An ‘awesome’ April holiday by Loch Awe
At the end of April 2007, twelve of us friends had an ‘awesome’ holiday on the coast of Loch Awe at the Portsonachan Hotel. We had all bought special price tickets at a local country fair nearly nine months before, and really were hoping the place was as good as it sounded, and looked in the brochure. We were not disappointed, which you will see.
29.04.07 Ardkinglas Garden and Portsonachan Lodges
Ardkinglas Garden was a totally unexpected delight. We had been travelling all through the night from Northamptonshire, having left at 1am, and were tired and wanting breakfast at about 9.30am when I saw a sign for these gardens, just before we got to the top of Loch Fyne, on the route to our final destination at Loch Awe. I decided we could stop and perhaps have our picnic breakfast in the car park. Better than that though, there were picnic tables set out for us ready, under trees just by the entrance to the garden. I parked up eagerly, in anticipation of the delights of my friend’s picnic hamper.
Garden? Would that my garden were like this one! Take a look at the sixty odd photos I took in there! The only trouble was, we were not expecting the garden to be so big, or so steep in some places and didn’t take our walking poles with us. Our knees aren’t so good these days at going up, or down even, in hilly areas! What a find! And what a good start to our holiday. If this was going to set the pace for the holiday, we were in for a treat.
We weren’t due at our hotel until 2pm, but reluctantly we left Ardkinglas and made our way round the top of Loch Fyne, noticing on the way that the bluebells were almost out. We continued our journey to Loch Awe, and down to Portsonachan where we arrived a little early, but were able to go into our chalets anyway.
Portosonachan Lodges. I chose the second in the row of six chalet style lodges that we had been allocated, next to my friends who, because they had a dog with them, had chosen the first one, furthest away from the hotel that the chalets were attached to. We were not expecting them to be such high standard, newly decorated lodges, purpose designed for self-catering, with a large bedroom-cum-bathroom upstairs, and a sitting room / kitchen / diner downstairs. An added bonus was the wonderful wet-room downstairs, accessed via a fairly spacious hallway. Mirror tiles on two walls meeting at the corner of both walls meant that if one looked into the mirror whilst on the loo, one looked like a cyclops, with only one eye!
A treat was in store through the patio doors in the sitting room. A walled patio area with a view to die for! I literally thought I had died and gone to heaven. Loch Awe on a windless day was like a giant mirror. It brings tears to my eyes every time I see this view. This was my home for a week. I wished it could be my home for ever.
I will never tire of looking at the 102 photos I took of Loch Awe during my fantastic stay in late April / early May 2007. If I lived there, I doubt if I would ever tire of the view either.
Although I loved it, I will not go back to stay at the same place for fear that the magic of that holiday with my friends in six self catering lodges attached to Portsonachan Hotel gets besmirched in some way. Maybe it would not be so magical in bad weather? We were so lucky to pick a week when the weather was perfect, the lime green of the sprouting trees was perfect, and the colour of the rhododendrons was perfect. Maybe the company I had was perfect too!
30.04.07 Angus Gardens and a boat trip on Loch Etive
The plan of the day was to go to Angus Gardens at Taynuilt first then on to Loch Etive for our boat trip up the Loch to see the seals, and hopefully a golden eagle. It was another hot day, and we were in for a treat. We dropped one of our party as near to the base of Ben Cruachen, overlooking Loch Awe, as he was about to ‘bag’ his next Munro (on a hot day – mad or what!).
First we were off to Angus Garden at Taynuilt. We spent a good few hours exploring the very pretty gardens and walked around the lake and surrounding woodland, before driving into and parking up at Taynuilt, ready for our boat trip up Loch Etive later. We stopped for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat at Robin’s Nest, where we immediately ran into a problem. The eleven in our party were too big for the already half full premises. We were told we would only be able to sit down in the café if we had a cake with our coffee, not if we had a sandwich! Most of us wanted a sandwich, or just a coffee, so we left our cake queen inside and the rest of us had a take-away coffee sitting on the nearby wall.
After a short walk we reached the landing stage at Kelly’s Pier for our boat trip. Our boat went up the loch past the seal island, and right up to the top of the loch, where it turned around and returned the way we had come, although neared to the other bank this time. No golden eagles were about unfortunately, but we saw plenty of seals.
Back on terra firma, we then drove back to our temporary home in Portsonachan, stopping to pick up the red-faced and sweating member of our party who had been climbing his Munro, and who still had seven miles to walk home. He had done it, and was very proud of his achievement that day. Not bad for a man in his late 60’s eh?
