DCSIMG

Fortingall: Finders keepers

When she said it was out of the way she wasn't kidding. It's 10:30pm on a bitterly cold Wednesday night, and we're pretty sure we've followed the directions right, but for some time now we've been trundling along the same very long, very narrow country lane, in pitch darkness, through thick mist.

We haven't seen any lights other than our headlights for ages, and there's no mobile coverage so we can't phone to check we're not lost. Having already been on the road for almost two hours, we're starting to get edgy. What's that in the darkness up ahead? Werewolves? Oh no, it's just some sheep.

But then, half an hour after discovering that a vital bridge is temporarily closed and having to backtrack, and ten minutes after accidentally driving on to a farm, there it is – a light in the darkness. And there she is – Linda Sinclair, owner of Keepers Cottage, standing on the doorstep. We park, she offers a big sympathetic hug, and I like her already.

Linda is a countryside property developer who, over coffee, is very happy to share her withering opinions of countryside property developers who build holiday homes on the cheap, charge silly money, then don't care when what they've built falls down several years later. Linda is not, she is keen to point out, that kind of property developer, and to prove it she's built Keepers Cottage, a remote, standalone retreat for two which actually is as luxurious as it claims to be: cosy, thanks to underfloor heating and a wood fire; and full of satisfyingly solid wooden furniture. It's modern but not self- consciously so, and the king-size double bed is so big that Linda has to order sheets from a specialist supplier. It's like sleeping in a very soft, warm field.

When the sun comes up next morning, we discover we're halfway up a forest-covered glen, with a winding river below us and a field full of sheep above. The nearest village, Fortingall, is a mile away. We are not entirely alone, however. Linda's own cottage is next door, across the driveway. This isn't as intrusive as you might think – Keepers Cottage's garden faces the other way, and you can't see into one cottage from the other. This arrangement might not be for everybody, but if you need something it's good to know she's there.

Keepers Cottage, which opened in January 2008, is a dramatically converted labrador kennels (which means, if we're being pedantic, that Linda's cottage next door, also dramatically converted, should be the one called Keepers Cottage, but she decided The Kennels would look less enticing on the website). It is, as the website explains, rented "exclusively for couples" and – how do we put this delicately? – seems designed to encourage you to get as intimate as possible. The enormous bath has taps in the middle so you can bathe together, toe to toe. The shower is big enough for four or five people, almost as if to say "there's really no excuse for two people not to use it at the same time, is there?" The same logic goes for the sauna. In the bedroom there is an iPod, connected to speakers in the bathroom so you can listen to music while in the bath, or the sauna, or the shower (thankfully, Linda is subtle enough not to fill it with Barry White songs; we spent our two nights listening to Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Massive Attack and Tom Waits).

As if this isn't enough, in the back garden there is a hot tub, big enough for about six people. Sharing it with just one person feels ridiculously decadent, which is presumably the idea. You lie back, submerged from the neck down in the warm, bubbling water, with (in our case) rain drizzling on your face, gazing at the black sky above, thinking about how cold your skin will feel during the several metre dash back indoors, and whether this is what it's like living in Iceland. Back inside there is a widescreen TV and a small but varied selection of DVDs (we chose Casablanca, but if the relentless romance of the whole thing is starting to get cloying, there are thrillers and comedies too). There's also a selection of books and games.

Between all this, there's barely any need to leave the cottage, especially in winter – although it is a shortish journey by car to Aberfeldy and Pitlochry, Glen Lyon and Loch Tay, and several Munros. In the interests of professional journalistic research we walked a mile down the road to Fortingall, having discovered before leaving that Linda's attention to detail extends to leaving an umbrella and wellies in different sizes by the front door, Barbour jackets on a hook in the kitchen and rucksacks and picnic gear in a cupboard.

Fortingall is one of those villages that consists of little more than a church, a hotel and enough houses for the people who work in the aforementioned buildings to live in (not that they do, I imagine). The churchyard is home to the Fortingall Yew, which some people believe could be the oldest tree in the world; it is more likely to be merely the oldest tree in Britain, but that's still a pretty good claim to fame. A sacred place for Pagans, later co-opted by Christians, it has experienced a little too much worship over the centuries and there's little left of it now, but it remains defiantly alive, protected by a stone wall with a plaque.

Next door is the Fortingall Hotel, which manages to cram just about every Scottish stereotype there is into a bar smaller than the cottage's bedroom. Portraits of Robert Burns and Bonnie Prince Charlie – check. Tartan – check. Bagpipes – check. You keep expecting Harry Lauder to begin blaring out of the speakers. The open fire is very cosy, though.

Fortingall doesn't have a shop, so Linda suggests you order food online before you arrive from the same farm shop, several miles away, where she seems to buy most of her supplies (she is very particular when it comes to tea); it will then be waiting for you when you arrive. A cheaper option is just to stop at a supermarket before you go. Either way, make sure you buy enough milk to last your stay.

In the living room there is a guestbook, full of enthusiastic comments, much of them about the wildlife that visitors have spotted on their stay (red squirrels, deer etc). For the most part, Keepers Cottage's guests are middle-aged couples and honeymooners – the price possibly dissuading those who don't have savings or a special occasion to mark – but Linda is keen to widen her net, and is currently wooing London lawyers and gay couples with a bit of money.

Of course, January 2008, mere months before the world plunged into economic crisis, was possibly the worst time ever to open a luxury cottage. But Linda is showing a brave face, buoyed by the fact that much of 2009 is already booked up, including plenty of repeat business. If you can afford it, it'll certainly take your mind off your problems for a few days. And your mobile phone probably won't work, so no one will even be able to find you.

Factfile: FORTINGALL

How to get there

• Keepers Cottage is a mile from the conservation village of Fortingall, about eight miles from Aberfeldy.

WHERE TO STAY

• Keepers Cottage is 160 per night Monday to Thursday, and 180 per night Friday to Sunday; minimum stay, three nights. For more details visit www.keepersatgarth.com

AND THERE'S MORE

• A footpath from the cottage's garden takes you into Glen Lyon, and there are Munros within walking distance. If you want to travel further afield, Aberfeldy, Pitlochry, Castle Menzies and Blair Castle are close, and places to try Land Rover safaris, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, golf and water sports are a short drive away.

• Scotsman Reader Holidays offers a three-day Colours Of Perthshire break, departing 25 October and 1 November, from 215, tel: Brightwater Holidays: 01334 657155 (quote SC).

 
 
 

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