Head to one of Scotland’s finest hotels for a slice of outdoor adventure
By Catherine Hudson
Gleneagles, an iconic countryside estate that stands proudly on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment. It is now way more reflective of its elegantly stylish 1920s beginnings; with a top notch, all-new children’s play den, and endless list of outdoor family activities worth travelling for, to boot.
Just under an hour’s chauffeured drive from Edinburgh, the plush bedroom suites and five-star facilities, including award-winning Spa and restaurants, are served up with a genuinely warm welcome. The receptionist sneaked our 18-month-old daughter, Evie, some homemade shortbread at check-in, earning himself a ‘high five’ from the off. We checked into our spacious double room with views overlooking the front lawns and out toward the Highlands, before heading out to explore as much of the 850-acres as time allowed.
Surrounded on all sides by the rolling hills of Perthshire and an ever-changing weather front (expect four seasons in one hour), we felt a wonderful world away from, well, pretty much anything. Evie immediately went on the run around her new playground. Off she went, toddling at pace, down the shopping arcade corridors, across the perfectly mowed lawns and through the sensory kitchen garden; this city kid was on a fresh air high, stopping only to pick up stones or gaze up at the towering front lawn fountain. Babbling on about ‘leaves’ and pointing at the endless skies, she was in her element. Once we’d herded her back inside, off she ran again, stomping and winding her way among the silver service ready tables, chattering to staff and guests as she went – and everyone beamed and chattered back. We met lots of families who had been holidaying at Gleneagles for years, some even decades.
Watching Evie wear herself out, her cheeks turning ruddy, was entertainment enough; but we were here for some serious playtime. You might know that Gleneagles is home to three championship golf courses, which also have those spectacular Highland backdrops. Perfect, we thought, for a bike ride. Evie had her own seat on the back of one of ours, and off we went; up, down and around the courses. Much to our amusement, she fell asleep in the seat on the way back. Time, then, for us to check out the rest of the impressive Trail Yard, which has been cultivated to offer guests the best of the great Scottish outdoors. You can sign up for Segway rides and mini Land Rover expeditions, as well as bike hire. You can also book unique treats for little ones, like owning a pony for a day or trialling a spot of ferret racing, and there’s always the option of a bracing walk, or off-road drive, to spy red deer, blue hares and golden eagles.
We took the chance factor out of spotting local wildlife by visiting the on site British School of Falconry, which houses 24 birds. Evie half listened to the fascinating lesson, and shouted “bird, bird!” the rest of the time. We took it in turns to catch the Harris Hawk on our falconers gloves – including Evie, who was initially excited, then a little ‘stunned’ when it actually landed on her outstretched arm. Amusing memories are made of home videos, like that.
When it rained, we headed indoors to the all-new play area, Little Glen, where we were equally impressed: Evie by the tree-shaped slide and pint-sized Gleneagles train, and me by the beautifully child-friendly decor and list of daily activities, such as arts classes and meeting Shetland ponies. Little Glen operates as a creche, or parent supervised play area, for 2-9 year olds. The Den, a key-entry area just outside the creche, is open to children any age at all times. It houses video games, photo booth, giant traditional board games and lots more.
After going down the slide no less than 150 times, Evie started poking her chest, exclaiming “Evie, pool”. A trip to the Health Club, here, had reignited her love of swimming and we went from her having to be forcibly peeled off me at our local pool, to her jumping in from the side at Gleneagles, meaning she clearly has a taste for the finer things in life, already. Though, I am, admittedly, equally partial to that Health club, which includes outdoor heated and adults only pools. Back in our room, a miniature fluffy robe and slippers were hanging on the bedside cot for Evie; not that she needed any further encouragement to get into the roll top bath for her second dip of the day, and cosy up on the giant bed, afterwards.
You can book chauffeured cars to sights such as Stirling Castle, or just a short ride down to the cosy, golf course-side Dormy restaurant, with its impressive tandoor oven; which we did when it was raining. Talking of food, from salmon risotto in the bright winter garden of the Birnam Brasserie, to deliciously overloaded burgers in the Century Bar, Evie, unusually for her, tucked in with gusto at all mealtimes. Though, quite honestly, we defy you to eat breakfast and not feel full for the rest of the day. From award-winning porridge to a ‘nut butter’ bar and gluten-free treats abound, all bases are covered. Not forgetting the delightful kids’ breakfast table, which was child-height and laden with organic drinks, banana bread, yoghurts and more.
One of the jewels in Gleneagles’ crown is the plush Strathearn restaurant. For our evening of fine dining a deux, I left Evie with daddy back at Little Glen, and headed to the salon, Bob + Cloche, for a blow dry and shine treatment. So relaxing was it that I nodded off midway… a mini break of my very own, indeed. We very much appreciated Fiona, a Gleneagles-appointed babysitter, arriving at our room and taking excellent care of Evie for that evening. She distracted Evie with a pot of bubbles and her soft Scottish lilt while we snuck out; first for a cocktail at the Century Bar, then to eat, steak flambeed at the table, no less, and finishing with a nightcap at the opulent speakeasy-style American Bar. A text from Fiona during our starter to say Evie was asleep, made the evening all the more enjoyable.
It is easy for a hotel to be luxurious, quite another to simultaneously make it feel like home; but Gleneagles is a master of the location, service and facilities hat trick. We have never witnessed our child run, eat or sleep so much, underestimating just how much the combination can lead to quality sleep. It prompted us to consider how we could feasibly move to Scotland, or, at the very least, plot a return to Gleneagles very soon.
Room rates at Gleneagles start from £390 per night based on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis www.gleneagles.co.uk , 01764 662231
City stop off
Why not visit the capital city of Scotland before or after your trip to Gleneagles? Edinburgh is en route, whichever way you arrive, and has loads of entertaining activities for the family, as well as being a beautiful city to explore. We stayed at the Novotel Edinburgh Centre, which is comfortable and well-located, just a short walk to the castle. A modern retreat after a day of historic sightseeing, it has a pool, which is rare in the city, and provides a great place to play if the weather turns bad.
Top five must-dos for families in Edinburgh
- Take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour for easy sightseeing
- Visit Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile to discover the city’s history
- Walk up Arthur’s Seat for incredible views
- Wander around the beautiful Princes Street Gardens
- Visit Fishmarket Newhaven for seaside fish and chips