The Coach House, Durhamhill, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
If you want a little luxury that doesn't cost the earth, the Coach House is an excellent option in the beautiful region of Dumfries and Galloway. It's a large house – consisting of two 'wings', east and west – just outside the tiny, picturesque village of Kirkpatrick Durham, and a short drive from Castle Douglas.
Hosts Juliet and Alan offer a warm welcome – and are close at hand to answer any questions about the cottage or the area.
We stayed in the east wing – an ingenious building designed by renowned eco-architect Sam Booth, with a grass-roofed extension that's ablaze with colourful wildflowers in spring and summer.
Inside is a spacious, stylish, open plan living/kitchen/dining room with wooden floors, and a huge oak table that seats up to 16 (more about the table later). There are floor-to-ceiling sliding doors all along one wall, creating a light and bright room that feels as though it's part of, rather than shut off from, the surrounding landscape.
In the living area there's plenty of space for everyone to spread out and relax. Comfortable seating includes leather sofas and a long, built-in bench with brightly coloured cushions. Underneath this bench, drawers open to reveal dozens of DVDs and board games to keep the kids happy if rainy weather sets in.
The Coach House is sustainable and eco-friendly. A wind turbine produces electricity, and underfloor heating and hot water are provided via an air exchange heating system. A woodburning stove keeps the house extra warm and cosy during the winter months and there are plenty of logs, stored in a wood store – with its own little grass roof – just outside the front door.
The property and much of the surrounding area is managed with minimal use of chemicals. Juliet suffers from multi-chemical sensitivity, and the house has been furnished with this in mind – there are no carpets and the mattresses are organic. Non-fragranced, environmentally-friendly cleaning products, such as Ecover, are used.
Juliet and Alan are aware of the limitations a condition like multi-chemical sensitivity can have on people when they want to travel. They are very accommodating towards people with any other illnesses or disabilities – and with notice they will make every effort to make the property suitable and help all visitors to have a great holiday.
What's really fantastic about The Coach House is its versatility. A secret door downstairs swings open to allow access to the west wing – effectively combining both parts of the house to create a massive space that sleeps up to 14 people.
There are two bedrooms on the ground floor. One has a super-kingsize bed (can be converted to twin beds), an en-suite shower room and patio doors leading out to a pretty courtyard. The other is a small double, with super views across to the Galloway hills.
There's also a smart, modern bathroom. Here, the bath is filled in a unique way – water pours out of a hole in the ceiling! Dimmable mood lighting along the bottom of the bath creates a calming ambience – light a scented candle or two and put on some soothing music, and you have your own personal spa.
Upstairs is another lovely bedroom with kingsize bed, beamed ceiling and en-suite wet room – like the downstairs bedrooms it is decorated in restful, neutral shades. Both the shower here and the shower in the downstairs en-suite are rain showers – expect a powerful and relaxing soaking.
A flat-screen TV with surround sound provides entertainment – but if you want a true cinematic experience, head to the games room. This is another converted coach house, and contains a projector and large screen for watching movies. There's even a little kitchen, with microwave for making popcorn. A woodburner will keep you warm on chilly evenings and a table tennis set and table football are also on hand for anyone who wants to burn off a little energy.
The garden is also a great place for stargazing. The night skies around the region are well known for being some of the clearest in the UK, thanks to minimal light pollution. For even more spectacular skies, head into the Galloway Forest Park – the UK's first Dark Sky Park, where planets and more than 7,000 stars are visible with the naked eye, with a clear and bright Milky Way arching across the sky.
Galloway Forest Park is around a 20-minute drive away – and is a fantastic place to visit during the day too. Take a scenic hike, visit the Red Deer Range, look out for wild goats on the hillsides and stop by at Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre for coffee and cake.
Wildlife abounds in the region: look out for red squirrels, red deer, otters and osprey. Or walk to the bird hides at the RSPB's Ken-Dee Marshes nature reserve for a glimpse of the elusive willow tit.
The area is also famous for large numbers of red kites. The waymarked Galloway Kite Trail takes you on a 24-mile circuit, offering plenty of opportunities to see these spectacular birds of prey.
Back at Duramhill, one of the highlights of our stay was meeting the resident llamas. Juliet invited us to feed them one morning, and entertained us with hilarious stories about the antics of these wonderful creatures. We were thrilled to be able to take Annie the llama for a walk around the village – this is an activity that will delight young children, teenagers and adults alike.
The Coach House is a gorgeous place to come home to after a day spent exploring this beautiful, unspoilt and little-visited region. The warm welcome, huge range of activities available – and, of course the llamas – make this a brilliant place for a family holiday or fun getaway for a group of friends.
This makes the Coach House ideal for two families that want to holiday together while retaining their own space and independence. It's also a great place to celebrate a special occasion – such as Golden Weddings or significant birthdays – with extended family. Large groups of friends, who want to enjoy a weekend away together in beautiful, luxurious surroundings, are also well-catered for.
The large dining table in the east wing means that everyone can eat together when desired – but there's a full kitchen and living area (as well as three bedrooms and three bathrooms) in the west wing too.
The outside space includes a terrace with large table for al fresco dining. Steps lead up to a lawned garden with a circular seating area – from this vantage point you can look down on the wildflower roof and see that it actually flows on from the garden. This is a boon for wildlife – the green roof is not just an isolated pocket of habitat, but is connected to the surrounding fields and meadows.