Travel: Aberfoyle and The Trossachs

The Macdonald Hotel on the banks of Loch Ard. Picture: Submitted

The Macdonald Hotel on the banks of Loch Ard. Picture: Submitted

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Tranquil surroundings and echoes of a holiday past make a Trossachs trip memorable for Pamela Moffat

I arrive in a dreich Aberfoyle, armed with black and white photos from 1952 when my father’s family visited the area on holiday. Dad has asked me to try to find out exactly where the pictures were taken. The story goes that my grandparents were surprised to find that they’d house-swapped a modest terraced villa in East Edinburgh for a lochside mansion, complete with boathouse. Furthermore, while out rowing they stumbled onto the set of Disney’s Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue. It’s a wonderful holiday memory that has been relayed down the generations.

My husband, daughter and I are heading for an equally plush residence – the Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel, also situated on the banks of Loch Ard. As we leave the town we are surprised to drive past the very house that dad stayed in more than 60 years ago.

The setting of Forest Hills is tranquil, elevated above the loch affording it spectacular views of Ben Lomond in the distance. There are a variety of accommodation options and our suite for the weekend is positioned in the original house which helps add to the character. The room is just what I would expect of a four star establishment, clean, comfortable and with everything you might need; the only niggle is the lack of free wi-fi as the signal in the area is sketchy. As it happens being disconnected reinforces the feeling of being away from it all.

The swimming pool is always the first port of call when holidaying with our 8-year-old Water Babe (WB) and it’s situated in a separate building which also houses a gymnasium, spa and bistro. We spend hours enjoying the 18 metre pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.

Dinner is served in the Garden Restaurant which has glorious views over the gardens and loch. The food, while perfectly acceptable, doesn’t quite live up to its AA Rosette award. Eton Mess for dessert comes with a berry compote, but I would prefer unadulterated fresh Scottish berries – there are plenty growing nearby. However the children’s menu has a good choice and portion sizes.

The following morning we decide to go down to the woods. We’re staying next to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park after all. Managed by the Forestry Commission there are signed trails and a more extreme experience can be had at the Go-Ape tree top trek.

We walk though the woods to the waterfall where the rush of running water is interrupted only by screams from the zip wire overhead. There are hammocks slung low between towering trees where we lie and gaze upwards for an ethereal experience and WB enjoys altering the course of a natural stream in a new play area.

Boats or bikes are available to hire at Go Country, situated on the water’s edge below the hotel, and the staff can arrange all types of outdoor adventures. WB and her dad don wetsuits and attempt the inflatable obstacle course; with Total Wipeout results.

We stop at the nearby Wee Blether Tearoom in Kinlochard and discover our new favourite eaterie. It’s quirky (the loos are decorated with pictures of the Broons and Oor Wullie), homely (with delicious slices of cake big enough for two).

Back at the hotel, I sneak off to the spa, opting for a facial using Elemis products before a more informal dinner at Rafters bistro, situated above the pool and spa. I’m still at a loss as to why anyone would create a dining area without windows in a space where patrons would pay handsomely for the views alone.

The following morning, reluctant to leave, we hire a canoe and head across the loch, encountering a massive bird of prey swooping low overhead – as close to a Bear Grylls experience as we have ever had.

As we finally head for home we stop at ‘the house’. The owners are home (not the same family since 1952) and we share our story and images and take a few photos to share with dad – along with some great new holiday tales.

Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa, Kinlochard, The Trossachs, Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire FK8 3TL; classic doubles start from £85 B&B. Dinner in the Garden Restaurant, £35pp for three courses and coffee. Tel: 0844 879 9057 or visit www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk

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