BloG

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!

 

 

Thank You!  And All the Best for 2021!

We hope this finds you fit and well, and that you, your family and friends have got through this worrying and surreal year as well as can be expected.  Even the best-laid plans for 2020 couldn’t have avoided being thrown off course by the covid-19 outbreak and all its implications.  Our plans for 2020 were no different.  From plans to blog here regularly (oops…… last one in July!!), make certain ongoing improvements to the cottage, to fund-raising for wildlife conservation projects through the Cairngorms Trust, everything has been thrown up in the air!

However, given the really tough time many have been facing, we realise we are just fortunate to still be in business, even if not able to accept guests for the moment.  So, a huge thank you to all the guests that have made it in 2020!  It goes without saying that our guests, especially those who are keen to come even when it is difficult, are very much appreciated.  The great feedback on cleanliness and covid-readiness of the cottage has been really helpful too to reassure potential guests that we were tackling the virus risks correctly (please see our reviews).  The Turnaround Team has certainly gone above-and-beyond this year, ensuring the best cleaning protocols and safety measures have been in place from the start.  So, huge thanks to them too!

     

To finish the year on a wee bit of a high, although Nov and Dec bookings slowly disappeared as tiers were introduced and restrictions tightened, we have managed to make a modest contribution to the Cairngorms Trust, which has also had a very difficult year.  So, hopefully to set us up for a better 2021, this has provided a more positive end to the year on one of our core commitments – to do everything we can to help safeguard and enhance the ecology, habitats, wildlife etc. of the Cairngorms National Park.  Blog 2 (below) has more on the story of the funds raised being used locally by BoGWiG towards the audacious attempt to entice passing Ospreys to become resident in Boat of Garten!

I also mentioned Woodland Wheels below, which is an exciting community company project with the aim of developing Strathspey’s first cycle “pump track”.  The progress made on this by devoted locals, despite the pandemic, must be another stand-out in 2020.  It is still very much on track to go ahead and is well into the planning process.

What we didn’t realise when we mentioned below that world famous cyclist, Danny MacAskill, was a supporter of the BoG Pump Track, was that Danny actually did one of his spectacular videos in and around Boat of Garten train station, and some of the paths in the surrounding area, 3 years ago.  As always, his Wee Day Out is a jaw-dropping watch!  The video also gives people a flavour of the surrounding landscape if they haven’t been to Boat of Garten before.  And, if you’ve never seen Danny in action, you must check out The Ridge too, though not recommended for those with vertigo…………. incredible!

Whilst we can’t promise you a cycle tour along Danny’s route, you can certainly be assured that we will continue to make every effort to enhance our guests’ experience.  We hope it will be easier to do that next year!

Our very best wishes for as enjoyable a festive season as is possible, and all the best for 2021!

Welcome Back! We’ve Missed You!

Good To Go

There is no doubt, we have missed our guests throughout the extended coronavirus lockdown and it has been great to be back up and running since 11th of July.  It has been hard work for everyone across Scottish tourism to implement all the many extra measures to prepare for reopening.  At Glencoldon Cottage, we are so pleased to be able to welcome visitors back again, safely.  We hope our certification to the “Good To Go” tourism standard provides some reassurance on the measures we have in place; and also that it is still possible to have a memorable and enjoyable holiday in Strathspey, even if some care has to be taken in certain situations.

However, we feel it’s also important for us all to realise that we all have a part to play.  Tourism-related businesses and guests should be aware that it is unlikely that everyone living locally will be absolutely delighted that people from areas of the UK, or wider world, where Covid-19 is much more prevalent, are now heading for the Highlands and freely moving through towns and villages again.  Of course, abiding by national and local rules will go a long way towards allaying any fears, and we all need to be sensitive to the feelings and requests of local communities and individuals.

#CairngormsTogether

As usual, 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.

   

Wild Garden, Wildflowers + Welcoming Wildlife!

With each summer that passes, our ongoing efforts to promote even greater biodiversity in the wild garden feels like it is being more and more successful.  One way we have done this is to encourage the spread of wildflowers wherever possible.  The variety and abundance looks to be growing every year, along with the variety and abundance of bees and other insects feeding on them.  An amazingly colourful display this year!

