POSTCARD perfect, Luss is possibly the most picturesque village in Scotland.
It’s a designated conservation village and the rows of single-storey cottages, originally built for workers of the cotton mill and slate quarries, may be familiar as the location of Glendarroch in long-running STV soap High Road. Amateur photographers hog the pier and it would be easy to become so enthralled with framing your shot that you could fall into the crystal-clear water below.
The base for our stay is the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel (formerly the Colquhoun Arms) which has been a hotel for more than 200 years and reopened last August after a £3 million refit by The Luss Estates Company, chaired by the present baronet, Sir Malcolm Colquhoun of Luss. The warm welcome when you arrive is provided, in part, by the fragrant log fire which is central to the bar and restaurant, and in part by the friendly staff.
The interior has been cleverly designed to feel homely and comfortable. For foreign visitors there’s no mistaking which country you’re visiting, as tartan and tweed feature heavily and there are plenty of the obligatory antlers. There’s a strong ornithological theme with vintage illustrations and stuffed specimens, but there’s no shortage of modern touches, with LCD TVs, iPod docking stations and wi-fi connection in the rooms.
We stayed in one of two suites, the Lomond, generally used by honeymooners and spacious enough to comfortably accommodate a folding bed for our daughter. The giant four-poster would have been big enough for the whole family but the height of the mattress made for a fun challenge – until we spotted the stool to assist.
A weekend could easily be spent sitting on the “bonnie banks” admiring the view and watching boats pass by, but there’s plenty to do for active families – whatever the weather. Loch Lomond Shores is a destination in itself with shopping, cafes and a Sea Life centre and it certainly makes the most of its view north up the loch. An aquarium on the banks of the largest freshwater loch in Scotland may seem an odd juxtaposition but it’s an opportunity to see what lies beneath, as well as to learn about the otters who live on the banks, though Mona, Shona and Rona are actually Asian short-clawed otters and the only species we’d be happy to take home. There’s also a Giant Pacific Octopus, and Cammy the only giant sea turtle in Scotland, as well as seahorses, rays and sharks.
We enjoyed the company of Jean and her assistant Heather at Duncryne Trekking Centre in Gartocharn. They helped our princess feel like Merida in Brave. Pony-trekking is a great way to feel at one with nature, though we weren’t lucky enough to see the fawns that had been spotted the previous day. Local tip-offs are always worth taking seriously and Jean confirmed LoveLomond’s suggestion that once we dismounted and regained the feeling in our legs, we climb Duncryne Hill. Indeed Tom Weir, legendary woolly bunnet-wearing presenter of Weir’s Way, lived in Gartocharn and is said to have climbed what’s locally known as the Dumpling on a daily basis. It’s a short but steep climb and the reward is a spectacular 360 degree vista which includes Loch Lomond and its islands, Ben Lomond, Ben Vorlich and The Cobbler. Another perfect photo opportunity.
We left the National Park to visit Hill House in Helensburgh, which was named after Helen, the wife of Sir James Colquhoun of Luss in 1776. It was in 1902 that publisher Walter Blackie had his friend Charles Rennie Mackintosh design and furnish Hill House, which overlooks the River Clyde. While the exterior is a fairly nondescript grey harled building, the inside has been restored by the National Trust for Scotland and looks almost exactly as it would have when new. It is an incredible illustration of Mackintosh’s talent and easily stands the test of time.
There’s no doubt that fresh air and exercise are the best ingredients to create a healthy appetite and back at the Loch Lomond Arms we were well looked after. The kitchen, under head chef Peter Wilson, uses locally sourced produce to provide hearty but reasonably priced meals, which is no doubt why it was so busy on a couple of dreich midweek evenings and there’s certainly nowhere else we’d rather have been.
Rooms at the Loch Lomond Arms Hotel start from £80 single and £120 based on two sharing, tel: 01436 860420, www.lochlomondarmshotel.com; www.lovelochlomond.com/ The Hill House, Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh, 1 Apr-31 Oct, daily 1.30-5.30pm, adults £9.50, family £23, tel: 0844 493 2208.