Writer Eleanor Tucker, and her family of four, head north to St Andrews in search of a self-catering weekend with a touch of five-star luxury
The Steading at Morton of Pitmilly, near St Andrews
After years spent in cottages in the middle of nowhere, we reached the conclusion that Jake, 7, and Phoebe, 4, needed a bit more to entertain them than sheep in a nearby field. Self-catering is ideal when you’ve got children – so how do you get the benefits of a hotel with the freedom of looking after yourself?
Morton of Pitmilly ticks both boxes. It’s a countryside resort north of the border, just outside St Andrews, famous for its golf. So you don’t just get an easily accessible location, not far from the capital, Edinburgh – you also get breathtaking sea views and the nearby East Neuk of Fife's picturesque fishing villages. And at the resort itself, you can enjoy accommodation that’s perfect for luxury-loving parents, along with enough activities to mean that "We’re bored, Mummy" will not be something you hear once during your stay.
We travelled from Edinburgh, which, apart from some bad map reading on my part, couldn’t have been easier. Leaving after work on a Friday was perfect because with a drive time of just over an hour, we had time to stop en route for some provisions. If you don’t have time, you can order a hamper ahead and even request milk, rolls, a newspaper and eggs (from the resort’s own hens) to be delivered in the morning. See what I mean about five-star?
Arriving at about 7pm, we found a letter in the reception area with directions on how to get to The Rowans, our home-from-home for the weekend. All four of us were excited – the grown-ups because we knew a glass of wine and a weekend with no work was ahead, and Jake and Phoebe because they were beside themselves about exploring their bedrooms.
The Rowans offers upmarket but homely accommodation, with all the mod cons.
The resort itself is compact and easy to navigate so it didn’t take us long to find The Rowans, part of The Steading, which is a fairly new addition to Morton of Pitmilly. Added in 2012, the building is Tardis-like in its ability to contain such spacious boutique houses and not look too imposing from the outside, nestled amongst the Fife landscape.
Rushing in, the children discovered that they not only had their own bedrooms (which were twice as big as the ones they have at home), but they also had their own en suites – which meant their weekend was made in the first few seconds. While they put their toothbrushes by their own sinks, we grown-ups explored the spacious rooms, crisp white bed linen and stylish décor, nodding approval at each other.
Downstairs, a huge open plan living space opened on to a terrace area. The kitchen was packed to the gunnels with everything you could need, from an American style fridge as big as our kitchen at home to a separate wine fridge and a washer-dryer (perfect for after a muddy walk). There was no shortage of tech, either, with fast Wi-Fi, iPod docking stations and a DVD player. You can also stay in The Courtyard, part of the main resort building (where the pool is), which boasts four-star courtyard cottages with original stone walls and private outdoor seating areas.
All the bedrooms are en suite.
What we did
Morton of Pitmilly say that their activities are based on their own ‘wish list’ of what they’d like to do on holiday – and I think they’ve got that spot on, especially if you’re a family. While we adults are happy to lounge, Jake and Phoebe have a lot of energy, so need something to occupy them whether the weather is good, or not so good – which does happen when you’re in Scotland.
Our weekend was mainly sunny so on our first morning we took ourselves off for some wildlife spotting on one of the trails around the 150 acre farm, sighting pheasants, partridge, a heron, some deer and a badger (according to Jake, although nobody else saw it). We followed this up with the outdoor play area, and found it hard to persuade the children to come off the trampoline and have some lunch.
After lunch we had a swim in the pool, which isn’t huge, but as nobody else was in it at the same time as us, it felt like a perfect size for a family of four. We grown-ups even squeezed in a quick sauna each by doing some tag-team parenting. In the afternoon, it clouded over so we headed for the indoor activity centre and played tennis, air hockey and table football. There’s also a spa and gym in this part of the resort.
The next day, well rested from a night in our five-star beds, we decided to use The Rowans as a base for some exploring. Children are well catered for locally, and we spent a morning at the aquarium in St Andrews before a slightly windswept walk at Kingsbarns beach in the afternoon. Next time, we’ll head to Dundee Science Museum or the nearby Scotland’s Secret Bunker. Back at the resort, we had time for another swim before curling up in front of our widescreen TV. ‘Can we stay for ever?’ asked the kids.
Jake enjoying the play park.
What we ate
The advantage of self-catering when you have children is that you can choose exactly what you eat. We stocked up at M&S on the way to St Andrews from Edinburgh (there is a good Co-op in the town centre though), but we were also delighted to discover that ‘The Pantry’ in the main resort building not only stocks breakfast goodies, it also sells delicious frozen ready meals from COOK Food available along with garlic bread, rice, pasta, sauces and Macsween haggis.
On our second evening, after lunch at the excellent Pizza Express in St Andrews, we followed pasta with The Pantry’s Jannetta's of St Andrews ice cream to accompany the COOK Food sticky toffee pudding. On the last morning, we managed more of the farm’s fresh eggs for breakfast, then we all went home with our top buttons undone, but very happy.
A kitchen fit for Nigella!
Morton of Pitmilly has an amazing ability to make you feel totally at home, and completely away from it all at the same time.The resort is secluded and safe but there is never a shortage of things to do. Even on the wettest, coldest day of the year, you could enjoy a game of tennis, a massage or just cosy up in your luxurious living room, and the whole family would be happy.
The surrounding area really makes this destination extra special too. The Morton of Pitmilly website has ‘101 Things To Do’ – and it’s no idle boast. This is the kind of place you could come back to every year and never have the same holiday twice. And as the kids get older, the things they will enjoy will change (although that trampoline in the playpark will always be a firm favourite).
There are plenty of activities on site, including a swimming pool, sauna and spa.
Eat out on your terrace if the Scottish weather allows.
You can pick up freshly-laid eggs at the 150-acre farm.
Accommodation at Morton of Pitmilly starts from £375 for 3 nights for a property sleeping four people. For more information, visit www.pitmilly.co.uk. You can check availability and book online, or alternatively call 01334 880466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For current special offers, visit www.pitmilly.co.uk/information/special-offers/
Go golfing at Lands of Turnberry in Scotland's Ayrshire: family travel review
Find out more about Gleneagles, winner of best UK family hotel at the Junior Design Awards 2014
Enjoy five-star self-catering on the Cornish coast at Gwel an Mor's The Residence: family travel review