If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’ll know that I love history, remote places and beaches. So, when Cottages & Castles invited me to check out a luxury, dog friendly property that ticked all of those boxes I jumped at the chance.
Earlier this month we spent a weekend at the Ice House, which sits in the heart of the St Cyrus National Nature Reserve. This trip had even piqued the interest of The Teen, who decided to grace us with her presence.
Luxury self-catering by the sea
Car loaded with tasty goodies for our break, we left Edinburgh as soon as college and work commitments allowed. Two hours later, we arrived at the Ice House after winding our way down a dark, narrow lane to reach the property.
Once inside the boy made himself at home and charged off to explore. Mr G and The Teen followed suit, and I was left to do the practical stuff, like unpacking our provisions. Food and drink stored away, it was time for me to join the explorers.
I discovering a box packed with thoughtful gifts waiting for the boy. My heart melted to see the look of joy on his face.
The Ice House began life in the 18th century as an ice store belonging to the Tay Salmon Fishery Company. Salmon fishing was once a booming industry in the area. Large chunks of ice would be cut from the North Esk River where the Ice House stood. They’d be stored and used to keep fish fresh. In 1879 the river diverted its course, leaving the Ice House standing behind the high-backed dunes of St Cyrus Beach.
Today, the property has been tastefully renovated and modernised, while charming period features have been retained. Inside are 3 bedrooms (2 en-suite), a large family bathroom complete with sauna, and a huge L-shaped open plan lounge with mezzanine level and kitchen/dining area. Outside, are several acres of private grounds, a seating area by a fire pit/BBQ and a heated outdoor shower for the foolhardy or muddy dogs!
We charged around like children who’d just arrived at school camp, calling dibs on bedrooms. Mr G, Casper and I bagged the en-suite master bedroom upstairs, while The Teen surprised us by choosing the non en-suite bedroom. There was method in her madness – her gadget obsession had led her to seek out the room with the best WiFi signal!
Once settled in, we feasted on a buffet from M&S. After eating it was time to haggle over seating arrangements. There was only ever one chair in the house for me – a hanging, egg-shaped one. Give me a seat that birls or swings and I’m in my element.
Mr G bagged a large leather sofa, and The Teen selected a chaise longue. She spent the evening reclining like a Roman emperor, and it soon became apparent that Mr G had seat envy and a challenge would follow!
We whiled away the hours chatting, listening to music and supping on rustic French cider. The evening flew by and it was soon time for bed. We planned an early start the next morning, much to The Teens disgust.
I loved my bedroom – it had such a peaceful, calming feel to it, and I slept like a log. The boy blended chameleon like, into a cosy sheepskin rug next to me and was quickly out like a light.
When we rose the next morning the sun was streaming into the kitchen/dining area. We basked in the golden glow of sunlight as we ate breakfast.
The boy loves a good lurking spot and he’d located a perfect one under the breakfast bar, where he lay on an old tattie sack. He lingered like a troll hiding under a bridge as we ate, hoping to score some scraps or fallen debris from his messy big sis.
Breakfast things tided away, we were ready to spend the day outside enjoying the lovely November sunshine.
The boy struggled to hide his impatience as we donned our shoes and jackets, too slowly for his liking.
Exploring in and around St Cyrus
Yay, we were on the road with hours of exploring time ahead of us.
As lovers of the sea, we decided to follow the coastal route north to Dunottar Castle.
The Teen had never visited Dunottar before. She seemed excited at the prospect of visiting the castle from Brave. Even at 18 you’re never too old for the magical, allure of a fairytale castle.
We pottered around, enjoying the mild weather and clear blue sky. The date was 11th November, and quite poignantly at 11am I spotted the Stonehaven War Memorial silhouetted on the horizon and paused for a moment to remember the brave sacrifice of so many.
Like all good castles, Dunottar has ghosts. It’s actually compulsory for Scottish castles to have at least one ghost in residence!
One of the most popular ghostly tales associated with Dunottar is that of the Green Lady. Dressed in green plaid, she’s said to appear in the bakery, before vanishing by a doorway leading to the brewery.
I snapped a couple of photos in the bakery and brewery, but didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary. Take a look below and see if you can spot any ghostly figures.
The boy was happy to find himself with a ruin to explore, and he trotted around delighted with himself.
As he has previous for brazenly trying to steal food as I eat it, I thought the Thief’s Hole (a dungeon) was a good place for him to hang out and contemplate his bad manners!
As we left Dunottar we grabbed hot drinks from the mobile food van in the car park. Seeing Scottish stovies on the menu, I cursed arriving too early for lunch.
After Dunottar we drove south, back along the coastal route. Our plan was to spend time exploring, before grabbing lunch then finishing our day out at the St Cyrus National Nature Reserve.
Catterline was our next stop, to visit the historic pier there. We found it in a sheltered bay, backed by cliffs. Construction on the pier started in 1730, but it looks like it may have gone through a couple of upgrades since then.
