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The name perfectly sums up its scenic splendour. Loch Awe. The scenery around the banks of Scotland’s longest loch – when you take into account all of the branches of its Y-shape – is truly epic. The hulking mountains of Argyll –including its highest peak Ben Cruachan – soar all around the silvery loch and tower above its tree shrouded banks. But it’s not just great scenery that Loch Awe offers. There are castles, smoked salmon that has a royal seal of approval and grand country house hotels. Then there is a thoroughly unique power station, which feels like a James Bond set that you can actually visit!

Loch Awe

Loch Awe (c) Robin McKelvie

A Statley Loch Awe Base

I have spent a lot of time around Loch Awe with my family, and we recently jumped at the chance to head back. Our base was the Ardanaiseig, a stately country house hotel which sits by the water in a gloriously remote and romantic spot. It’s grand public areas offer sweeping views over the loch, and we loved rambling around their expansive grounds. The estate is alive with all manner of flora and fauna. We even caught sight of a quartet of red deer moving through on one of our walks.

There was plenty to keep us occupied on and around Loch Awe. You can hire a boat at Ardanaiseig (whether you are keen angler or not), and we discovered that a boat trips is a great way to appreciate the size and beauty of the loch. After a wee boat trip we pushed further afield to the Cruachan Visitor Centre, where I’ve been meaning to go for years. A visit to the appositely nicknamed ‘hollow mountain’ is even more fascinating than I’d imagined.

Ardanaiseig grounds

Ardanaiseig Hotel (c) Robin McKelvie

Deep Inside the Hollow Mountain

Shortly after arriving at the swish visitor centre we were spirited off in a minibus for a half hour tour. Our guide was brilliant, really setting the scene as we literally drove deep inside a Munro mountain (Argyll’s highest). Cruachan Power Station was unique when it opened in 1966. Not because it was a hydroelectric power station, but because it was the only one in the world to use surplus electricity to pump water back up through its turbines to the high dam way up the slopes of Ben Cruachan. Inside the viewing gallery the engineering set-up is vast and looks like something out of a James Bond film.

Ben Cruachan

Ben Cruachan (c) Robin McKelve

Inverawe Smokehouse

The next day took us to Inverawe. I love the set-up here. The main attraction is their award-winning smoked trout and salmon. It comes with a Royal Seal of Approval. My wee girls gave it their seal of approval too, as we tucked into a smoked fish platter. It’s not just a café and shop that tempt though, as they also have some great walking trails. The Nature Trail takes you through the woodland and around a brace of postcard pretty lochs. My girls appreciated the rope swings overlooking the waters and the wee adventure playground at the site too.

The McKelvie Girls enjoying salmon and trout at Inverawe Smokehouse

The McKelvie Girls enjoying salmon and trout at Inverawe Smokehouse (c) Robin McKelvie

Impressive Loch Awe History

Emma at the Ben Cruachan Visitor Centre

Emma at the Ben Cruachan Visitor Centre (c) Robin McKelvie

The area around Loch Awe is also alive with history. The most impressive historical site for me is majestic Kilchurn Castle. This rugged ruin is one of the most dramatic and most photographed in Scotland. Its vaulting ramparts stand defiant overlooking the loch, as they have done for centuries. Today it’s a great place to ramble around with the kids – mine loved exploring its nooks and crannies and peering out over the loch.

Taynuilt Etive: Restaurant with Rooms

Our second base in the area was at the transformed Taynuilt Hotel. Now known as the Taynuilt Etive: Restaurant with Rooms. The refurbished rooms are lovely, ours even had a small outdoor terrace. The family team behind the hotel really focus on the food side of things, with exciting young Scottish chef patron John McNulty at the helm. I love the fact that he smokes his own salmon here using local larch. His local produce laden cooking is nothing short of stellar and features the likes of Sheltand mussels and Barra crab.

Walks tempted us down to the shores of Loch Etive from Taynuilt, but this trip for us was all about Loch Awe. We’d snared a packet of chunky hot smoked salmon and some local oatcakes back at Inverawe. We savoured them in the heart of a thick clutch of forest back near Ardanaiseig, but it felt a million miles away from anywhere. We peered out over Loch Awe and agreed it was an ‘awesome’ place for families. Loch Awe for me is not only the longest loch in Scotland, but one of the most enjoyable to visit.

 

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