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Bag a UK cottage bargain It’s the bleakest part of the year - perfect for a week off in a cosy country cottage; if not for the log fire, then for the bargain prices


Paul Croughton From The Sunday Times
November 2, 2008

Forget about the donkeys. Right now, another less fashionable but no less worthy species faces the prospect of being cold, alone and unloved in the run-up to Christmas. Throughout Britain, there are hundreds of beautiful old cottages lying empty at this time of year, just when they need you most.

They’re desperate for you to stoke their fire, put some walking boots by their door, open a bottle and hunker down against the elements. And to prove it, they’re selling themselves at bargain-basement prices. In some cases, you’ll pay well below half the summer rate.

If you could force yourself to spend a week in late November or early December, before the mania (and price-hiking) of Christmas takes hold, indulging in a bracing walk or two followed by a cosy country pub - and all for a few hundred quid - then we think we’ve found a match for you.

Each of the cottages we’ve high-lighted has an open fire or a fuel-burning stove, they’re all within skipping distance of the local, and they’ve all got suitably winterish activities on their doorsteps, be that great blustery coastal hikes, wildlife or all-weathers day-trip excursions. Although if you take a crate of wine and a box set of DVDs, you might not want to open the door for days.

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WHICH COTTAGE

Good for: holiday homes around the UK, but strongest in Scotland.

Pick of the cottages:Steading (summer £600; December £450; sleeps 4) in Perth-shire is a luxury property with abundant golf courses on hand - Gleneagles is only 15 minutes by car. Once you’ve got your hole-in-one, you can pop off to nearby Glenturret Distillery, home of Famous Grouse, to toast your blind luck/ unerring skill.

The clue is in the name at 2 Golf Court (summer £850; December £490; sleeps 6) in Elie, Fife, with the back garden overlooking a nine-hole course. There are plenty of others - including St Andrews - in the vicinity, while for walkers, the Fife coastal route is practically on the doorstep.

Contact:www.whichcottage.com


Scotland: the premier destination for tourists aiming to be king of the castle


By Rachelle Money
14 August 2005

JADE Jagger frequents Ibiza, Joan Collins likes the French Riviera and Naomi Campbell prefers Dubai, but a chic new holiday destination is attracting the world’s elite tourists – Scotland.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has reported its most successful year ever for rental of its premier historic properties, and letting agents say the demand for accommodation in mansions and castles is outstripping supply.

The NTS’s Connoisseurs’ Collection, a selection of nine prestigious properties, costing thousands of pounds a night to rent, has seen a 30% increase in figures on last year.

David Sharland, NTS director of operations, said: “The whole world of five-star tourism is growing. People now have the spending power to hire out the Eisenhower Apartments at Culzean Castle for £4500 a night, but what you get is very special.

“We are offering a house party that is popular with all sorts of people; families from the US, Germany, Holland. And of course the wedding market is great for us too.”

The Connoisseurs’ Collection also includes the Preston Tower in Fyvie Castle; the 13-bedroomed Harmony Halls in Melrose; and Bynack at Mar Lodge in Braemar, which is set in 73,000 acres of Scotland’s finest Highland scenery.

Sharland believes luxury holidays in Scotland have become popular because they offer a unique slice of history.

He said: “The trend now is people wanting to have unique experiences … Their expectations are high and they want a high-quality product. They want real castles, real antiques, real history.”

Andrew Loyd, director of Loyd and Townsend-Rose, a holiday company which specialises in exclusive Scottish property lets, has also seen a growth in demand.

He said: “We’ve been going since 1999 and you can see the rise in popularity for these types of properties. One reason might be because there’s now lots of lovely homes available for people to take advantage of.

“Our clients are wealthy families from America, London and the Midlands, with a few from Spain, Mexico and Russia. Usually one person will pick up the bill, which ranges from £20,000 to £35,000 per week. That would include meals, a bar and staff.”

Loyd says the new elite tourist is very demanding and has high expectations. “We arrange everything from the golf day out to the spa, to even sourcing an American boy’s favourite peanut butter and a New Yorker’s favourite nail polish. They are demanding, they expect a lot and they pay for it.

“A night at Myres Castle in Fife will set you back £5000, so it’s obvious these types of traveller are bringing in a lot of money to the country .”

Booking agent Celtic Castles has seen its business expand from offering one castle in 1998 to more than 60 in the UK, half of them in Scotland. Some of the country’s most distinguished landmarks can be booked through the company, including Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, Dundas Castle in Edinburgh or Stobo Castle in Peebleshire.

Celtic Castles’s sales adviser Louise Binns said: “Hiring out a castle has become popular because of the exclusivity of it. People want to be the king or queen of their very own castle, even if it’s only for a night.

“Hiring a castle for a holiday or a special occasion is so popular we are now launching holidays to castles in France, and we’re taking on more staff. Demand is outstripping supply and just this year we’ve had to take on another 10 castles to try and meet that demand.”

Binns said: “Families tend to come at the festive season, at Christmas and New Year. If you think about all the Christmas decorations hanging in a castle, you can imagine what the ‘wow’ factor is like.” She said corporate clients book during the autumn to “hold meetings and go on team-building exercises like clay pigeon shooting or golfing”.

She added: “It’s a unique experience and that’s what we sell. We have a niche in the market and now we are in the desirable position where castles are approaching us for our service.

“They want to promote themselves, their unique features, open gardens and architecture.”

Veronica Murray-Poore from Dunblane and Anne Heseltine of Crieff launched website whichcottage.com earlier this year after being inundated with bookings for their own holiday homes in Scotland. The women are already seeking more properties to add to their portfolio.

Murray-Poole said: “ We get at least two or three hundred enquiries a week on the website from people all over the world looking to stay in one of our cottages.”

As well as more affordable cottages, whichcottage.com offers large houses which go “upwards from £2100 a week”.

A spokeswoman from Visit- Scotland said at the moment it was difficult to gauge if there had indeed been an increase in demand for luxury accommodation in Scotland.

She said: “There is always a lot of interest in people wanting to stay in Scotland. However, it is difficult for us to determine how much more demand there is for these exclusive properties because of a new booking system we have.”

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