Fancy a little trip to the West Coast for mountains and lochs? Why not, I thought.
Stay in a Celtic castle? Oh, go on then, twist my arm.
Throw in a day trip to Islay (home of some of my favourite Malts), and be served meals prepared by a really top class chef, then bask in some gulf stream warmth and, like a salmon taking the fly, you’ve got me hook, line and sinker.
The drive up to the shores of Loch Fyne may have more twists and turns than 007 being chased through the souks of Morocco but that’s not to say it isn’t just as much a feast for the eyes.
Destination Stonefield Castle, Tarbert, Argyll. The pretty harbour at Tarbert sits at the top of the Kintyre peninsular which pokes its toe (that Mull made famous by the song) into the Atlantic.
So, up to Glasgow, skirt Loch Lomond and snake through purple clad mountains through the prosaically named Rest and be Thankful Pass. (You could do worse than make a pitstop at Inverary).
I think it should be illegal not to stop at the Oyster Bar at the edge of Loch Fyne but as the four-star Stonefield boasts an AA rosette restaurant specialising in seafood, it seemed like wanting to have your oyster and eat it. (I tasted the oysters in the hotel that night, followed by seared king scallops and divine cranachan with whisky jelly)
This is gulf stream country, the undercurrent of warmth which creates a landscape of contrasts, allowing incongruous palm trees to flourish alongside the ubiquitous Scots pine. It is the phenomenal collection of rhododendron bushes planted in Stonefield’s 60 acres of woodland that are truly jaw-dropping. The hotel information on the table beside our huge bed explained how they came to be planted. Right now Stonefield has an air of gently fading grandeur, and could do with a chunk of money spending on it here and there. But the welcome could not be warmer. In the hallway the smell of fresh lilies mixes with the oaky smokeyness of an open fire. There are three wonderfully spacious reception rooms and a well-stocked bar while meals are taken in a more recently added extension with huge picture windows. When the view looks over those rhododendrons in full, glorious bloom down to the Loch below, any other ornamentation would be superfluous.
The hotel is just six miles from Kennacraig where the ferry goes to Islay. This two-hour sea voyage was stunning and even a day trip gives enough time for a distillery visit, pint of prawns in the pub at Portnahaven, leisurely viewing of the seals basking on the rocks and a good walk along the truly beautiful and almost deserted Machir Bay beach. You can eat a full meal on the ferry but why would you when Stonefield’s chef seems determined to delight your tastebuds with beautifully presented and perfect dishes.
Stonefield is an aging uncle in tweeds who may be creaking a bit at the joints but is unfailingly charming, still has a twinkle in his eye and likes to do things right.
It is in a stunning location, you have deer (which we saw) and red squirrel (which hid) on the doorstep and walking and fishing opportunities aplenty. I rather fell under its quiet unassuming spell.