The blue boat cruises through the harbour waters and then attacks the unprotected swell with confidence. This little craft is on a mission and I’m hoping it’s on my behalf. I sigh in relief as she heaves to at a buoy and the fisherman starts to raise a lobster pot. That’s my dinner sorted.
Portpatrick on the west coast of Scotland’s south-western extremity is a beacon for artists and shellfish eaters. Picture perfect, the boat-filled harbour is framed by colourful buildings and you quickly understand why it has become an artists’ colony. It’s a congenial resting place on the Wigtownshire fringes of Dumfries and Galloway, with a nice bustle in contrast to the wilder landscape of the Mull of Galloway to the south.
Budget or boutique?
Neither. Fernhill is where you get a good value, a hotel which makes the most of its assets: sea views, purpose-built rooms with balconies, country house care and a stunning dining room.
The hotel is all organised for Covid living, including a one-way route to the dining room.
My bedroom is in the cottage annex, a converted stone building with four twins. I have a sea view, full bathroom and although there is a place to sit, the reception, dining room and elegant lounge in the main hotel make the most of the stunning views over the harbour.
Wining and dining
Is this one of the best meals I’ve ever had? It certainly comes close. “Lobster Sensation” says the menu and chef Bruce McLean is setting the bar high. He is new to the Fernhill but was an award-winning head chef at sister hotel, North West Castle and is intent on putting the Fernhill on the culinary map. In this menu’s six courses he does just that. From the cappuccino of lobster bisque through scallops, black pudding and lobster to the show stopping “surf and turf” – lobster thermidor and fillet steak – everything is thrilling: tastebud-tingling and pure eye candy. Although lobster is the obvious star, the desert is also an Oscar contender. The constant side helping of harbour views as the sun sinks makes it a special experience.
Worth getting out of bed for
Logan Botanic Garden is the exotic sister of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and only 16 miles away. From its palm-lined welcome to the host of plants that shouldn’t grow outside at this latitude, it's a living treasure, thanks to the Gulf Stream which nurtures this corner of Scotland. The gardens at Castle Kennedy, near Stranraer, are also worth seeing, in a more natural landscape than Logan, yet still planned and cultivated.
I caught the end of the rhododendrons and was early for the lily pond’s full glory, but the evergreens – including an avenue of monkey puzzles – are always magnificent. Both gardens have great cafes too.
If an untamed landscape is your thing, head down to the Mull of Galloway where on a wild headland a lighthouse guards the southernmost tip of Scotland. Designed by Robert Stevenson, it has guided seafarers round its cliffs since 1830. The Gallie Craig – a cafe cleverly tucked into the cliff top – is a layer of civilisation for this dramatic spot which enthrals bird watchers and flora spotters alike.
This is one of the three family-run McMillan hotels and you can use the leisure facilities – including swimming pool and curling rink – at North West Castle Hotel in Stranraer, only eight miles away.
Sensational lobster is just the icing on the cake in this corner of Galloway.
Lobster Sensation, six-course dinner menu, £57.50 per person (advance booking required). Available to non-residents.
Visit Southwest Scotland: www.visitsouthwestscotland.com
Mull of Galloway: mull-of-galloway.co.uk
Logan Botanic Garden: www.rbge.org.uk/visit/logan-botanic-garden
Castle Kennedy Gardens: castlekennedygardens.com