Welcoming Winter Wellbeing!

We hope you enjoyed your summer as much as we did!  I know, it feels like a wee while ago now!

Even although we do enjoy doing these Blogs to update our much appreciated return guests on improvements we make, and all website guests on interesting things happening locally in the National Park and beyond, we always seem to start with an apology as to why it has been so long since the last one!  Honestly, this time we really do have a good excuse!!  Licensing, licensing, licensing! 

Licensing – So What Does It Mean?

You may have seen some reports in the media on the new Short-Term Let Licensing requirements, which apply to a number of types of tourist accommodation in Scotland, including self-catering.  Strathspey and Badenoch, the area Glencoldon Cottage is located, also had some additional requirements to comply with, including the need for Planning Permission……. so we have been a wee bit diverted over last few months!

However, we are very happy that the deadline has now passed and even happier that we have been issued with a provisional licence number (FS550348325).  So, we’re clearly more than hopeful that we will be issued with a full licence once Highland Council has worked through their backlog of applications. 

It is difficult to argue against most of the licensing requirements, as many of them are concerned with guest safety.  We believe we were already operating safely, but much of it is about formally evidencing and documenting what we are doing for fire safety, electrical safety, legionella safety, etc. 

But, what does it mean for our guests?  For those that have stayed before, you will have seen our fire safety equipment, instructions etc. previously, but you may now see a few more notices about the place!  For those that haven’t, you can be reassured that not only will your stay be enjoyable and memorable, as our reviews suggest, but you will also be as safe as possible!

Welcoming Winter Wellbeing!

Anyway, with all that, we’re now well through autumn, and winter is now also beginning to touch down!  Minus 11ºC the other night!   Still a very busy time for wildlife watching and wild garden action!  We do still have a few dates available for those who enjoy witnessing the amazing colours of this time of year (December dates now discounted!), and those who like a wee winter break, whilst also embracing the warmth and wellbeing of the cosy cottage! 

Although we would say so, of course, the days following wild winter weather (often spectacular to witness in its own right, if you’ve ever seen a real Highland blizzard!), when the Cairngorms area is a crisp, clear, sunny winter wonderland, can see the National Park, scenically, at its most awe inspiring!!  We always take advantage of that to boost our own winter wellbeing!

Strathspey and the Cairngorm area truly are all-year-round destinations whether there is enough snow on the mountain tops for snowsports or not!  As the often quoted explorer, Ranulph Fiennes, said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!”  We definitely understand what he meant……  Having the right gear on does mean you can still have a really enjoyable day out, even in the most icy of horizontal winter blasts, especially when you’ve got the comforting reassurance of a roaring fire to return home to! 

However, we also understand that not all of us are polar explorers either needing to challenge ourselves against extreme elements!  So, staying close to home, working on your winter wellbeing in front of a cosy log fire can be a very rewarding way to see out the storm in the Cairngorms too!!

#cairngormswinter

Cycling Haven

Of course, one of the reasons the area holds its own as an all-year-round hotspot is the fantastic cycling on offer.  This has always been the case.  But, in recent years, this has now been supercharged (not just by the e-bike revolution!) by new routes, paths, and more joined up information to plan your cycle adventure!

NEW Local Routes Planning + Information

In the last few months Cairngorms business / recreation groups have launched digital products that will provide self-guided cycling routes for visitors to explore, with turn-by-turn instructions to minimise the impact on nature and highlight visitor experiences along the routes.  We will be promoting these excellent tools to our guests on our dedicated Cycle Haven page!


Get Inspired, Not Lost!

We have always promoted the mass of fantastic cycling information available at the VisitCairngorms – Cycling The Cairngorms page.  It has been recently upgraded and links to these digital tools. 

But, as a wee short cut, so you can rapidly get inspired – not lost, as suggested by Ride With GPS, jump straight to RidewithGPS page.  Your preferred route just gets uploaded to your device of choice!

Combine the fun of cycling with the fun of a festival! 

It had been our plan to highlight all the inspiring cycling events on in the cairngorms over the warmer months, but, sorry, as above, we got diverted from blogging by the licensing work we had to do.  But, it makes sense to let our regulars, many of whom are part of the cycling community, know of the variety that have been available this year, and rough dates, so they can perhaps plan ahead for a cycle adventure next year!  The websites for the 2023 events are still up, with some indicating that they will announce 2024 dates soon.

BikeMore – Bike Festival Aviemore
Mid May 2023

The Kingussie Bikeathon 30th Anniversary Special
Mid June 2023

Cairngorms Cycle Festival
End June 2023

Limitlass – A Mountain Bike Festival for Women, by Women
Mid August 2023

Ride Wild Festival
Start September 2023

Graviemore
Mid September 2023

Clearly, we also can’t talk about cycling in the Cairngorms National Park and around Boat of Garten village without mentioning (again!!) the great new resource available on the doorstep…… especially since I’ve now managed to take a better / half-decent photo of it!  The Woodland Wheels Pump Track is an amazing resource for the village!

Woodland Wheels at Boat of Garten

Biodiversity Blether – Our Wild Nature Natter!

As we are so late with this Blog, the Loch Garten Ospreys have been and gone!!  But, as these wonderful birds are so close to the heart of the “Osprey Village”, we should report that they had a successful year with 2 chicks raised!  All headed off towards Africa at the end of August, hopefully to be back in Spring – Au revoir!  Always fantastic news!  It’s great to reflect that there was once only 2 Ospreys in the whole of the UK, at Loch Garten, now the RSPB reckon there are 200-250 breeding pairs – a real conservation success story!

In the wild garden, as we continue to let nature take over, we have seen another spectacular year of growth!  And a rise in diversity too if the sightings of previously unseen species (in the garden that is; we’re not discovering new species….. yet!) is anything to go by!  One group of guests was fortunate enough to see an elusive Pine Marten in the garden.  We have definitely never seen them that close to the cottage before – fantastic!

If we get on to blogging a wee bit earlier next time (soon!), we’ll say much more about our wild garden plans for next year to do still more to boost “wilding” and biodiversity….. still plenty of interesting ways we can help nature!

And we definitely cannot have our nature natter without drawing everyone’s attention to the new “Responsible Enjoyment” initiative launched in the Cairngorms.  I know most of our guests know what to do to minimise their impact when out and about, but this has a local National Park theme and some comic angles on common issues from Ed Byrne!

