Long gone are the days when paddle steamers packed with excited holidaymakers graced their way around the epic fjord-like sea loch of Argyll. This wildly beautiful corner of Scotland has been in the doldrums for a while, but I’m pleased to report there are plenty of reasons to head to The Firth of Clyde’s sea lochs, rather than just its better known islands.
Signs that the glory days of the Argyll sea lochs are gone are still evident across the likes of Loch Fyne, Loch Long, Long Goil, Gare Loch and Holy Loch. Abandoned wooden ferry piers rot into the beguiling landscape, as many people from the west of Scotland jet off to the Mediterranean rather than exploring the Clyde.
Our Ardgartan Base
Our base for revisiting the Clyde sea lochs was ideal at Ardgartan Argyll. This Forest Holidays site sits on the silvery shores of Loch Long and is backed up rugged forested slopes and the towering hulks of the Argyll Hills. Our log cabin had an outdoor hot tub and deck, from where we enjoyed watching the wildlife by day (we saw seals and herons, other visitors reported seeing dolphins and sea eagles). At night my kids loved the skies exploding with myriad stars and clearly visible planets.
We had a glorious time at Ardgartan. We pootled around the rocky shore foraging cockles and mussels, which we cooked up together for dinner and paired with Makar gin infused Loch Fyne smoked salmon. (Scottish gin and Scottish smoked salmon – now that is a match made in heaven!) My wife enjoyed a decadent glass of champagne in that hot tub and I had a massage treatment with a therapist who handily brought her table to the cabin.
There are plenty of activities at Ardgartan, from archery, canoeing and bicycle hire to ranger led walking trips. We joined a walk that took us up into the hills where we learnt basic survival skills. We spent a lot of our time in the area walking. Handily Ardgartan is right in the Argyll Forest Park – the oldest forest park in the UK. There are myriad trails to explore. We headed out on our own ‘nature walk’, my two wee girls and their cousins, Erin and Kyle. They had a ball eking through the landscape and playing poo sticks in the Croe Water. We came across half a dozen red squirrels as we went, who confused the kids by being more black than red. These distinctive bushy tailed squirrels are a joy to watch, but are sadly endangered – 80% of the UK’s surviving population live in Scotland.
The Cowal Way also runs past Ardgartan. This epic long distance walking and cycling trail has suffered in the past from poor signage. I was very pleased to see clear new signage and some trail maintenance in progress too. We walked a small section of this lesser known route and had the forest track pretty much to ourselves.
Bountiful Natural Larder
Pushing beyond Ardgartan we drove over the Rest and be Thankful. Here Loch Fyne Restaurant and Oyster Bar awaited. This is where we’d sourced our salmon and it had been so good we bought some more! There is some great local produce in these parts including the, ahem, fine ales from Fyne Ales. Their brewery is very close to Loch Fyne Oyster Bar – another great local produce combination!
We didn’t have time to go deep into the Cowal Peninsula, but you can read my blog on it here. As well as my piece on Portavadie Marina. Cowal is a booming part of the Argyll Sea Lochs, whose highlights include the foodie delights of the Creggans Inn and the Oystercatcher. Boat fresh seafood also abounds at the Royal An Lochan in Tighnabruaich and the Colintraive Hotel. I’m very keen to get back to Inver Cottage as I’ve heard there have been some impressive changes there too. We love dining on local seafood at Inver and then enjoying a walk out to the ruined castle that handily sits near the restaurant.
We ended our trip to Argyll’s sea lochs just as we’d begun it – in the outdoor hot tub at Ardgartan. I sat surveying the waters as the sun set, dreaming of paddle steamers cruising through some of Europe’s most impressive scenery. I thought too of the Viking raiders who used to sail here. Times may have changed, but this wonderful part of Scotland should still firmly be on your travel map.
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