Yes, it's that time of the year again. Dare I say it? Christmas is just round the corner as I write this. What would your ideal Christmas home look like? Everyone will have a different answer to that. For me, it would be a snug coastal cottage, with beach walks on the doorstep and a roaring fire waiting inside. Think rustic beamed ceilings and stone floors tossed in chunky rugs, maybe with an Aga warming the kitchen.
So when I was asked to choose three properties that I wouldn't mind spending Christmas in, rather than my usual compact and cosy approach, I thought about houses that lent themselves to social living; to having friends and family round, with open fires, and with plenty of room for a ceilidh should your Christmas home turn into your Hogmanay home too.
Is it just me, or does Christmas always make you think of castles? There's something romantic about a Scottish tower house or castle, and I can certainly imagine waking up at Balbithan House - or Balbithan Castle as it is also referred to - on Christmas morning (with the surrounding gardens and woodland covered in a blanket of snow, clearly). This A listed baronial house sits in a secluded valley just north-east of Kintore by Inverurie in Aberdeenshire.
It's thought that Balbithan originally formed part of the Estates of the Abbey of Lindores but that by around 1490 it had come into the possession of the Chalmers family. At that time the first House of Balbithan "Old Balbithan" stood on high ground above the River Don opposite Kintore. It's said that a cannonball fired from the tower of Hallforest on the far side of Kintore fell into the courtyard of Old Balbithan and the Chalmers Laird of that day vowed that he would build his castle where "neither friend nor foe could find him".
Today's Balbithan was built by the Chalmers around 1560 as a simple oblong keep with a large round tower at the north-west corner. This tower was removed around 1600, and the house was extended and a new stair tower was started. A new wing was built around 1630, and then early in the 19th century the entire roof was rebuilt as the top floor was removed and the ceilings of the second storey were raised.
Between 1760 and 1860 the interior was altered as large rooms were divided and passages added. Today, Balbithan has 4 reception rooms and 9 bedrooms so there's plenty of room for a festive shindig in other words.
While clearly a substantial house, what's even more interesting than its scale is its character. From the exposed stone of the staircase to the old wooden floors and open fires, this house has a wonderful patina of age and history. Highlights include the library on the first floor and the incredible gallery space on the upper level that stretches to over 44ft long. Ceilidh anyone?
And then there are the grounds as the house sits in mature gardens and is surrounded by mature woodland. Imagine waking here on Christmas morning to have a woodland walk
Balbithan House is for sale through the Aberdeen office.
We're moving from Aberdeenshire to Perthshire with our second selection and the very elegant Rannagulzion House at Bridge of Cally near Blairgowrie. As with Balbithan, Rannagulzion has a private setting within its own grounds including beautiful gardens and sits above the River Ericht with the most incredible views out over the countryside and down to the Lomond Hills.
Again, this house comes with some interesting history attached, including the belief that Queen Victoria once sheltered here from a snow storm while travelling north, and the house was used was a nursing home for Canadian officers during the Second World War.
Arranged over two floors and now offering 3 reception rooms, 7 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, one of the most notable features here is the wealth of period detailing, including fine plaster cornice work and painted wooden panelling and panelled doors the ornate plaster ceiling in the drawing room is just stunning.
There's currently a two bedroom holiday annex on the first floor of the north wing, and this has its own small garden area. There's also a four bedroom lodge house, and a separate cottage, Den Cottage, which has been unoccupied for years so this would require considerable work, but it could make a great holiday let.
The gardens are a highlight. The formal gardens lie to the south with terraced lawns and mature planting and trees. The former kitchen garden sits to the west along with a newly planted woodland. To the east you'll find a woodland dell with a stream running through it, and a former Victorian curling pond. There's a paddock to the south. There is also additional land available, being sold as Lot 2 and Lot 3. Beautiful house, beautiful setting.
Rannagulzion House is for sale through the Perth office.
I'll admit, when I first saw the exterior photos of Whiteknowes, I had no idea that it was a modern house. It looks old, and this is alluded to in its description as a "12th century" modern house. Located just north of the Berwickshire village of Westruther in the Scottish Borders, Whiteknowes was completed in 2010.
The house combines the character you would expect from a period home with its lovely stonework and traditional windows not to mention interior details such as the solid oak doors with their pewter latches with a range of contemporary and green' features.
Due to the high insulation standards combined with a ground source heat pump providing underfloor heating, supplemented by solar panels on the roof of the sun room, Whiteknowes qualifies for the Government's green deal attracting a payment of approximately 5,000 per annum - payable for seven years from the launch of the scheme in April 2015.
The main structure of this distinctive home is the striking green oak frame. The exposed beams give this interior a warmth and character that's complemented by features throughout, such as the period clay brick wall in the kitchen or the Gothic chimney pot fireplace in the sitting room. Indeed, if you're looking for the knockout space here, it has to be the latter with its barn-like structure and vaulted ceiling.
The main house has 5 reception rooms and 5 bedrooms, and there's also an adjoining converted byre now a two bedroom cottage with exposed stone and brick internal walls and with a log-burner cosying up the sitting room. A former stone farmhouse has planning permission to extend creating a four bedroom home. There's potential project here for the next owners.
And this incredible property has around 13.33 acres of land, including a wildflower meadow and a half-acre wildlife pond, with a summer house where you can soak in this idyllic setting. Whiteknowes is the house you would visit at Christmas, and you'd simply never leave.
Whiteknowes is for sale through the Kelso office.
Fiona Reid is a freelance journalist writing about property and interiors for a number of publications including Scotland on Sunday. She blogs at www.copperline.co