01.05.07. Glen Coe and Ben Nevis
Today, our nominated drivers faced a long 75 odd miles drive to Ben Nevis, via Glen Coe and Fort William. True to tradition, the Scottish Soldier was standing in the layby on the A82, playing his bagpipes, when we stopped to take photos before continuing to Glen Coe visitor centre for a while. Refreshed and back on our route, we continued on to Fort William, on the banks of Loch Linnhe, before turning off to Ben Nevis.
Looking at the top of Ben Nevis, there was still plenty of snow on the top. We took the cable car to halfway up the mountain, then set about walking to the next cable lift – the ski lift. This was closed as there was not enough snow for skiing. As we looked up at the top of the mountain, we could almost see it melting away before our eyes, on the hot day that it was. The melt water was gushing furiously down the mountain streams. We walked around the mountain until we had the best view of the valleys and lakes below us, then went back to the café by the cable lift for lunch. On our return to the bottom of the mountain, we were amazed at how much the snow cap had reduced since our arrival.
A stop was on the cards in Fort William, where we all browsed the shops, bought some holiday presents and souvenirs of Scotland, and the ingredients for our evening meal. Then we drove along the banks of Loch Linnhe and back to our lodges at Portsonachan. It had been a full day, but we were still ready for our evening gathering at my lodge that night, with pizzas on the menu that night, I believe.
02.05.07. Serenity and a Smokehouse.
Our visit to Inverawe Smokehouse and Country Park was to be a trip of tranquility. We awoke to a vision of peace. The loch in front of our cottages at Portsonachan looked almost like a mirror. There was hardly a ripple on its surface. It was the same when we arrived at Inverawe.
We walked through the woods on the nature trail. A couple of us at the front were lucky enough to spot a small group of deer, before they were startled by the chattering of those behind us and ran off. It was a scorching hot day, considering it was only the 2nd May. We walked around the lake, actually called the fish pond, then on to a smaller pond, before heading back to the smokehouse cafe for a magnificent platter of smoked fish, which I just had to photograph. After that we walked northwards towards the banks of Loch Etive, until we could go no further because the pathway ran out, so we retraced our steps to our cars, ready for our journey home.
We stopped our cars at the side of the road on the way back down along the banks of Loch Awe, to photograph a small group of highland cattle, and Kilchurn Castle, a castle ruin standing in the middle of Loch Awe, and the view of Cruachan Dam high up in the mountains overlooking the Loch. Then off back home along the banks of the Loch for our evening gathering in our row of cottages at Portsonachan. We had enjoyed yet another fantastic day.
The day we were due to be going to Mull, we awoke to an awesome sight. There was not a breath of wind, and Loch Awe looked like a sheet of mirror glass. I was up early, and there was a light morning mist, but the vision that greeted me just took my breath away. At breakfast, we all sat in Portsonachan Hotel restaurant, hardly able to speak, as we were so overcome by the view from the dining room window. We knew would be getting a smooth crossing from Oban to the Isle of Mull today, and it was going to be a scorcher.
In Oban we waited patiently for our ferry to arrive, admiring the view of Oban Amphitheatre up on the hill. The trip over to Mull was, as expected, very smooth and we spent the entire time on deck, either admiring the view of the coast near Oban, or looking forward to the approaching view of the coast and islands at Mull.
The boat docked at the picture postcard village of Tobermory, every bit as beautiful that day, as any picture or postcard you will see of the place. My photographic ‘skills’ just do not do it justice! We walked around the town for a while, a couple of us had a spot of lunch in the Mishnish Hotel, on the harbour front whilst the others went for coffee and cakes at a coffee house further along.
Having seen the sights of Tobermory, we got into the car and toured the island, stopping at a lake to take photos, and then again at a hill overlooking Calgary beach. At Calgary we parked up, and I couldn’t resist a dip in the sea, having shed my trousers on the beach. Well, I would soon dry out on the way back to the car, wouldn’t I?
And so on to Torosay Castle. The gardens in the grounds there are spectacular, but unfortunately, I had run out of photos on my camera by then, so I had to delete a couple, and Torosay Castle gardens will be a bit out of order consequently. We had a fantastic day, yet again, and it didn’t finish even after our ferry trip back. We were having fish pie back at base, and we had hoped to buy our fish fresh from Oban. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any prawns, so each car load stopped at every possible retail outlet until we found some frozen ones. The fish pie was delicious!
04.05.07 Crarae Gardens and Inverary
With the exception of the day we spent going to Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, we had visited a magnificent garden each day. Every one was different, and great in its own way. Crarae Garden was the garden of choice for today, followed by a visit to Inverary Castle, and as it was our last day, we were going to have our last meal out together in a nice restaurant in Inverary.
