This edition of our ‘Stories from the Owners’ series sees us hear from Kim and Fraser Proven, the owners of Briar Cottages, two cosy self-catering lodges on the shores of the magical Loch Earn. Kim and Fraser absolutely love giving visitors unforgettable memories, so read below and learn what goes into the Briar Cottages experience.
Tell us about how and when you decided to become host(s) of a self-catering property in Scotland.
In 2007, Fraser survived a quadruple heart bypass. We needed a change of lifestyle in a beautiful environment away from Edinburgh, where we could work and support each other, spend precious time together and be more in control of our skills, activities, health and direction. Our backgrounds in customer service, sales and marketing, our interest in people and socialising, plus a combined lifetime of travel, hobbies and stories to tell, made hosting a self-catering business the perfect choice.
What does operating a self-catering home-from-home in Scotland mean to you?
Hosting a self-catering home-from-home together in a beautiful location gives us a sense of freedom and happiness. We have a rewarding way of life in an idyllic setting that we share with people from all over the world. We meet and welcome guests and feel responsible for ensuring that they have an enjoyable, memorable and safe experience at Briar Cottages, as well as other places that they visit whilst here. We have been gifted the responsibility for a number of first-time visitors to Scotland from national and international guests and have taken that opportunity very seriously. We love the thought of previous guests from Malaysia, Israel and Saudi Arabia making plans to come to the UK for the first time and finding Briar Cottages in Central Scotland.
Wow! So, for guests, what do you see as the benefits of staying in a self-catering property, in the ever-changing world of tourism?
Aside from recent social distancing benefits, staying in a self-catering property means that you can relax in a homely environment with a change of scene from your normal routine. You can make choices according to how you feel. Eat in, out, or both. Have your favourite foods delivered by supermarkets, fast food companies, chefs and hotels. Choose a location where the family pet can come too. Personalise temperature controls. Park cars and boat trailers. Choose to go out for activities, sight-seeing and events knowing that you don’t have to if you don’t feel like it or if the weather changes. You can relax inside with space, magazines, games and videos and home-from-home comforts like a wood burner, microwave or coffee machine. You can pack your car with as many items as you think you will need even if you don’t. There are also the advantages of enjoying private gardens.
What is special about your region, to you?
We call Loch Earn the brooch that pins the rest of Scotland together. Guests often comment on the friendliness of Lochearnhead and neighbouring village residents and how safe they feel here and that is special to us. Living on the banks of a beautiful loch is extra special. We enjoy the daily views and can offers guests the opportunity to fish, swim, paddle, and sail as well as watch wildlife like otters and ospreys. People enjoy observing the skies, moonscapes, sea planes and regattas. We are absolutely steeped in history here with Crannogs, neolithic chambers, Saints and Kirks, General Wades road building, Glen Ogle viaduct and so much more. The landscape is naturally beautiful and the light on the loch, as impressive as when Queen Victoria wrote about it.
We can boast creative chefs like Tom Lewis and delicious food options in the area. Local cafes like The Broch offer cakes that are genuinely made by hand as is Airlie Ice Cream. We are proud to have the Falls of Dochart Salmon smokery in neighbouring Killin. The award-winning BLiSS audio art installation trail is unique and links 4 villages with two installations in our garden. There are many outdoor activities at hand with NCR7 off road walking and cycle paths, Munros, award winning St Fillans golf course, The Loch Earn Wakeschool for watersports and Roll Outdoors ebike hire. Briar Cottages is in Scotland’s first national park. We offer a location where roads lead to many other major cities, towns, lochs, restaurants, and attractions that we can guide people towards, travelling in every direction from “the brooch”.
What aspect of your property do guests comment on the most? What makes them come and keeps them coming back?
We never tire of the complimentary comments that Fraser and I receive from guests reviewing Briar Cottages across various media platforms. Guests mention enjoying our company and stories. They praise our continuous improvements, standards of cleanliness, attention to detail and willingness to assist in any way that we can whilst giving them space. This makes our efforts worth every second. We talk to guests on social media as much as family. Many respond to every blog or story update that we put out. We attract 68% repeat business in Briar Steading and 45% in pet friendly Little Briar. Next generations have visited following their parents’ reviews. Most people are very complimentary about the naturally beautiful ever changing panoramic views over and around Loch Earn in all seasons.
The regularly mowed lawns (“known as Frasers’ stripes”), Stan the Stag and Blawn Wi the Wind BLiSS trail sculptures plus a bird house by Kev Paxton all light up at night and attract special mentions. We received many messages when they were spotted on TV weather channels and a travel programme. Briar Steading guests enjoy the space, en-suite facilities, The Scottish artist prints, Netflix, and the wood burner. Little Briar guests like the fenced patio for security, the new awning, the new kitchen, matching dog bowls, toys, the water hose, the acre run around and splash in stream for fetch and sniff games as well as the style leading to the old railway path. Humans and pets love the access to Loch Earn for swimming and other sports. Guests can also sit for hours relaxing and watching the water.
What do you enjoy most about operating a self-catering property?
Self-catering is all about the people that visit. In addition to the welcome, we enjoy having informal chats or a gathering to share stories. Nothing is set. We prefer to listen to individuals and adapt to the small things that make people’s holiday experience better, whether that leads to travel and restaurant advice, a special occasion bottle of fizz, a cup of loch-side tea, or a whisky by our fire in winter exchanging stories. We have even been known to have a sing song with Fraser on the “moothie” or when explaining what a real Ceilidh is. We also enjoy fun board meetings by the stream or loch to decide on our next projects and additions to the continuous improvement list.
