Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway is the perfect base for a family weekend of fun, finds Gaby Soutar
Periwinkles, cockles, inky mussels, razor clams and those tiny pink ovals that look like a baby’s fingernails.
We’ve never seen as many shells as there are at Airds Bay. It’s blanketed by a crunchy topping of them. Maybe that’s because the tide comes in like water on a tray, with waves that deposit rather than disturb.
For amateur conchologists, like us, Airds Bay Luxury Beach House in Dumfries & Galloway, just behind Sandgreen Caravan Park, is the ideal spot. It features a grassy slipway that goes straight down to the sand, so being in the house feels a bit like being on a very chic boat, with views straight out to the water and the uninhabited Murray Isles, where only cormorants and gulls live.
Our living quarters? So fancy.
My other half and I take the downstairs bedroom, with king-size bed, nautical wallpaper and a huge bathroom across a little hall.
The others – my sister and my two nieces – bag the whole of the upstairs level, which features the huge master bedroom with balcony, and slate-tiled en-suite. Next door to her, the girls (three and six) get their own room with a pair of bunk beds that are built against the wall, with a ladder up the middle and reading lights inside, like four little science fiction pods.
It’s so “cool” that they don’t particularly want to come downstairs, and stay up here and do crafty stuff with shells instead.
Thus, the grown-ups get the whole of the open plan living room. It features floor to ceiling windows, a wood burning stove (there are loads of logs provided), giant telly, swanky kitchen with two ovens and an oak-topped island and, gadget-fans, a built in Hoover that sucks crumbs and sand up into the skirting.
The dining area, with a table to seat around eight, has a jelly bean machine and a bookcase stuffed with reference tomes to help you identify the creatures you’ve found in the bay.
On the ground floor, there’s also a wet room (they can provide kayaks) for hanging wetsuits, and the boot room is the spot to empty out gritty shoes or nightwear (at one point the girls go on the beach in their pyjamas and slippers) and decant treasures.
We LOVE this place, but we do make it out to explore, because small people need to burn off some energy.
The activity centre and ice-cream maker Cream o’ Galloway is useful when it comes to that. As well as an adventure playground, flying fox, drop slide and indoor soft play, its activities include Go Boing, which consists of trampoline style nets strung up in the trees, so you can bounce about in colourful enclosures and traverse corridors that are suspended a few metres off the ground. My sister, who usually suffers from vertigo, is totally fine with it. I feel a bit weird and wobbly. The girls and their uncle go wild, like chimpanzees on a chocolate ice-cream related sugar high.
There are also pedal go-karts on a weaving track with tunnels and ramps. It’s like Tour de France meets Scalextric via The Flintstones.
In search of similar fun, the next day we drive 15 minutes along the road to Laggan Outdoor. It offers an 820 metre long zip wire that appears to start somewhere on the top of a mountain (no way, not doing it), archery, clay pigeon shooting and loads of other rufty tufty pursuits.
We try…..glass sledging.
“Has anyone else ever done this in the rain?” I ask the instructor who takes us to the soggy slope.
“Oh yes, you’d be surprised,” he says, very unconvincingly, before handing us some paper towels to dry off the bright red sledges. Despite the mud, it is fun to hurtle downhill on the specially made contraptions which, thankfully, have brakes.
Anyway, splattered with muck and slightly damp, we head straight back home and into the boot room, where we can shed our manky shoes.
Should you want more activity-wise, there’s Cardoness Castle nearby, plenty of towers, walks and smokehouses, and you could drive to Gatehouse of Fleet if you fancy a fix of shops and cafes. Instead, we commit to staying dry in our house, while looking out at the water, eating jelly beans and making necklaces out of spoots. Heaven.
Fact box: Airds Bay Luxury Beach House, Sandgreen, Gatehouse of Fleet (07747 065 410, or book through www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/12466323 or Tripadvisor). The house costs £226 per night and sleeps up to eight people.
Cream o’ Galloway, Rainton, Gatehouse of Fleet (www.creamogalloway.co.uk). Peak admission, £13.50 (free if just supervising), under 3s are free, 3-5 year olds, £5, for Mini Play activities. Grass sledging costs £5 for half an hour at Laggan Outdoor, Laggan, Gatehouse of Fleet (www.lagganoutdoor.co.uk)