Many moons ago I stayed at a fabulous hotel on the shore of Loch Awe. Taychreggan Hotel had a reputation for fine dining, great service and stunning views. The 300-year-old hotel had started life as a drovers inn, and although it had gone upmarket, it had retained its old world charm.
Fast forward a number of years and Taychreggan Hotel is looking tired and unloved. The reviews are no longer glowing and big changes are needed to breathe life back into the place.
Thankfully, they came. After a change of owner, general manager and some much needed TLC, the reviews were soon glowing again. So, when GM Michelle Kelso got in touch to invite us to spend a weekend at the hotel, I jumped at the chance to reacquaint myself with Taychreggan Hotel.
Day one: exploring Loch Awe
Keen to make the most of our Loch Awe holiday, we left Edinburgh early for our drive north. A couple of hours later, we arrived at Loch Awe, ready to explore.
St Conan’s Kirk
Our first stop was St Conan’s Kirk, which is an eclectic mix of architectural styles. The Kirk feels old, but it was commissioned by Walter Douglas Campbell in 1907. He dedicated years to his extravagant building project, but sadly died in 1914, before it was complete.
Dogs aren’t allowed in the church, so we took it in turns to visit. I went first and made a beeline for the Bruce Chapel, which houses an ornate tomb with an effigy of an armour clad king on top of it. The king is Robert the Bruce – although he looks more Victorian than medieval. Beneath the tomb is an ossuary which is said to contain a fragment of bone from Bruce.
After viewing inside, we sat in the garden admiring the lovely view.
Loch Etive – lunch with a view
Next, we drove through Taynuilt for a potter by the shore of Loch Etive.
The boy shot straight into the water for a paddle, while Mr G and I amused ourselves by skimming stones. When I say skimming, I mean Mr G skimmed stones. I hurled them into the water to sink without a trace, as the skills required for stone skimming continue to elude me.
Our next port of call was Angus Garden near Taynuilt.
Betty Macdonald created Angus Garden in 1957 as a memorial to her son. In 1956 Angus Macdonald was shot and killed by a local terrorist group while working as a journalist in Cyprus.
Angus Garden is a 9 acre woodland garden with a small loch (Loch Angus) in the middle of it. We followed a trail that looped round the loch. It was a pleasant mix of woodland, water and moor. The highlights for me were Neil’s Pond (Angus’s father) which was surrounded by gorgeous yellow flowers and Betty’s Bell. Betty’s Bell stands on a rocky vantage point overlooking Loch Angus. It’s a memorial to Angus’s mother and is perfectly placed so visitors can admire the lovely garden she created.
After leaving Angus Garden, we started making our way towards Taychreggan Hotel.
Walk – Glen Nant National Nature Reserve
Taychreggan Hotel is located at the end of a single track road that turns off the A85 near Taynuilt. The seven mile stretch of road has a smattering of houses, a village and a wooded nature reserve (Glen Nant National Nature Reserve) along it.
We still had time before check-in, so we stopped for a walk at the nature reserve. There are two trails in Glen Nant National Nature reserve.
The Riverbank Trail is a short (1/2 mile), wheelchair accessible trail and the Ant Trail (which we took) is 2.5 miles long. It climbs steeply through woodland, which is home to pine martens, red squirrels, deer and a variety of birds, insects and colonies of wood ants – hence the trail name. We spotted plenty of birds and butterflies, but nothing wingless.
There are a couple of scenic viewpoints on the Ant Trail where you can stop for a rest and enjoy a bonnie view of Ben Cruachan.
When we arrived at Taychreggan, it looked exactly as I remembered it – a quaint, old building in a beautiful setting.
Inside, the hotel had retained its old world charm, but it was lighter and more stylish than before. An orangery had been added and there were lots of comfy nooks and crannies where guests could curl up with a book, play board games or enjoy a coffee.
It was immediately obvious that our four-legged son would be treated like a VIP at Taychreggan. There were tennis balls, treats, fresh water and towels for wiping muddy paws by the front door. And better still – no additional fee for dogs.
Ionus (pronounced Jonus) greeted us at check in and showed us to our room.
Ionus was the first member of the Taychreggan team that we met and he was polite, helpful, friendly and he immediately made us feel relaxed. He made an impression on the boy too after fussing over him and offering him treats.
