A FORMER South Lanarkshire church proves the perfect holiday spot for Gaby Soutar and her congregation
Leadhills in South Lanarkshire might not be the most obvious holiday destination. To be honest, I kind of visited this village by mistake, after browsing the Holiday Cottages website and being seduced by the architect-designed eco-home that is Golden Hills (or Ebenezer Hall) – an amazing-looking converted church.
As oppose to your traditional tourist honeypot, this area is surrounded by the undulating Lowther Hills – ore fields, which were used to mine lead-zinc until the late 1930s. In parts, they resemble the underside of a threadbare carpet.
However, it makes up for its lack of chocolate box good looks by having its own idiosyncratic personality.
Apparently, gold that was mined in Leadhills was used to create Scotland’s crown jewels, and you can pan for precious metal at the local Leadmining Museum. Other attractions include The Leadhills Miners’ Library, founded in 1741, which is the oldest subscription library in Europe. Today it holds a collection of books that document life in this village, as well as a display of local minerals. According to their website, when this library opened, “The annual subscription was 2/- (10p), no small sum when yearly earnings might be no more than £20”.
Then there’s the curfew bell, dated 1770, which was used to signal changes of shifts for miners. If that’s not niche enough for you, their graveyard is the resting place of miner John Taylor, who died, it’s said, at 117 years old. Maybe the secret to eternal life is up in them there hills.
I’m not sure about that, but there is the Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway.
We tramped up a slope from our homestead church for a shot on Britain’s highest narrow gauge railway train, which tootles for 25 minutes along a route from Leadhills to Glengonnar Halt, via the Glengonnar mine, then back again.
It’s staffed by charming and cheery volunteers, who didn’t seem fazed by a few stones on the rails, even though they made us judder to a dramatic halt at one point.
According to the Ebenezer Hall visitors’ book, there are also loads of good hikes to be had in this area, and, of course, there’s Leadhills Golf Club – Scotland’s highest at 1500ft. However, as our group consisted of two small children (aged two and four) and a few resolute couch potatoes, we’ll have to take previous guests’ word for it.
We spent most of our time enjoying the house, which boasts three double bedrooms (one with an additional sofa bed) and a children’s room with bunks, plus three bathrooms with rainfall showers. The main open plan living space is upstairs and done out in a style that’s modish yet cosy, with marshmallowy leather sofas, a wood-burning fire, a dining table to seat eight (or more) and trimmings including a fully stocked Nespresso machine and a cage (to stick your dog in, one supposes).
There’s also the holy grail of all large family holidays – two tellies – with one in the living room and another in a downstairs bedroom.
As far as decor is concerned, as well as lots of pretty landscapes, you’ll find the original church sign on the staircase:
11.00am Breaking of Bread
6.30pm Gospel Service
On the ground floor, there’s also a patio area that’d be perfect for barbecues. Alas, it wasn’t sunny enough on our stay, so, to prevent the small people getting cabin fever, we took an excursion to Purves Puppets in Biggar. This fun attraction is a relic from the days before big brands took over, in that it’s eccentric, lo-fi and utterly brilliant. The interior of the well-raked theatre is decorated with signs of the zodiac in relief and there’s a twinkly ceiling of stars as the lights go down. We watched the glow-in-the-dark show Pips and Panda and the Magic Egg.
I thought the children would get restless with having to sit still for 90 minutes (although there is an interval halfway through), but they were enthralled by the adventures of this cheeky pair and all the other whimsical creatures, from glowing snakes to aliens (oops, spoiler alert).
Other activities that involve an excursion less than an hour’s drive away from the house might include New Lanark World Heritage Site and Visitor Attraction (40 minutes) or Moffat (28 miles).
Alternatively, do as we did and surrender yourself to hanging out at Golden Hills. The 6:30pm gospel service is optional, but all are welcome.
A seven-night stay at Golden Hills from 31 October costs £545. For more information or to book, visit www.holidaycottages.co.uk/scotland