set (Ozark this time) and Scottish gin (Makar) we brought with us.   The bedroom was furnished with king-size bed, stylish bathroom with separate bath and shower with body jets, and under floor heating.

We had a lazy first night and were brave enough to use the hot tub while enjoying our gin and the remaining fudge.

Saturday’s weather wasn’t as good as Friday, but that never stopped us getting out and about.   We had planned a visit to Highland Safaris for a red deer experience and then a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery.

We met up with Tony at the Red Deer Centre who gave us a very passionate, and informative talk about wild red deer. It would be unfair to share his stories as we couldn’t do it justice or provide the actions – go along and you’ll see what we mean! It was good fun though, interactive and interesting and ended with us hand feeding the Centre’s herd of tame Red Deer.  We also met the Centre’s Barn Owl who was keen to show us her flying skills; overall, we had a great time learning the secrets of this majestic bird.

Before setting out on our Mountain Safari we stopped off for some lunch at the onsite café.  It was absolutely jumping (to use a good old Scottish description for being busy!) and we had quite a short window before we set off in our Land Rover with Alistair.   The café staff were first class and managed to serve up some wholesome homemade soup and sandwiches in plenty of time – so much so that we had time for a coffee and some very tasty home baking.

We set off with Alistair in our land rover just after 1.30pm; he was so passionate about what he did for a living and the area he worked in – such a lucky person!   Again, it wouldn’t be fair to tell his stories, but they were informative and interesting covering legends and folklore, the Schiehallion mountain, the Jacobite rebellion, military roads built by General Wade, curious facts about the ice age and to top that the origins of the Guinness Book of Records!

After an interesting climb through the mountain tracks we were almost 2,500ft up in the Perthshire hills.  The weather could have been a little kinder for us, however, this is a year-round attraction and we still had a great time and managed to enjoy the autumn heather moors, spot a large stag protecting his hinds and even had a sighting of the elusive mountain hare.   We had a cosy stopover in a mountain bothy with some tea, coffee, Kenmore Shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky.

Highland Safaris are celebrating twenty five years of success this year which has seen it grow its business from one Land Rover taking small groups up into the hills, to its present level as one of Scotland’s premier five star rated visitor attractions, enabling visitors from home and abroad to successfully engage with Scotland’s wildlife, history and heritage.

We will certainly be back to visit again soon and to experience another season to see how the scenery has changed.  Overall a fab day out – looking forward to trying their new Loch Tay Safari also.

We had already tried the Courtyard Bar the day before, so thought we would try out the Restaurant on the Saturday evening.  This part of the resort is a great place to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and service.   It serves breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner daily whether it be inside relaxing on the couches by the cosy fire or outside on the extensive sun deck area.

We had a great table near the log burning fire.   The staff were very attentive, friendly and helpful and made you feel right at home.  The restaurant also had a real buzz about it with a good mix of guests, couples and groups.  There’s no better way to describe a restaurant experience that showing of the wonderful food we munched our way through – so here’s the pics!

Pan seared scallops, black pudding, chorizo and balsamic glaze

Pan roasted duck breast with rosti potatoes, baby vegetables and a star anise jus

Pan seared guinea fowl supreme with a rosemary mash, savoy cabbage and a wild mushroom jus

Dark chocolate and orange pot with crème fraiche and chocolate crumb

We only had a short stay in this area of Perthshire and we loved what we saw and did.

Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course is a great base to explore the Perthshire area and has a range of facilities on site to make your stay more relaxing and enjoyable.   We would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to chill, relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery and wildlife Scotland has to offer.

Don’t forget to try the Gin & Tonic fudge!

Other Information:

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

Riverside Cottage, Boreland, Annandale and Eskdale – Not just for driving through!

We’ve driven through Annandale and Eskdale hundreds of times, usually passing through on the M74 Motorway heading off on or returning from our travels.  This time we decided to explore the area and base ourselves for four days at the ‘new to the market’ Riverside Cottage.

