As winter approaches and the daylight hours shorten, I love nothing better than spending a day outdoors, rambling in the crisp, cool air, followed by a cosy night cooried inside with good food, wine and company. I recently did just that on a relaxing hotel break in Argyll with my two favourite boys. Our base for the late autumnal escape was Portsonachan Hotel and Lodges on the southern shore of Loch Awe, but more on our accommodation later.
First, we had exploring to do.
A Walk at Strone Hill
After spending a couple of hours in the car we were desperate to stretch our legs, so stopped at Strone Hill for a scenic woodland walk.
Strone Hill is located near Loch Awe a few miles east of Dalmally. Most people whizz past it en route to Oban, but the two short walking trails there are worth stopping for.
Strone Hill used to be a stopping off point where drovers watered their cattle during long treks south to take them to market. Now, it’s somewhere you can immerse yourself in lush, green woodland and enjoy a quiet riverside walk.
And nestled amongst the trees is a real hidden gem – a beautiful waterfall, you watch from a viewpoint as it cascades into the River Lochy.
We decided to walk both Strone Hill trails (Waterfall Woods Trail and An Darach Ruadh Trail) during our visit, as combined they’re only a mile and a half long. The boy was in his element and trotted round the leafy paths with his tail in the air.
Ahh, it was good to be outdoors surrounded by nature and the gorgeous colours of autumn.
By the time we reached Loch Awe the weather had defied the forecast of rain and taken an unexpected sunny turn – hooray. With the sun shining, we couldn’t resist stopping at a popular photo spot to see if Kilchurn Castle was reflecting in the water. The mighty Campbell fortress sits on the shore of Loch Awe and is framed by a backdrop of rugged mountains. It’s no wonder the castle is one of Scotland’s most photographed.
Kilchurn Castle dates to the mid-15th century and it was once home to the Campbells of Glenorchy. After the Jacobite Rising of 1689 it was converted into barracks, before being abandoned a hundred or so years later.
We were in luck. The iconic ruin was reflecting beautifully in the glassy waters of Loch Awe. It looked almost surreal, like a scene from a painting.
The boy wasn’t fussed about the reflection but was delighted to find himself within dooking distance of a loch. He loves a paddle and shot straight into the water where he waded about contentedly until his wee wet legs looked like chicken drumsticks.
After snapping a gazillion identical photos of the castle we headed back to the car. En route we met a gallus big sheep snoozing on the path. It didn’t budge as we approached and paid little notice of us as we politely skirted past it.
And with a view like this to enjoy, who could blame it for refusing to move?
Lunch – brambles of Inveraray
Our hotel break in Argyll was taking us close to a favourite place of ours, so we decided to head there for lunch. Inveraray is an absolute gem. The pretty Georgian town sits on the shore of loch Fyne and boasts a fine selection (see what I did there) of independent shops, eateries and a famous historic jail.
It’s also home to the most famous Campbell castle of them all – Inveraray Castle. The ancestral seat of the Duke of Argyll.
Before a spot of retail therapy in the town’s dog friendly shops, we visited Brambles of Inveraray for lunch. The popular cafe is always busy and the menu is right up our street. Soup, sandwiches, cake and locally roasted coffee – what more could you want.
Shopping local in Inveraray
After devouring lunch we visited Purdie’s of Argyll. The shop sells organic skincare, toiletries and candles and smells heavenly.
Leaving Purdie’s with sumptuous potions, we headed to Sweet Memories for a sugary trip down memory lane. The sweetie shops stocks a huge range of retro sweeties, including my old favourites Chelsea whoppers and aniseed balls. Mr G is more of a midget gem and sherbet pip aficionado.
Before saying goodbye to Inveraray we pottered by the shore and snapped photos of the Vital Spark. The writer Neil Munro is Inveraray’s most famous son. His much-loved character Para Handy was the captain of a Clyde puffer called ‘Vital Spark’ that transported goods on and around Loch Fyne.
Innis Chonnel Castle, Loch Awe
Back at Loch Awe, we had time to fit in one more stop before checking into our accommodation to coorie in for the night.
Innis Chonnel castle sits on a small island located just off the southern shore of Loch Awe. To get close to the castle (you need a boat to reach it) you have to navigate your way down a steep and muddy wooded embankment. Mr G has a cavalier attitude to situations I might perceive as risky to life and limb, so he set off downhill with confidence. It quickly evaporated when a combination of slippery mud and wet leaves caused him to gather pace at an alarming speed, sending him careering downhill towards Loch Awe shouting “I CAN’T STOP”. I watched with a mixture of bemusement, worry, then relief when he finally ground to a halt (still upright) right at the water’s edge.