A room with a view
Our room Etive, was a first floor junior suite with a stunning loch view. It was comfortable, cosy and the country house decor and antique furniture suited the character of the hotel perfectly. The en suite was large and modern with a slipper bath, shower and his and hers sinks. There were quality toiletries from Scottish Fine Soaps, plus robes, slippers and big fluffy towels too.
It was perfect.
Once we’d unpacked, we decided to sit outside in the sunshine, but not before we popped into the bar for some liquid refreshments.
Relaxing by Loch Awe
We ended up blethering to barman Mike (a fellow travel addict) for ages. He also won the boy over with doggy treats and compliments.
Some quirky whisky barrel seats outside caught our eye. There were a couple free so we sat down to relax. I planned to go swimming in Loch Awe during our stay, but for now I was content to sit with a perfectly chilled glass of wine and feel the sun on my face.
We spent a couple of hours outside, chatting to other guests and enjoying the idyllic setting, before heading to our room to get ready for dinner.
Dinner: Taychreggan Hotel Bistro
Taychreggan Hotel has two restaurants, both of which welcome non-residents. Faodail their fine dining restaurant has two AA rosettes and Ghillies Bar is their dog friendly bistro.
We ate in Ghillies Bar so the boy could join us.
The menu featured local produce and Scottish favourites, which was good to see.
I was torn between starters, but in the end chose arancini balls stuffed with mozzarella and served with a roasted tomato sauce. They were fantastic.
Mr G had blue cheese and broccoli soup. The broccoli had been grown in the hotel garden, so it was the ultimate field to fork ingredient. Mr G loved his starter too.
My main course was a spicy couscous dish with roasted vegetables and tzatziki dip. It was fresh, spicy and delicious.
Fish lover Mr G had en papillote of lemon soul, new baby potatoes, asparagus and fennel. It was another hit.
We finished with strawberry and lime cheesecake biscotti. It was sweet, tart and tasty. Mr G went into raptures about it and declared it his favourite of three amazing courses.
It’d been a wonderful meal. The bistro had a lovely, relaxed atmosphere and the waiting staff were brilliant.
After dinner Mr G played a few games of snooker in the games room. Even when he’s playing alone he’s competitive. I love watching him, giving himself pep talks and throwing tantrums when play doesn’t go his way.
Al fresco drinks by Loch Awe
When daylight started fading, we headed back outside to the whisky barrel seats. Fire pits beside the outdoor seating had been lit, so it was nice and toasty.
It was wonderful sitting there, watching the sun setting over Loch Awe.
It wasn’t long before all of the outdoor seats and fire pits were taken, and Mike was kept busy serving everyone drinks.
When darkness fell, bats emerged from the trees and fluttered around above our heads. We don’t see bats too often on our travels, so it was fun to watch them.
Day two: exploring Loch Awe
We slept soundly on our first night at Taychreggan, and woke the next morning delighted to see the sun shining again.
After getting ready, we headed to the bistro for breakfast with the boy in tow.
There was a good choice of breakfast options on the menu. We started with fresh pastries, coffee and orange juice, then I had bacon, haggis, mushrooms and a tattie scone. Mr G had eggs royale, which were served on a cheese scone. He’s a recent cheese scone convert, so he loved this twist on a breakfast favourite. My breakfast was delicious too – the haggis was fab and the bacon made a tasty butty.
The boy sat at the side of our table begging like a meerkat, much to the delight of the other guests.
After breakfast we drove a mile up the road to Kilchrenan Church. The church sits on an elevated position overlooking Kilchrenan village. It dates to the 1770s, but the foundations are thought to be medieval.
It was the medieval connection that lured me to Kilchrenan Church – in particular West Highland medieval graveslabs. Pigs have a talent for finding truffles, but put me in a historic kirkyard and I’ll find medieval graveslabs in the blink of an eye. I LOVE them.
I found several at Kilchrenan – with faint carvings, lying side by side (14th and 15th century) and another later stone depicting a sword (16th century), set into the church wall.
Having indulged my not so inner history geek, it was time for a walk.
Barnaline Oakwoods Walks
A few miles west of Kilchrenan near Dalavich, is an area of ancient Caledonian forest. There’s a path network in and around the forest, which is a good place to spot red squirrels, deer and pine marten.
