Travel review: Castle luxury on the loch
It’s no secret that I love Scotland, from the borders, up the beautiful east coast, across the stunning north coast and down the west coast. And let’s not forget the islands.
Even on a rainy, windy day the scenery never disappoints – only the fog can do that.
But perhaps my favourite area on the mainland is the west coast which offers everything from sandy beaches to beautiful rolling roads through forests and glens and plenty of castles, stunning gardens and historic sites along the way.
On the Kintyre peninsula you get all of that – it runs for 30 miles in the south west of Argyll and Bute and just making the drive is so rewarding.
If you want to stay in the area, Tarbert, at the bottom end of Loch Fyne, is a good point to make a base. And just two miles outside this pretty fishing village is Stonefield Castle Hotel. Dog-friendly, people-friendly and so relaxing with top rate service. Grand and elegant but there is nothing stuffy about this castle.
Built in 1837 by the architect William Playfair, it is a beautiful example of Scottish baronial architecture. The castle retains most of its original character with spectacular exterior cornice’s and mouldings. The interior also contains a variety of its original features from wood panelling to ornate ceilings and marble fireplaces. And let’s just say my partner spent some hours during our visit photographing many of these features – the most I have ever seen him spend doing so.
And it’s not just the castle that offers so much, its surroundings are on a par with the building itself with 60 acres of spectacular woodland gardens and the shores of Loch Fyne plus an island to explore.
Spend a couple of hours wandering around the gardens with its collection of trees, shrubs, ferns, impressive rhododendrons, camellias (obviously subject to season) and many other plants from New Zealand, Japan, China and the Himalayas, and an impressive four-arched bridge, which spans a ravine over the Barmore Burn, and was also designed by Playfair. A mausoleum for John Campbell, an eminent lawyer and judge in the late 1700s, a predecessor of the man who built Stonefield, is also in the grounds, and there is also a folly known as The Tower. So much to see.
Then go down to Banmore Island and do the circular walk around it. It takes about an hour. There’s a chance to see so much wildlife including seals and sea otters with many birds. There are clear paths (although they can be muddy so be sure to wear stout footwear) with a couple of gentle climbs and a short section on the shore which is slightly rocky and may be covered at high tide, but there is a short detour round.
And all of that is for free – you would pay a lot to visit many gardens like this.
Inside there are 38 en suite bedrooms which have each been individually and elegantly decorated, some featuring breath-taking views over the gardens and Loch Fyne.
Fine cotton sheets, comfy chairs, beds to guarantee a good night’s sleep and bathrooms with quality toiletries and fluffy decent-sized towels, with plenty of room for a dog bed in this canine-welcoming hotel.
And when the hotel calls itself dog-friendly, it really is. The only place out of bounds in the public areas for your four-legged friend is in the restaurant.
There were several well-behaved dogs during our stay, including my own hound.
If you don’t want to leave your dog in your bedroom or in your car, breakfast can be set up in the wood panelled bar where light meals are also served up until 9pm at night. And such is the attention to detail at Stonefield that thorough cleaning means no signs or smells of dogs!
But back to the restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dinner overlooking Loch Fyne. There is so much space, all diners get a good view. And with Covid-19 measures in place, distancing is no problem. Measures are indeed extensive throughout the hotel. Breakfast was also a fine affair and our bar snack one evening was also a delight.
If you can tear yourself away, take a visit to Tarbert. A pretty little place, the village is renowned for Tarbert Castle, associated with Robert the Bruce, that overlooks the harbour. A steep climb up but well worth it for the views. Tarbert is also renowned for some of the finest, freshest and tastiest seafood and has superb events and festivals that hopefully will return before too long including the Scottish Series Yacht Race, Tarbert Seafood Festival and the Tarbert Music Festival.
If you enjoy long distance walks, the start of the Kintyre Way walk is here in Tarbert by Tarbert Castle, the first stretch of the Kintyre way uses the existing Tarbert to Skipness walk and the early part gives you superb views up Loch Fyne towards Lochgilphead.
The walk criss crosses its way through towns throughout Kintyre including Campbeltown, Machrihanish, Tayinloan and Carradale.
From the southern tip of Kintyre you can see the northern tip of Ireland. There’s also interesting geology, archeology and ancient history – burial cairns and standing stones are to be found across the region.
And all of this is just a short drive away from Stonefield Castle.