Unigar Cottages, Orkney, Scotland
Unigar Cottages are three luxury cottages, situated on Mainland, Orkney, on a 550-acre-farm.
We stayed in Gairsty – and from the moment we stepped through the front door we knew we were going to have an extremely comfortable holiday.
Gairsty has three spacious bedrooms (one en-suite double and two twins) that are beautifully decorated with colourful accessories and crisp, white bedlinen.
In the immaculate, gleaming bathrooms we found fluffy white towels and complimentary handwash made by Orkney Soap.
The kitchen was also spotless and spacious, and had the most fantastic American-style fridge-freezer, complete with crushed ice and filtered water dispenser. We found everything we needed in the kitchen cupboards – it was one of the best-equipped holiday cottage kitchens we have come across.
Our favourite room, though, was the sun room. This opened out from the kitchen and featured comfy chairs, with walls of windows offering sweeping views across the island. It was the perfect place to relax in the evening with a glass of wine, or sit with a morning coffee.
In fact we loved the sun room so much that we didn't sit in the living room at all – although this was also a pleasant and stylish room, with comfortable leather sofas and flatscreen tv.
Unigar Cottages are run using eco-friendly practices to minimise environmental impact – and they have been awarded a Green Tourism Gold Award. The cottages have been built to be as sustainable as possible, with a 5kw wind turbine and air to water heating system – reducing use of bought-in electricity and reliance on fossil fuels.
This does not impact at all on the comfort of the cottages – efficient underfloor heating keeps them cosy in cold weather, and can be controlled by individual thermostats in each room. Eco-friendly Enjo cleaning products are used to clean the cottages on changeover days.
There are also LED lights fitted throughout, and energy efficient appliances. Guests are encouraged to recycle as much waste as possible – and this has been made very easy to do, with recycling bins for glass, paper, tins and plastic placed conveniently near the cottages.
The environmental policy at Unigar Cottages also aims to benefit the wildlife of the area. Some local wildlife – such as brown hare, great yellow bumblebee (believed to be the UK's most endangered bumblebee) and lapwing – is of national or international importance.
Trees are being planted around the grounds, and wilder areas are being left so that wildlife can thrive.
Wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers will love Gairsty. During our stay we were treated to the sight of a short-eared owl hunting along one of the wild areas near the cottage – the owl returned on three separate occasions, and it was one of the best owl sightings we have ever had.
We also saw lots of other birds around the cottage grounds, including swallows, wagtails and starlings. And on an evening walk along the lane from the cottage, we heard the distinctive, rasping call of a corncrake. Found only in a few pockets of the British Isles – including the Orkneys – the corncrake is a rare relation of the moorhen, and has a red UK conservation status.
We also saw a brown hare in a field next to the cottage. Much of this wildlife can be viewed from the comfort of the sun room – so it's a good idea to take a pair of binoculars on holiday!
Communicating green practices and encouraging guests to reduce their impact on the environment during their stay is an important part of the ethos at Unigar Cottages.
As well as recycling, guests are asked to further reduce their impact on the planet by turning off appliances and lights when not in use, and support the local community and economy through purchasing locally produced food, drinks and handmade crafts.
And as Orkney has a fantastic wealth of quality local food and drink to choose from, this is particularly easy!
We were welcomed at Gairsty with a wonderful hamper containing some of this delicious produce: Orkney fudge, beer from the Orkney Brewery, oatcakes, shortbread, locally baked bread, jam and honey.
We particularly enjoyed the beer – and were delighted to discover that the brewery itself was just along the road from the cottage, so we were able to stock up for our week's stay.
Our favourite Orkney Brewery beer was Corncrake. Named after the rare and elusive birds that live in the area, a donation from the sale of each bottle goes to support the RSPB's Corncrake conservation work in Scotland – as good an excuse as any to enjoy a few bottles during our holiday!
There are spectacular beaches nearby – including Skail Beach, a glorious sweep of deserted, golden sand that's only a mile or so from the cottages.
And the two main towns of Orkney Mainland – bustling Kirkwall with its wide selection of shops and restaurants, and atmospheric, historic Stromness – are also within easy reach.
If you're interested in a holiday that includes remarkable wildlife, empty beaches and fascinating historic sites – whilst staying in luxurious eco-friendly accommodation – we can highly recommend Unigar Cottages.