Dome Sweet Dome in the West Highlands

by Keith Savage · 7 comments

The Ecopod Boutique Retreat, Appin, Scotland

As the years pass and my trips to Scotland continue stacking one upon the other, I’ve noticed that my penchant for accommodations has drifted toward ever more unique and whimsical offerings. Last year, for example, I stayed in a Gypsy-style roulotte in the Borders and an eco-palace in Dumfries & Galloway built only from the materials found on the surrounding farmland. When it’s good, it’s great. These kinds of off-kilter, creative accommodations can enhance the travel experience to levels beyond the simple, heady fact of being in Scotland.

Finding these special places has become something of an addiction. I am of the ilk who place great importance on the comfort and quality of my homes away from home – no more hostel dorm rooms for me – so as I began planning my last trip finding another special accommodation was high on my list. I researched options from Fort William to Oban and Ardnamurchan to Rannoch Moor. It wasn’t really going well until I remembered a thing – I remembered! – an email I sent to a place four years ago…

The Ecopod Boutique Retreat.

As the rock path crunched under foot and the Ecopod appeared within the Argyll forest I had the feeling I’d just stepped into a LOST/Outlander crossover set. It was beautiful.

So what is an Ecopod and why did I choose to stay there?

The Ecopods (there are two) are glamping taken to the extreme – more glam than camping – in the form of tent-like geodesic domes that contain nearly all the luxuries of a high-end hotel but with unmatched privacy and highland views. Each dome is 70 square meters of bright space that leave no footprint on the environment and provide visitors with solitude and comfort. I was grabbed by the luxury dome idea and sold by the location and view, and since there are two domes, Sarah and I could have one and our friends Michael and Katherine could take the other. I love when a plan comes together.

We arrived to soggy Appin on a Sunday afternoon after a drive from Edinburgh and met Jim who, along with his partner Nicola, is the brains behind the Ecopods. The pods are actually quite easy to find because they’re near the Castle Stalker View Café (which Jim and Nicola also run). We parked in the café lot and followed Jim through a wooden gate and down a muddy though maintained path through the forest. The path leads past a welcome building and then splits to the two domes (there’s even a golf cart for guests to traverse this area).

Jim is an affable guy with the spirit of an entrepreneur – at the time of writing he’s just opening a restaurant in the area – and he tells me how Nicola and her sister opened the café 12 years ago, which is perfectly sited to look over Castle Stalker. It has since become a great success and I imagine it has made ideas like the Ecopods and the restaurant a reality (the café was always busy during our week’s stay).

I was blown away upon first sight. The door to the dome opens onto a wide, arching space that feels much bigger than it looks from the outside. Comfy furniture draped in sheep skins were arranged around a flat-screen TV and wood stove, and the whole wall opposite the doorway is a window overlooking the castle. A wooden deck wraps around the pod and there’s even a cedar-plank hot tub screaming for weary people laden with wine.

The kitchen area is a modular, German stadnomaden piece whose aesthetic melds with the (to my eyes) 60s-inspired decor of the pod.

You might be wondering how the bathroom works. Don’t worry, no outhouse here. The bathroom is a separate chamber within the dome replete with plush robes and towels, high-end toiletries, and ingenuous heavy-duty mosquito netting to keep the shower from soaking everything else.

A small dining table stood on one side of a unique divider that separated the bedroom from the rest of the living space. Our bed lay beneath a great, hexagonal window that showed the stars on clear nights.

After Jim’s tour and introduction to the amenities, I admit, I was smitten with the place. I had the child-like feeling of staying in a really cool fort. A fort with wifi, underfloor heating, Apple TV, and a hamper of delicious consumables in the refrigerator.

I spent a full week at the Ecopods, and overall my experience was very good. With that amount of time nothing escapes notice. Since the Ecopod is essentially a great big tent, the temperature inside fluctuates massively. At night the pod got quite cold and we really loved having the wood stove and electric heating blankets on the bed. When we came back from a day out exploring the west highlands, it was often stuffy inside and sometimes quite warm. The best solution was to leave the door open and let that cool Scottish air inside, but that wasn’t a perfect fix.

I really felt one with the forest. When it rained (and it did often during the week) the sound of the drops on the dome was utter magic, and the noises of critters and birds were very near and clear.

Some things could be improved, but in our pod they were all minor. The faucet in our bathroom wouldn’t stay on because of the way it had been installed near the curved wall, and the wifi continually died until the firmware was updated. Our friends had a few other issues in pod 2, but most of the time Jim was quick to come and address them. It’s worth remembering that this retreat is out in the woods and things are bound to happen.

It took Jim and Nicola three years of planning before the first pod was born. Being on the edge of an area of natural scenic importance, the ecological aspects of the pods were of the highest priority. Their choices to build with local timber and stone wherever possible, heat with woodchip pellets, and leave no footprint in the woods of Appin finally made the Ecopods a reality (and eco to the point of using only 40% of the energy of typical structures this size).

Sarah and I loved our time in the Ecopod. The seclusion and novelty of the dome made it a perfect getaway and base for exploring this area of Scotland. It was really nice having the café just a walk through the woods away. We were able to get coffee, have breakfast, and speak with Jim and Nicola for anything we needed. They were friendly and responsive during the week.

The Ecopods have now been open for four years and are seeing a lot of traffic and repeat customers. I may just become one of them.

Disclosure: I received a discounted stay at Ecopod Boutique Retreat. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

Kelsey FoxNo Gravatar January 29, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Where would you recommend stopping and staying the night between Edenbrough if were driving to Skye?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 29, 2017 at 3:37 PM

For me it’s all about the accommodation, but I would focus on the west highlands around Lochaber. Alternatively, you could stop in a place like the Cairngorms National Park, say in Grantown-on-Spey, if you don’t mind not making a bee-line to Skye.

Kelsey FoxNo Gravatar January 26, 2017 at 1:46 PM

What did you do in the area? I am looking to book in early Sept and am only going to be staying a night. Ideas?

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 26, 2017 at 4:36 PM

These itinerary ideas should help!

EmmaNo Gravatar June 20, 2015 at 5:50 AM

Wow such an awesome dome!! Loved everything about it. I wish to own one like this.

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