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Merman Cottage & Tigh Dubh: Stories from the Owners

Our new “Stories from the Owner” series helps shine the spotlight on the wonderful people who look after the homes on EmbraceScotland. All properties on our site are quality-assured and their owners are all members of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers. We asked them a few questions to understand more about how they care for guests and why they love owning a self-catering holiday cottage.

For this first interview, we speak to the people behind two great self-catering holiday cottages on EmbraceScotland, Tigh Dubh and Merman Cottage. A fascinating conversation about the couple’s love of the West Coast, as well as why they care about self-catering.

Tell us about how and when you decided to become hosts of a self-catering property in Scotland.

Back in 1998, we had been working in developing countries in Africa for a number of years, our eldest child had just reached school age and we decided to return to Europe. Our families were spread between Perth, the Isle of Mull and the Western Isles – Skye was pretty much in the middle. The children were used to a free-range life and we wanted that to continue. We managed to find a croft in a vibrant community in northwest Skye that had a couple of dilapidated stone buildings that were perfect for renovation and conversion to self-catering properties. The croft itself is 12 acres and provides the setting, from hill to shore. We have planted trees to create a woodland environment and walkways. We also have a small horticultural production unit and a few breeding cows for beef production, and we usually host a livery pony or two. When the children were young, we had our own. Helen has a bespoke pod on the croft where she offers shiatsu and reiki both to guests and locals.  The guests enjoy the setting and animals as well as the cottages.

What does operating a professional self-catering business in Scotland mean to you?

The business has provided part of a portfolio livelihood – we both have other work. The self-catering business has meant that we have been able to sustain the croft and to welcome guests from all over the world to a wee corner of Skye in a setting that we believe provides the opportunities for individuals, couples, and families to spend time out, be good mums and dads, reconnect with themselves in a quiet and safe space, experience life on a working croft, discover Skye. Providing a holiday space in renovated vernacular croft buildings gives the sense of a timeless place, while giving something back and sustaining a community and culture – all things we enjoy sharing with our guests. Comments in our visitors’ books over the years are testimony to the fact that we are providing a service that is appreciated. Return visits, positive online reviews and new friendships reinforce this sentiment. Our business contributes to the local economy and we are active members of the local community. These two things work hand in hand and we have developed a deep affiliation and love for our home, croft and community.

What do you see as the benefits of staying in a self-catering property, in the ever-changing world of tourism?

The style and character of our business is timeless. We have upgraded, improved and enhanced our properties over the years, but the basic service of a friendly welcome in a safe and “away from it all” environment – possibly a fantasy world for many – provides a sense of continuity and security.  It’s a place of discovery for younger people and somewhere that, for the older generation, reminds them of their earlier years. It’s a place for families and friends to be together and for children, a place to be free range.  Since reopening after the Covid pandemic, the need for wellbeing and rediscovering one’s place in nature has become even more crucial and our croft has been described as a sanctuary by many.

What is special about your region, to you?

Skye and the West Coast is on the edge of Scotland, the UK and Europe. It is not an easy place to make a living, it is challenging. We have real weather, life is not petty, the landscape is stunning, the people and culture resilient, full of humour and music and adaptable.

What aspect of your property do guests comment on the most? What makes them come and keeps them coming back?

The fact that the cottages are converted vernacular buildings, the quality and thought that went into the design, the special touches, being based on a croft, being able to walk to the pub and hear a music session, the facilities, being able to bring the family pet, Granny and the kids. Skye, the landscapes, the fact that we can tell folk how to avoid the crowds + find hidden gems and the peace and healing they experience through walking in our woods and for many, the shiatsu and reiki that Helen provides.

What do you enjoy most about operating a self-catering property?

The range of people that we meet, different families and cultures. Having lived and worked internationally, it has been great to experience the fact that the world comes to Skye. We enjoy having ideas on developing the business and making it better, and we also have just invested in a Roulotte (French-style gypsy caravan), which is now hidden in part of the woodland area on the croft and will provide the last word in glamping.

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?

We have had people get engaged here and we have held weddings. People have their birthdays, wedding anniversaries and we have arranged cakes, bottles of champagne and even rides on our quad bike. Helen provides shiatsu massage and reiki, her “Armadilla” treatment room is a space to be quiet and experience healing. For some, it has been a revelation. If we know a couple are coming on their honeymoon, we provide champagne.  Welcome tea trays include home-made flapjack. Our cottage folders provide information on all there is to see, do and experience on Skye from jumping off cliffs into the sea in a wet suit to experiencing high end fine dining. For kids (including grown up kids) the sleeping platform in Tigh Dubh, or the quirky right-angled built-in bunk beds in Merman, are unique. The aerial walkway leading from the second floor out to the croft behind in the Merman is an unusual and beautiful architectural feature. Wood burning stoves provide a sense of cosiness and a mix of traditional and contemporary art sets a standard, local pottery as the dinner service tends to wow people. 

What’s one thing you want visitors to your property to experience when in Scotland?

A sense of wellbeing, a feeling that they have had had an experience that reflects value for money and that Scotland is a place to come back to again, again and again, not only for its stunning beauty but also for its people.

How important is the local area and local community to the experience of your guests?

Immeasurable. Priceless.

Do you have a local story or a special local place that you tell your guests about?

We can help folk to find hidden gems that are not in the guidebooks, (including very near to our croft), try activities that they have never thought about, experience a music session in the local pub that occurs whether or not visitors are around. It is just what happens in Edinbane. Locally we are spoilt for places to send people to eat, art and craft galleries to meet local crafters and activities to try out.

What are your ambitions for your property or your business?

To have a reputation for a service and experience that reflects value for money and makes people want to stay longer, return, and tell their friends and family. To also sustain the croft and our lives in retirement, and maybe to pass on to the next generation.

Why should people stay at your property?

Two of the most common comments are “we don’t want to leave” and “we wish we could stay longer”.  When we hear these phrases, we know that we have hit the button. The cottages and Roulotte will provide an unforgettable holiday experience from both an accommodation perspective but also for providing an insight into a Scottish west coast community and way of life. If it is blowing a “hooley” and you stay indoors with a book, the thick walls and cosy fire will protect and warm you, if you come home exhausted having climbed a Cuillin the premises will provide a home from home. If guests are families that want to share a space yet at the same time have their own area Croft No. 3 Edinbane can accommodate them. If you are a “foodie” there are 3 internationally acclaimed restaurants within 1/2 an hour’s drive and several others that can support the inner being to a high standard.

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