This has perhaps not gone unnoticed by other wildlife, as we have also seen the return of the deer!!  In the depths of the lockdown, I wondered in Blog (below): “As a final grounding thought, also perhaps being enjoyed at the moment by some is the total peace in Glencoldon Cottage’s wild garden due to the absence of guests over the past few weeks…… thoughts go back to last spring when the baby Roe Deer stayed in the garden for several weeks, seemingly visited by its mother every night, mostly unperturbed by visitors, gorging itself on the abundant new buds and growth in the garden!  If it’s even the slightest of silver linings, some may be enjoying the peace of the lockdown!  The wild garden, not just a peaceful sanctuary for we humans!”

Well, what an uplifting turn-up!  There is no way of telling whether it is the baby deer from last year, but gut-instinct tells us it must be……..  It is about a year old, seems to have waited patiently until the gates were open again (after 4 months was back in straight away), comes and goes as it pleases (knows it’s way around!), and is pretty unphased by humans!  In fact, if you’re coming any time soon, don’t be surprised if you’re welcomed by a young Roe Deer!

  1 year ago!  For returning guests, please let us know if it recognises you!!

Will the Route Map Out of Lockdown Fly?

It is now a little over a week since the people of Scotland were given a wee bit of freedom from the Covid-19 lockdown, with Phase 1 on the Route Map back to some sort of “new normal” starting on 29/5/20.  This is great news for everyone, as it signals that the spread of the virus is under much better control.  Obviously, far fewer people catching the virus and becoming seriously ill has to be positive; but, nobody will want to rush the process and then see the numbers rise again – it has taken more than enough of a toll already!

For the tourism sector, lifting restrictions on accommodation looks like it would happen in Phase 3, at the moment.  However, there are ongoing discussions that self-catering businesses may be able to open sooner, as there is considered less risk of spreading infection through social contacts than in a hotel.  The accommodation can also be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised between groups of guests.  Certainly, at Glencoldon cottage, our great turnaround team has ensured we are well prepared for extra cleaning and sanitising.

But, in the Highlands and other remote areas, where there is a relatively low rate of infection, it would seem that the largest concern about lifting the restrictions is that many visitors would be travelling from areas with much higher rates.  And some areas can get very busy in the summer months.  So we need to wait to see what the science and experts say, although Malcolm Roughead, the Chief of Visit Scotland, did sound hopeful that July would see a restart.

We will maybe get a bit more of a guide on when visitors can return, when the Scottish Govt brings out its sector guidance soon – this should be by 18/6/20.  We would like everyone to understand, though, that whatever may be decided at a national level, Glencoldon Cottage will not reopen until the local community is happy to have visitors moving freely through the village again.

Here’s hoping that the ospreys won’t have been and gone back to Africa before we can all enjoy seeing them again, and all the many other natural wonders of Strathspey and the Cairngorms National Park!

Coronavirus – Where Are We Now?

Our first thoughts are, of course, with anyone who has lost family, friends, colleagues, or any other personal connections, from the disease.  They are also with others who are currently fighting off the infection or struggling in the lockdown.  Our heart-felt best wishes to them all over the next difficult few weeks and months!

      But Is There An End In Sight?

Everybody has taken a financial “hit” one way or another, albeit some very much more than others.  The tourism sector has been particularly badly affected, and Boat of Garten businesses will be no exception.  So, our best wishes also go out to everyone in the local area who make Strathspey the amazing place it is.  Our hope is that everyone will successfully make it through to the day when we can all look forward to starting to put Covid-19 behind us, and the local community is happy to have visitors moving freely through the villages again.

But, when might that be?  Malcolm Roughead, the Chief Executive of Visit Scotland recently provided some insight into this when he said:

It’s hard to put timescales on any of it – but we hope to have a domestic market remerging in the autumn if we follow the patterns of other countries, which are further ahead in the crisis than us. Strategies, however, will need to be adaptable and in these times, we should expect the unexpected. People will want to have a holiday – but we must ensure that everyone feels welcomed and that communities feel ready to welcome those visitors back.

 The view of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) is tourism may have been brought to a near-standstill by COVID-19, but the industry – which accounts for 10% of global GDP – finds itself in a unique position to help put the global economy back on its feet, once the pandemic has passed.  Given how crucial tourism is to Scotland’s economy I can see it leading economic, social and health benefits we will all be needing after this lockdown.

So, all is still very uncertain, although it does indicate that anyone thinking they could still be able to visit the Highlands in July or August might have to rethink their plans.

Community Action, Despite the Difficulties

On a more positive note, the amazing community energy of the Boat of Garten people has been evident as always, with progress being made in a number of initiatives before and despite the lockdown.

