We recently returned to Argyll for another short break with Argyll Holidays. Our home for the weekend was a lovely hot tub lodge at Hunters Quay Holiday Village near Dunoon. Winter may have arrived, but we planned to spend our days exploring the Cowal Peninsula and our evenings relaxing in the hot tub – bliss.
I love winter breaks in Scotland as the roads are quiet and there are far fewer people around. Plus, we’re still able to spend our days outdoors doing the things we love best. Our passion for hiking, wildlife watching and visiting historic sites doesn’t wane when the daylight hours dwindle and the nights draw in.
Our ferry crossing from Gourock was calm, despite a stiff breeze blowing on deck.
Lunch – The Swallow Cafe, Dunoon
We were looking forward to exploring the Cowal Peninsula but first things first – lunch.
We’d eaten at the Swallow Cafe on our last visit to Dunoon and loved it, so we headed there to prevent hanger taking hold.
After devouring soup, toasties and ‘freakshakes’, we were fit to burst. Not content with regular milkshakes, we’d ordered pimped up shakes which arrived with more trimmings than a Christmas tree. They were delicious but deadly.
A scenic drive
After lunch we took a scenic drive round the coast, skirting the shore of Loch Striven. It was a dreich day, but the weather made the scenery look wonderfully atmospheric.
We stopped at the end of the road for a short leg stretch by the loch. It was blissfully quiet.
After pottering by the loch, we headed back to Dunoon to buy provisions for our weekend break.
Hunters Quay Holiday Village
Stocked up with enough goodies to last a week, it was time to check-in at our accommodation.
Hunters Quay Holiday Village is located on a quiet spot overlooking Holy Loch. Accommodation at the site comprises of static caravans and wooden lodges, some with hot tubs.
With a pool, sauna, steam room and gym, plus an activities and entertainment programme, there was no chance we’d get bored at Hunters Quay. It didn’t feel a bit like low season.
We wouldn’t go hungry either, with a grill bar (Hunters Bar & Grill) and fish and chip shop (Quay by the Sea) on-site. I love a self-catering break when the catering is optional.
Our accommodation – Rowan hot tub lodge
Our accommodation was a two bedroom Rowan Hot Tub Lodge. Located in a quiet corner of the park, it was close to the activities and entertainment hub, but far enough away for us to enjoy a peaceful escape.
Inside, the lodge had a lounge with dining area, well-equipped kitchen, shower room, plus two bedrooms – a twin bedroom and an en suite double. It was perfect for a romantic break or a family holiday. The decor was modern throughout and like all of the Argyll Holidays accommodation we’ve stayed at, it was spotlessly clean and really cosy.
Patio doors led from the lounge, onto an enclosed decking area with a hot tub.
After unpacking, it was time for dinner. Keen to hop in the hot tub asap, we grabbed takeaway pizzas from Quay by the Sea. It was a good decision as they were fab.
A relaxing night at our Rowan hot tub lodge
With fizz chilling in the fridge and a bubbling hot tub waiting, we changed into our swimwear and headed outside. The boy stayed inside by the window, where he could nap while keeping us in sight.
I love a hot tub, especially in winter when it’s rare for us to be outdoors in the evening. The Scottish night air is cold and invigorating, yet wallowing in a hot tub means we don’t turn into icicles.
We spent two blissful hours in the hot tub, blethering (we’re never stuck for conversation when we’re together) and drinking bubbly.
Later, we listened to music and reclined on a sofa each, before tiredness got the better of us and we toddled off to bed. I always sleep soundly on Argyll Holidays breaks, as their beds are super comfy and the linen smells gorgeous.
Exploring the Cowal Peninsula
The next morning, after tucking into porridge with banana, coconut and chocolate for breakfast, we were ready to spend the day exploring the Cowal Peninsula.
Our first stop took us to the historic village of Kilmun, on the opposite side of the loch from Hunters Quay.
Kilmun has been a significant religious site since the late 6th century when the Columban monk Fintan Munnu (Saint Munnu) built a chapel there. The chapel stood by the shore of what later became known as Holy Loch.
Since the 15th century Kilmun has been the favoured burial place of the Campbell Dukes of Argyll. Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochawe endowed Kilmun as a collegiate church in 1441 after his eldest son died and was buried there the year before. The remains of a church tower from that period still stand, beside the modern day church which dates to the 1840s.
Mr G and the boy weren’t interested in peeking inside the medieval tower, but I was (even though it looked dark and spooky). After a nosey inside, I went to find the boys but stopped in my tracks to admire two mortsafes hanging on the tower wall. When bodysnatching was rife in Scotland, mortsafes were placed over graves to prevent fresh corpses from being stolen and sold to Scotland’s medical schools.
Once I’d indulged in a history geek-fest, we climbed up several stepped layers of the cemetery to reach the top. It was steep, but worth the effort for a fab view of Holy Loch and the historic church below.
Hike – Glen Eck Trail, Glenbranter
Leaving Kilmun, we drove round the coast, passing through several villages, before heading inland towards Loch Eck (Mr G’s loch).
We were bound for the Glenbranter Estate for a walk, but stopped to visit the Lauder Monument en route.
The Lauder Monument was erected by the Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder, who bought the Glenbranter Estate in 1914. It was built in memory of his son John, who was killed by ‘friendly fire’ in the First World War. The poignant memorial stands on a rocky knoll once occupied by a dun and overlooks the land where John planned to settle after the war.