I cautiously followed, showing him how slowly but surely wins the day. The castle was worth a little mild peril to reach. It was reflecting beautifully in Loch Awe.
Innis Chonnel dates to the 13th century. It was the primary residence of Clan Campbell until the 15th century. Today, it’s a romantic ruin that wouldn’t look out of place in a book of fairy tales. Who knows, maybe behind the ivy-clad walls the residents of old lie in a deep, enchanted slumber. And if Mr G wailing “I CAN’T STOP” didn’t waken them, then probably nothing will.
A hotel break in Argyll – Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges
Exploring done for the day it was time to check into Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges. The three star, family-run hotel is located in Portsonachan on the southern shore of Loch Awe. It boasts an outside terrace, restaurant with loch view, a bar and a mix of accommodation ranging from hotel room, to lochside apartment and hot tub lodge.
We’d be staying in a one bedroom lochside apartment located next to the main hotel building.
Our accommodation at Portsonachan hotel & Lodges
The apartments at Portsonachan are all named after Scottish islands. Ours was called Mull – my first ever Scottish island, which I visited in my teens and fell in love with.
On the ground floor of the apartment was a stylish shower room with luxury Scottish toiletries and a spacious lounge/kitchen with a breakfast bar and comfy leather sofas.
The best part was outside though – an enclosed terrace with a stunning view.
Upstairs, we had a bedroom with pretty decor and a large corner bath to soak in after a day spent exploring.
The apartment was perfect and contained everything we needed for a comfortable stay, including dog bowls and treats for the boy.
Chill time at Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges
Once we’d unpacked, Mr G went to the hotel bar to get us a liquid refreshment, before settling in front of the TV to watch rugby. I headed outside to sit on the terrace with the boy and indulge in some quiet me time.
I gazed at the loch, transfixed. It was such a tranquil, calming scene. Not a care in the world had I, as I sat outside drinking wine on that glorious autumnal afternoon.
Dinner – The Conservatory, Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges
After chilling in our apartment for an hour or so we were feeling peckish and looking forward to dinner. Both the bar and conservatory at Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges are dog friendly. We’d booked a table in the conservatory so the boy could join us for dinner.
The conservatory has a mellow and welcoming ambiance and the adjoining bar looks like the perfect place to sink a warming dram on a cold winter night. The hotel has a lovely guest lounge too with quirky tables and plenty of chairs to curl up in with a good book on one of those rare days when it rains in Scotland.
Once seated at our table in the conservatory, we ordered drinks and started studying the menu. There was lots on it we liked, making it hard to choose. We chopped and changed our minds, even as the waitress was taking our orders.
In the end Mr G had Scottish smoked salmon served with crispy salad and red onion horseradish sauce for his starter. If the speed he ate it was an indication of how much he enjoyed it, he must’ve enjoyed it very much indeed. And he did apparently.
I had a rice salad starter with kidney beans, black olives and a herb and wine vinegar dressing. It was absolutely delicious.
Next, fish lover Mr G had baked sea bass served with crushed potatoes, farm vegetables and a lemon butter and chive sauce. The boy was in luck, as one of the farm vegetables was cauliflower and he absolutely LOVES cauliflower. Mr G gave him a couple of florets so he could sample the cuisine at Portsonachan too. The boys thoroughly enjoyed their main course.
My main course was Cajun spiced grilled chicken served with pepper sauce, hand cut chips and salad. I love pepper sauce and Cajun spices, so knew I was onto a winner with the dish.
For dessert we both had vanilla cheesecake. It was smooth and creamy with a nice crunchy base.
Three tasty courses later, we headed back to our apartment.
A blissful night’s sleep
After a day of fresh air and good food it wasn’t long before we were yawning and ready for bed.
Upstairs, we opened our bedroom window and climbed into bed. We lay there listening to the gentle lull of waves lapping at the shore.
It was such a nice way to fall sleep. Who needs mindfulness apps when you have fresh Argyll air and the sound of a loch to send you drifting off to the land of nod.
All too soon our Argyll hotel break is over
We had a restful sleep and woke the next morning as the sun was beginning to rise. It was almost time to say goodbye to our fab lochside apartment at Portsonachan Hotel – but first breakfast. The hotel had kindly provided us with a Continental breakfast hamper, so we were able to feast on toast, jam, fruit, granola, yogurt, juice and coffee while enjoying an Awe(some) view.
Our hotel break in Argyll had been short but sweet. We loved our accomodation and the incredible location. Portsonachan Hotel is a hidden gem where you can get away from it all and relax in a stunning rural setting.
We stayed at Portsonachan Hotel & Lodges on a complimentary dinner, bed and breakfast basis however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …