I love glamping. I mean, really. It’s camping with benefits. No strings attached.
So imagine when we discover some new timber glamping pods just over an hour from home. And then imagine when a friend says “shall we all go? For the weekend?”. Whoop whoop! A cheeky weekend away, going free range, with the girls.
Howe of Torbeg is just five or so miles outside Ballater, the heart of Royal Deeside. It offers four spanking new timber pods and is set on the hillside looking down Glen Gairn. The pods each sleep two or more, but frankly you can see the unit sizes for yourself on the website. It’s just maths. Hey, there are lots of accurate, enticing photos too. So you don’t need more from me?
Besides, I want to talk about those benefits.
Home for two nights was a lovely timber “pod” set with two futons all made up with cosy duvets and plump pillows. So clean and fresh. And warm. So inviting. I was not going have any bother bedding down for the night. There is even a heater for the cooler days and evenings – we didn’t need that though. The sun was blazing. A couple of mugs, a tea tray, even a place for your muddy boots. Hooks for your clothes. And every pod with it’s own lovely view. There is just something really relaxing about the simplicity of it all, yet every detail was well considered.
I have been “glamping” at other commercial sites where the fire pit is quite literally a wee hole in the ground surrounded by a few stones. Not here. We are talking seriously posh Kadai style fire bowls. Re-position-able (is there even such a word?) if you want a different aspect. Complete with griddle and tongs for the old barby. They light super quick, and there is ample room for lots of logs and a sing song round the fire later on. Relax, we didn’t sing. But it was hard to tear yourself away.
Okay, I know what you are thinking. She is dredging the barrel here. Struggling to find things to say. Because what can be so great about a teapot? Well, everything, when it’s a teapot which sits directly on your fire bowl. You have got to love a dual purpose accessory. It heats and brews, all at the same time. And stays warm too. Imagine, tea on demand, any time of day. Just keep pouring…
Now I don’t know about you but I have experienced a whole range of toilet and shower facilities while camping. Let’s begin with those plastic self contained toilet units you might get at fairs and festivals. You often seen by the roadside at roadworks these days too. In the interests of ‘Elf and welfare’ for the workers. They arrive all clean and fresh – the loos that is, not the workers. But by the time you leave your festival, you would much sooner find a bush than put your feet anywhere near them. Let alone your bottom (shudders).
Then there are the luxury units on wheels. Proper flushing loos with service pipes to take your poop away and everything. You know the ones. Where the women’s queue is always a mile long. As for the men’s? Well they just don’t queue do they. They simply all muck in together and get the job done. So to speak.
And now it’s time to talk showers. The basic camping wash is a flannel and a bowl in the confines of your own tent. I mean. that’s really wild, right? Or then there are the fairs which cater for the masses with a portacabin on wheels fitted out with several shower cubicles. Yes, I have seen you. Yes you, with your bed hair. Lining up in your jammies and wellies, washbag and towel tucked under your arm, waiting and waiting while someone enjoys a 15 minute soak. Or maybe you are one of those who sets their alarm for 6:30am to beat the queue. Me? I used to squeeze into a cupboard in the caravan and do a quick sponge down. Now, I need you to delete that image right now.
Of course there are also the commercial camping sites with great fixed facilities. Row upon row of doors. All fresh and clean. With mirrors and all! Communal face washing and tooth brushing at its best.
I know, I know, I digress. You see, at Howe of Torbeg you get none of the above. Oh no. You get your own bathroom – almost! Actually there are two, super sized, shower rooms. The first thing you notice is they are incredibly clean. The second thing you notice is, they are warm. Morning and night. A shower, basin, loo and ample space in between means you can shower and dress in comfort. No need to do the dressing hop – the one that sees you holding on leg in the air in a vain attempt to keep your pants off the wet muddy floor. Nope, you need not worry about that floor. It is frankly, big enough for the whole family to find a dry spot to dress. With hot water on demand you really do feel at home. But hey, don’t linger in there. We all want a shot.
I couldn’t write about Howe of Torbeg and not mention the office-come-shop. It’s a shed. In the nicest possible way of course. Stocked with a small but perfectly formed selection of gorgeous things. Posh teas – perfect to brew in those posh fire top teapots. Posh soft drinks. Everything you need to get your fire pit going. Charcoal for cooking, kindlers and logs too. Plus lots of local information as well. It’s officially open twice a day and if you need to raise someones attention there is a bell which connects to the house.