We started our trip by driving southwards along Loch Awe. So far we had only been northwards on our various visits, but we were told by two of our party who had not been with us when we went to Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, that the scenery southwards was spectacular. They weren’t wrong. It was to be a 50 odd mile journey through some awesome scenery around Loch Awe, followed by a cross country scenic drive to Lochgilphead on Loch Fyne, where we stopped for a while before driving on along the banks of Loch Fyne to Crarae Garden ten miles away from Inverary.
The fantastically colourful gardens took us a long time to get round. We were climbing higher and higher, until we were rewarded with a most fantastic view across Loch Fyne. This was by far the prettiest garden we had seen so far, although each of the gardens had their own charm. We were lucky again, in that the weather stayed warm and sunny. I can’t remember having refreshments there, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t because it must have taken a few hours to get around the gardens.
Reluctantly we left the gardens to continue on our way to Inverary. We had a scout around to see which would be the best restaurant to go to. A few of us were hankering for venison pie, so the restaurant nearest the Loch won the toss, and we booked our table for 6pm. We then went our separate ways, some walked up to Inverary Castle, some strolling along the side of Loch Fyne, some went shopping in the Scottish Wool Shop and spent a fortune on tartan outfits. I had run out of photos to take at that point, having used up my entire photo card in Crarae Garden. However I deleted a couple which made some space for a couple of shots in Inverary. I will have to return to Inverary one day and take some of the unusual castle.
At the appointed time we went to the restaurant for our ‘last supper’, and very nice it was too. The evening was a bit tinged with sadness though, as we realised that we would be homeward bound the next day. Our holiday had been faultless in every way and we were very sad it had to come to an end. 🙁
05.05.07. Loch Lomond and the long journey home 🙁
We awoke to a misty morning over ‘our’ Loch. Our dream holiday was at an end. We were meeting at 8.30am in the hotel dining room as usual, so it was now time to pack up and leave our magical ‘homes’.I took a last few photos of ‘my’ Loch, and sadly said good-bye to ‘my’ lodge, before setting off on our long journey home. All four car loads were going our separate ways. Some were going to stop at Ardkinglas Gardens, after we had told them how wonderful they were, some were going to stop at Loch Lomond, and some were going to drive through to Yorkshire and stop off there.
Driving along the north bank of Loch Fyne, we noticed how the bluebells were now in full flower. The week of sunshine had obviously done them as much good as it did us. We continued past the entrance to Ardkinglas Gardens, resisting the urge for a second look at them, and drove to Rest and Be Thankful, where I paused the car for a last look from the viewpoint. Then on to Loch Lomond. We stopped at one of the early signs for it that we came across, in a quiet area at that time of day, with plenty of room in the car park. We had a bit of a walk along the shore and back, used the facilities, and continued on to the next entrance for it – the main one at Loch Lomond Shores. The car park was heaving. We were not in the mood for the masses, being still in our ultra-chilled state, so I just drove on round the car park and out again. We would have lunch somewhere quieter, we hoped.
We had stopped at Teebay Services on the way, which are lovely services, but we hoped to find somewhere nearer for lunch. Eventually we came to some services, which were well off the highway – no idea where, but I can recommend them. Retracing my journey courtesy of Google Maps, I think it was Cairn Lodge just off the M74 on the way to Carlisle, the layout certainly looks familiar.
Refreshed and ready now for the long haul back home, we were back on route. I decided to go across the Pennines on the A66 from Penrith, to continue our pretty route home, and the plan was to join another car load of our holiday companions somewhere pretty, but I missed the turn, so our next stop was at Scotch Corner, not a pretty place. Then came our boring journey from there back home down the motorway. Our wonderful holiday was over. 🙁
Link to photos of Ardkinglas Gardens >>
Link to photos of Portsonachan Lodges >>
Link to photos of Loch Awe >>
Link to photos of Angus Garden and Loch Etive >>
Link to photos of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis >>
Link to photos of Inverawe Woodland Garden and Smokehouse >>
Link to photos of Mull – Tobermory, Calgary and Torosay Castle >>
Link to photos of Crarae Gardens and Inverary >>
Link to photos of Loch Lomond >>
Please use the links above to my daily photos taken on our Portsonachan holiday.
I shall be writing more about our holiday at Loch Long Hotel in Arrochar soon, which will include our trips to The Isle of Bute, a boat trip on Loch Lomond, a trip to Inverary and a trip to Edinburgh.
In the meantime, please look at some of my tales about the Wonderful West Country