AN autumn break in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park offers a lovely slice of Highland life, finds Alison Gray
If only all guesthouses could be like Coig na Shee in Newtonmore. Luxurious, friendly and relaxed, the Highland lodge, which dates from 1903, offers visitors the chance to completely unwind in its serene surroundings.
And you don’t have to take my word for it; a quick look at some of the tens of thousands of positive comments owners Marion and Graeme Broad have elicited on TripAdvisor since they opened in 2006 will give you a sense of your good fortune at having secured a reservation.
You’re in good company. Some of the cast of Monarch of the Glen – the Broads are too discreet to namedrop – made Coig na Shee their permanent base during filming of the Sunday night classic.
So why is it so great? Well, firstly Marion and Graeme are happy to help you to work out the best activities for you, given the weather and the time you have.
But it’s the little details that make all the difference. Each room – we were in the king-size “Larches” – has as standard crisp white bed linen, soft fluffy towels, and cute mini shower gels and shampoos. So if the weather is unkind to you during your walk, it’s a pleasure to duck under the shower and warm up in the cocoon of your room.
The interior decor is no less thoughtful. There are throws and cushions galore, so snuggling up in front of the telly on an inclement Saturday afternoon feels like a treat, rather than a retreat from the weather.
If you want to relax even further, a range of complementary therapies including massage and reflexology is offered by Naomi Russell, although these do need to be booked in advance with either Marion and Graeme, or Naomi.
Thanks to the Indian summer we have experienced since the beginning of this month, there is every likelihood that the next few weeks will provide some of the best days of the year to experience the Cairngorms National Park. With no midgies, the prospect of cool clear days and plenty of autumn sunshine, it’s perhaps the ideal time of the year to get out and about in this part of the world. There are activities for all abilities in this area, with everything from winter skills courses to gentle river strolls. You can get a sense of the area with a walk from the front doorstep of your guesthouse. We followed the wildcat waymarks, fortunately not as elusive as their inspiration, for a circuit of Glen Banchor. The route takes in the location of long-abandoned townships – and we passed many memorial benches – this is obviously a popular place for residents past and present. There were birds singing in the trees, and aside from a minor incident with a slightly bitey pony which wouldn’t accept that there was only one apple and he had eaten it, it was a great introduction to the countryside surrounding Newtonmore.
Of course coffee and cake are a key component of any successful weekend, at home or away, especially if walking has been involved. The Wild Flour (Main Street, tel: 01540 670975) offering both of the aforementioned necessities, sandwiches and much more, including evening meals in summer, is bright and pleasant, with a garden area teeming with birdlife.
For dinner we were dead set on eating at The Old Bridge Inn (Dalfaber Road, Aviemore, tel: 01479 811137) but you really need to book this popular pub and restaurant, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. They couldn’t fit us in but we stopped for a drink anyway, enjoying the lively atmosphere created by the mix of families and locals with hikers, bikers and other assorted weekend warriors sharing the same space for a pint.
Breakfast is more than covered at Coig na Shee and Marion and Graeme pride themselves on providing a great start to your day, as well they might, as everything is cooked to order. And never fear, if you’re not a fan of the full Scottish, there are copious pastries, fresh berries and nutty muesli.
You can’t come to Newtonmore and not see some shinty if there is a game on, especially this year as 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the Newtonmore Camanachd Club. Like a mash-up of a particularly unfriendly game of hockey and a contact sport like rugby, shinty is completely addictive. Home baking and cups of tea from the tiny club kitchen combined with avoiding nippers armed with mini camans on the sidelines offers the chance for visitors to experience typical Highland family day out.
Marion and Graeme say that it’s impossible to be totally sure of the origins of the name Coig na Shee, but according to local lore, it seems ‘Shee’ derives from ‘sithein’, Gaelic for ‘fairy hill’, and ‘Coig’ means ‘five’ or a fifth – an ancient way of dividing up land – so, ‘a fifth of a fairy hill’.
I doubt if the little people are still around, but there’s certainly something magical about a weekend at Coig na Shee.
• Coig na Shee Guest House, Fort William (Laggan) Road, Newtonmore, tel: 01540 670 109, www.coignashee.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Room rates range from £70 to £90 (£55 single) bed and breakfast (depending on low or high season). Gift vouchers are available on the website. There is a 10 per cent discount on a two-night stay in October and November.