Cairngorm Carnivals 2023 + Caffeine Connoisseurs

Guests are still enjoying a winter wonderland experience in the Cairngorms.  The very deep snow shown in the last blog post may have disappeared from the garden, but there is still enough for snowsports higher into the mountains.  For those who’d rather get away from the crowds on the lifts and main slopes, there is now an enthusiastic following for Back Country Skiing which comes into its own later in the season when the traditional ski slopes start losing their snow.

The longer range forecast also suggests there will also be fresh snow falls into March, maybe down to village level, perhaps inspiring further creativity, like that shown by our guests last week (although melted a wee bit by the time we photographed their sculptures!!).

Cairngorms Carnivals

Hearing some of the rhythm and music from the recent Mardi Gras festivals in New Orleans and Rio de Janiero reminded us that there are some big annual events in the Cairngorms which are well worth a visit and that we should definitely let folk know about.  OK, granted, these are perhaps not at the scale of some of the carnivals around the world, but certainly equalled in terms of enthusiasm shown by the locals and visitors alike. 

Of course, there is always a huge amount going on throughout the year in and around the Cairngorms National Park.  To help guests gain up-to-the-minute information we signpost folk to the “What’s On” monthly guides and the Visit Cairngorms Events Calendar on our Location + Activities webpage. 

But, in terms of larger events, we thought we should provide our regular guests, and the inquisitive who end up here, with some information on larger local annual festivals and events:

13th – 21st May 2023  Cairngorms BIG Nature Festival 

The Cairngorms Nature Festival is a celebration of the fantastic natural heritage of the Cairngorms National Park this year the festival is growing into a whole 9 days of events, activities and celebrating nature!

12th – 14th May 2023  BikeMore – Aviemore Mountain Bike Festival

This website doesn’t yet have much information, but promoting great things on 2-wheels coming soon – adding a list of the weekend fun to our website over the coming weeks…..

2nd – 3rd September 2023  Ride Wild Festival (Mountain Biking), Glenmore Lodge

This website also features all the other fantastic mountain biking and other mountain skills courses on offer at this mountain centre of excellence, in addition to what’s on offer to mountain bikers for this festival focussing on bike skills.

Highland Shows + Games

Highland shows and games are a feature across Scotland, with many famous across the globe, like the Braemar Gathering – another Highland Games in the Cairngorms National Park!  However, although close “as the crow flies” (over the Cairngorm summits) it is a long journey by other means.  The National Park is a big area, and we have only mentioned local ones here:

12th August 2023  Abernethy Highland Games, Nethybridge

10th August 2023  Grantown Show, Grantown-on-Spey

If you sometimes go further afield on your holidays, this page has details of other events in the Cairngorms National Park.

Coffee Machines

As it is still very much hot drinks time of year in the Highlands of Scotland, and because one of the things we get asked most about, before people stay at the cottage, is the availability of coffee making facilities, let’s briefly talk coffee machines! 

Your Cottage” outlines the key features, facilities and appliances at the cottage, but we realise it doesn’t mention coffee makers.  Of course, we can’t list everything on our website pages….. 

I guess we’ve assumed that most folk would consider that there will definitely be some way of making “fresh” coffee and they don’t just have to rely on instant granules for their entire holiday!  I know, “real” morning coffee is essential for me too any time of the year, so I’m not surprised some people just check before they set off!

Our previous guests will know there is a large cafetiere / French press in the cottage!  They will also know that we don’t skimp on paying for more costly appliances (eg. dishwasher, induction hob, fridge/freezer A+++ etc) if they are higher quality, more durable, efficient and deliver carbon savings.

So, whilst we do very much appreciate all suggestions from our guests on how we could possibly improve guest experience (and we have certainly had many suggestions on various coffee machines available!), we provide the cafetiere machine as it is by far the best from many points of view in our specific location and circumstances:

  • Social / community benefit: the local village shop stocks a range of good ground coffees including fairly-traded etc.  Local businesses need supported and your money stays in the local economy – very important in the Highlands!
  • Carbon footprint benefit: apart from boiling the kettle there is no additional energy required in this manual method + the glass and plunger has a low embedded energy / carbon footprint compared with some of the hi-tech electrical appliances.
  • Other environmental benefit: grounds can be put into our on-site food waste composting and will fertilise plants in the garden and improve soil quality + no high energy intensity metal waste has to be returned to the manufacturer for re-engineering.

More generally, Ethical Consumer has undertaken a full sustainability analysis of coffee makers and manufacturers, and our choice is also consistent with this.  Even if you have a preference for the taste of a certain brew when at home, we trust the cafetiere, filled with a good coffee blend, will satisfy, and even surprise, your coffee needs while you’re on holiday!

Biodiversity Blether – Our Wild Nature Natter!

As wildlife seems to creep into all our blogs, as it creeps into all the nooks and crannies of the Wild Garden (and, indeed, anywhere nature is just allowed to get on with it out in the wider world!), it seems like a fine idea to have a wee focus every time we get around to updating…… 

We’ve had a few features on Ospreys over the years, especially since Boat of Garten is the original “Osprey Village”, and you can occasionally see one floating by overhead… going fishing!  Recently, though, one of our regular guests brought a current BBC podcast to our attention about the amazing annual migration of the Ospreys to sub-saharan Africa.  Only 2 episodes in, but fascinating and inspiring stories and conservation efforts as they get followed all the way!

Flight of the Ospreys

Timely Triffids – Spring is in the Air?

To things that definitely don’t need conservation effort to get on with their business…… Apart from the hardy “evergreens” that keep growing throughout the winter, I’ve often wondered what plant is the first off the mark in the garden at the most tenuous first sign of spring.  Well, perhaps my query has been answered, as on the same day I took the photo of our guests snow sculptures above, albeit melting, I noticed the first leaves on the Honeysuckle plant that has taken root and is hitching a ride on this Silver Birch.

Smart strategy, I guess, hitch a lift upwards into more light on the fastest growing tree in the garden…..  And get your leaves out and start growing before your host, so you don’t get shaded and can stay ahead of the game……  Who says plants aren’t intelligent?  The battle for supremacy continues…..

Happy NY 2023 + Highway to Heaven + Make Space For Nature

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Icon-BLOG-for-Email-etc-Vers02.jpg
Winter Wonderland – Snowy Cottage!

