Bordered by manicured lawns, emerald grass and tall imposing trees, the long, winding drive lets you know early on that a stay at Pitcairlie House is going to be a world away from the yurts that consistently pop up in green travel guides. Despite the imposing looks, the picturesque16th century manor house, and birthplace of General David Leslie (a famed Royalist general who made his name during the British Civil War) has plenty to offer the eco-conscious weekender.
Alistair, the grandson of the owner, and his father Guy showed us to our cottage set aside for our stay, which was located at the back of the main house, after greeting us as we pulled up. Once inside the bright, airy sitting room with wonderful vaulted ceilings, my eyes instantly settled on the large red armchair: perfect reading spot found. Centred around a gas fireplace, the main living area was decorated in a combination of styles from modern block colours to African art and country style curtains. We were intrigued by a small door in the back corner of the room, which we later learned was the original stairwell from the kitchen to the grand dinning room. That might have made it sound a bit higgledy piggledy and it is but its quirky charm definitely works.
Like the living space, the two bedrooms also had lovely high ceilings, and thick stone walls that created a quiet, self-contained feeling. Complemented by soft, natural greens, white, and greys used on the walls, the two bedrooms were pure country chic. Natural light filtered through a single, deep-set window that over looked the lawns and fishpond. Most mornings we could see the resident heron basking in the morning sun at the water’s edge. Sleep came easily in the relaxed atmosphere, aided by firm mattresses and wrapped in good quality linen. Thanks to the chilly Scottish autumn, the pretty quilt came in handy too.
There are five cottages on the estate, four attached to the main house as well as the Lodge, which stands at the entrance to the property. The grounds are crisscrossed with footpaths that are perfect for exploring, whether you want a short walk to stretch your legs or a more adventurous hike up a hill. The nicest, however, takes you along a meandering waterway ending in a duck pond close to an old burial ground and a plethora of lush green fields—one of which housed the family collection of Long-horned Highland cattle. Water is a recurring theme at Pitcairlie, whether the river views or the wonderful well that provides drinking water for the cottages. The pure, cold, water reminded me of growing up in Canada, where well water was all we had in the countryside – no additives, just plain H20.
The food on offer also had a distinctly local flavour, with most of the local shops sourcing their produce from nearby farmers. Pitcairlie doesn’t offer breakfast – the cottages are self-catered – but when you’ve got a well-equipped kitchen on site with everything from a standard kettle and oven to wine glasses and salad servers, you don’t really need it. The kitchen was a welcoming place to come home to at the end of a long day of hiking and prepare some of the fresh produce we’d bought that day. Around almost every turn is a farm shop with impressively fresh produce; our salad leaves had been picked off the plant only an hour earlier, and the tomatoes were full of mouth-watering flavours. Ardross Farm shop quickly became a favourite thanks its utterly charming helpful staff and quality products. We raved about their home made steak and ale pie for days.
Pitcairlie isn’t the place to go if you’re after a Sheraton-style experience but then, that sort of break isn’t usually to be found in an ultra rural location – and this is about as rural as it gets. Getting there required a lengthy list of descriptions, with even the sat nav left utterly bamboozled by the intricacies of forging a path to the house through the Scottish countryside. Along with being a headache for sat navs, Pitcairlie’s isolated setting makes it difficult to reach by public transport, although once there, the miles of footpaths and sheer unspoilt beauty of the surrounding landscapes more than make up for it as does the top notch local food. For families, groups of friends or couples who really want to get away from it all, Pitcairlie is perfect. Hikers too will be spoilt for choice as will wildlife watchers. It’s certainly no Sheraton, but then, who really likes chain hotels anyway?
Need to know:
Pitcairlie House has been given silver rating by the Green Tourism Business Scheme and is open all year round. Prices vary depending on the season. For more information and to book, see www.cotttages4you.co.uk
Tel: 01337 827418
In the area:
Located in the heart of Fife, Auchtermuchty is an ideal base for those looking for hiking trails and cycle routes, a spot of golf or simply the chance to get stuck into some top quality local produce. Make the most of a sunny morning by taking a short drive into the picturesque university town of St. Andrews. Our favourite spot was the rugged coastal path, which runs for 110 miles (we did a fraction of it), from Newburgh on the Firth of Tay to Kincardine Bridge where the Firth of Forth meets the River Forth. For nature lovers these paths offer a variety of views and can be tackled in long sections or in small intervals. If you have the kids in tow, there are plenty of pick-your-own farms where fruit and vegetables are abundant. One of the best is the Cairnie Fruit Farm, which has mazes and go carts to keep them busy once they’ve had their fill of fruit. On chillier days, head to one of the county’s whopping 4,961 listed buildings or 48 conservation sites. Top picks include the stunning Falkland Palace and the haunting (and haunted) ruins of Ravenscraig Castle in Kircaldy – you might even see the lesser-spotted Gordon Brown from the ramparts.
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