Argyll Autumn Hideaway, Crosple Cottage, Melfort

Our Seabourn cruise in the summer surpassed our expectations in terms of luxury, fine dining and of course service.   We would however have liked some more relaxation as, being our first cruise, we tried to cram in as much as we could.  Days started early and ended late, so we knew we needed another type of break (or two) before winter took hold this year.

Look out for our trip to Avernish Lodge, Kyle of Lochalsh later in the year, but first up was Crosple Cottage, Loch Melfort, Argyll.

We’re so lucky here in Scotland – within just a few hours the car can be packed, and you can be on the road to many incredibly scenic and peaceful locations.

We stopped off at Inveraray for lunch and a wee stretch of our legs.   Check out the views from the top of Dun Na Cuaiche, the ascent certainly worked off a few of the added calories from the lunchtime fish and chips!

When we reached the small village of Kilmelford just over an hour later, we knew we didn’t have far to go. Crosple Cottage was just  2 miles further along the lochside, turning off the main road we ascended the final 400m via a farm track. The Cottage appeared round the final bend; our secluded hideaway for 7 days.

Crosple cottage has impressive views of Loch Melfort / Fearnach Bay and the open countryside, no neighbours (except the curious sheep), no interruptions, just peace and solitude with only the wildlife and each other for company.

If you do manage a visit, do not panic if you hear the occasional noise outside in the evening, its probably one of the curious sheep who jump the wall into the cottage garden.   If only we’d known about that when we arrived, it would have prevented the scare we got as we shone our torch outside on our first evening only to be greeted by a glowing pair of eyes.  Watch out for this chap on your travels  too – we were assured he was harmless!

The ground floor of the cottage is open plan and well laid out with a cosy sitting area and a wood burner, small dining area and a very well-equipped kitchen.   It was nice to see that sustainability is important to Rory and Jennie as there were clear recycling instructions for guests which is sometimes missing from properties we have stayed at recently. We had taken relaxation to a new level and had ‘batched’ cooked for our 7 day stay, so we just needed a few pots and of course a microwave to prepare our meals, but the kitchen is clearly equipped for the more adventurous chef to rustle up some culinary delights.

The living area has french doors that open out onto a south facing patio with views down to Loch Melfort.  Despite the time of year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the patio on several occasions during our stay.

Off the hallway is a handy utility room with washing machine, tumble dryer and plenty of hooks for hanging up outdoor clothing.  Upstairs there is a compact bedroom with a large king-size bed and a good sized bathroom both with stunning views down to Loch Melfort.

The bathroom has a large walk in shower and a deep cast iron roll top bath which is perfect for a soak after a day exploring; even big enough for two.  It certainly helped us recover from our more energetic walks.  The underfloor heating, fluffy bath robes and Scottish toiletries added to the luxuriousness and created a real private retreat for us to enjoy.

Rest assured that every little extra has been thought of to make your stay perfect. There are vases of fresh flowers, a good supply of quality magazines and wide selection of books to choose from should you decide to have a lazy morning or afternoon. A Nespresso coffee machine is also on hand with capsules available to purchase, if your own supply runs out.

An impressive 11Mbps plus broadband connection allows you to review the weather, download some walks and fire up a Netflix box set to enjoy.

When staying in a wee Scottish cottage there can only be one series to settle down and watch – Outlander.  Season 2 was our choice this time round and like our accommodation didn’t disappoint – but you’ll never guess what happened at Culloden!

No box set would be complete without a nice Scottish Gin to accompany it, Arbikie AKs was this week’s choice (again), along with an impressive newcomer for us, Jinzu, both washed down with a wee Drambuie to finish off the evening.  The roaring log fire was the perfect backdrop for a cosy Autumn evening.

There are plenty of walks directly from the cottage if you don’t want to drive, including Melfort hill to the rear of the cottage.

We often meandered our way through the bracken, a scythe would have been handy mind you in some places, and joined the track for the Creag an Sturra circuit.  It was supposed to be a ‘short cut’, but the steep ascent in some places is for the more adventurous and definitely took its toll on our legs. Worth it though for the views!

We would also highly recommend the adjacent An Coire Lochan Circuit for some incredible views of Jura, Scarba and Lunga and everything in between!