With the morning temperature rising, and the boy and I being more suited to icy climes, we decided to keep our walk short to prevent overheating and grumpy moods. At 1 3/4 miles, the Avich Falls Trail was exactly what we were looking for.
The trail started on a gravel track which climbed uphill, passing towering oaks before descending towards a river. Along the way I spotted a woodpecker and lots of butterflies. A beautiful peacock butterfly even stayed still long enough for me to photograph it.
We crossed a wooden bridge to reach the other side of the river and the return leg of the trail. The trail led us into lush, green woodland, filled with the sound of birdsong and running water.
When we reached Avich Falls, we stopped for a rest. The falls were gorgeous and we had them all to ourselves, which was wonderful.
When we finished the walk, we headed back towards Kilchrenan. It was a scenic drive and Loch Awe looked as pretty as a picture. We could see Taychreggan Hotel nestled in trees, by the water’s edge. What a location.
Another history fix
Before lunch we visited a cool Neolithic site.
On the road between Kilchrenan and Ardanaiseig a large cup marked boulder, stands hidden from view. Much like medieval grave slabs, I can sniff out Neolithic rock carvings from a mile away.
The stone, known locally as the Holy Stone or Slaughter Stone features around 60 cup marks. They were created using a technique known as pecking. Pecking involves striking the same spot repeatedly with a rock until a cup shaped depression is formed.
Now it was time for lunch.
Lunch: Kilchrenan Inn
We had a table booked at the Kilchrenan Inn, but decided to eat outside since it was such a gorgeous day.
I ordered pea and spring onion soup and a ham and mustard sandwich. Pea loather Mr G skipped the soup and had a prawn and crayfish tail sandwich with fries.
My soup and sandwich were both tasty. To say Mr G enjoyed his sandwich would be an understatement. I’ve never known anyone get so excited about eating bread and prawns. He didn’t enjoy his sandwich – he LOVED it.
SUP on Loch Awe
After lunch we headed back to Taychreggan for some water based fun. I had my stand up paddleboard with me and I also planned to go swimming in Loch Awe.
Kitted out in my wetsuit, we headed outside to the loch. Mr G kindly pumped up the SUP to prevent me from overheating and getting niggly. He wouldn’t be partaking in the water based fun, as the shock of wading into a chilly Loch Torridon a few weeks earlier had left him traumatised.
Once it was inflated, I took the paddleboard into the water and paddled about on my knees. After a while I decided to stand up. I travel for work so often that I rarely get to spend time in the water, trying to master the SUP.
I did stand up though for … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 wobbly seconds, before plunging into the loch for a cold dip.
Swimming in Loch Awe
Since I was now soaking wet, it seemed like a good time for a spot of swimming in Loch Awe. I swam backwards and forwards, parallel with the shore and was in my element. I might wobble like a weeble on a SUP but I was back in my comfort zone swimming.
Another relaxing Taychreggan night
As I was getting out of the water, I heard the clock strike wine o’clock. Mr G popped into the bar for drinks, then we settled in our favourite whisky barrels to chill. Wine, sunshine and a knockout view – what more could you want.
We ate in the hotel bistro again that night, starting with haggis bon bon served with fluffy mash. I had the spicy couscous again (it was sooooo good) and Mr G had a sirloin steak with chips, which he said was delicious. We skipped pudding this time – what saints.
After dinner we had a refreshing Aperol spritz for the road, then toddled upstairs to spend a lazy night in our room.
When darkness fell the bats came out to play again. I watched them from our room window.
Later, a sea of twinkling stars appeared and illuminated the night sky. It was a lovely end to an amazing day.
The next morning, after another tasty breakfast it was time to say farewell to Taychreggan Hotel. We’d spent 48 blissful hours at the hotel or on the doorstep, immersed in our surroundings and indulging our passion for the great outdoors.
We arrived at Taychreggan with high expectations and the hotel exceeded them. We left feeling relaxed, refreshed and reinvigorated. Michelle and her team had not only worked their magic on Taychreggan Hotel, they’d worked it on us too.
Our stay at Taychreggan Hotel was on a complimentary dinner, bed and breakfast basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …