I love the great outdoors – apart from when it rains. As a confirmed fair weather camper I like to know that I can get back to the ranch, fast, when the going gets tough.
So my family and I are not going far from our Edinburgh home to brave the Scottish spring weather, exploring some stunning natural and ancient landscapes in nearby West Lothian.
Our holiday base camp is Hilly Cow Wigwams situated on a working farm near to the village of Kirknewton, only 10 miles or so from the centre of the capital.
After receiving a warm welcome from owner Lesley, we have a chance to explore. I confess to be expecting a basic collection of sheds, but the site turns out to be more like a display of luxurious giant Toblerone tubes, nestled idyllically in the countryside.
Thankfully, our home from home is relatively near the communal kitchen and shower block, but not too close to our neighbouring wigwammers.
We have lucked out and secured the deluxe model, complete with cheerful twinkling fairy lights decorating the interior and – the best bit, as far as I’m concerned – an inside loo.
Our wigwam is named Henry after the owners’ horse, which we can see grazing contentedly from our veranda. You couldn’t really get much closer to nature, but happily we are still protected under a roof.
After we settle in, we are given a fun, short tour of the farmyard by owner Stuart. We are lucky enough to be there when there are calves and lambs, and even the hens were kind enough to lay some eggs for our breakfast. More extensive explorations of the site are put on hold as we are heading off on a bit of a mission of our own.
My elder (pre-teen) daughter is desperate to visit the bright lights of the nearby shopping emporiums at Livingston Designer Outlet. As the weather has taken a turn for the worse and her pocket money is burning a hole in her wallet, I’m keen to have an easy life and stay dry. After a thankfully successful shopping expedition, we opt for a lazy takeaway dinner from a nearby pizza restaurant in the village. I thought we were being really slack, collecting our grub on our way past, but it turns out they often deliver to the farm.
After dinner there is a games room for guests, with snooker and air hockey to keep youngsters amused. We spend a surprisingly comfortable night tucked up in our heated pod. After a wonderful breakfast, we are all raring to go exploring further afield, although it would have been all too easy to let the hay grow under our feet here.
If you’re feeling creative, head to nearby Overton Farm, on the outskirts of Kirknewton, where kids can try pottery painting or a whole host of craft activities. You can even join in with adults’ pottery courses tutored by resident potter Bernie Rowen (www.potteraround.co.uk).
We make a beeline for Almondell and Calderwood Country Park. It could easily take us a week to discover it all.
The mansion house was home to the Earls of Buchan from the 1790s, but it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1969. However, the landscaped grounds remain, and in spring and early summer there are banks of wild garlic, white anemones and drifts of bluebells dotted throughout the mature woodland.
After we have exhausted ourselves walking, we head back to the visitor centre for an ice-cream and a scamper in the play park. There are plenty of ranger activities to get involved with throughout the year: bushcraft for kids, and badger-watching to name just a couple. There are two other country parks, Polkemmet and Beecraigs nearby, which are also well worth visiting.
Last stop on our whirlwind tour is the ancient site just outside Bathgate called Cairnpapple Hill. Journeying to this place, you can’t fail to appreciate that this location has always been magical. The natural topography seems painted with light and shadows, as clouds dance overhead. Used as a ceremonial site from about 3000BC to 1400BC we can understand why, when our short uphill walk is rewarded with stunning views over central Scotland, and as far as Goat Fell on Arran. The highlight for the girls was clambering down into the chamber inside the hill, although I was more pleased to come back out.
We all survived our trip into the great outdoors, without once bolting home. We hardly scraped the surface of the place, so we’ll have to make time to return to this corner of wild West Lothian.
Henry’s en suite wigwam costs £50 a night based on two adults sharing. Breakfast baskets, bedding, fairy lights and BBQ are available at extra cost; www.hillycowwigwams.co.uk
For more information on the area, see www.visitwestlothian.co.uk