The cottage has really good information on local walks, places to visit and things to do in the surrounding area.

Just find what suits and off you go – but don’t underestimate the benefits of some lazy mornings or afternoons just chilling in the cottage.   We managed this every day and have to say was just what we needed to recharge the batteries.

If you do venture further afield we’d recommend exploring Seil Island and of course crossing the ‘Atlantic’ via the historic Clachan Bridge.

Here you can visit Ellenabeich and climb the nearby hillside to see stunning views of nearby Mull and the slate island of Easdale.  Further south the Cuan Coast and Moor Circuit really is worth a try.

Wildlife sightings during our stay were sporadic, however, we managed three of the big five, catching a few curious seals in the Fearnach Bay, some deer up near Seil Island and a Golden Eagle swirling above Melfort Hill.

Crosple Cottage is the perfect romantic hideaway, located in a secluded spot nestled on a hillside and just 300 meters from the shores of Loch Melfort.  Just remember and pull yourself away from the cosy log fire to explore the beautiful Argyll scenery.

Rory Campbell Gibson and his wife Jennie have created something unique with Crosple Cottage, their second self-catering property situated on their farmland on the Melfort Estate near Oban.

Crosple Cottage and their first project, Fearnach Bay House, which is equally as impressive, were built by Rory himself and decorated internally by Jennie.  We hadn’t appreciated until the end of our break that Rory is also an artist and many of his pieces adorn the walls of Crosple Cottage.   For someone that has only taken up painting in recent years he has a real talent – see for yourself here.

Rory and Jennie sought to create accommodation to appeal to those who were looking for luxury self-catering accommodation and a holiday experience in a picturesque setting.  They have no doubt achieved this here at Crosple Cottage and we hope to try Fearnach Bay House some time soon.

We really can’t stress how relaxed we felt here in our very own secluded Argyll hideaway and we would highly recommend a visit.

Other Information:

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

Scottish Island Luxury, Cruickshanks Boutique Bed & Breakfast, Arran

Bed and breakfast stays are not our usual accommodation of choice, but there was something special and unique about Cruickshanks on Arran that we had to try.  Rob and Nanette bought the property in 2015 and have successfully converted a beautiful 19th century house into a comfortable and welcoming place to stay.

As soon as we arrived we felt the warmth and passion they have both invested in the place and instantly felt at ease with them.   In only their second season they have created what must be easily one of the top bed and breakfast destinations in Scotland. Even the AA think so awarding them AA Guest Accommodation of the Year in Scotland for 2018/19.

We were staying in the Pearl Suite which consisted of a pair of connected rooms with fine views over the Firth of Clyde. There was a spacious bedroom with a super-king-sized bed and an adjacent sitting room, with easy chairs and desk.

We have to say we were very impressed with the suite which was more spacious than the website images had portrayed.   This is not a criticism, but instead it’s nice to see a place being honest with their images as opposed to the use of some clever wide-angle lenses

We had two great peaceful and relaxing night’s sleep enjoying luxurious hypnos mattresses, egyptian cotton bedlinen and comfortable hypo-allergenic duvets from Snuggledown.   We were also able to chill out with a Scottish Gin (Edinburgh this time round!) and enjoy our sitting room to the max taking advantage of impressive Wi-fi for an island, flat screen Smart TV and a box set via our own Netflix account.

The suite and other two rooms are equipped with DAB clock radio with Bluetooth sound system and electric kettle with a selection of teas, coffee and hot chocolate.   All have ensuite bathrooms with bathrobes, towels, hairdryer and toiletries from Arran Aromatics, offering a real luxury feel – just look at the quality of those slippers!

In the morning just remember to open those black out curtains when you wake and enjoy those views over the Firth of Clyde, with some freshly brewed coffee and Nanette’s homemade shortbread bites.

Nanette also has other kitchen skills, however, will leave you to find those out when you stay – just remember to leave room for some tempting treats later in the evening! Sorry, they never lasted long enough for a photo.

We wanted to enjoy the outdoors as much as we could, especially as the Scottish weather was relatively kind to us, especially on our arrival on the Friday.   We were only on the Isle for a few days and had planned several walks, nothing to strenuous, but just enough for us to see what the Isle had to offer.