Happy New Year Everyone! 

We’re into January week 2 already….. I’ll catch up!!  We hope you’ve all enjoyed some downtime and fun with loved ones over the festive period despite the difficulties many are experiencing in the current financial climate.

Although clearly not positive for Highland energy bills, early winter saw Boat of Garten, Strathspey and the Cairngorms at their scenic best as beautiful glistening winter wonderlands!  But tricky to get around sometimes!  If you would like to stay at the cottage over these periods when there is deep fresh snow, be prepared to perhaps leave your car at the bottom of the driveway as sometimes it is just impossible to get up (I have seen even Land Rovers fail!!), even if salted – and we don’t have our own snow plough!

Time to resort to sledge power!  There’s a couple there for the use of guests whenever there’s real wintry weather.  We haven’t seen the -13/14 ºC temperatures we had in early December since, but there is still snow around, certainly higher up on Cairngorm Mountain.  No matter the time of year, there are always exhilarating activities to be undertaken around the National Park; at this time of year, made all the more satisfying returning to a warm cosy cottage!

The new “Nature Immersion Zone” totally immersed itself!

Highway to Heaven

Talking of transport options, having worked hard on renewable energy and wild garden biodiversity last year, we want to try to focus on encouraging greener transport options in 2023.  Sledges are still our favourite low-carbon option – working off tattie power and gravity!

For longer distances, we have had a “Car-Free-To-Cairngorms” initiative running since 2019, where we started encouraging guests to leave the car at home in exchange for a discount on the cottage rental.  However, clearly, the pandemic made long train journeys riskier for health and only a few have taken this up, so far.  But, we still see this as a way to reduce our footprint, and, win-win, improve and extend the holiday experience of our guests!  Visit Car-Free-To-Cairngorms to discover how your holiday can be even better!

London To Aviemore – Letting the train take the strain!

Even although we obviously don’t live there, I always loved the idea of going to bed in London and waking up in the Cairngorms!  Check out the Caledonian Sleeper service, or there are many day time trains for those who’d like to see the scenery en route. At Aviemore station there is an array of transport options to get you the last 5-7 miles to the cottage (distance depending on whether you take the road or the Speyside Way!).  The Heritage Horizons – Cairngorms 2030 project is building an e-bike network across the National Park – the option to jump on an e-bike (with a wee luggage trailer attached) to scoot along the Speyside Way to the cottage, is now almost reality!  We also arrange more standard options, like hire cars, to be waiting at Aviemore station too for those who envisage needing more conventional transport for their holiday – still a big carbon saving getting to Aviemore on the train!

But, we now also have a further option since we installed solar panels and battery storage last year, connected to a smart Zappi electric vehicle (EV) charger.  This charger is the leading edge in optimising sun-powered EV charging.  Imagine if your holiday travel could be powered by the sun!  We have the technology!! 

Zappi Smart EV Charger – Optimises solar powered travel

Of course, whether it would be 100% solar would depend on many factors, including, obviously, how sunny it is (or has been – Strathspey has higher than Scottish average sunshine levels!), the level of battery charge, how much solar power you are using in the cottage, and how far you’re travelling (may not get you to Skye!).  But the kit will optimise across EV / battery / any use in cottage, before it uses any grid (or avoids grid and waits for the sun to come out / generate surplus!).  Not only that, but, if grid electricity needed, it will time charging to lower tariff periods too!  Personally, blown away by how smart this is all becoming so quickly….. or perhaps just as smart as everything needs to become to fix a climate emergency!

So, although we can’t currently provide an EV for your stay, we provide this “green bonus” of free power to anybody staying at the cottage arriving in their own EV.  Although we do have to have a “cap” on free grid pulled power, in case some do travel significant distances on their holidays, for local travel this will end up free for most.

Make Space For Nature

Our increasing wild garden biodiversity feeding the wildlife in winter too!

We realise we are so fortunate to already have an established large wild and wonderful space for nature.  So, conservation and biodiversity enhancement action will continue to be top priorities for us around the cottage and Boat of Garten.  However, in the spirit of sustainability, as we all seek to address the current ecological and climate crises, we would also like to be wider advocates for meaningful action to enhance our wild, and less wild, places and overall biodiversity.

So, we’d like to outline and share a very worthwhile initiative recently launched by Nature Scotland, the guardians of Scotland’s natural heritage – Make Space For Nature

In addition to giving lots of advice and tips for action to take across the 4 seasons, the initiative also helps to remind us that many of today’s issues of greatest concern are connected – they suggest:

  • Nature isn’t just nice to have. We all need nature to survive – from the air we breathe to the water we drink and the food we eat. 
  • We aren’t just in a climate crisis – we’re also in a nature crisis. 
  • Nature is impacted by climate change but restoring nature will help to tackle climate change. 
  • By protecting nature, we can recover what we have lost and store up to 30% of the necessary emissions globally, helping combat climate change.
  • We call these ‘nature-based solutions’. 

So, in 2023 and beyond, all power to you in implementing your nature-based solutions, and all the best to everyone!   

“Best of the World 2023” – Off or On Yer Bike!

A warm winter welcome to all our regular readers, guests and potential guests!  Even although it was big news that the Scottish Highlands have been recently named as one of the greatest locations on the planet by one of the world’s most respected magazines, I thought I should start with a Postcard from San Francisco, California. 

Regular readers or users of the cottage will know that we do what we can to raise the profile of the Cairngorms and Strathspey as a brilliant cycling destination (See “Bigging Up The Bikes” BloG below).  You’ll also know that we like promoting the videos of the cycling legend that is Danny Mackaskill, since he is a “friend” of Boat of Garten and supporter of the new Boat of Garten Pump Track (and a truly awesome cyclist!).  He is also a friend of Nash, who runs the bike shop (Ride Scotland / Cairngorms) in Boat of Garten.  What these guys don’t know about cycling isn’t worth knowing – we get nothing but great feedback from guests who hire from them, ask for advice or buy some kit.  Definitely more than just a bike shop!