The bay has been linked to the fishing industry for hundreds of years, and even today boats still operate out of the small harbour.
Like much of this coastline, tales of smuggling are rife, and it’s easy to picture smugglers creeping around with contraband goods.
The bay also has saintly associations, as it’s here that St Ninian is rumoured to have landed in an attempt to convert the Picts to Christianity.
walking by the bay, we spotted a bothy and tried to coax the boy to sit for a photo. He’d discovered some fascinating rabbit poo though and was not for posing!
As we climbed out of the bay we could see Tod Head Lighthouse in the distance, so we went to take a closer look.
If you ever pass through Inverbervie it’s likely you’ll spot a striking figurehead.
The town was the birthplace of the rather grandly named Hercules Linton, who designed the famous British clipper ‘Cutty Sark’. Built on the River Clyde in 1869, she was famed for her speed. Today she stands by the River Thames at Greenwich – the last of the tea clippers to survive.
Her name was inspired by the classic Burns poem Tam O’ Shanter. Tam’s cry of “weel done Cutty Sark” in Old Alloway Kirkyard saw him having to flee for his life, as he was pursued by angry witches.
If you look closely at Inverbervie’s figurehead you’ll see she’s clutching a horse’s tail – the tail of Tam’s poor mare Meg.
Hungry from a morning of fresh sea air and exploring, we stopped at the coastal village of Gourdon in search of food.
And what could be more enticing than the smell of fish and chips? The Quayside Restaurant and Fish Bar by Gourdon’s harbour is rated as one of the UK’s top ten fish and chip shops.
Mr G chose his traditional red pudding supper and was in raptures after the first bite. The Teen devoured her breaded haddock supper, but was kind enough to save some pieces of fish for the boy. I offered it to him on my outstretched palm and almost lost a hand! My choice was a tad more exotic/unusual – I had jalapeño poppers stuffed with cream cheese and chips. Being a chilli fiend I was delighted to find something spicy on the menu.
St Cyrus National Nature Reserve
Back at the Ice House, and no longer in a rush to head off exploring we had a look around the outside of the house. Build into the hillside, and backed by cliffs it’s a truly remarkable building, which resembles a grand hobbit house. I love quirky buildings with character, so it was wonderful to have an opportunity to stay in one.
Standing on the grass-covered roof you’d never guess that a fabulous, spacious house was hiding underneath.
I tried to set the boy up for a photo but he was distracted – two seconds later he bolted off into the undergrowth after a deer. I felt my panic rise as Mr G charged after him. A loud bellow of “CASPER” stopped the wee monkey in his tracks. Realising his Dad meant business he skulked guiltily back to join us.
Before heading to the beach there was one last place I wanted to visit first.
The burial ground of Ecclesgreig Old Church lies a stone throw from the Ice House. The site may have religious links dating as far back as the 9th century, but it’s definitely known to have been a place of worship in the second half of the 12th century.
In a corner of the churchyard stands a small stone building which looks like the Wendy house from Peter Pan. This Wendy house has dark origins though. It was built in the 19th century to allow relatives to watch over their newly buried loved ones at night. Once upon a time in Scotland fresh corpses were a valuable commodity, and it was common for them to be spirited off in the night to be sold to medical schools.
Retracing our steps back to the Ice House we headed to the beach via our own private gate.
We crossed a wooden bridge built by Gurkhas, often described as the Bridge over the River Why? Why as in where’s the river? The land underneath looks dry, but the North Esk River once flowed there and it’s marshy.
The beach was quiet and we enjoyed a peaceful wander. The boy was forgiven for his unruly behaviour earlier and allowed to run free.
As we walked the sun began to set, making the beach look like a watercolour painting come to life.
Mr G snapped away on his iPhone, clearly working on another 40 photo montage for his Facebook page. At one point I spotted him contorted into a weird yoga-like pose!
After a good run around with the boy we were ready to relax back at the Ice House.
I had visions of us enjoying nibbles and wine by the fire-pit but Mr G and The Teen didn’t share my enthusiasm. They looked relieved when my fire fizzled out pathetically after 5 minutes.
Undeterred in my search for heat, I made for the sauna instead to spend some relaxing ‘me time’ reading.
We spent another lovely evening relaxing – me swinging contentedly in my hanging chair.
To toast the weekend we opened a bottle of Krug that we’d brought back from Paris a couple of years earlier – it slipped down a treat.
We placed the cork in a cork filled crevice in the dining room wall as a reminder that “we were here”.
The next morning we packed the car and said a sad farewell to the Ice House. What an experience it had been to stay in such a fantastic building.
I’d like to close by thanking the lovely Jemima at Cottages & Castles for arranging our visit to the Ice House. A huge thanks also to owner Pam for giving us access to her beautiful home. Although our stay was provided on a complimentary basis all opinions are entirely my own.
Until next time ……..