As ever walkhighlands.co.uk was our go to website and we managed to explore and see much of the Isle.

Arran is described as Scotland on Miniature and it’s clear to see why that’s the case with the Isle split in two thanks to the Highland boundary fault.  The lowlands to the south and highlands to the north.

We managed to cover the full 56 miles circumference of the Isle during our stay with whistle stop tours of Brodick, Lamlash, Kildonnan, Lochranza and Corrie along with a few walks thrown in between exploring Glen Coy and the Fairy Glen, Kings Cave on the west of the isle and Fairy Dell to the north at Lochranza.

Even though we were only on the Isle for a few days, we managed three of the ‘big five’ with sightings of red squirrel, red deer and seals all under our belt by midday on the Saturday.  Even managed to catch a group of stags relaxing on a nearby golf course – only in Scotland!

Also, we caught a great shot of this ‘peacock’ butterfly which is apparently quite common, but impressive all the same!

We had planned so much more, including a trip up Goatfell, but that’s now one for our next visit.  Arran has so much to do and we really need to visit again to explore all that’s on offer, including the Arran Brewery, Arran Distillery and the Arran Aromatics factory shop.

As the weather was so good we didn’t fully enjoy the Ceilidh Room back at Cruickshanks (so named after a former sea-captain who converted this space to indulge his favourite pastime), but we did have a wee refreshment on our last night with Rob and Nanette before retiring to bed. The room is cosy and homely with comfortable seating and a wood-burning stove.  Definitely a place to relax, read or simply look out to sea during the more challenging seasons on Arran.

Books, books and more books! We genuinely haven’t seen a place with more books other than our local library and these days perhaps even more than it!  But this really is a place to pick a good book, relax, chill out and, if you can, have a wee digital detox.   Sadly, we never managed the latter, but managed to relax very quickly during our stay.

Also, it’s worth mentioning there is some great outdoor space for guests to enjoy and we managed to spend an hour or so when we arrived catching the last few hours of the afternoon sun.

Although, Cruickshanks is a five-star luxury boutique bed and breakfast it’s not ‘stuffy’ or ‘posh’  and Rob and Nanette make all their guests feel instantly at home .   The attention to detail from the two of them is first class from the quality décor, piping hot plates to the polished cutlery and well-presented breakfast.   It is clear they both have very high standards and are keen for their guests to experience the same.

Rob’s full Scottish breakfast is easily one of the best we’ve had, even winning a commendation from the AA inspectors earlier in the year.  Would also highly recommend his poached eggs on homemade sourdough bread and Nan’s homemade Muesli was so moreish with toasted oats, maple syrup, raisins, dried cherries, pecans, coconut, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds – one bowl was never enough.

Nanette and Rob have lots of local knowledge and if you don’t have time to plan an itinerary before you arrive don’t worry, they’ll keep you right with some top tips on where to visit and dine when you’re out exploring.  Nanette even has her own take on a ‘PowerPoint’ presentation if you have the chance.

Worth a mention on the dining front would be Felicity’s in Whiting Bay which is a 10 to 12-minute walk from Rob and Nanette’s, although a few minutes slightly longer uphill for the return journey.  Some great homely food with a real buzz about the place.

If you’re out and about we would also highly recommend Mara Fish Bar and Deli, in Corrie.  They use seafood sourced from local suppliers, offering freshly made to order dishes in a takeaway style dining experience.   A real fab and tasty end to our trip before boarding the ferry back home on Sunday.

Rob and Nanette have really found a niche in the market on Arran and have opened our eyes to the world of bed and breakfasts. The only issue for us would be whether other accommodation can live up to their exacting standards.  They are both a little shy about their AA award, but they should be really proud of what they have achieved in such a short space of time and they can only go on from strength to strength in future years.

Arran has so much to offer and we would highly recommend the award winning Cruickshanks Bed and Breakfast as the perfect base to experience the Isle, whether it be for a walking, cycling, food and drink or wildlife trip.  We’ll definitely be back to explore soon.

Other Information:

Thank you to the Rob and Nanette from Cruickshanks / Andrew Surridge Photography for providing a few pictures for our blog.  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!

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.

displays

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.