Anyway, Danny has done it again with his newest video release – his latest adventure was A Postcard from San Francisco!  Well worth watching, and, if you’ve still not seen The Ridge (your vertigo permitting!  I still find myself holding on to the desk watching this!) or a Wee Day Out (starting and finishing at Boat of Garten train station!), they will definitely be the awe-inspiring incentive you need to improve your control of a mountain bike!  For something a wee bit more leisurely when you’re in the Cairngorms, check out our previous Bike BloG (below), our “Glencoldon Cycle Haven” webpage and Visit Cairngorms “On Your Bike – Cycling in the Cairngorms”!

National Geographic 25 Breathtaking places and experiences for 2023 – Highlands Highlighted!

Given the huge variety of cycle routes taking you through various places of outstanding natural beauty, I guess the area could also be the best of the world on your bike; but, the National Geographic journal has called out the Scottish Highlands as one of “25 breathtaking places and experiences for 2023”, no matter what mode of transport you’re using!  Of course, we’d agree!

Even although the Cairngorms, National Park, Strathspey or the wider Highlands frequently receives accolades, this was a huge endorsement of, not only the spectacular scenery being enjoyed by everyone now, but of the far-sighted rewilding and restoration going on for the future.  This is going on all over the Highlands, including the Cairngorms and Strathspey.  You don’t have to go too far from the cottage to come across some restoration going on – as one of the last strongholds of Capercaillie, a walk in the forest just behind the cottage, towards Loch Vaa, will take you through areas where restoration and expansion of ideal habitat has been ongoing for a number of years.  Our congratulations to the Highlands!

What’s On this December + Festive Season

Of course, there is a huge amount going on throughout the year in and around the Cairngorms National Park.  To help guests gain up-to-the-minute information we signpost folk to the “What’s On” monthly guides and the Visit Cairngorms Events Calendar on our Location + Activities webpage. 

But, at this time of year, when day length and sometimes weather make outdoor activity / entertainment more limited, and there may be some looking for a party, we thought it was worth highlighting these sources of information.  Obviously, you can’t mention Christmas in the Cairngorms without a wee signpost to the Reindeer out on the Mountains!  You’ll find live music, festivals, Christmas markets and other activities for all the family too.

You also can’t mention Christmas and New Year events and gatherings without giving a shout out to the legendary Boat of Garten Hogmanay Ceilidh – along with all other Community Hall events, details to be posted here soon.  After 2 years when Festive events and entertainment were very restricted or not permitted, it certainly feels like we’ve at least put the major issues of the pandemic behind us as we come to the end of 2022.

Thanking all our fantastic guests for continuing to book with us in 2022, and helping to generate lots of interesting ideas to keep us improving and lowering our impact.  As always, a massive thanks to our magic Changeover Team too, which keeps on ensuring the cottage is not just so clean, but so beautifully presented too (our reviews are testament to that!!). 

Hope we’ll be back soon to outline our plans for 2023; but, in the meantime, wishing everyone a fantastic festive period – Merry Christmas!

Green Tourism Gold + Enhancing Biodiversity

Many people have enjoyed their spring and summer holidays in Strathspey and the Cairngorms with us this year. So, as always, thank you to all our guests, especially in these increasingly tough economic times. For our part, we will be trying to avoid any rate increases into 2023, as we realise it may well cost more for folk to get here and for food, activites, etc. once here.

Glencoldon-Cottage-Green-Tourism-Gold

Firstly, for this Blog update, we are very pleased to blow our own trumpet a wee bit and let everyone know that we’ve recently completed our re-assessment for the Green Tourism initiative, and managed to retain our Gold Award level.  Even although we were already gold certified, so many upgrades have been made to the Green Tourism standard, and so much understanding has been gained on biodiversity, renewable energy, climate action, etc., over the past handful of years, that there was still a huge feelgood factor in successfully meeting the gold standard. 

So, it has become much more difficult to say you’re “green” or “sustainable”!  But, we think this is a very good thing considering the scale of the current challenges (and perhaps the level of greenwash around?)!  So, just for those who have not been immersed in it, but are interested in what the “Green Tourism” logo means on the ground, essentially it covers all the features of the cottage + wild garden, the way we run it for self-catering, access “consumables” for guests, undertake our maintenance, engage with the local community, etc…  There are now People, Places and Planet goals, with 15 areas for improvement towards sustainability!  Each area can have a number of measures, criteria, etc to fulfil, each requiring to be evidenced, whether with a spreadsheet (eg. with calculations), doc (policy, invoice, etc.), photo, etc.

There are some areas we knew we could probably do better in, some areas we thought we would do better in, and other areas where we were pleasantly surprised that we had just evolved in a way that meant we were already close to best practice.  But, as with anything, there’s always room for improvement!!  In the spirit of sustainability, within which transparency and collaboration are valued, and help improvement, we’re going to share our final score card with you. 

If you’ve stayed with us, you will know we’re always keen to have feedback and ideas on how we can improve the cottage, wild garden and your experience.  So, in that spirit, if anyone has identified any improvement ideas they’ve been itching to tell us, or in areas where we’ve not scored 100% (most of them!), we’d love to hear from you.

Now that we’re talking about low/no carbon solutions, by chance, as I’m sitting writing this in the cottage, this cheeky wee deer (below) appeared on cue!!   I’m thinking maybe pitching for the opportunity for becoming our low-carbon strimmer!?!  First idea for the new Action Plan then!

Cheeky Wee Deer! Pitching for low-carbon strimmer job!

Our deer friend did not bad a job, but trickier to ensure you can get the job done exactly when you want it!  But, it’s given me a boost of inspiration for this update though……. As “biodiversity” is one of the more interesting and exciting of the areas assessed by the Green Tourism initiative (but also, perhaps, an area where it’s not so obvious to guests what we’ve actually done), I’m going to take this opportunity to give you a wee bit of insight into how we got our 88% in this area.

Firstly, we hoped we weren’t being a wee bit cheeky in response to an assessment question around what measures we have taken to help with the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity…… our reply was that the most important measure we take, is to NOT take measures to prune, groom, weed, tidy and manicure the garden in a way that many gardens are maintained.  Just let nature get on with it!! 

As previous guests will know, there is a network of paths around the garden.  These do get a minimal strim and a bush / branch trim once a year, just enough to keep them clear and safe for any guests who may have sight or mobility issues.  We aim to ensure the garden remains a wildlife “corridor” through the village, between the forest and down towards the River Spey.  No green “waste” ever leaves the garden – the limited amount generated is composted, dried for kindling or is simply left where it falls to decompose naturally and cycle nutrients back to the soil.

wold-strawberries-emerging
The Berry Triangle – More wild strawberry seedlings emerging!

