I HAVE always been heartily in favour of long walks, bike rides and lungfuls of fresh countryside air, but as somebody who feels he has done his time camping out in rain-battered tents, nowadays I tend to prefer a roof rather than canvas overhead, and for me a log cabin is the perfect compromise.
The woodland lodges annexed to Loch Kinord Hotel – halfway between Aboyne and Ballater in the heart of Deeside – are proof that luxury and comfort can accompany a rural break without having to sacrifice getting close to nature.
Loch Kinord Hotel sits by the edge of the A93 in the village of Dinnet, and it has forged a reputation as one of the warmest and most welcoming places to stay in the area since Andrew and Jenny Cox took over 11 years ago.
The ivy-covered hotel itself has plenty to offer – comfortable rooms, an AA-rosetted restaurant, whisky bar and lounge and attractive grounds – while the self-catering woodland lodges provide a new dimension to the business.
We were shown to our spacious log cabin, just a 50-yard walk from the main hotel, and nestling in woodland at the eastern gateway to Cairngorms National Park, and on the edge of Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve. Inside the lodge, there is a lounge and dining area, modern kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom – all kitted out to an excellent standard, and child-friendly. If you need mod-cons there is a widescreen wall-mounted TV with built-in DVD.
What strikes you the moment you step inside the cabin is how warm and cosy it is, with central heating and double glazing keeping the place toasty even when its cold outside.
Loch Kinord and the surrounding area has more than its fair share of wildlife, and after waking to songbirds heralding the onset of spring and watching a red squirrel burrowing greedily into a feeding box in the field opposite, we were feeling chirpy ourselves thanks to a gorgeous cooked breakfast in the hotel – perfect sustenance for one of the many walks literally on the doorstep.
While there are challenging routes for the hardened hiker, we tried a relatively gentle walk first, leaving the hotel grounds and skirting around the edge of Loch Kinord, spotting Highland cows and deer along the way. The next walk we opted for was Andrew’s recommendation – Burn o’ Vat – starting off at the nature reserve’s visitor centre and walking along a path flanked by mighty pines to the “Vat” itself – an impressive sweeping bowl carved out of water in the Ice Age.
Lurking behind the waterfall within the vat is a cave reputed to have harboured Rob Roy MacGregor while he was on the run. Sadly for romantics, historical spoilsports have since attempted to scotch the myth by revealing that it was actually the hiding place of another Aberdeenshire outlaw from the 17th century, Gilderoy – aka, Patrick Gilroy Macgregor. Whoever took refuge here had good taste, as it’s truly a mystical and fascinating place. It’s also well worth climbing the path to the main viewpoint too, which allows you to gaze back across Loch Kinord and appreciate its size and beauty, taking you in a loop to complete your walk in the park next to the visitor centre.
Having crammed in as as much walking as possible, we had massive appetites, and after a drink by the fireside with woolly friends, “wee Hamish and Morag” (giant stuffed toy sheep), the hotel’s restaurant fed us in style. A menu rich in local produce gave us plenty of options, and the haggis truffles, rib eye of Aberdeen Angus beef and delicious cheesecake were all served with a smile.
After retreating to the lodge once more, our second night’s sleep – possibly due to a combination of the walking and the wonderful dinner – was even sounder than the first, and when we awoke the next morning it seemed far too soon to be heading home. The cabins will appeal to families of walkers, cyclists and tourists year round, with a decked area for sitting outside on warmer nights.
The cabins really do offer the best of both worlds – privacy and self-catering if and when you want it, and the hotel and all its facilities just yards away.
THE FACTS Loch Kinord Woodland Lodges (sleeping up to four) available from £400 for seven nights, £300 for four nights or £300 for three nights (including weekend). The hotel offers a spring package of two nights a la carte dinner, B&B at £65pp pn or £49.50pp pn for a table d’hote dinner and B&B. Third night free if taking a la carte dinner in the restaurant. 013398 85229, visit www.lochkinord.com for details and offers.