Cowal Food Trail Argyll
For anyone who is passionate about food, Cowal offers the best of fresh, local produce. The sea lochs provide seafood caught daily and there's high-quality game and beef - include Highland cattle beef - from the hills. The thriving community of local producers create everything from smoked delicacies to local ales. And the many cafés, restaurants and pubs serve it all up in relaxed surroundings. Follow this food journey through Cowal to discover a feast of local food and drink. What could be more enjoyable than stumbling upon a hidden gem of a restaurant and trying the catch of the day? Plus there are lots of other things to see and do along the way.
Cairndow to Strachur
Start your journey at the famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar & Restaurant, which sits at the head of Loch Fyne just under an hour’s drive from Glasgow. It’s a fabulous place to enjoy world-class seafood in lovely surroundings. There’s also a deli, where you can buy seafood, fish and other local produce and delicacies. The company started out in the 1970s, farming oysters in the clear waters of Loch Fyne and selling them direct to the public in a nearby lay-by. Today Loch Fyne Oysters still produces seafood in the loch, as well as smoking fish on site, all of which is served up in the restaurant and available to buy in the deli.
Fyne Ales Brewery, Shop & Bar is just along the road and well worth a visit. When leaving Loch Fyne Oysters, turn left on to the A83 and then take the second left and follow the winding road up Glen Fyne for a few minutes and you’ll find the brewery. As well as bar selling ales and home-cooked food, there's also a shop where you can buy the full range of bottle ales and mini casks, as well as beef from Fyne Ales' own herd of Highland Cattle. Take a tour with one of the expert brewers to see how the beers are made then learn about the beers through a tutored tasting. Afterwards, sit in the courtyard and enjoy the sun with a pint of your favourite beer and a steak pie.
Your next stop is the Creggans Inn at Strachur. You might want to visit Ardkinglas Woodland Gardens for a short stroll first. It’s a few minutes’ drive along the A83 towards Glasgow. Open all year round, there are some lovely trails with wonderful views of Loch Fyne, including a Gruffalo trail for the young. And if you fancy getting hands-on, cookery workshops are held throughout the year in the Edwardian Kitchen in Ardkinglas House.
Continue heading east along the A83 and then take the A815, which hugs the east bank of Loch Fyne, until you reach The Creggans Inn. There are two dining options at this warm and welcoming family-run hotel. MacPhunn's Bar & Restaurant is great for a relaxed meal while the 2 AA Rosette Loch Fyne Dining Room offers fine dining. You’ll find local, seasonal ingredients on the menu. Or why not just enjoy a dram in MacPhunns Bar? It’s named after 'half hung Archie' MacPhunn, the sheep stealer who after being hung in Inveraray for murder was revived by a dram.
Locals tip: The Tinkers' Heart, a pattern of quartz stones which was originally laid in the 1700s, has been used by generations of Scottish Travellers as a wedding place. You’ll find it in a field beside the A815 on east Loch Fyne near the junction with the B839.
Strachur to Portavadie
At Strachur take the A886 and then the B8000. This winding single-track road will take you through some of Argyll’s most stunning scenery. It will also take you to Inver, one of Scotland’s best places to eat. Sitting on the shore of Loch Fyne looking out over Castle Lachlan, Inver serves up exceptional food. Using current cooking techniques and the very best local wild and farmed ingredients, they offer a contemporary take on traditional and forgotten Scottish dishes. The restaurant has been picking up accolades and awards galore. And new for 2018, there are now four lovely bothies, so you can dine and stay the night. Breakfast, delivered in the morning, is divine.
Carry on along the B8000 and you’ll reach another gem of a place to eat. The wonderful Oystercatcher which sits right on the beach at Otter Ferry. It serves up delicious locally sourced food in an unbeatable shore-side seaside setting. The sturdy white-washed building is surrounded by plenty of outdoor tables so you can enjoy beautiful views over the loch on a fine day. The Oystercatcher opens out onto Otter Bay and the old Otter Ferry Pier. The huge Otter Spit stretches right out into the loch from Otter Bay and is always teeming with birdlife. If you time it right, at low tide you can walk along the spit for about a mile.