Parking at the Forestry and Land visitor centre on the Glenbranter Estate, we had a choice of three short hiking trails, all starting at the car park. Two were moderate, one strenuous. We opted for the strenuous one, a 2.25 mile loop known as the Glen Eck Trail.
The trail got off to a steep start and led us uphill into woodland. It remained steep longer than I’d have liked and I could feel a winge brewing. Luckily, it was averted as the path levelled out and we emerged from the trees. There, we were treated to a view of the glen. Steep hikes don’t faze the boy, he loves them and will happily blaze a trail all day long. He allowed us a short break to take in the bonnie view before hurrying us along.
What goes up, must come down and thankfully the Glen Eck Trail was no exception. The second half of our walk was downhill all the way – yippee.
Although, we did detour for a short, boggy scramble to visit a monument commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden
After leaving Glenbranter we decided to visit Ardkinglas Woodland Garden by the shore of Loch Awe.
The dog friendly garden is open all year and entry costs £5 per adult. It’s money well spent as it goes towards maintaining the garden, which is home to some incredible trees. Including the UK’s current tallest, a Grand Fir nicknamed the ‘Gun Barrel’, which is over 64 metres tall and an incredible sight to see.
Ardkinglas Woodland Garden is a magical place, where you can ramble surrounded by leafy loveliness. And you never know who you might meet there.
We bumped into a Scots speaking moose (mouse) and joined him for a daunder through the woods.
Along the way we met a tod (fox) who invited the wee moose tae his hoose fir dinner. The moose politely declined.
Oor wee pal was also invited to dine with a snake and an owl, but he had no time to linger.
It’s not that he wasn’t hungry though. He already had plans and was on his way to tuck into some scran with …
Scots speaking beasties weren’t the only thing living in the lovely woodland garden.
It was also inhabited by faerie folk.
Inveraray – Lunch and stress free shopping
We were hungry after a morning spent rambling. With one of our favourite places a short hop away, we couldn’t resist visiting Inveraray for lunch.
We’re always guaranteed a good cup of coffee, a hearty bowl of soup and a tasty sandwich at Brambles of Inveraray. Luckily, despite it being busy when we arrived, we managed to bag a table.
It was nice to coorie indoors for a while, filling our faces.
After lunch we had a potter around town, stocking up on sweeties at Inveraray’s retro sweetie shop and doing a spot of Christmas shopping. Many of the shops in Inveraray are dog friendly which means we can browse together, instead of as a tag team.
I’m a big advocate for supporting the local economy on my travels, so we left Inveraray with his and hers hiking hats (Christmas presents for each other). We’d have to feign surprise on Christmas morning.
We were losing daylight, but managed one last stop before heading back to Hunter Quay Holiday Village. It’s hard to resist the Rest and be Thankful, especially in the winter months when it looks its atmospheric best.
We trampled through bog, our feet squelching but we felt carefree and happy. The boy and I stared quietly at Loch Restil, while Mr G stumbled around in the bracken in search of an ariel view.
Can you see him below?
Another relaxing night at Hunters Quay Holiday Village
Back at Hunters Quay Holiday Village we popped into reception for coffee. Dogs are allowed in the reception area and also in the bar after the food service has stopped.
The boy tucked into a doggy ice cream, while we topped up our depleted caffeine levels. Stocking doggy ice cream earned Argyll Holidays a big paws up from The Wee White Dug. He loved it and would’ve eaten the carton too, if we’d let him.
We spent a second wonderful night chilling in the hot tub, chatting, listening to music and drinking Scottish gin cocktails that I’d rustled up using recipes I’d found on the House of Elrick website.
My fruity ‘The Baroness’ and citrusy ‘French Poet 75’ were rather tasty, even if I do say so myself.
Our stay at Hunters Quay flew by far too fast. In what felt like the blink of an eye, we were checking out and wishing we could stay longer to enjoy a swim, sauna and an archery grudge match.
Exploring the Cowal Peninsula
As we’d enjoyed our lunch at the Swallow Cafe, we decided to eat Sunday breakfast there too. To work up an appetite first, we went for a stroll up to Dunoon Castle. The remains of the castle are scant, but the views from the hill it sits on are lovely.
After feasting on breakfast rolls and coffee, we said goodbye to Dunoon.
It would soon be time to leave Argyll, but not before we’d been for one last scenic ramble.
Hike – Puck’s Glen Gorge Trail
Puck’s Glen Gorge Trail is one of our favourite walks in the area. It’s only two miles long, but they’re two magic filled miles.
Even in the dead of winter, the glen is a lush, green haven. Walking there, it’s easy to imagine water sprites darting behind tumbling waterfalls and wood nymphs hiding in the trees.
The boy loves the place too as it offers lots of good sniffing opportunities. Despite the trail being short, it has more staircases, twists and turns than a Escher painting – which means the heart and legs a good workout. And being as pretty as a picture, the camera gets a good workout too.
The weather may have been dreich during our time in Argyll, but we’d still been able to spend our days (and evenings) outdoors. There had been colour too in the rich russet and green hues that brighten the Scottish landscape during the darkest days of winter.
Our accommodation at Hunters Quay Holiday Village was provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …