Sandi Toksvig visits remote Scottish holiday homes

The delights of remote Scottish holiday homes are featuring in a new Channel 4 series.

In Channel 4’s new series of Extraordinary Escapes (which started yesterday, Thursday February 17 at 9pm), Sandi Toksvig explores the delights of the UK’s wildest, most remote and beautifully designed holiday houses.

Among the hideaways revealed by national treasure, Sandi, will be the private Scottish island of Eilean Shona – the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s Neverland – with its magnificent former hunting lodge and nine cosy cottages.

To coincide with the new TV programme, Vanessa Branson, the owner and custodian of Eilean Shona, reveals a dazzling new colour palette on the interiors of three of the crofters’ cottages, bringing new warmth and character to each of these rental properties.

Sandi’s trip to Eilean Shona off Scotland’s stunning west coast will be aired in the coming weeks, with trips to Scotland in episodes four and five.  However all six programmes will be available to watch on All4 now. An accompanying book entitled Extraordinary Escapes – Unique & Wild Getaways Across the UK by Gemma Bowes (£20) has been simultaneously published by Quadrille Publishing.

Eilean Shona House

Joining Sandi on her trip to Eilean Shona in episode five was Philippa Perry, best known for Grayson’s Art Club and, together, they stayed in the Old Schoolhouse on the island’s remote north shore. Once the community’s school, it lay derelict for many decades before being transformed by Vanessa into a romantic two-bedroom (gas-lit and off-grid) idyll.

It was only through chance correspondence with the prodigious film director/producer Joel Coen that she came to appreciate that the Old Schoolhouse was a design classic by the acclaimed Highlands architect, Alexander Ross, and worthy of painstaking renovation.

While staying at the Old Schoolhouse, Sandi and Philippa turned back the clock to a slower, gentler pace of life and explored some of the island’s 1,300 acres of pristine moorland, wild open hills, secluded paths and woodland. In the book of the series, Gemma Bowes, describes Shona perfectly as ‘Total seclusion and remoteness with a touch of glamour and a wink of fun.’

The three cottages that have just been newly refurbished and redecorated in vibrant colours in time for the TV series are:

Red Cottage – Set high above the lily pond some 15 minutes’ walk from the landing pontoon, this cosy one bedroom croft comes with large picture windows framing wonderful views over Loch Moidart, as well as a picnic table and campfire pit. The visitors’ book is filled with nature sightings including many accounts of the visiting Pine Martens. Price: One week’s rental costs £1000. Two dogs permitted with a cleaning supplement.

South Shore Cottage – Standing high and quite alone on the hillside facing west, guests are treated to astonishing views across the channel to the surrounding islands. Guests can ‘dine out’ on stories from this one bedroom cottage for months to come: cooking is by gas bottles, lighting is by gas lamps, heating and hot water is run from the stove, and the water (sometimes peaty) is from a private spring. Price: One week’s rental costs £1200. Two dogs permitted with a cleaning supplement.

Tioram Cottage – Set right on the shorefront of Loch Moidart, with its own private bay, fire pit and picnic table, this is an elegant two storey-stone-built house for 8 people, that has been extensively modernised and furnished to a high standard. The large, sea facing windows have stunning views of the Loch and Tioram Castle. Price: One week’s rental costs £2500. Two dogs permitted with a cleaning supplement.

Sandi Toksvig and Philippa Perry stayed in the Old Schoolhouse

Pictured are Sandi and Philippa relaxing in Eilean Shona House, the magnificent former hunting lodge which sleeps 16 people in nine bedrooms. Available for exclusive hire, it comes complete with a live-in cook and morning housekeeper, all meals, and use of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. Adorning the walls is an outstanding collection of contemporary art including, coincidentally, pieces from Philippa’s husband, Grayson Perry. Price: £14,000 for three nights’ all-inclusive, or £18,000 for six nights’ all-inclusive.

Cottage and house guests spend the days building camp fires, cooking fresh mussels, crabbing, painting, picnicing, or discovering the island’s many coastal and woodland paths. For those after something a little more active, Shona’s coastline is ideal for wild swimming, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and generally messing about on boats. All the cottages are within walking distance of Shoe Bay, Eilean Shona’s own secluded silver sand beach.
Eilean Shona is a wildlife spotter’s dream, with more animal than human life on the island. It boasts its own ‘Big Five’, with seals, sea eagles, sea otters, red squirrels, and pine martens commonly seen.

All the cottages are within reach of the former village hall, which now acts as the island’s social hub, with its wi-fi/phone signal, ping pong table, reference books and board games. Once a week it plays host to ‘pub night’. The island shop stocks a few essentials and some delicious frozen homemade fish pies and venison casseroles.

More information from Eilean Shona can be found at Rental includes Egyptian cotton bedlinen, towels, coal and return transfers by RIB to the mainland.

You can watch all episodes of the show HERE.