Back from cloud nine after celebrating his wedding (hooray!), James Newman reviews Craggantoul, an idyllic retreat in the Scottish Highlands...
When scouting for honeymoon spots, my partner and I had some very specific specifications. We wanted isolation, spectacular views, spacious accommodation, a waterside location and a hot-tub. After weeks of trawling we came across the Craggantoul estate – and boy did it tick all the boxes.
Craggentoul is a 40-acre private estate on the banks of Loch Tay, with the imposing Ben Lawers mountain set behind. Tay is one of the lesser-known lochs, but only a couple of hours drive from Edinburgh, it is easy to reach and when you reach it, you are blessed with some of the most spectacular views that Scotland has to offer.
Unlike more toursity areas, Loch Tay is sparsely populated, meaning the majority of the Loch-side is wide-open spaces. The Craggantoul estate itself is made up of nine individual lodges and homes, each with a distinct personality (none of your centre parc’s style copy-cat lodges here). We opted for Ben Lawers Rest, a two-bedroom loch-side cabin.
Ben Lawers Rest had privacy and quiet, with absolutely stunning views. Despite the rain, a cabin-length outdoor porch and decking meant we could sit and stare at the mountains, water and wildlife in comfort, only getting up to put on a barbeque or pour some wine. From the door there is a quaint path down to the loch through ancient woodland, which has been designated as an area of special-scientific interest.
Ben Lawers Rest
So beautiful was the lodge view that instead of eating out, we spent every night in the same routine. BBQ, wine, hot-tub and wildlife watching. We saw numerous roe deer each evening, often coming within 20 metres of the lodge. A wide range of bird life happily flew around us and ate seeds we put out on the decking. We spotted bats, golden eagles and the very elusive pine martens. It is very rare to see a pine marten, but we had one nip up on to our porch whilst we were inside on the sofa.
Aside from the spectacular outdoors, the lodge itself is beautifully spacious. There is a twin room with en-suite, which leads to a large, open-plan dining, lounge and kitchen area. Finally, a large king-size double room leads to an en-suite with an egg-shaped bath from which you can bathe whilst staring out at the spectacular view to the loch.
In short, Ben Lawers Rest was perfection. And whilst we were reluctant to leave at all during our five-day trip, we did get out and about. There are castles and mountain hikes within a short walk or drive from Craggantoul, however we opted for a more relaxed approach. Firstly, we made the 25-minute drive to Aberfeldy for a very cheap and comfortable spa day (see Moness Spa). This is also where we visited the local Butcher to stock up on BBQ rations!
Our favourite spot away from Craggantoul was the quaint little village of Kenmore. Only 10-15 minutes by car, Kenmore has gorgeous loch-side restaurants and bars and a unique ‘Hot Box’ Sauna, where you can sit, recover and stare out at the loch, before emptying a bucket of cold water over your head or taking the dreaded slide into the freezing loch (I did it, and cannot express just how cold it was).
The ‘Hot Box’ Sauna is part of Taymouth Marina where you can also hire boats, pedalos and engage in a variety of other water activities. We decided to go out on stand-up paddle boards. This was a good decision as we got to explore areas of the loch-side unreachable by road. Even though we went on a Saturday, the loch was almost empty, we were only passed by one boat during our 90 minutes on the water.
The absolute highlight of this little water-safari was paddling up to a tiny island (known as a crannog – created by ancient settlers) in the middle of the loch. From the outside all you can see is trees but once we landed, we quickly realised there was more to it than that. The island houses the ruins of an ancient priory and is the burial place of Queen Sybilla, wife of Alexander I in the 1100’s. Seeing centuries-old ruins over-taken by nature was quite remarkable, especially given that we were the only ones on the island.
If you, like us, crave nature, peace and adventure – you couldn’t find a better place than Craggantoul.
As well as Ben Lawers Rest, Craggantoul has further properties available for hire:
The Warren, £170 per night, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Craggantoul House, £225 per night, 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
Oak Cottage, £155 per night, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Sam’s Cottage, £125 per night, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
The Barn, £170 per night, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
The Bothy, £125 per night, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
The Dairy, £125 per night, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
Wishing Well, £170 per night, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Other properties on the Craggantoul Estate
Ben Lawers Rest was £170 per night and all Craggantoul property can be booked here.
Selected Photos (c) Craggantoul and James Newma