People like to tell me I’m a city girl, but I can’t tell you how much I need to get away from the city. I am a city girl; I love nightlife and busy streets, restaurants and wi-fi; but my favourite kind of holiday is to disappear to nowhere. And even though I’m always by my phone, I positively hate phone culture. So, I went to Shepherd’s Hut for two nights.
I love rural Scotland, bothies, mountains, and forests, and I adore being near water. Growing up, I used to follow my parents around the country in our caravan; usually reading books, making friends, exploring ruins or sampling the best local empire biscuits. I haven’t been in the caravan for years now, but as a family we still flock to the occasional lodge with a view every year or so. The rest of my Scottish adventures happen with friends in tiny huts or cabins.
My September hideaway was The Shepherd’s Hut, a Swedish inspired room on wheels hidden away on the Inshriach estate near Aviemore. I booked it on a whim, not really stopping to think about the basics and the fact that it lacked running water or electricity. Luckily for me, it’s exactly what I wanted.
Will came with me, remember the Aussie guy? Being without a car, we took a scenic train journey to Aviemore, later befriending a taxi driver called James who became our chauffeur for the trip (Inshriach is a bit of a trek from the train station). If you’re in the same situation and need the occasional lift, I recommend him (J.G.A’S Taxis 01479 811520); he told us he used to drive the local school bus along the single track route every morning.
After a quick snack at the Ski-ing Doo Restaurant, we were dropped off at the end of a road and made our way into a kind of courtyard with a ramshackle collection of outhouses: a gin distillery, the inconvenience store and a stage with a chair and mic stand; with chickens and ducks roaming around the benches. Standing in one barn was a man who I assumed to be Walter, the owner of the farm. He met us with his dog Monty and threw open the doors to his Jeep where we all clambered into the front. Monty sat on my shoulder.
Walter drove us along a bumpy, muddy track through his farm, telling us about the wild swimming gathering that had just happened that weekend. He parked around 600m along the trail outside our tiny little hut in a clearing of trees. He indicated the two cartons of drinking water on the porch, the firewood and pointed to structure a little way off which was our compost toilet. I loved it! (Edit: I did not love it when I had to go pee in pitch darkness close to midnight – an owl nearly took me out!).
There was a sink outside to wash dishes with water heated on the stove, but if we wanted an actual shower we had to walk the 600m back along the track where there was one shower in an outhouse.
Left alone, we lit the tiny woodburning stove, enjoyed a tiger loaf and played dominoes. It really was that basic. Will won dominoes, and I fell asleep in the toasty hut listening to the River Spey gush past us.
Here’s some dark footage to demonstrate the walk from the hut to the compost loo just after sunset…very Blair Witch! Now do that in pitch black, not forgetting there’s no light in the toilet.
About a hundred metres from our hut was a horsebox sauna by the river and a hot-tub powered by logs. The idea is that you go wild swimming in the Spey and then sweat it out in the sauna afterwards. Sadly for us, the river was way too strong to swim in. We watched it carry away the yellow and orange leaves that were raining down from the trees.
On day two, we took a trip out to the Highland Wildlife Park where we saw a Scottish Wildcat, Polar Bears, a Snow Leopard, Wolves and more. I love this park because it feels more local and intimate than other zoos or wildlife attractions. The animals all enjoy a similar climate, one that is generally cold and mountainous. This time, our lack of car was a bonus because it meant we got to jump in one of the park safari vehicles to enjoy the biggest enclosure. We heard all about the animals directly from a keeper, something you miss if you drive around it yourself.
Afterwards we had dinner in Aviemore, then made our way back to the hut for another cosy night. I read my book, Will had a bit of a cold brewing. I was excited, because the next morning we’d be going to The Potting Shed, one of Britain’s best hidden bakeries. I’ll write more about that later, but just know that it was good!
I’ve been spending time in the Cairngorms lots recently; I really love it, especially the tearooms and kayaking. You should give Shepherd’s Hut a go if you really want to get away from it all. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll see some gorgeous stars. We had the Milky Way twinkling right above us.
Where I find my cabins
My favourite place to find cute bothies and cabins is Canopy & Stars; they also do a cute newspaper-style publication for insipiration!