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Simone Bodmer-Turner at the Church Tower

Simone Bodmer-Turner at the Church Tower

Sculptor Simone Bodmer-Turner and photographer Scott MacDonough explore the stone ruins, moss-covered castles and wild rocks of the Scottish Highlands.

For sculptor Simone Bodmer-Turner and photographer Scott MacDonough travel has always been part of the rhythm of their years. Now living between New York City and Western Massachusetts, the couple both grew up moving regularly across cities and coasts with their families. And after years of showing each other the places of their past, their recent trip to Scotland — to stay at The Church Tower, a restored historical landmark in the market town of Crieff — was their first time going to a place that neither had been before.

The home is a new project from the preservationists behind the Queen Anne-era manor Dun Aluinn in nearby Aberfeldy, who took the traditional stone walls of the church and filled them with a suspended staircase, Bulthaup kitchen and other contemporary twists. Read on for Simone and Scott's Scottish road trip must-dos—from mossy hikes to creek plunges and castle explorations.

Why did Scotland speak to you as a destination?

Simone: There’s just such a romantic feeling about Scotland, and both of us had dreamed of experiencing that. I've been to England a couple of times, and found the landscape beautiful, but I'd heard that Scotland was an even more intense, rugged, green version of that. And I loved that — Pride and Prejudice landscapes are always where I’m trying to be.

Scott: I read a lot of Scottish history. For me it was the Scottish Highlands that were particularly a draw, because they have this legendary reputation of resistance, ruggedness and open space. But we got on the plane without an exact itinerary, which I think is personally the best. That's the way I like to travel. It's very spontaneous, very word of mouth. Once you get there, you hear from everybody around you about where to go. Growing up as a surfer, whenever I would go to a new country, you never knew exactly where to surf. You had to find out from locals and put your ear to the street, and then you could go to what locals knew was cool right now, instead of what you read on a website.

What were your first impressions of the property?

Scott: We loved staying in Crieff, because it’s centrally located in Scotland — it’s the meeting point between the Lowlands and the Highlands, so we could easily make our way down to Edinburgh, or up through the mountains. For me, as someone who works with stone, being inside all the stone of this old church tower, with the views out to the Highlands, was really amazing.

Simone: Crucially it was really cozy, warm, and toasty, which is key for winter in Scotland. It would be a really nice place even for a family, because technically six people can be there and share this magical castle feeling. Every day we explored to the max, and then fell into bed.

Tell us about some of those adventures.

Scott: Well, our biggest was driving up to the Isle of Skye, which we drove ten hours round-trip through the Highlands in one day for. Along the way, we’d pull over on the side of highways and just walk towards the beauty, cold plunging whenever we came across fresh water.

Simone: Scott plunged, I was too wimpy, even though I'm the plunger at home. I regret it every day. But speaking of walking towards the beauty, there really was something beautiful to see every day, from the stone ruins that we would pass, to moss-covered castles, to all the sheep.

"It was like a fantasy world. Between the castles and the rock formations and the green landscape rolling into the Atlantic, there was a magical feeling."

Which places really stayed with you?

Simone: My favorite castle was all the way on the east coast, called Dunnottar. It's on an island, and it's where Highlanders protected the Scottish Crown Jewels from Oliver Cromwell for eight months. I was also struck by this castle called Eilean Donan, which would be an easy stop for anyone on the drive to the Highlands.

Scott: I’m still thinking about our drive through a mountain pass called Glencoe. When you drive out from Crieff, you go northwest to Glencoe, and it's just this really rugged terrain that marks the gateway to the Highlands. That drive was my singular favorite experience. The nice thing about the whole of the Highlands too is that it’s an open space, rather than a single destination for people to mob. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Even the hike we did, the Old Man of Storr, is a really popular hike, but our experience of it was incredibly personal.

Simone: As someone who works with shapes, I noticed all of these volcanic formations and wild rocks coming out of the side of the landscape, especially in the Isle of Skye. From far away you’re like, “Is that a castle?” And then you get closer and they're just natural rock formations. It was like a fantasy world. Between the castles and the rock formations and the green landscape rolling into the Atlantic, there was a magical feeling.

Where should people stop after an Isle of Skye hike?

Simone: The Town of Portree really was very quaint and picturesque. We opted for authentic, oily, vinegary fish and chips from The Lower Deck, and ate in the car, which was kind of classic and iconic.

Did you also make any local discoveries around Crieff?

Simone: We did. Some places were closed so we were window shopping, but go to the Cow & Parrot in Aberfeldy for coffee, sandwiches, and immensely friendly people. The Watermill Bookshop for books. The Glenturret Distillery in Crieff, which is Scotland’s oldest still-working Distillery. Aran Bakery in Dunkeld also had amazing house breads and pastries, while The Taybank Hotel is famous for seasonal countryside cuisine by a river – and you can also book their wood burning sauna.

Scott: I just want to add, one of my most wonderful takeaways is really how nice the Scottish people are. Everywhere we went, they were so friendly and kind. They were offering us everything from cell phone chargers to paddleboards. These were total strangers at a coffee shop. Because we're jaded New Yorkers, there were a lot of times when we were like, what do you want from us? But everybody really just honestly wanted us to enjoy our time to the fullest.

Why do you both continue to prioritize travel so much?

Simone: It’s always been this love of mine, wanting to see the world. In college, my thesis was specifically on American travel writing in Europe. That was my initial dream actually, to be a travel writer in New York City, before I got very distracted by ceramics. I was really struck by Edith Wharton at that time, a woman traveling the world alone, and the freedom she got from creating something for herself. When I was 26 or 27, I actually left my job to go live in Nepal for four months, and then Cambodia, and then Japan for another four months. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in New York at that point, so I just took off and lived really lightly for a little while. It was wonderful.

For me, it’s about immersing yourself in another culture, and really truly learning the ways of another place, rather than just dropping in for a moment. Scott has typically done more extreme nature traveling, while I've done more culture dives into cities.

Scott: But generally what we’re both looking for is some sort of immersion experience.

Simone: That's something we still talk about a lot — wanting to find the next place that's going to be our place, that we can really deeply sink into and make a part of our life, as opposed to a quick stay.

STAY: The Church Tower, Dun Aluinn

EAT: The Lower Deck, Cow & Parrot, Aran Bakery, The Taybank Hotel

SHOP: The Watermill Bookshop

VISIT: Dunnottar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, The Glenturret Distillery

EXPLORE: Glencoe, The Old Man of Storr

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