However, we do take some measures to help increase the abundance of certain species (from wildflowers to mammals) and enhance the range of habitats in the garden, including:

  • Helping certain plants to increase their numbers (eg. by planting native wildflower and wild fruit seeds) which also increases the diversity of insects, birds and other animals feeding on them. 
    • There are many spots around the garden where you’ll find wild raspberries and strawberries, but strawberries tend to get shaded out, except on one particular bank (now the Berry Triangle!), so we have planted wild strawberry seeds there.  Surprisingly, many seedlings have survived the hot, dry summer, so will hopefully make it to spring.  We’re not the only ones waiting to see this bear fruit in the next few years!
    • Many of the wildflower seeds we planted this year didn’t germinate as the ground was never wet enough for long enough (but, being hardy wild seeds, they may just be waiting!).  However, places we’ve seeded in previous years, or “facilitated” by allowing spread / more sunlight to them, are continuing to bloom and expand – See our 50 Shades of Purple photo below – I always think of August + September as purple months as many Highland heathers are at their most colourful – but this photo, taken just a couple of days ago, shows one wildflower patch with lots of different species (I counted 7), all showing up for purple September!
  • Using some tree and bush trimmings to form “bug hotels”.
  • Occasionally by facilitating “succession” (sounds a wee bit grand, especially when you see what it means on the ground!), particularly where it will support faster habitat / biodiversity increase.  The forest ecosystem, of which the garden forms a part, has a natural succession of dominant plants (eg. from grass, through heather, broom, silver birch, to pine).  So, for example, a significant area of broom has completely died back over past 3-4 years, as it has been shaded out by birch and pine.  The dead bushes are not only a wee bit unattractive, but they also cover / shade potential growth of forest floor wildflowers and other plants.  Removal of the dead bushes (great kindling!), opens up light earlier to the forest floor, and speeds up a process that is occurring naturally – we think that’s OK. 
  • Helping out the thriving bat colony (more on that below).
Red admiral and Peacock butterflies in the garden

More abundant and diverse plants are one thing, but I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating if you’re a local insect, amphibian, reptile, bird or mammal.  Has the more diverse food supply actually led to a greater diversity and abundance of these too?  Obviously, this is far more difficult to quantify, relies a wee bit on feedback from our guests too, but we’d definitely say yes.  November is usually a bit of a maintenance month if there are no bookings.  But, every year we’ve certainly noticed far more birds in the garden (without putting seeds and nuts out), digging into the many autumn berries that now appear on Rowan’s and other bushes we’ve helped to flourish.  We’re clearly biased, but genuinely believe there are more bird species and numbers turning up because of more food and habitats in general.

Amphibians, you say?  Sounds a bit fishy (sort of!), if there’s no significant running or standing water in the garden!  We too were surprised, but, we’ve spotted at least 2 different species of frog / toad in the garden (although yet to have a phone or camera to hand to get a photo).  And definitely beyond our identification skills!  The increased “wildness” of certain grassy areas and undergrowth clearly retains more moisture, making the garden habitable to water-loving creatures too – I think I would have remembered if we’d found frogs in the garden when we were kids! 

Wildflowers Thriving – We’ve Hit a Purple Patch!

My highly amateur photography skills have been on hand, though, to get photos of two of the most amazingly colourful species of butterfly found in the garden, the Red Admiral and Peacock (thanks to guests who have formally identified!).  We’ve even seen larger damsel flies too recently, and the number of bees, of so many different species, mean the garden is positively buzzing at certain times of the year!

Of course, none of these observations are scientific / statistical proof that we have managed to slowly increase biodiversity.  But, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, perhaps the bat colony is the best indicator!  We were aware of their increasing numbers, holed up at the apex of the roof at one end of the cottage (we inadvertently seem to have made the perfect bat cave when we started insulating the cottage!  They are not inside the cottage roof space for anyone with any bat phobias!!).  This spring, as we were doing the solar system, we noticed it had expanded and split to colonise the apex at the other end of the cottage now too. 

So, we’ve also got hold of a couple of bat boxes for the garden to provide extra space to allow the colony to expand still further, if it needs to, without eventual overcrowding.  Would the bats be thriving like this without an increasingly abundant food supply?  

Only time will tell!  But, it makes the onset of spring in March / April even more exciting to see what emerges from the Highland winter and starts to thrive again next year!

Birds of Paradise + Dreams of Net-Zero!

Where has the time gone since our last “monthly” blog, bigging up the biking in and around Boat of Garten?!?  In my defence, we have been working hard on some huge improvements to the cottage over the last 4/5 months, and we wanted to be fully up-and-running (with nice facts and pics!) before we blogged our excitement about the new developments.  This has also coincided with us going through our reassessment for our Green Tourism award.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

Meet Mistle + Axel

But, firstly, and most importantly, it’s not the only thing that’s been flying around here……  The even more fantastic local news is that the “Osprey Village” now has some resident Ospreys again this year after 4 years when the most famous Osprey nest of all, seen from the RSPB Hide at Loch Garten since the 1970s, did not attract any birds on their spring return from Africa.  The same pairs of Osprey tend to use the same nest year after year, and when the most recent couple succumbed to old age and didn’t return, there was a feeling that the nest might not attract a new pair after 60 years of hard use.

How wrong!  Mistle and Axel, apparently, are the new young resident couple!  And, if you want to check out their rather noisy nest, the live cam will get you up close to their new chicks, as they wait impatiently for some fresh caught trout.  If you don’t know anything about the amazing conservation success story, which all started at this nest just over 60 years ago, it is worth reading this brief 60 year history, and reflecting on the fact that Ospreys were extinct in the UK – 60 years on, all the hundreds of birds that now call the UK home (for half the year at least) are descended from the 1 pair reintroduced at Loch Garten.  It was a massive attraction in the 1960s and 70s – as kids we made the pilgrimage to the hide every summer to see them! 

This is the Osprey Village!

Energy Transition – Our Challenge!