To be honest we had left things late in booking our break and stumbled upon Riverside Cottage by chance – how lucky were we? Occupying an impressive riverside location in the small rural village of Boreland 7 miles north of Lockerbie this two-bedroom cottage benefits from stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The property features an open plan kitchen/dining/living area and a fabulous and tranquil sunroom which opened out onto a patio area.

The cottage’s location is not only a great base for visiting local attractions, cycling and walking it is also perfect if you just want to relax, unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet of south west Scotland. We manged to fit in a bit off everything.

We always look for that little bit extra and comfortable self-catering luxury accommodation set in a quiet, rural location. To get this at a riverside location was special. It’s been a busy few months for us so the cottage was perfect to relax, enjoy some fresh air, recharge our batteries and cosy down in the evening with a few gins and a box set!

The cottage is set off the main public road, and accessed via a private road which also leads to the owner’s house. Although Kate and Max are right next door, you wouldn’t know it.  The cottage has been carefully planned and everything is orientated to provide you with privacy and sense of being on your own.

The living area offers wonderful views of the outside and is warm and comfortable with a wood burning stove, two sofas and a window seat looking out over the river. The kitchen area is again spacious, light and cosy and offers views of the river and surrounding countryside.  Everything was brand new and nothing has been forgotten. There is more than enough crockery, cutlery and every utensil you could ever need!

A bonus for anyone staying here is having Kate right next door. She also runs a catering business and offers guests delicious home cooked meals which are ready just to pop in the oven or heat up.

Although, we’re pretty handy in the kitchen, we gave Kate’s food a try and loved it.  Having a home cooked meal waiting for you when you return from a long day out was fantastic – we would highly recommend the Moroccan Chicken Tagine; very tasty indeed!

The sunroom offers a peaceful space to chill out, put your feet up, read a book perhaps or just enjoy the views. We did all of them, including spilling out onto the patio one day when the sun was very kind to us.

The bathroom has a large walk-in shower, built in WC and wash hand basin and benefits from under floor heating.? A key plus point for any place we stay is how good the shower is and Riverside is up there in terms of quality and power – a great refreshing start to your day.

Out and about we would recommend stopping off at Brodies Restaurant in Moffat – offering a coffee lounge environment throughout the day and a relaxed restaurant, wine bar in the evening – it was perfect for us.  Sunday lunch was particularly impressive with a real fine dining feel about it.

We have only just started to get to know Dumfries and Galloway and to appreciate its diverse landscape, fascinating  history, amazing wildlife and outdoor activities. There were a couple of short, circular, local walks right from the doorstep of the cottage which take 30 to 60 minutes, but we never had time to give them a try.  We did tackle several nearby walks only a short 10 to 15 minute drive away including Eskrigg Reserve, Castle Loch on the outskirts of Lochmaben and Dyke Farm Nature reserve. All were perfect to unwind, enjoy the scenery and explore the wildlife.

A little further afield we had an amazing encounter on the Annandale Way. Shortly after setting off from Annan on the east bank we spotted a ripple in the water.  For the next 15 minutes, we sat and watched an otter overturning rocks and munching on the fruits of his labour! He knew we were there, but didn’t have a care in the world – this was a real highlight for us. Sadly, our camera was still back in the car, but a ‘heath robinson’ set up with an iPhone and binoculars captured some memories – sadly video too big too upload!

After all this outdoor activity, there was no better way to end the day than to fall asleep (with the window open) to the relaxing sound of the river. Boasting wonderful views surrounding countryside, the main bedroom offers comfortable accommodation, with a king size bed.  Even more impressive was waking up and looking out the large picturesque window to see horses galloping through the fields.

This is a new venture for Kate and Max and they have just finished the renovation and are putting the finishing touches to the outside, including the final coat of paint, which will make a real difference. The inside finish and outdoor space is very impressive and certainly on par with many five-star accommodation cottages we have stayed in across the UK.

Kate and Max should be proud with what they have achieved so far.

Overall, Riverside Cottage was perfect for us and we’ll certainly be visiting again, hopefully by then the tourist board will have visited and given Kate and Max the accreditation they deserve!

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!

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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.