This New Year we stayed on the edge of the Caingorms at the newly opened Glen Dye Cabins and Cottages . Here we found a way to have a fun outdoors holiday with our families during the darkest, coldest days of the year.
In this country convention has it that summer holidays are spent outside and winter ones indoors. In the summer, weather permitting, we might be found lazing on a sandy beach or picnicking under the shade of a weeping willow by a gently flowing river. In contrast, during the winter months, we are seldom outside for any period of time unless we are walking, be it a blustery stroll along a windswept beach or an amble with an amiable dog to an inviting pub.
This pattern changed for us when we stayed at Glen Dye in the final days of last year and I’m not sure it will ever go back. We’d booked on a whim, in an attempt to rescue the Christmas period from the cycle of stress, pressures and presents we’d been feeling for the previous few years. Instead we had a very quiet Christmas and a few days later snaked our way up the M6 to Scotland with a cross section of our families in tow to stay at the newly opened Glen Dye Cabins and Cottages.
A place to be outside
At Glen Dye, a picturesque nineteenth century Scottish shooting estate owned by Charlie and Caroline Gladstone (owners of Pedlars and co-founders of The Good Life Experience), we found a place where we were as happy outside in the freezing temperatures as we were inside by the roaring fire. A frosty, frozen landscape where the words of Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘A Christmas Carol‘ would come to life for us, a place where instead of shutting ourselves away from nature for the winter we would embrace everything the outside world had to offer.
Of the two lodges available to rent we chose North Lodge, not specifically for the house but because it came with its own slice of riverside and a log cabin. This felt like a ridiculous thing to want in the depths of December but I was determined to swim in the cold waters of the river Dye and this was the way to do it.
North Lodge, our home for the week
North Lodge itself was absolutely lovely and the care taken by Team Glen Dye to make us feel welcome and comfortable was evident. A roaring fire, a hamper bursting with food and wine, a box of charades and a scented candle helped us settle in quickly. Everything we could need or want was there including thoughtful touches such as a bird feeder hung from the kitchen window so we could eat our breakfast alongside the woodpeckers.
I have few photos of the inside of the house. I could tell you that shooting film in a shaded house in the woods in Scotland on the darkest days of the year is not easy, and that is absolutely true, but the real reason is simpler than that: we weren’t in the house very much at all. The wide, welcoming hallway of North Lodge is filled with Millican rucksacks hanging on pegs, sideboards lined with rows of Thermos flasks, lanterns and torches. Swimming robes, OS maps, axes and all sorts of other outdoor necessities make it clear from the outset that the Gladstones expect you to spend a LOT of time outdoors, and a lot of time lighting fires. And that’s precisely what we did.
The places we visited
The daylight hours were short but we found the time to walk to the top of Clachnaben (or ‘Nobby’ as it became affectionally known to us) where we saw mountain hares running and buzzards flying. We walked on St Cyrus beach and around Lochnagar on the Balmoral Estate. We awoke on the first day of January to the most incredibly beautiful frosted landscape which made our drive to lunch at the newly opened Fife Arms in Braemar even more atmospheric. The deep greens of the conifer forests with the rust and silver of the birches and the pale heather of the snow capped mountains is some of the most beautiful countryside I’ve even seen.
Our beloved riverside
The evenings begin early in Scotland in the Winter, and we expected our day trips to end with tea and cake in front the fire and settling in for the evening. What we realised on the first evening was that at Glen Dye darkness was when the outdoor fun really begins. Each afternoon as the sun disappeared and the darkness laid down like a velvet cloak we’d make our way down the steep, meandering path through the woods to the riverside.
Here we found an adorable Wes Anderson style cabin complete with log burner, blankets, lanterns and a kettle, a Green Egg barbecue and any number of fire bowls (they are very keen on fire at Glen Dye). The real treat for us though was the utterly brilliant log-fired Swedish hot tub lit by a string of twinkling fairy lights overlooking the peaty, velvety, black, inviting waters of the freezing cold Scottish river where I swam each morning.
The hot tub was the unrivalled highlight of our holiday. It would take around two hours to fully heat up, two hours where the three of us (the others eschewing the hot tub for the comforts of the fireside in the house) would huddle by the log burner in the little hut waiting patiently, drinking tea and chatting, keeping an eye on the fire basket for fear of it extinguishing. Eventually one of us would inevitably cave and run across the clearing and jump into the tepid water, unable to wait a moment longer, only to find it too cold to warm our chilly bones. But little by little it would heat up with until the point one of us would suddenly fling our arms out decrying it to now being far too warm.
Sitting quietly in the tub we’d look up through the branches of the cosseting conifers at the bright stars beyond, the smoke of the fire fading the fairy lights into a blur. It was magical and intimate and don’t think any of us will ever forget it. Our bodies warm and our faces freezing cold like sleeping with the windows open under a snuggly duvet on a chilly night. With the scent of the woodsmoke and sound of nothing other than the crackling of the wood, the bubbling of the water in the river and Edward fossicking around in the bushes, it was impossibly not to feel present, peaceful and happy.
And this is the genius of Glen Dye. It’s a place to celebrate being outdoors, to be immersed in nature and enjoy the wonders of the night as well as the day, even in the bitterest months of the year. Glen Dye is a place built entirely to allow you to ‘muck about outdoors’, for having fun and letting your hair down. A place to enjoy friendships and family and to make memories. A place to enjoy Britain in all its wintery glory.
There are plenty of photos of North Lodge and the other houses, and the fabulous vintage Airstream, on the Glen Dye website.
This week Nell Gifford sadly lost her battle with cancer. Nell was my school friend and was someone who left an indelible impression on me. Her wonderful circus was her gift to the world.
Next week we take possession of a dilapidated, neglected Victorian terraced house in North London and so begins a six month renovation project, during which we will be moving to the country.