When we started planning the cottage renovation / upgrade in 2015/16, we focussed on how we could provide visitor accommodation with a minimum of environmental impact, whilst also avoiding any perception of “sacrifice” of comfort, convenience or enjoyment.  We also more ambitiously wondered whether it was possible to work towards having a “net” positive impact – but, first things first, providing heat and power within that was going to be the greatest challenge. 

In common with most dwellings in more rural areas of Scotland, heating was provided by an oil-fired boiler, supplied by oil from a tank in the garden, which had to be refilled periodically by a tanker from some distance away (with all the additional oil spill risk and associated emissions of that oil’s journey from some far off oilfield to our boiler in the middle of the Highlands).  An open fire provided some additional warmth and electricity was all grid supplied.

So, we were already on our own low / zero carbon journey, aligning with Paris Agreement, when more recent ideas of “net-zero” started to become mainstream.  In 2016, our initial baseline estimate of our heating and electricity consumption (Scope 1 + 2) associated carbon footprint was around 7.8 tonnes CO2-equivalent per year.  We were determined to get this as close to zero as technology and the energy-efficient behaviour of our guests would allow.  (If you want to get more into the numbers, please feel free to look at our resource consumption + waste generation data pages and our derived current Carbon Footprint vs baseline).

To keep to a short story fit for a Blog post, our energy transition had to be delivered in 2 phases because, for a dwelling in the cottage’s climatic and daily use circumstances, the best option / combination of technologies was not clear cut in 2017.  Believe me, we researched the full range of options, permutations and combinations, even some very new speculative potential solutions – much  midnight oil burned (figuratively speaking of course!)!  Our best course of action was to plan to complete our transition with a Phase 2 once the tech options became clearer – so zero-carbon on the back burner for the moment!

Nevertheless, a very efficient heating and hot water system was installed in 2017, even although still relying on some fuel oil use.  Overall fuel oil use was minimised by installing solar thermal hot water, well-above-spec insulation, high quality external doors / windows, maximised for solar gain, and the wood stove, which burns very local biomass (wood!).  In combination with the amazing energy-efficient efforts of our guests, this has delivered a 68% reduction in carbon emissions from our 2016-17 emissions baseline!  Honestly, I think significantly beyond any expectations! 

Energy Transition – Phase 2 to 75% +

Solar PV + Solar Thermal Working Together

After the few diversions and delays of the past 2-3 years, we are so pleased to report that we have now managed to complete Phase 2 of our transition and believe that the overall system is now optimised for carbon footprint reduction for heating and power.  Simply, we removed all fuel oil systems, and installed solar PV, with electricity storage, to work alongside existing solar thermal, additional heat demand being delivered by a compact high efficiency electric boiler

However, not only that, but the option also transpired to install an electric vehicle (EV) charging point, specifically designed to optimise solar power for EV charging in balance with cottage demand / electricity already stored!  So, we can now also start reducing our transport related carbon footprint too!

I know, all quite techy!!  We’re still getting our heads around some of it too!  But, the amazing remote monitoring options are showing us some very promising results.  So, here’s some piccies, which can definitely show what 1000s of my words would struggle to:

Overall Solar PV Performance – Part of Month of June 2022

Current screenshots are showing us delivering far more electricity to the UK National Grid than is actually being used in the cottage (thanks to our wonderfully energy-efficient guests too!  We know who you are!).  We hope that in spring and autumn, solar exported / imported will perhaps “balance”, with some electricity storage meeting evening heat demand.  Clearly, in winter we will have to draw some power from the grid, but only time / data will tell whether overall, across the annual seasonal cycle, we are “net” energy generators for the grid or consumers. 

And even on a dull day…………

Whether we hit that magic feelgood threshold or not, since we only had 7% to go, it is highly likely that we will meet the Scottish Government’s target of reducing emissions by at least 75% by 2030 7 years early, and might even hit their 2040 target!  Certainly well on course to delivering our contribution to all of us getting on a 1.5 ºC emissions reduction trajectory demonstrated necessary by the science.

Watch this space!

Cycling Update – Big Up The Bikes!

Apparently we’re now more than a week past the first day of official spring, although I guess in the Cairngorms we’ll undoubtedly have a few more flashes of winter again before we can put away the winter woollies!  It was still snowing in April last year!  But, whatever time of year it is, for many different reasons, Boat of Garten is a perfect base for cycling in Strathspey and the Cairngorms National Park.  So, we have tried think of everything to make Glencoldon Cottage a cyclist’s haven. 

Wee Day Out | Watch Danny MacAskill's brand new edit
The Boat of Garten Express!

We won’t go into the details here again, as you can find these on our cycling information pages.  But, essentially, Boat of Garten is so well connected with traffic-free routes in all directions, that it is one of the main reasons a great number of our guests book with us.

Many of the Cairngorms’ iconic visitor attractions, historic sites and scenic viewpoints are easily accessible by bike, so Visit Cairngorms has dedicated pages of favourite rides to help you plan your visit.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority Cycling and Biking pages is also worth checking for useful information too.  Keep an eye out for the return of the Mountain Biking Festival in 2022 – held at Glenmore, this was becoming increasingly popular, but has not been held over the pandemic – fingers crossed for 2022!

Woodland Wheels Pump Park

If that wasn’t enough to get you heading to Boat of Garten and into the saddle, the village now also has its own Pump Park (yes, I had to look up exactly what one of those was too!!).  Taking over the site of a very old disused curling rink, Woodland Wheels recently opened following the amazing efforts of the Community Company and various volunteers! 

Immersed in the woods surrounding Boat of Garten, the aim is to provide a free facility to combine sports and nature, promoting a healthy, fun activity for all ages whilst also engaging people with forest nature.  Looking forward to taking a spin myself!

More Inspiration……

If you like your mountain biking, or just want to be astounded what someone can do on a bike, whet your appetite further for some cycling with Danny MacAskill (Don’t try this at home!!).  Danny helped raise funds for Woodland Wheels and has got Boat of Garten well and truely onto the cycle map! His Wee Day Out is a jaw-dropping watch – actually filmed in and around Boat of Garten! And you must check out The Ridge too on Skye, though not recommended for those with vertigo…………. incredible!