Washing Up and Recycling
In our house there are the two jobs we both try to avoid. Washing up and dealing with the recycling. It’s a messy job. Well guess what? At Howe of Torbeg they have got that well and truly covered too. Attached to the shower block you will find “his and hers” sinks and drainers. All clean and tidy – there was even washing up liquid – in fact dare I say washing up was a real social pleasure. And then there is a selection of recycling bins all neatly set out – means you can do your bit for the environment too.
The Sound of Silence
Now we have covered the house keeping, it’s time to talk about the surroundings. Think of this as “things to do”.
The first thing that struck me was the peace and quiet. So quiet you could actually hear the river below. And the birds. Watching the heron as it flew majestically down the glen, I just wanted to stand on that hillside forever and breathe it all in. Armed with my camera and a notebook I was actually pretty happy to do just that. It’s a little bit of a writer’s paradise.
Walks From Your Door
This part of Scotland has so much to offer walkers. Whether it’s a circuit of Loch Muick or a climb of Lochnagar. Or you can simply walk the six or so miles from your pod, over the river, over the hill and into Ballater. You could get lunch there and take the walk back if you are looking for a good distance with a leisurely feed in between. Or pop a set of wheels in Ballater itself and can have the best of both worlds. Walk, eat, shop, and not have to carry your purchases back.
In fact, the rest of our party (three) decided to do just that and declared it a stunning walk. With views back to the house and pods, bird life, the river below, the blossom and the fresh green. Ewes with their young lambs. Am I painting a good enough picture. Then imagine your final mile or so brings you right past someone’s plant sale. A garden crammed full of pots for sale. So you can guess where the other three were heading on our way back -once they had collected their wheels (my wheels) that is.
When I arrived I had no real plans for the weekend. That was until I read the “what’s on” blackboard. Conveniently situated by the “shed” so it captures your imagination as soon as you arrive. This weekend we had a great choice – Ballater Farmers Market, a foody event at Lochnagar distillery of a plant fair at the Seed Box in Aboyne. My friends chose to walk over that hill to the farmers market. I, meanwhile, opted to be a tourist for the day and drove in. You could call it a pincer movement on Ballater.
As soon as I arrived in the village I could feel the holiday atmosphere. At 10 am it was still not terribly busy (which made it super handy for parking), but had a real buzz about it. The church square was already set with stalls. Fresh fish and asparagus in abundance. A huge queue at the fresh bread stall. That will be tonight’s tea sorted then. Meanwhile lunch was a delicious burger topped with pickles and wild garlic mayo courtesy of Fife Arms from Braemar who had gone “mobile” for the day. There was even a wee box of picnic rugs which you were welcome to borrow while you sat out in the glorious sunshine. I mean, where else in the world would you find that?
The shops in Ballater too are just super. Friendly service and worth a browse with a couple of affordable yet independent boutiques too. Even the Clan charity shop was stashed with quality clothing just desperate for new homes and wardrobes. And no end of places to get coffee. Don’t forget the ice cream parlour either. I spent the day snap snapping away, in true tourist fashion. Hey. I am on my holidays…
Accept your hosts’ well thought out extras with gratitude. Because there truly isn’t much, if anything, they haven’t thought of, when it comes to glamping. We were handed citronella tealights, hand towels, a couple of mugs. So that’s your basics covered if you like to travel light. Nicole and Iain really go “all out” to make you feel incredibly welcome. They have lots of local knowledge too. So should you tire of simply sitting, soaking in this beautiful countryside (hmm doubtful) you can take full advantage of the area while you are there.
Another one for the memories box
It’s fair to say, Howe of Torbeg has really captured my heart. I have loved this part of the world for many many years. Memories of one of my first holidays in Scotland and now, always a favourite “go to” when a spare day arises. But now I have discovered an affordable, yet pretty fabulous, way to stay here a little longer – instead of passing through. A place to rest your head which offers relative seclusion yet handy for village life if you crave it.
And as for that fresh fish and local asparagus? We baked it in foil on the fire bowl while the asparagus was tossed in butter and fried in the pan. Supper was declared an outright winner. In fact glamping was declared a winner!
A return trip is on most definitely on my list….
Howe of Torbeg can be found on the A939 at Glen Cairn, about five miles outside of Ballater. Visit https://www.howeoftorbeg.co.uk/ for more information.