Much more to those bonnie, bonnie
by Robin McKelvie
“I thought you said you were going to Loch Lomond, not Argyll?” quizzed my confused neighbour. “I’m going to both,” I replied. That most of the west of Loch Lomond and its north is in Argyll is lost on many Scots, who often think of it as ‘Glasgow’s loch’. Not only is much of Loch Lomond in Argyll, but the huge bucolic tentacles of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park takes in yet more swathes of glorious Argyll, a wonderland alive with seaplanes, emerald isles and wallabies. Yes, wallabies.
Our base was an apposite one for the Argyll confusion at the brilliantly reborn Cameron House. Tucked on the southwestern shores of Loch Lomond this slick five-star resort is the perfect gateway for exploring Argyll and indeed a seaplane sat outside our room waiting to spirit us off for a lunch in Tobermory on Mull or over to Portavadie to bubble away in the infinity pool. But Cameron House is – just – outside Argyll. Take the five-minute transfer to their sexy spa and clubhouse and you’re back in Argyll. Indeed we had lunch at that Clubhouse tucking into Loch Fyne smoked salmon.
Photo credit: Robin McKelvie
Much of the vast Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park like within Argyll and we spent much of our time over the weekend exploring it. We stuck to land this time, though a network of boats can ferry you around the loch. So we didn’t make it to Inchconnachan - that island with Scotland’s only resident wallaby population, and one of the few places in the world outside Australia that sustains wallabies in the wild – but heard it had recently been up for sale. Someone with half a million pounds to spare can have their own Argyll isle and some very cute furry friends to look after.
You can arrange a boat to Inchconnachan from the picture-postcard village of Luss, not just one of the prettiest villages in Argyll but in all of Scotland. Yes, Luss can get a bit busy in the height of summer, but there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep everyone happy. We love visiting in winter when it is much quieter and you can stroll the whitewashed streets imagining what life was like here in the days before tourism. There is easy access to the shores of the loch and beaches to mess about on too. Planning for an expansion of watersports here was recently turned down, so rather than RIBs roaring around you’ll just find kids paddling.
Photo Credit: Robin McKelvie
Next year marks a very special year for Scotland’s first national park. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park was set up in 2002 and has had a major impact on both conservation and also guiding the way to more sustainable tourism, as the park gets more and more visitors. It is a delicate balance protecting nature, whilst simultaneously encouraging us all the enjoy the benefits of the park’s glorious flora and fauna. And 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the park.
We’d heard good things about the family-run Ardardan Estate down on the banks of the River Clyde just south of Loch Lomond. This lovely set-up is so Argyll! The estate has been opened up to welcome visitors. There is a brilliant tearoom where we tucked into lashings of local produce and bought one of the paintings by a local artist off the wall. Their shop is seriously well stocked too with smoked salmon from Dunoon and creamy cheese from Kintyre, plus their own estate fresh meat. There is a nursery on site. If you want to dip into Argyll for the day from Glasgow or Edinburgh this is ideal for lunch.
Pushing on a few miles further west we arrived in Helensburgh, the trim town on the banks of the Clyde that grew rich on the wealth of merchants from Glasgow. They built the massive mansions that still stand proud today. Chief amongst them, of course, is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s sublime Hill House, currently being preserved in its ‘tent’. The epic nature of Mackintosh’s finest domestic marvel still shines through. We’re also fans of Helensburgh’s Submarine Museum – the centrepiece is the startling X51 Stickleback. Helensburgh’s shops are great for mooching through too.
Photo Credit: Robin McKelvie
The architectural imprint of those rich Glaswegian merchants is also writ large on the neighbouring Rosneath Peninsula. Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson certainly made his mark here in a peninsula alive with protected heritage gems. There are lovely villages too in the shape of Cove and Kilcreggan – the latter is connected to Gourock by a handy ferry. A highlight for me on Rosneath is the Linn Botanic Garden with its waterfalls, ponds, ferns, bamboo and rhododendrons; not to mention the spectacular views. Wild About Argyll has the really handy Rosneath Peninsula West Coast Heritage Trail to follow.
We drove to and around Helensburgh and Rosneath, but the corner of Argyll around Loch Lomond is also a great walking country. The little-known 34-mile Three Lochs Way joins the recently renamed and extended Loch Lomond and Cowal Way from Arrochar to Inverglas. Then there is the John Muir Way, which kicks off in Helensburgh and enjoys its most scenic stretch from Helensburgh across the hills to Loch Lomond. The Scotrail stations at Helensburgh, Arrochar and Ardlui come in really handy if you want to pick off sections of the walks rather than the whole route. Also, look out for Scotrail’s new Highland Explorer carriages which are dedicated to cyclists – they’re brilliant!
Photo credit: Robin McKelvie
When my neighbour asked how our weekend in Loch Lomond went I confused him even more, confirming we didn’t stay in Argyll, but we explored Argyll’s Loch Lomond, Argyll’s share of the wider national park and then swathes of Argyll too. All in a weekend. And you can imagine his face when I mentioned the seaplanes and wallabies!