Scotland’s rustic outdoor appeal is world famous. Hikers, mountain bikers, mountain climbers, intrepid walkers, adventure seekers and city escapers have journeyed to these hills and mountains for longer than anyone can remember. And just as famous is the Scottish hospitality, as warm and welcoming as the hills are challenging.
Marthrown of Mabie began as a mountain biking bunkhouse, offering accommodation for brave cyclists eager to rest their aching calves and backsides. Mountain biking in Scotland is a wonderful but daunting challenge, and the discovery of a place for them to store their kit and get some rest was a welcomed sight. The site has matured since then, but co-founder Pam Hazlehurst explains that was really where it all started.
“Mountain bikers enjoyed it so much that they returned with their friends and family,” she explains, “So we erected additional accommodation units and grew from there.”
Hundreds of glamping sites in Scotland are blessed with gorgeous locations that can and have inspired poets and artists over the years. Many owners have been shrewd enough to combine this with unique accommodation and good levels of hospitality. To rise above this sort of competition not only takes a unique selling point that stands out, but also requires that all the fundamentals are provided for.
Of the awards that Marthrown of Mabie has won, the Prestige Award for wedding venue of the year and the Scottish Enterprise Award for best holiday cottages for Dumfries and Galloway are the most prominent. They have also been featured in the Guardian newspaper’s Top Ten Campsites, but as Pam explains, they never set out to win anything and just wanted to offer the best they could, doing something that they love.
“When you adore what you do and nurture it for many years, you always want it to be great and not just good,” Pam says, “We’ve worked very hard to make sure that our site offers something different and memorable for our guests. We don’t want them to simply be satisfied with their stay, instead we want them to be longing to return the very moment they leave.”
THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE
Just outside of Dumfries and easily accessible, the site takes full advantage of the dense woodlands of the Scottish countryside. Despite only being a short drive from the cities, the trees offer that special sort of magic that not only cleanses and nourishes the soul, but also makes you feel like you could be in another world or time. Close enough to get a phone signal but still a million miles away.
“We love it here,” Pam relates, “Starlit nights filled with the sound of wildlife amongst the trees, the smell of nature and fresh air. How could we not want to share such an amazing way to filter out the stresses that exist beyond these trees?”
A family business, Pam has run the company with her ex-husband and business partner Mike for over sixteen years. Predating the rise of glamping as a hospitality trend, they pioneered offering a destination that was more than just a place to lay your head.
“We were one of the first in the area to put up yurts,” she reveals, “Which are designed to offer the best winter insulation and summer breathability, while also being very roomy.”
The first yurt they erected on site was used for their son’s bedroom for a period. And, although this wasn’t an actual experiment to test the validity of a yurt for guests, the results nevertheless spoke for themselves. In fact Mike now lives onsite in a yurt of his own.
Since then they’ve added a tipi, an Iron Age Celtic roundhouse, put in communal compost toilets for the rustic camping area, added private in-house facilities for the yurts to make provisions for Covid and additional cottages.
“Each accommodation offers something different,” Pam says, “Shaping the experience in different ways. We had the opportunity to offer a range of options and it has definitely paid off.”
WEDDINGS AT MARTHROWN
A highly in-demand wedding venue, Pam reveals that 2022 is already shaping up to be a busy year for tying the knot. During Covid wedding events suffered, with onsite bookings from 2020 moving to 2021, only to be rescheduled for 2022. It’s required a bit of juggling with their calendar; however most guests have their hearts set on the location and have been willing to wait rather than choose a different venue. Pam explains why she believes this is the case:
“We don’t offer templates or limitations to event planning,” she says, “Our approach is to offer the site as a clean slate when it comes to planning. We can help on pretty much any level if needed, but the guests have the freedom to come in and shape their day as they like.”
The range of accommodation onsite means that everyone on the guestlist can be catered for. The activities in the area mean that the bridal party and guests won’t be bored and the scenery not only makes for a breath-taking day but astonishingly beautiful memories. Even in the sometimes inclement weather of Scotland.
“Scotland has reliably unreliable weather,” Pam points out, “But even if this is the case we have the most beautiful Celtic roundhouse on site for indoor ceremonies and this country is one of the few that looks just as beautiful in the rain as it does in the sunshine.”
