Embracing Còsagach in Wintry Pitlochry
Sparing the sun and a wee clan of clouds, the sky was a brilliantly bold and uninterrupted blue. It was deceivingly bright and bonnie for a winter’s day in Pitlochry, but the season was otherwise strikingly obvious. The frosty landscape was sparkly and crunchy underfoot, while the air was so cold it had a menthol-like effect when inhaled deeply. Exposure to such conditions – beautiful and energising as they are – should almost certainly be matched with some Còsagach.
Excuse me, some what?
Derived from an old Gaelic word meaning ‘snug, sheltered and warm’, Còsagach is a tipped by Visit Scotland to be key travel and lifestyle trend in 2018. They have reported that four million tourists in 2015 selected ‘relaxation’ as their primary reason for visiting Scotland, and who can blame them? Our wicked wee country provides infinite opportunity to indulge in exactly that.
Còsagach is characterised by experiences which makes you feel warm and fuzzy during the winter months; snuggling-up in front of a roaring fire, wrapping yourself in a fleece blanket, sipping your favourite dram, or enjoying a comforting bowl of homemade stovies. It bears resemblance to the widely popularised Danish ‘Hygge’ trend, BUT ours is from Scotland, and there is no better destination to reach a whole new level of snuggly satisfaction, is there?
Now, if you’re thinking “I’m still not exactly sure WHAT is it or HOW to pronounce it, but I really like the sound of it”, then we’re totally on the same page.
As well as the inevitable confusion over the pronunciation, the name itself – with all its cosy connotations – has been the subject of some controversy. Native Gaelic speakers have come forward to protest that the word derives from “a wee nook or hole such as very small creatures might live in”, with some even suggesting it used to describe damp or mossy ground.
What are my thoughts on this? If the concept inspires people to visit and explore Scotland during winter, and encourages us all to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, I’ll take ‘cosy’ over ‘mossy’ any day!
That said, I like the idea of Còsagach of being open to interpretation, and meaning different things to different people. One person’s campfire is another person’s couch to binge Netflix upon. For me, the concept is something I’ve been indulging in and appreciating all along, but it took a snowy trip to Pitlochry to remind me. For once, mindfulness felt effortless, and I embraced Còsagach in a number of ways.
Come on then, let’s get cosy together.
Còsagach on the Train.
Rail journeys are my platform to calm and contemplation. I’ve frequented much of the network around Scotland, and am all-too-familiar with the route between Edinburgh and Pitlochry, thanks to my regular mini-adventures in Perthshire. My ‘railway ritual’ typically involves a supermarket-sweep of M&S in the station for packed lunch essentials/sweet treats, before pouncing on a table seat on the train like a crazy woman (if the tickets don’t include seat reservations). Then, it’s time to relax.
On my winter trip to Pitlochry, I kicked off my walking boots, snuggled under my jacket in a blanket-like fashion, and rested my head against the window in anticipation of the forthcoming views. Going over the Forth Railway Bridge is a novelty with no life span, and Arthur’s Seat strikes an excellent pose over the Firth to Fife. I searched for seals on the rocks of the Kingdom’s coast, and sank into further contentment as the more highly populated areas were left behind, in favour of Perthshire’s rural loveliness.
Còsagach at The Atholl Palace
The Atholl Palace Hotel & Spa sits on an elevated position just outside Pitlochry’s main thoroughfare, it’s beautiful Baronial turrets peeking out over the treetops. Established as a hydropathic spa in the 19th century, it was once a hot-spot for leisure-loving Victorians and holidaymakers. Following a refurbishment in 2001, the hotel provides all modern necessities, yet remains charming and classic.
My Còsagach indulgence at the Atholl Palace was very much planned and pre-meditated. I recalled the open fireplaces from my first visit to the hotel, and made a beeline for the sink-into sofas by the fire as soon as I arrived.
I admired the cherry red festive decorations, and the views of the countryside through the huge windows in the Verandah Restaurant. My relaxation and restoration party continued in the Lavender Spa, where I balanced my exposure to the cold outside with heat from the sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi.
The hotel deal I was staying on included a three course meal every night, and I was thankful for the excuse to remain indoors. Ever the glutton, my dining highlights involved a Stornoway black pudding starter, a roasted duck main course, and a warm waffle with salted caramel ice-cream. THEN, I could simply sink back into fireside sofa in the lounge, or roll right into bed.
In a final shameless moment of Còsagach, I jumped back into bed (fully clothed) in the morning after a full Scottish breakfast for some extra snuggle-age, and cup-of-tea consumption, before a day of wintry walking nearby. Surely Còsagach couldn’t be continued outside?
The hills were alive with the sound of… ME having an absolute tantrum. My post-Christmas sluggishness was in full swing; I felt like I had dumbbells strapped to my feet, and a belly full of Scottish breakfast. 50% accurate then!
Craigower was only wee in the grand scheme of hills, but what it lacked in height, it made up for in gradient. A wee breather was required. I plonked myself on the forest floor, and with my moaning now ceased, I could really appreciate the blissful absence of any other noise. It was the most perfectly peaceful winter’s day.
Once at the top of Craigower, the views stretched beyond Loch Tummel and Schiehallion, right up to snow-coated Glencoe. In that moment, I was sublimely happy; not just to be up a Scottish hilltop, but to be alive.
On the way back into Pitlochry, I popped into Cargills Clubhouse for a takeaway hot chocolate from the instant machine. The drink was perfectly sweet, and my hands relished the warmth from the cup to contrast the bite in the air. Còsagach on the go!
The day after Còsagach ‘Craigower style’, I embarked on yet another scenic walk, this time from Pitlochry to Faskally Wood. In October each year, this wee slice of natural heaven plays host to the ever-popular Enchanted Forest. There was no sound and light show on my wintry visit, but the forest was enchanting nonetheless. Arriving at the edge of Loch Dunsmore, giant snowflakes suddenly began to fall from the sky onto the frozen foliage and ice-rink loch.
My internal radiator was switched-on after the brisk walk to get there, the heat held in by my thermal top tucked into (two pairs of) exercise leggings. I was so wrapped in cosy layers – from my thermal socks to my woolly hat – the cold could only kiss my cheeks. I tilted my head back, looking upwards into the never-ending flurry of snow, giggling like a wee lass. It was truly magical.
Còsagach at Hettie’s Tearoom.
Hettie’s Tearoom is a Pitlochry institution. Perched vibrantly on Atholl Road near the train station, Hettie’s serves up sweet and savoury homemade treats, washed down with a choice of over 25 blends of their very own branded teas. The décor is super-cute, and the staff are a delight. There really is no excuse not to visit.
Còsagach was definitely on the menu, as I thawed out in my seat next to the radiator, while clapping the friendly Border Collie at the next table. I opted for an orange and cranberry scone, alongside parsnip and apple soup. Mmmm. Everything about the experience was warm and satisfying.
What is your idea of Còsagach?
Leave a comment below!