Travel: Retreat from the world at Balbinny
The brochs of Balbinny may be a traditional design but they are modern, beautiful and oh so comfortable inside, finds Gaby Soutar
I wish I was a postcard manufacturer.
I’d have photographed the view from the newly built brochs at Balbinny Farm near Forfar, put my images into production and would be well on my way to making a mint.
Open the linen curtains in one of the two double bedrooms and – whoosh – there’s a vast expanse of Scottish eye candy, from the farm’s two Highland cows (and one dinky calf) in the foreground, to the Angus glens and Cairngorms, which were patchily frosted with snow on our visit.
The living and kitchen area has a similar outlook, thanks to the floor to ceiling windows, which curve to 180 degrees. Unless you’ve pored over the website before your visit, these features might come as a surprise.
When you arrive, past the little waterfall and down the gravel path, to your assigned broch (so-called as they’re modelled on traditional Iron Age structures and made from reclaimed stone from the original farm steading, with grass roofs) you can only see their Hobbit-y windows.
Beyond the entrance hallway of our broch, Lethnot, and every room is saturated with natural light.
To suit this modern feature, they’ve gone for a look that’s quite Scandinavian, but also almost luxury spa-like, with loads of bare wood, furry throws on the beds, a slate clad walk-in rainshower that sprays you from secret jets on the side, a huge tub in one en-suite and underfloor heating throughout.
Each bedroom even has a set of two white robes hanging in wooden alcoves.
And the wellbeing theme extends up the road, to their own private swimming pool (which recently won an award at the British Pool & Hot Tub Awards – who knew there was such a thing), Jacuzzi and gym. There are also a pair of treatment rooms, should you wish to book a therapy on your stay. (The owners can send you a list before you visit, and these range from manicures to aromatherapy massage).
However, we didn’t dive into these facilities straight away.
Instead, we spent our first full day and a half in the area doing the active stuff you’re supposed to do on holiday.
We had a quick wander round Brechin, and bagged some Smokies at M&M Spink in Arbroath, where the owner welcomed us in and allowed us to watch him open up the smoker (cough, cough), where the haddies hung in dusty-looking rows, then let us sit on their bench and try these buttery hot fish straight out of the bag. Amazing.
Then things deteriorated.
We went to nearby St Cyrus to walk on their beautiful three mile long beach, but it was sleeting, so we had to run back to the car and put the blowers on. The nearby National Trust for Scotland property, House of Dun, was shut for winter, as was JM Barrie’s house. A planned drive to Dunotar Castle, 40 minutes away, was shelved.
Our last attempt at outdoorsy stuff involved a 10 minute walk up the road from Lethnot to the nearby Pictish stones, which, we soon discovered, were boxed in, to preserve them, until May.
But we were philosophical, mainly because it meant we could stay indoors for the remainder of our stay. That’s what I’d REALLY wanted to do the whole time, I just needed circumstance to force me into it. Any energy that we needed to expend over the rest of our visit was used up with a quick workout in their mini gym, which boasts a cross-trainer, two exercise bikes, a running machine, kettlebells and weights, then a light round of table tennis.
This was followed by nine and a half lengths of the pool, which also features magnificent views over the glens. Our splash was rounded off by a dip in the Jacuzzi, a 60 second trudge downhill back to the broch, and a slump beside their wood-burning stove. Happiness.
We followed this regimen twice, and never had to properly leave the broch again. We had enough food in to see us through. It’s self-catering, and the kitchen, with its granite work surfaces is a joy to cook in. With additions like a dishwasher and wine cooler, it’s way fancier than Casa Soutar.
We slowly worked our way through the hamper that had been left, containing jam, red wine, local fudge and shortbread, crisps and other nibbly things.
If we’d been snowed in, we could have survived another few days. Anyway, I would be extremely happy to be trapped at Lethnot. Who needs the often disappointing outside world, when you’ve got picture postcard views at home?
• Balbinny is a 90 minute drive from Edinburgh, or under an hour to Dundee, Perth or St Andrews. A three night stay in Lethnot, which sleeps four in two double bedrooms, costs from £776, www.balbinny.com