The shrewd eye will notice that in the rustic Scottish surroundings, Marthrown of Mabie offer overnight stays in Celtic, Mongolian and native American style accommodations. Each of these cultures were renowned not only for their ability to stay warm and comfortable during winter times, but also for their hospitality and beliefs in sharing experiences and the beauty of their world. This approach ties into Pam and Mike’s belief of always offering something different to the guest.
There are four private yurts on site. The Deluxe Yurt which sleeps four, the Large Family Yurt which sleeps six and both feature handmade furniture and other nice crafty touches. A clear roof ring allows comfortable stargazing in the most have-your-cake-and-eat-it style, not to mention the stop-and-stare morning views of sunrise over the Lake District. Each have a custom built woodburning stove and oven to light up the evening either for a tasty treat or a good fire stare.
The two smaller yurts, the Couples Yurt and the Family Yurt are the perfect size for a romantic or family weekend getaway. More intimate than the deluxe or large family sized yurt, they provide the warm, cosy privacy for couples or small families seeking to discover their own wild world in Scotland.
The Tipi Holiday is a favourite for many guests as it offers a completely different vibe to the yurts. The Native Americans knew a thing or two about accommodation. Tipis are stylish and warm, with inbuilt wood burning stoves and a real cultural feel to them. In America, tipis were not just used for sleeping, but for families and groups of friends to bond over stories, food and drink.
The Nith Barn offers two bedrooms and sleeps eight people. A king sized bed and two singles are in one room, and two pairs of bunkbeds are in the other. A cosy lounge is warmed by a large wood burning stove to chase away the chilly evenings and across the courtyard is a kitchen dedicated to the barn alone. Meanwhile, the Esk and Annan Crofter’s Cottages are now completely self-contained and feature fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms.
For those who love their tents, the camping area offers the most sensational views over the Lake District Fells and Solway Firth, unmatched star gazing and simply stunning sunrises. Servicing the camping ground are two dry compost toilets, a private outdoor hot shower, washing up area, cooking area and a designated campfire space. Logs can be purchased by the crate or wheelbarrow load (wheelbarrows provided).
“Seasoned campers refer to our campsite as having the joys of wild camping with the convenience of facilities,” Pam says, “A perfect middle ground for those wanting the pride of camping outdoors but the convenience of not having to dig a hole.”
Everything is provided for but guests should bring their own towels and torches. Also, all of the accommodations come with entertainment such as TV and DVDs, as well as WIFI and charging points. Happily, Marthrown of Mabie is a dog friendly location, but it is requested that if you’re bringing a four legged friend that you inform the management so they are aware.
“There are several resident pets on site, and also lots of wildlife to see throughout the forest for them to bark at,” Pam says.
THE CELTIC ROUNDHOUSE
Not only an accommodation, The Celtic Roundhouse is a marvellous wedding venue only a short walk over the hill. The jewel in their crown, this custom built marvel provides an atmospheric party and event venue surrounded by stunning vistas that leave guests feeling like the Scottish royalty of old.
Authentically based on the historic Celtic Iron Age period, the roundhouse does have a couple of modern day amenities. A modern, state of the art composting toilet, hot shower and fully equipped cooking shelter. In 2019 there was a major upgrade with a new floor, new furnishings and electric lighting.
“We inherited a handyman with the site when we originally moved in,” Pam says, “Who is an incredibly talented carpenter and responsible for much of the furniture and wood work that gives our place such culture and taste.”
KNOWING THE FORMULA
Although Pam admits that nowadays she likes to holiday in warm climates with her best mate, she and her family were big fans of wild camping and the outdoors. Having this first-hand experience has shaped many creative decisions at Marthrown of Mabie, and still guides their customer engagement with guests.
“The travel culture has shifted,” she reflects, “But the fundamentals of good hospitality remain the same. Offer something spectacular and special and back it up with good showers and comfortable beds. The best parts of a glamping site are appreciated if a guest is well rested.”
As for what makes something spectacular and special?
You’ll have to come and find that out for yourself.
Photography with thanks to Giles Aitkinson Photography, James Richardson, Tom Kay, Lisa Devine, Bruce Smith, Images to Cherish (John Pearson) and Lifeline Photography
Telephone: 01387 247 900
Address: Marthrown of Mabie, Mabie Forest, near Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway, DG2 8HB.