I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Scotland in the sunshine is the most glorious place in the world.
And independent Scottish lifestyle fashion retailer CCW Clothing couldn’t have picked a better day recently to take a gaggle of bloggers on a roadtrip through some of the most picturesque parts of our magnificent country.
Founded in 1986 as Caledonian Countrywear, CCW began as a travelling outdoor show-based business stocking tents, hiking boots and lots of heavy-duty Gore-Tex jackets. But as one of Scotland’s last truly independent businesses, they’ve had the flexibility to roll with the times: at their flagship Callander store as well as outlets in St Andrews and on Byres Road, Glasgow, you’re just as likely to find stylish, high-quality lifestyle brands such as Seasalt, Joules, Lighthouse and Fjallraven as (the perennially best-selling) Barbour jackets and Ordnance Survey maps.
We (Ellis, Gillian, Lauren, Lindsey, Roisin and I) met up at CCW Glasgow for an introduction to the business from Ross Geddes, son of founders Bill and Liz, over a slice of specially-made blueberry and white chocolate cake from Glasgow raw dessert specialists Rawnchy. It was then time to get kitted out for our adventures in some seriously stylish, yet functional, gear – only to quickly realise that we’d all picked out the same stripy jackets and tops, meaning that we headed for the countryside looking like we were on day release from some kind of demented cult. Which is, I suppose, one way to look at Instagram.
That jacket we all fell for was Lighthouse’s stripy Abby jacket*: a lightweight, breathable number with a soft chambray lining and waterproof Teflon outer – ideal to throw on on drizzly, sunny days. I love the details, like the chunky wooden buttons and woven slogan tags. Isn’t it cute? I teamed it up with a pair of Sorel Out n About everything-proof boots*, which I suspect will prove an ample match for the weather if we get another winter like this one just gone. They were also comfortable enough to go tramping around the countryside straight out of the box, too: something I rarely experience, since my flat feet need a good couple of wears to properly break in most shoes.
I was wearing leggings, so I decided against swapping my t-shirt dress for my new Mousqueton 3/4-sleeve top* – I’m sure I’ll get a tonne of wear out of it over the summer, though. This classically chic French brand is relatively new to CCW, but it was definitely a hit with us (particularly the dungarees, which we were all swooning over in the Callander store!). A versatile Handyband* from Seasalt, which can be worn as a headband, bandana or scarf, completed the look.
Suitably clad and shod, we headed for our waiting chariot. Ecotour Scotland, who CCW had teamed up with for our trip to the Trossachs, offer door-to-door bespoke trips for small groups in a Mercedes Benz Sprinter minibus, powered by Glasgow biodiesel. Luke from Ecotour Scotland prides himself on being able to get properly off the beaten track, to places that a traditional coach tour just can’t take you – and his new bus is equipped to carry wheelchair users, small children and even pets, so anybody can experience the best of what Scotland has to offer.
And we certainly put the new bus to the test on our drive: the 20 minute stretch of single-track road along the banks of Loch Voil to the Monachyle Mhor hotel boasts some of the most spectacular views in the country, if not the world; but the bends will take your breath away too if you’re meeting somebody traveling in the opposite direction.
How to describe Monachyle Mhor..? A fairytale pink boutique country hotel, working farm and award-winning restaurant, somehow both sophisticated and kitsch. There are bedrooms in the farmhouse and around the courtyard, each with their own distinct identity – but the site also boasts a cabin made from a reclaimed ferry terminal waiting room, and a restored 1950s Panther Pilot showman’s wagon turned trendy “glamping” option.
The Mhor Group now owns a number of hotels and restaurants in Scotland and France including Mhor Bread, its bakery in downtown Callander, and Mhor 84, its motel/”pit stop” just before you turn up the single-track road to Monachyle Mhor. But the hidden hotel is its jewel in the crown: home to the gregarious and garrulous Tom Lewis, the farmer/chef/eccentric/entrepreneur who’s like this part of the world’s own Father Christmas; and base for the now-annual Mhor Festival, which took place this past weekend.
We were definitely ready for lunch after our drive and Mhor delivered and then some: creamy pumpkin soup, with an oily pumpkin seed topping; rare roast beef sandwiches, on chewy home-baked Mhor Bread; and even a cheeky cocktail for Roisin and I. Monachyle Mhor is almost entirely dog-friendly, and Tom’s own dogs mingled with those of the guests (to everybody’s delight). After lunch we wandered the grounds for a little, snapping photos and petting puppies, before Tom bundled us all (including the dogs) into the back of his truck so that we could see Loch Voil up close – and put our Sorel boots to the test in the boggy ground.
thnx Ellis for capturing what is almost certainly the happiest photo of me in existence
Tom was particularly keen to show us the mirrored LookOut Cabin, designed by graduate architects Angus Ritchie and Daniel Tyler as part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Scottish Scenic Routes initiative. Their clever design reflects the scenery so beautifully that it almost disappears at certain angles – almost, apart from the dents along the edges now at roughly Highland cattle-grazing level.
I could have explored Monachyle Mhor – and bantered with Tom – all day, and hopefully I’ll get the chance again: its off-the-beaten-track location is justification itself for taking up driving lessons again. But it was getting late, and the main purpose of our journey was still ahead of us: a visit to CCW’s flagship store in the centre of Callander, where we got to quiz Bill and Liz Geddes about the business over some of the most incredible cake I’ve ever had in my life (and I have, as you know, had a lot of cake) at Cafe Circa at the Atrium on the first floor of the building.
The Callander shop celebrates its 30th birthday this year and in the time it’s fair become a centre for the community, hosting an annual charity fashion show among other events. Here, too, dogs are welcome: the shop stocks Barbour jackets and even perfume (!) for dogs, while Cafe Circa even has a whole section where your furry pals can stretch out, play and have a wee drink or snack while you relax with tea and cake. We soon found out why, of course: CCW may employ the four two-legged Geddeses, but it’s the three four-legged ones who keep everything ticking over behind the scenes*.
(*NB: this is not even remotely true, they might have been hanging out in the office, but it was only to kill time until we humans popped back for a cuddle.)
In a world where so many of us think nothing about typing the boots or jacket that we’re looking for into a Google search box, it’s easy to look at a family-run business like CCW and see it as a bit of an anachronism. That’s why it was great to learn about the history of the business and talk about how it has evolved over the past 30 years to meet changing consumer tastes, while still providing a personal touch that few on the high street are really able to emulate as they chase diminishing returns.
And really, that’s the way that it should be. If you’re spending upwards of £300 on a Filson duffel bag you’re not doing it because you want to look like Ryan Gosling in Drive. Same with a £200 Barbour jacket. These are high-quality investment pieces, built to last; and that’s why everything CCW stock is hand-picked by the Geddes family (they’re phasing out a popular brand you’ve almost certainly have heard of because there has been a noticeable drop in quality over the past couple of years) and staff are trained to know the brands inside out.
Our CCW Blogger Road Trip might have seemed like a great excuse for a wee jolly in the sun, with great food, great company and great dogs – and yes, it was all of those things! But it was also a really brilliant introduction to a brand that’s at the heart of Scottish city and country living, and that I’m sure will continue to be into the next generation and beyond.
Thanks to CCW, Ecotour Scotland and Monachyle Mhor for one of the best days out I’ve had in a long time!