We Won Gold!

Earlier this year, we commenced our journey with Green Tourism and were thrilled to receive the Silver Award. Since then, we have embarked on many changes and improvements on our way towards Gold. To be awarded Gold, you don’t need to implement massive changes like solar panels (although we are looking into them!) Instead, you need to demonstrate commitment and efforts to building a green and sustainable business.  So we are super thrilled to have received the Gold Award in November 2018.

Green logo for Gold Award

Green Tourism Gold Award

Award holders need to champion investment and improvement in the local community. We use a lot of our time and energy to help build stronger communities. For example, Jane regularly bakes cakes for, and volunteers at, the the local community cafe in Kirkhill. We also have to help conserve the local economy by introducing and encouraging guests to try genuine local experiences; and to source products sustainably and ethically. And through all this, we are committed to finding new ways to reduce our footprint, and to lessen the impact we have on our environment.

Green Tourism is the largest and most established sustainable certification programme in the world. Green Tourism exists to help tourism businesses ensure their long-term viability, both environmentally and economically; and to help holiday makers make clear ethical, sustainable and responsible decisions about where to holiday or visit.

We are looking into even more changes and improvements to continue our journey. And we will always encourage guests to think about being eco-friendly. Check out our Green page for our green credentials.


Getting Immersed in Military History at Fort George

On a very windy October day, we took ourselves off to Fort George, just outside Ardersier, near Inverness. We were amazed by how big this fortification is! Built in the wake of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the fort is still used as a British Army establishment.

Fort George entrance gate

Fort George entrance gate

Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated at Culloden, so George II created this imposing fort against further Jacobite unrest. But after taking 22 years to complete, the Jacobite thread had subsided. Quick side note: combine this with a visit to Culloden Battlefield.

There is so much to see and do at Fort George, we were really impressed and truly great value at £9.00 for an adult ticket. The main rampart is more than 1km in length and a super walk with great views – many across the Moray Firth, which in itself brings an opportunity to spot the dolphins!

Cannon over Chanonry Point

Cannon over Chanonry Point

It has a great Highlanders Museum – Scotland’s largest regimental museum outside of Edinburgh.  The museum covers three floors of Fort George’s former Lieutenant Governors’ House and has over 20,000 artefacts and over 10,000 documents and photographs.

The garrison chapel at the far end of the fort was worth the walk. Although you can’t actually get to it, look over the ramparts and see the dog cemetery – one of only two in Scotland – where regimental dogs have been buried.

There are lots of plaques around the entire fort, giving the history and also explaining about the weapons, cannons, barrack rooms, living quarters, and showcasing the story of what life would have been like for the soldiers serving. All the garrison buildings, artillery defences, bayoneted muskets, and swords provide an incredible view into 18th century military life.

We took the audio headsets for free.  Many of the plaques have a corresponding number which you hit to get the audio story. Very useful and highly informative.

Bastion at Fort George

Bastion at Fort George

There’s a little shop too and a café.  The fort is very exposed on the peninsula overlooking the Moray Firth.  It was incredibly windy the day we went so be wary of this. An amazing place to visit.

Take a Walk on the (local) Wild Side

One of the best things about our location is the endless amount of walks you can do nearby. This morning we decided to drive 10 minutes to near Beauly to do Loch nam Bonnoch (courtesy of WalkHighlands). This is a 4 miles / 6.5 km walk, mainly flat but with stunning, incredible views. You can make the walk much longer too by exploring the myriad of forestry paths.  This is a very quiet and little known trek! In wet weather, some of the paths can be muddy.

It can be quite hard to park to start the walk, but our Walks Near & Far folder in the Steading will give you good advice on this.  Most of the uphill is at the start, but you are rewarded behind you, with views back to the Beauly Firth.

On taking the first corner uphill, you will be stopped in your tracks with the view over towards the easterly peaks of the Glen Affric and Strathfarrar mountains.

Looking over towards Strathfarrar and Glen Affric mountains

You wouldn’t believe you are only a few miles from Beauly when you see the remote and rugged view ahead of you. Continuing along the track you will soon get your first glimpse of Loch nam Bonnach – a very peaceful stretch of water hidden amongst the lower moors.

Loch nam Bonnoch

You will see Ben Wyvis looking behind the loch. You then enter a forestry area before continuing into a little fairy glen with a river alongside. After crossing a stile, you are now heading back towards the start.

It is preferred you keep dogs on a lead for this walk, mainly because there is often deer about.  Today we saw a whole herd just as we were walking past the loch. We’re letting you into this little known secret walk, but sssh, keep it to yourself please!

Emma and Loch nam Bonnoch

Highland Games – a Scottish Highlight!

Every summer throughout Scotland there are a host of Highland Games to visit! Highland Games are iconically Scottish. They are amazing events to celebrate and bear witness to the fabled skill, strength and endurance of the Highlander. Wherever the Games are held, each has its own local character and traditions.

