Enjoying Scotland's stunning scenery, with added luxury

A break in a forest cabin is the perfect way to recharge the batteries, finds Catriona Thomson

The Silver Birch cabins at Ardgartan. Picture: contributed
The Silver Birch cabins at Ardgartan. Picture: contributed

We saw Loch Lomond at its very best; bathed in sunlight and framed by blue skies, it was perfection. A moment later a nasty shower spoiled the scene, but only briefly, as gloom was replaced by a rainbow hovering above the water. Whatever the season, Scotland’s ever-changing weather can be really stunning.

We are on our way to Ardgartan near Arrochar for a weekend break. It must be the giddy thoughts of holiday freedom away from work, as driving alongside the loch seems as if I am speeding across the waves on a boat.

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We will be staying in a Forest Holidays cabin. The company was set up in partnership with the Forestry Commission in the 1960s, sharing the common goals of looking after the forest environment and wildlife for the long term. It offers holidays in luxury cabins and tree houses in beautiful Forestry Commission woodlands across the UK.

Some cabins on site feature an outdoor hot tub. Picture: contributed

Our eco credentials are intact, for as well as opting to holiday in the UK, on this trip all the cabins are constructed from sustainable sources, and they blend in with the natural forest environment. They also provide a haven for birds, animals and plants. During our stay we share our decking with a jay, numerous goldfinches, blue and coal tits, sparrows and some seriously territorial robins. All are happy to feast on some seeded bread we tempt them with while we watch them from the comfort of our cabin.

The site is surrounded by lush forest and nestles on the banks of Loch Long with only the occasional rumble of trains on the West Highland Line to break the silence. The Munro and Corbett, Beinn Ime and Ben Arthur (also known as The Cobbler), respectively, which form part of the Arrochar Alps, complete the vista.

Guests normally arrive by car, the boot stuffed with outdoor gear to make the most of what the location has to offer. You can hire bikes on-site, and part of the attraction of a stay is the activities you can sign up to. We have sampled a rangers survival course before at another site, which was great fun. At the Ardgartan site, if you are feeling brave you can tackle Segway tours, paddleboarding, archery or a night vision adventure, to list a few options, but we decided to give Canadian canoeing a go.

At the pre-appointed time we arrive for our safety briefing and don our life jackets before taking to the chilly waters of Loch Long in the company of David, our instructor. We all thoroughly enjoyed our short excursion, before a stormy shower sent us heading for shore. Everyone felt the thrill of being out in the open and learning new skills, plus seeing the landscape from a completely different perspective was inspiring.

Views from the Loch Long shoreline. Picture: contributed

We are staying in a Silver Birch chalet, which has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s open plan in layout, and comes complete with a hot tub. I’m not usually fussed about such luxuries, however, a quick soak after our canoeing exploits changes my mind, as tense, tight muscles are relaxed by the hot jets. Our booking includes an entertainment package which allows us the choice of 93 films to watch and some internet access for the youngsters, not something I’d be brave enough to do without.

There is an on-site café/shop, which sells a selection of delicious ready meals and beers, as well as gifts and clothing. We stocked up on supplies en route, but you can get pizzas delivered to your cabin for an extra charge if you are feeling lazy.

Any family break has moments of great drama: mine came when two truculent youngsters put their collective tiny foot down and refused to do anything. So I voted with my feet, and set off to do a spot of solo exploring, leaving my partner Graham to cajole the kids into a more positive frame of mind.

After a short drive I discovered the Rest And Be Thankful viewpoint, before heading along a winding road to Strachur where I found Castle Lachlan. I was pretty glad I did too.

Some cabins on site feature an outdoor hot tub. Picture: contributed

When I return to base, harmony has been restored and everyone is out and about, exploring the forest – and it turns out they did miss me after all.

Consensus reached, we make for Inverary. As we are parking up next to the harbour, I’m delighted to spy the Vital Spark puffer. The girls are instantly drawn to the sweet shop and the supersized icecream cones on offer. We then make for Inverary Jail and enjoy learning about the Scottish penal system. Luckily no-one in the party has behaved badly enough to be incarcerated for the night. n

• A three-night weekend stay at Silver Birch cabin at Ardgartan Argyll, Scotland which sleeps four with outdoor hot tub and including entertainment package costs from £430 per cabin, www.forestholidays.co.uk

Views from the Loch Long shoreline. Picture: contributed