Do you ever think about the memories that are made in your property? If so, how do you prepare your property for guests to have an unforgettable experience?
There are many photo vantage points at Briar Cottages. Some guests love to capture the view from their cottage to take home as a reminder or even to paint. Stan the Stag in the loch garden is a firm favourite to pose with. He is a personality at Briar Cottage and people ask after “him”. He poses as Rudolph in winter months. We have witnessed a number of weddings in our loch garden as well as wedding proposals and engagement photos under the giant thistle sculpture. Guests also enjoy capturing family and pet moments jumping into the water, catching fish, or first-time experiences at paddleboarding and water skiing. The top of the garden at the rear and Norman’s View by the stream is popular with pets as well as their owners who enjoy drinking their early morning coffee their or having a sun downer. Guests tell us that the top of the garden view keeps them going until the next visit.
What’s one thing you want visitors to your property to experience when in Scotland?
The BLS Highland Games in Lochearnhead is the perfect place to experience a traditional games that is exceptionally well run by a committee of dedicated locals. There you will experience the best of hospitality, storytelling, piping, highland dancing, strong man events, a tug-o-war between MacGregors and MacLarens, the clan chief hospitality tents, folk music, and a ceilidh at the finish. Also, fun stalls and catering, fun events for locals and visitors, from toddlers to spinsters whether short sprints or tossing the sheath. You will be made to feel most welcome from beginning to end and leave with more friends than you came with.
How important is the local area and local community to the experience of your guests?
Our four-village local community is very important. Guests need to feel welcome, wanted, and safe. That is why we have engaged and networked with our local tourism group LETi that Kim has chaired for 11 years getting to know members in accommodation, travel, food and drink and more. We have contributed stories to the BLS village newspaper for years and joined in community events helping and attending. Local residents are excellent ambassadors on things to do and places to eat. They will talk to our guests and answer any questions if asked, whether they meet in village shops or on the Lochearnhead Facebook community site. We know the experts in wildlife, water sports, golf and other activities and can assist with questions or call in favours with our contacts, reciprocating as needed. Some guests walk to the local shop and meet residents there or on the way. They love the walk and chat more than they need a newspaper or milk.
Do you have a local story or a special local place that you tell your guests about?
There are so many stories to tell around here. So, we are glad that many guests come back for more. Stories of our b-listed thatched cottage – Briar Cottage – can be found in books and pamphlets. 200 years of the same family of MacLarens attracts clan diaspora to visit. We can talk about the history, tenants and past owners of our house and show guests the original Scots pine cruck ceiling.
We also like the story of Each Uisge the shape shifting water spirit that was chased by Fingal the Giant from Killin into Loch Earn. The most dangerous creature in Britain manifests as a horse, a donkey or a handsome man. If you see a horse by the loch… don’t try to get on. The horse will become adhesive, and you won’t be able to get off. It will ride you into the deepest part of the loch. Beware handsome men around Loch Earn. If a man has water weeds in his hair, he is likely to be Each Uisge.
We also tell guests about the Seiching Tide, Loch of The Irish (Loch Earn), The Crannogs, Neish Island, Rob Roy, The reverend Robert Kirke, The Clach Dhearg red charm stone at Ardvorlich, Fairies and The Ghost of Edinample – the castle that sits across the water from Briar Cottages. We also name drop A list stars and Royal Family that have been spotted in the area over the years! Never when they are here though. The link between a Monty Python star and The Falls of Dochart is an interesting story!
What is the future for Briar Cottages?
Continuous improvement has been part of our journey for 14 years. We have projects in planning and small items to upgrade. Briar Cottage Lido has been started – improving the fishing area to the left of the jetty. Guests always ask what we have been working on. Electric garage doors are on order to replace the wooden ones that are beginning to rot. A smart tv will enable more guests to bring their own TV codes and sticks to Little Briar. Outdoor hooks for wetsuits was suggested recently which will aid outdoor swimmers and paddle boarders that have been booking in response to recent marketing.
Longer term we have to consider additional help for the cottages and gardens in order to manage the property to the standards that people review us on and consider improving the booking process without losing the personal booking service that has attracted so much repeat business. Time and active years together are precious, so it may be prudent to consider time saving and picturesque video blogging over written blogs and we have to remember to take relaxing breaks ourselves.
And finally, why should people stay at Briar Cottages?
There is no such thing as perfect. There is only perfect for you. We are lucky to attract many guests who want to return to Briar Cottages, sometimes in the same year. We aim to be welcoming hosts that make guests feel at home around Briar Cottages whether they choose our spacious luxury Steading cottage or compact pet friendly Little Briar. The south facing views do stay with people for a long time regardless of the season that they visit, whether their favourite view is from their chosen cottage, the top of the garden or the loch garden.
The cottages offer space and home comforts. We show guests to the cottages and demonstrate everything that is needed as well as fire and other safety reassurances. We make ourselves available and encourage guests to ask questions or share any concerns whether by text, phone, email or a knock at our front door. There is no such thing as disturbing us. We would rather be given the opportunity to assist. Briar Cottages offers a central location for touring, 2 hotels within 200m, landscaped gardens, an abundance of wildlife and activities, a choice of places to eat, company if you want it, exceptional views and friendly helpful villagers and neighbours. We are knowledgeable hosts with an active interest and passion for tourism in Scotland. Guests often off load their concerns leaving worries and life’s routine behind when immersed in Briar Cottages. They leave feeling calmer, rested, happier and even younger.