For the Wildlife Group, events at Milton Loch woodland have had to be put on hold.  However, a group of volunteers did manage to clear the area around the dam and on the island, partly in preparation for the osprey nest for the Osprey Village we mentioned in the previous BloG.  The badger hide has also been brought out of its usual winter hibernation to be ready to reopen as soon as restrictions allow.  Nature and wildlife aren’t in lockdown, and I’m sure it’s a comfort to many to see everything bursting into life, as it does with inspiring urgency in the Highlands!

Before lockdown, Woodland Wheels, an exciting community company project with the aim of developing Strathspey’s first “pump track” (a cycle circuit with banked turns and other exciting features to negotiate – had to look that up!?) successfully raised enough for the first phases of the project through crowd funding.  Not just an amazing effort to raise the funds, but how did they get the legendary Danny MacAskill up to the old curling rinks to star in the wee promotional video!?!  Wishing that all success in gaining further support, planning permission, etc.

One success already delivered for the village in 2020 has been the completion of an all-abilities path, the Capercaillie Trail, which allows access for wheelchairs, babies in buggies and toddlers on bikes+trikes, through the thriving local woods, which were previously inaccessible.  This is already being enjoyed by many, and, once people are free to move again, will also be a great contribution to accessible tourism opportunities in the Strathspey area – accessible and inclusive tourism is currently receiving a lot of deserved focus, being promoted at every level, global to national.   So, what a great project for the village to have taken on.

As a final grounding thought, also perhaps being enjoyed at the moment by some is the total peace in Glencoldon Cottage’s wild garden due to the absence of guests over the past few weeks…… thoughts go back to last spring when the baby Roe Deer stayed in the garden for several weeks, seemingly visited by its mother every night, mostly unperturbed by visitors, gorging itself on the abundant new buds and growth in the garden!  If it’s even the slightest of silver linings, some may be enjoying the peace of the lockdown!  The wild garden, not just a peaceful sanctuary for we humans!

Until next time, when we will surely be closer to being able to do many things we used to take for granted, good health to all and all the best!

Blog Post 2 – Finally…….

Some Glencoldon Cottage Plans for 2020

Perhaps not the fast start to our 2020s blogging as we had planned!!  But, we’ve been busy sorting out a few things for the year ahead.  Now that we’ve started, there should be regular updates here (every 2-3 weeks?) about exciting things going on around Strathspey, the National Park and Boat of Garten; and interesting news from some of our friends, partner businesses, local community groups and wildlife initiatives.

One exciting development this month is that we’ve become an official fund raiser for the Cairngorms Trust.  The charity is helping the Cairngorms area by funding environmental, cultural, heritage and infrastructure (path, bridge maintenance etc.) projects (#lovethecairngorms).

Although the Cairngorms Trust is set up to provide benefit all across the Cairngorms National Park, for Glencoldon Cottage, and our visitors, it is especially relevant at the moment because any funds raised are being funnelled towards the audacious attempt to entice a passing Osprey (or pair even better!) to become resident in Boat of Garten!  There are hundreds of good reasons for the village to already be known as the “Osprey Village” (many possibly in flight, as I blog, somewhere between Africa and Scotland!  I think I’m right in saying all UK Ospreys [more than 250 pairs] are descendants of the original pair at Loch Garten [1959]!).  However, it would obviously be fantastic if the village again actually had some resident Ospreys down at Milton Loch!

BoGWiG

That’s the plan anyway!  All pulled together by the enthusiastic and innovative Boat of Garten Wildlife Group (BoGWiG), and Community Company.  So, any donations our guests make will be going towards this inspiring community project (and we’ll match fund all the kind donations made, to help get this off the ground as soon as possible!).  We’ll certainly need to post some photos of that on here when the funds are raised, and the nest is lifted into the trees some time in the next few months!

Go Wild!

However, photography is definitely not something we’re claiming any prowess in (as you can perhaps tell from some of the shots on here!).  But, we are getting inspired to improve after starting to host a couple of wildlife photography courses at the cottage.  Andrew Marshall, author of Photographing Wildlife in the UK, contracted contributor to the RSPB image library, and owner of Go Wild, has been running a couple of courses annually in the snowbound Cairngorms  for a few years now.  Check out (here) some of the amazing wildlife photos taken not just in the snowy Cairngorms but all over the world!

After being forced to find a new base for his courses in the Highlands, we’re so pleased to have been able to provide Andrew with what he and his guests (the budding nature photographers!) were looking for – a base immersed in the wild Strathspey landscape with a wild garden to help inspire the flow of creative juices!  We hope this is a long fruitful relationship with a few top local wildlife photos to view, and hopefully share, now and again!

Haring through the snow