If you’re still not inspired to jump on a bike right now and head off towards adventure, these quotes will do the trick………

Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride – Eddy Merckx

It never gets easier, you just get faster – Greg LeMond

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike – John F Kennedy

The best rides are the ones where you bite off much more than you can chew, and live through it – Doug Bradbury

To me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun is shining or whatever: as long as I’m riding a bike I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world – Mark Cavendish

I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days – Unknown

When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking – Arthur Conan Doyle

Happy New Year + All the best to all for 2022!

I know we’re just about over it, but seasonal greetings to all our previous guests, regular guests, potential guests, casual browsers and those just interested in our journey to delivering an always improving visitor experience with an increasingly light footprint on our environment.  We’ve got more exciting biodiversity action planned for this year, as well as taking a potentially huge stride towards “net-zero” well ahead of Scotland’s / sustainable business targets – indeed, it is possible we could go beyond this!  Watch this space for news of further progress…..

2021 was another year full of surprises!  Of course, not all of them good; and, unfortunately, the year ended with Covid yet again being a major cause for concern.  A huge thank you to all our guests for continuing to book with us, and having trust in the cleaning and sanitising that our amazing Changeover Team continues to deliver (huge gratitude to you too [you know who you are!] – we’re looking forward to continuing to work with you to make a stay at Glencoldon Cottage the guest experience we [all!] get such good reviews for!).

There were certainly still many positives to the year.  Despite the impacts of the pandemic, we were still able to make a few improvements, including those below:

Upgrading Heating / Comfort in Shower Room

We upgraded the heating in the (used-to-be-wee-bit-chilly) shower room and installed more modern energy+water efficient taps / sink – this is now the warmest room in the cottage on icy winter mornings!

Creating An “All Weather” Outdoor Seating / Tabled Area

The “all weather” part is yet to be fully tested, but time will tell if the large heavy duty parasol / umbrella will shrug off the worst of Highland winters and winds…… 

We have tried to make the area a wee bit immersed in the wild garden, with a good view to the forest and bird tables, but also close enough to the lawn / parking area that the barbeque can safely be used reasonably close to the table.  Some regular guests have already christened it the “Nature Immersion Zone”.  We’re just very happy our guests now have more opportunity to sit or eat out (when the midgies and horizontal rain allow!)!

Kicking Off Our Fund-Raising Support for the Cairngorms Trust

We feel every enterprise should have a purpose beyond profit; recognising the local community, shared environment and resources which enables it to thrive.  So, since the very start of upgrading the cottage to become accommodation for Cairngorm visitors, we have worked with the Green Tourism Business Scheme to achieve their highest award.  This initiative shares similar aims and values as the Cairngorms Trust, like maintaining and enhancing landscapes, wildlife, habitat, local culture, access / inclusivity, etc., as well as reducing waste, energy, carbon emissions etc.

So, at this time of climate and ecological emergency, when we realised that we had an opportunity to enable our guests to contribute more to the area which they clearly love, the fund-raiser opportunity offered by the Trust was perfect.  Flexible, straightforward, supportive!  We didn’t know what would be the best ways to collect contributions until we tried a few different methods.  However, we are so pleased that we managed to raise £300 to the end of the year after starting in May 2021 – clearly, in no small way, partly due to the generosity of our guests!

We can still do better, but we are finding that a “% For Planet” for“Protecting Our Wild Places” is very much something our guests feel they want to support having just felt the benefit of enjoying time in the wild places of the Cairngorms.

But there are more and ongoing benefits too…..

Apart from the obvious “feel-good” factor from the feeling that we’re all doing the right thing, there are so many knock-on benefits to ourselves, our guests, and perhaps wider too, from highlighting the win-win-win of protecting and regenerating our wild places.  Our guests are more likely to return (and do!) because they feel they have more “invested” in the area, and gain insight, which they might pass on, that we all win due to the work of the Trust and others; because it:

  • enhances the incredible biodiversity that is the foundation of our overlooked life support systems
  • protects the wild places as natural carbon “sinks”, storing vast quantities of carbon, protecting against climate change
  • wakes us up to the fact that our own human wellbeing is linked to living as part of the natural world, not constantly fighting against it. 

Our guests feel happier and more empowered that they have contributed, and so do we!  More wins all round in 2022!

Pop back in a couple of weeks time when we would like to update you on some very exciting local cycle news!

The Deer is Back! UK Travel is Back! Welcome Back!

The people of the National Park + Strathspey are extending you their welcome at #CairngormsTogether!  See my previous BloG about community confidence in reopening.

For now, firstly, the most recent news on where we’re at with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions for self-catering accommodation (as at 14/4/21):

Household Rules (for self-catering)

  • From 26th April – Single household rule applies
  • From 17th May – 4 people from 2 households (excluding children aged 12 years and under).  (This is in line with Scottish Govt easing of restrictions and is subject to final confirmation)

Travel Rules

  • From 26th April – Travel between England, Wales and Scotland will be allowed (the situation for Northern Ireland to be kept under review).
  • From 26th April – All of Scotland, now including islands, will move to Level 3 and all travel restrictions within Scotland lifted.

Protection Levels

  • Details of the revised protection levels can be found here
  • An easy to follow pdf is here
  • The outline timetable is:  Level 3 on 26th April / Level 2 from 17th May / Level 1 from early June / Level 0 from late June.

Our Deer Friend + Our Reawakening!

Almost as if it knew we had been missing our visitors, our deer friend had returned within 24 hours of the gates being opened up in preparation for the return of guests!  Unusually, I caught a decent photo.  As you can see, though, snow also unexpectedly returned for a week, as if it knew we are not quite there yet……. so, chill out!

Although always magnificent (when you can see them!), the Cairngorms look totally amazing now as we are not used to seeing full snow cover into “spring”, with pink sunsets reflecting off their slopes well into the evening.  Unfortunately, my usual camera skills apply and I took nothing to do that justice!  Already it’s not completely dark until well after 9pm.

However, around the village and the cottage, there are increasingly signs that spring is springing into action, and that the part of our natural world, which does sleep off the winter, is reawakening.   And, although they might have put the brakes on over the last week, the Birches, Rowans, Heathers and other plants are starting to green with confidence that the last of the snow and ice at village level has passed.