If you can drag yourself away from the view, it’s time to head to Portavadie for something completely different. Follow the B8000 until you reach the crossroads at Millhouse and then turn right to Portavadie. You’re now in the heart of ‘Argyll’s Secret Coast’, an undiscovered corner of Cowal that’s bordered by two pristine stretches of water, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne, and is renowned for its seafood. And where better to sample local seafood than Portavadie, Loch Fyne? On a sunny day you can’t beat sitting on the terrace with a glass of cold Chablis, watching the yachts sail in and tucking into fresh seafood cooked to perfection. Head to the Spa & Leisure Café for stone-baked pizza.
Local tip: At Evanachan Organic Farm in Otter Ferry, Fiona Barge makes delicious cheese with milk from her four Jersey cows. Look out for Fi’s Hut, where you can buy the cheese, as well as seasonal vegetables and jams. Just pop you money in the honesty box.
Portavadie to Tighnabruaich
Continuing your drive through Argyll’s Secret Coast, in just three miles you will move from a west-facing coastline at Portavadie to an east-facing coastline one in the twin villages of Kames and Tighnabruaich. In Tighnababruaich you’ll find The Royal An Lochan, which has a lovely restaurant and bar. Naturally enough, seafood features prominently and you can expect to see a variety of local fish, langoustine, mussels and scallops on the menus as both starter and main courses.
Further into the village of Tighnabruaich you’ll find the wonderful Botanica Restaurant & Rooms. The menu change daily depending on the season and availability from suppliers. The menu features the very best of local produce sourced from local fishmongers, butchers, farmers and cheesemakers. The owners grow their own vegetables in the garden and local allotment, as well as smoking fish, meats and cheese from the onsite smoker. Head chef/owner Michal has a passion for foraging for wild food on the shores, forests and hills in Argyll. The food can be enjoyed in the outside patio area or inside where you can watching the chef at work in the open kitchen.
A few miles’ drive north of Tighnabruaich stop to look at the spectacular view of the East Kyle of Bute from the National Trust Lookout point. From there on a clear day you’ll see your next destination, Colintraive where the Colintraive Hotel has a richly deserved reputation for the quality of its food and the warmth of the welcome. Ingredients are locally sourced and lovingly prepared to create a range of dishes. The hotel’s seafood linguine signature dish is a stunner.
Local tip: It’s well worth visiting Caol Ruadh Scottish Sculpture Park, located just outside Colintraive. It’s a unique outdoor art gallery that promotes and sells contemporary sculpture created in Scotland.
Colintraive to Dunoon
The drive from Colintraive to Dunoon is stunning one. Head back along the A886 before turning right onto the B836. In Dunoon, the principal town on the Cowal Peninsula, you’ll fine a number of great places to eat and drink. The newly renovated Dunoon Burgh Hall has a fabulous café, as does the newly opened Queen’s Hall. The Swallow Café is great pace for home made ice cream and delicious cakes.
Just four miles south of Dunoon you’ll find The Villagers Royal, an award-winning pub and restaurant located in the village of Innellan. The Osborne Hotel is another good spot to dine in Innellan. Enjoy great views of the Clyde while you tuck into excellent meals cooked using locally sourced meat and fish.
A visit to Benmore Gardens near Dunoon, is a fabulously rewarding experience. At Benmore Café you’ll find a selection of freshly made food, from homemade soups to an assortment of cakes, sandwiches and main courses which you can enjoy indoors or in a pleasant patio area. Local produce, including lamb and venison, are found on the menu.
Local tip: The ethereal Puck’s Glen is a great place to work up an appetite. Near Benmore Gardens, the forest's moist shady undergrowth and delicious dark atmosphere is great fun to explore. There are two way-marked trails here: one winds through the gorge with its tumbling waterfalls; the other takes a longer route to great viewpoints and some of the finest rhododendron displays in the country.
With so many quality, local ingredients available in Cowal, be it seafood, meat, dairy fruit or vegetables, it’s no wonder that the area has become a magnet for both talented cooks and chefs and devoted foodies alike. The above represents just a small sample of what is available in our gastronomically blessed corner of Scotland, it’s up to you to get out and explore.