This is a cracking day out for the family. There are lots of track and field games that everyone can sign up for and enter.  But the main event is the traditional Heavy athletic events like the caber toss, shot put and hammer throw when serious athletes compete to be champion.  What a spectacle to watch the bravest warriors. There are always Highland dance competitions, bagpipes and lots of family activities.  The Games are a spectacle like no other. Some of the events take place against amazing scenic Scottish backdrops too.

Highland dancers with athletes running around the track

Pipers and drummers

Our favourite event is the caber toss which has come to symbolise the Highland Games.  The Games wouldn’t be complete without it! A full-length log of Scottish pine can range between 16-22 feet, and the weight can vary from 100-180 pounds. It is stood upright and lifted by the competitor using both hands under the bottom of the caber. They then rest it against their body, before running forward and tossing the caber into the air. The aim is that it turns end over end in the air before hitting the ground. Contrary to popular belief, the caber toss is not about distance – it’s all about the position and how it lands. Picture a clock face, and place the caber thrower at 6 o’clock. The aim is to have enough strength and control to make the caber land at 12 o’clock exactly. And the closer the better!

Caber tossing

This year, we visited the Games at Drumnadrochit right next to Loch Ness. Just a 20 minutes drive. There were some fairground rides, local craft and art stalls, and food tents. We had such fun watching the Heavy events, the Highland Dancing competition and the piping bands.  It only cost £15 entry for a family of 4.

Glen Urquhart Games, Drumnadrochit

Other Games in easy driving distance of Pinewood include Strathconon, Tain, Inverness Forres, Dornoch, Strathpeffer, and Nairn, to name a few.

To see a list of events, check out the SHGA (Scottish Highland Games Association) website or Visit Scotland.

Small green efforts make all the difference

Just a short blog post to say our new composting bins have arrived – yay! We have two – one in the enclosed garden for my compost from the veg gardens and the house; and one by the Steading for our guests to use. All veg and fruit waste can be composted, coffee grounds and tea bags, old bread, leftover pasta, pizza crusts, and even egg shells.

The new composting bin for the Steading

Guests also have a small kitchen compost bin inside the Steading which they can put their waste into first, before taking outside. We are excited to have implemented one more small measure towards reducing the waste at Pinewood.  And who knows – in a few month’s time, we may have our own compost to put on the veg gardens too!

Another small Green Tourism addition is our new Nature Diary. This helps our guests capture their wildlife experiences and sightings, both near and away from the Steading. So far there have been a few entries and even some pictures drawn!

Nature Diary

Our new Nature Diary

It really is good fun to see what the guests have seen and where – and this may help future guests see the wildlife too.  From dolphins to red squirrels. Hooded crows to house sparrows. Greater spotted woodpeckers to robins. Highland cows and sheep of course! Golden eagles to whales! Pheasants, jackdaws and oyster catchers. Hares, deer and swallows.  All these little measures are all big actions in support of our Green Policy.

Lots of entries in the Nature Diary

Inverness Botanic Gardens: stunning array of plants and flowers

Well, I had never been to the Botanic Gardens in Inverness before and after seeing some of their posts on Facebook, I decided it was time to visit. It’s just a 20 minutes drive or so, over by the large sports centre and swimming pool (maybe combine a visit?) It’s always open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm and is free entry! Although they do ask for a donation.

The main sign at the Inverness Botanic Gardens

The Gardens were opened back in 1993 by Prince Edward. They describe it as an “oasis of calm and beauty within walking distance of the bustling city centre” and it really is that.

We chose to go on one of the hottest days of the year, and it was glorious walking around the different gardens. I was really hoping to get some inspiration and ideas for our garden at Pinewood, and I did just that! We stopped many times and sat a while in the chairs and benches they have scattered all round, taking in the sights and smells of the wonderful flowers. With the good weather we’ve been having, the gardens were an explosion of colour with so many different plants to see. There are some large greenhouses which ranged from the tropical rainforests to the arid desert. In the Tropical House, there’s a waterfall which cascades into a pond filled with Koi carp. There are some spectacular bird of paradise plants in here, and many weird and interesting ones which we didn’t know! But everything has little labels and signs up, so you can see what you’re looking at. We loved the Cactus House, with its amazing variety of cacti of all shapes and sizes.

The plants in the Tropical House

One of the best things about the Gardens is the way it just meanders around. You find something new at every corner.  Secret gardens, breathtaking meadows, bug hotels (yes, bug hotels!), wooden sculptures tucked away, and walled areas. And my favourite: a very large vegetable garden – the Project Garden. This is where people with learning disabilities can learn to grown an amazing array of vegetables and learn about wildlife.

Vegetable garden at Inverness Botanic Gardens

Wonderful variety of flowers in the meadow

The Bug Hotel

And another highlight is that one of the greenhouses contains plants for sale. We walked away with 4 great new plants for the enclosed garden. There’s also a Cobbs Café too and you can sit outside with your hot drink and cake and enjoy the garden.

The Gardens were such a wonderful find – I wish we had been before, but we will be back!


Sea glass and dolphins

Back in October 2017, I posted ‘The Best Place to Spot Dolphins’. I went back on the weekend to combine a walk along the beach with sea glass hunting! I was accompanied by an expert from America as I had never been sea glass exploring before.