I caught 2 Woodpeckers flirting in the garden this morning, there are ducks and other water birds pairing off down at the River Spey, and I saw 2 resident Rooks escorting a Red Kite off the premises!  I’ve not spotted any of the smaller mammals out and about yet (red squirrels, otters, etc).  The exception is one of our bat family (see another BloG below as to where they live at the cottage).  It was clearly a single brave / short-straw one sent out to check out whether it was worth emerging yet.  It flew about closeby for about 5 mins (I guess seeing if there were enough insects available for the whole hungry colony), before sticking it’s finger in the air and going “Nah!  Minus 6ºC tonight” and heading back to the warmth!!

But like us, and the local communities now ready to welcome people back, they know that it’s not long now…………….

Reopening in April – Community Confidence + Cairngorms Conservation

As you are likely to have seen yourselves, we are almost, perhaps, just, gradually, edging towards the end of another Covid-19 lockdown.  After so many false dawns, I don’t want to tempt fate by being too definitive about this, but it does look like April 26th 2021 is the date that self-catering accommodation and other tourism-related businesses should be allowed to reopen.  The Scottish Government Timetable is being widely promoted and the Minister who covers tourism issues, Fergus Ewing, has provided positive messages about planning to reopen.

Community Confidence in Reopening

However, although there is no doubt we have missed our guests throughout this extended lockdown, we should be in no rush to open until the local community is 100% ready for it too.  It was so uplifting last summer that all the guests that were allowed to stay at the cottage, most from well beyond the Highlands, were sensitive to the feelings of the local community.  Almost all asked questions about whether it was OK that they were coming to the Highlands, an area of very low covid incidence, from an area of significantly higher incidence.

So, for any regular or potential guests reading this, what can I tell you to assure you that the local community is ready to welcome you again?

Well, much work has gone into learning from the previous lockdown, but the key facts that should reassure guests and local people alike are that:

  • Transmission (“Test + Protect”) statistics after 1st lockdown lifted (July 2020) demonstrated the effectiveness of measures put in place. Throughout the whole period in 2020 when tourism and associated venues were allowed to be open, the government contact tracing system did not identify a single incidence of transmission that could be attributed to tourist accommodation, activities or hospitality venues in the area.
  • The Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Cairngorms Business Partnership have already undertaken a recent wide consultation exercise with many communities around the Park, listening to concerns and allaying any fears.

Zero transmission is the most powerful evidence that the measures the sector put in place were really effective.  It has been hard work for everyone across Scottish tourism to implement all the many extra measures, but whatever was done last time worked brilliantly.  So, I hope everyone can be reassured by that.  However, zero complacency is important too!  If you need any reassurance about the measures that we have in place at Glencoldon Cottage please feel free to have a look at our covid guidance.  However, we feel it’s also important to say that we all need to remember that we all have a part to play in keeping everyone safe from the virus too.

#CairngormsTogether

Again, the wider Cairngorms community has taken a lead, bringing everyone together under #CairngormsTogether.  Always a great source of information on everything visitors need to know about what’s going on is Visit Cairngorms; but, it also now has:

  • A What’s Open section which provides the status of areas, attractions and activities (Green / Amber / Red –  Open / Closed / Restricted), and is aimed to help visitors plan ahead, book ahead if necessary, to avoid risks or disappointment that an attraction or activity is not accessible
  • A Test and Protect App which allows easy sign in at many venues around the Park. This has been tried-and-tested after restrictions lifted last July and was very successful for visitors and locals alike.

        

Wild Garden Wildlife!

I know I’m jumping the gun and it’s not quite spring yet, especially perhaps not in the Highlands, but we’re so excited about getting out there after the tedium of the last few months that we’re getting a wee bit restless – I’m sure in common with many people, we’re determined to make the most of this spring and summer!  We did have some improvements planned for the cottage this year, just to add a wee bit to the experience of our guests.  However, given the long extended lockdown we’ve all been enduring, the cottage tweaks will have to wait.  We now see this year as an opportunity to innovate and to make improvements which don’t cost ££s, but will make a difference to the wildlife in and around the garden, and in the wider Park.

  • Wildflowers – you’ll see below from a blog last summer that our attempts to encourage the native wildflowers to recapture some space in the garden have been going pretty well.  But we’ve also been given some “bee bombs” which we hope will lead to a creative explosion in the garden!
  • The Bat colony expansion – The bat “family” has done so well over the past 2-3 years that there are signs they are starting to outgrow the limited space they have (for any guests with any sort of bat phobia, they live OUTside the cottage!  They have found a perfect roost behind the new external cladding up at the apex of the cottage roof).  So, we are going to put up some bat boxes around the garden to allow them to expand nearby – and I’m sure keep the local midgie population at bay (they can apparently eat 3000 midgies a night each, so definitely our pals!)
  • Wildlife camera – now that the tech has become more idiot-proof (why am I still struggling with this!?) and since there are some really elusive characters around, like Pine Martens, we plan to provide guests with an easy to use wildlife camera trap – serious prizes for the first person who captures (on film!) a Marten in the garden!
  • “Bug Hotel” – having been donated a 5-star hotel, we’re really interested to see the diversity of guests prepared to check-in for a few nights of luxury!?!

           

Of course, it will be very interesting to see if we’re all welcoming back the wee Roe Deer which has become a feature the last 2 years.  Can it resist the enticing green shoots?  Watch this space!  If it returns again this year, I think we might have to come up with a name.  After all, it is now part of the team, having literally been the welcome party for a number of guests to the cottage last year!

Percent for Planet

Now that we’re hopefully out of one emergency situation, we can now get back to some ongoing action to do our bit to help tackle the climate and ecological emergencies too.  Just as important, if not quite so acutely urgent as covid action!

We blogged a wee bit below on a fantastic development in that direction that happened in early 2020.  However, it was ultimately derailed by the pandemic.  Basically, we became an official fund raiser for the Cairngorms Trust.  The charity is involved in enhancing the whole Cairngorms area by funding environmental, cultural, heritage and infrastructure (path, bridge maintenance etc.) projects (#lovethecairngorms).

I know we said there are no hidden costs to staying at Glencoldon Cottage, and indeed there aren’t any extra cash costs, but we trust nobody will be offended if we offer them the opportunity to be part of an initiative to safeguard the Cairngorms.  We are committed to match funding any contribution you are able to make!

 So, if you enjoy the amazing natural beauty of the Cairngorms area, and believe we have to do everything necessary to protect these special places and the species that depend on them, we hope this opportunity to leave something of real value behind, will be of interest.  We’re really excited to be involved!