Sea glass is bottles, jars and glass that have unfortunately ended up in the sea, but have been worn by the waves into beautiful gems. Find a good pebbly beach to collect these beach gems – and there is no shortage around here!  What I like about it, is sea glass is made by man but refined by nature. The sea takes our pollution and turns it into amazing little pieces of treasure. It can take many years to do this. You can also find ceramics too.

There are many beaches in our area which are great for sea glass hunting.  We found our haul over on Rosemarkie Beach, by Chanonry Point.  My American expert was overwhelmed by her lode! She found some incredibly interesting pieces.

Our sea glass haul

While she was hunting the glass, I was hunting the dolphins with my camera. One hour after low tide is the best place to spot them. Chanonry Point is (officially) one of the best places in the world to spot Bottlenose dolphins. There has been lots of dolphin activity recently, so there was a large crowd gathering. I was only there for about 45 minutes and saw a lot! Sadly, I didn’t capture any full-body breaching, but I will be back!

Capturing the dolphins on film

Cruising up Loch Ness

Yesterday was a fantastic good weather day. The sun was out and it was in the low 20’s. Bright blue, cloudless skies. We decided to get on to the water and do a cruise of Loch Ness. There are a few options with Jacobite Cruises. From a 2 hour cruise through the Caledonian Canal and onto Loch Ness. To a 4 hour cruise which lets you off at Urquhart Castle. With the time we had, we decided to do the 2 hour Freedom Cruise.

The cruise departs from Clansman Harbour, which is only about a 20 minute drive from Pinewood, via Abriachan. This two hour adventure includes a 1 hour return cruise across Loch Ness. And then a hop ashore one hour visit of the castle. We did find though that one hour at the castle wasn’t quite enough. So, you may decide to do the Rebellion cruise, which gives you 2 hours there. Our cruise was £22 per person.

The Jacobite Cruise boat arriving at the Clansman Harbour

Setting off from the habour, the haar (a Scottish word for fog or mist) was settling across the loch.  It made for a very eerie cruise. But we broke through it out the other side and gained our first sighting of the castle. This time of year (May), the boat was full but there was plenty of room up and below deck. We were on the deck so we could easily walk around and get photos.

All aboard!

I’d been to Urquhart Castle before but it was great getting a view from the loch!

Arriving at Urquhart Castle

Whilst at the castle, I also jumped in on one of the free Guided Tours. It’s a 30 minute guided tour of the castle and its history.

The tour guide at Urquhart Castle

But be cautious if you do this during your 1 hour cruise stop here. You don’t get much time at the end to finish wandering around before you have to get back onboard.  So much sure you visit the Great Tower before the tour starts and not leave it til after the guided tour.

Docking at the castle

This is a great little trip out. They sell refreshments and tourist goodies on the boat.  And back at the harbour, you could visit the Clansman Hotel for a spot to eat, an ice cream, or a look around their shop.

Sadly, we didn’t see Nessie this time!





The veg garden is up and running!

I am pleased to say that after much hard work (and some help from a local landscape gardener), the veg garden and seating area is almost done! Now, to be honest, this will be private space for our own use going forward. But we plan to make the veg and fruit available for our guests. This will be in exchange for a wee donation which will go towards a local animal sanctuary.

The veg area

This area used to be very boggy, overgrown and uneven.  Much drainage work has gone in to make it less wet.  The digger has done a great job in levelling it off. And instead of being overgrown, it’s now a landscaped secure garden area. Secure to keep the deer out, and the dogs in while I’m working in there!

The new seating area in the enclosed garden

In the four veg plots, I am trying to grow a variety of veg. This include potatoes, onions, leeks, kohl rabi, different lettuces, celeriac, carrots, round cabbage, chard, broad bean, beetroot and spinach. It’s quite exposed and windy up on our hill so we’ll have to see how it goes.  The seating and surrounding area is still being planted but already has an array of herbaceous perennials, azaleas and heathers. We’ve got some honeysuckle and clematis along the pergola too, and some hardy roses. Fruit bushes include cranberry, redcurrant, blackberry and gooseberry.

From what used to be a mess, this is a beautiful area now, taking in those stunning views that we are so lucky to have.

The view from the new enclosed garden area




Going Green!

No, that’s not the garden or the landscape going green – we’re still covered in snow! This is Pinewood Steading being acknowledged by Green Tourism with a Silver Award. This demonstrates our commitment and efforts to building a green and sustainable business. Green Tourism is the largest and most established sustainable certification programme in the world. We went through a thorough process to get certified. Green Tourism exists to help tourism businesses ensure their long-term viability, both environmentally and economically. And to help holiday makers make clear ethical, sustainable and responsible decisions about where to holiday or visit. And this is just the start of our journey! We’ve been implementing lots of new ideas to help us, and our guests, help Pinewood Steading to be eco-friendly. We are very passionate about helping the environment we live in. Everything from minimising waste, to being efficient, and respecting our environment. Check out our new page for our green credentials.  Here’s to going for Gold!

Emma, the rescue dog, showcasing our Silver Award from Green Tourism