Travel: Tarbert, Loch Fyne

Tarbert, Scotland.'Loch Fyne
Tarbert, Scotland.'Loch Fyne
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It was almost a disaster. We had booked a west coast weekend away in the sleepy fishing village of Tarbert, and seemed to be making good time on our journey. Unfortunately, I was following signs for Tarbet, and when we arrived at what we thought was our destination, we were left scratching our heads after asking for directions to our hotel.

“The Stonefield Castle Hotel? There’s no Stonefield Castle Hotel in Tarbet,” the woman said truthfully.

Using the fleeting wi-fi on my phone, I turned to a well-known online route-finder to discover Tarbert was a further seven-hour drive. It was 6pm. I looked at my poor wife sitting in the driver’s seat, and wondered how I would break the news – or indeed if she would let me back in the car. (Thankfully, she’s the forgiving kind.) However, the route-finder, which like me is not perfect, had decided to point us in the direction of Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, while we wanted the Loch Fyne version, around an hour away.

We realised we were, in fact, on track, and in no time at all were pulling into the grounds of the Stonefield Castle Hotel, a 19th century baronial pile nestled on the Kintyre peninsula, on the shore of Loch Fyne, with water in two directions and plenty of walking tracks for working up an appetite before dinner.

The garden has one of the largest collections of rhododendrons in the UK, many of which were brought to Scotland from the Himalayas and date back to 1850 – almost as old as the castle itself. Inside there is a log fire in the foyer, which fills the ground floor with the welcoming scent of burning kindling.

In traditional Scottish country style, the ground floor has a library, drawing room and bar. The corridor and stairwell are grand and the soft furnishings are generally richly decorated with tartans and floral designs.

However, the star attraction is the restaurant, which has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides providing a glorious view of the gardens and loch. It’s a conversation stopper.

Not surprisingly, given its location, Stonefield does a good line in seafood. We had mussels flavoured with white wine, cream and a bay leaf. I’m not usually a seafood fan, but these were so tender and well seasoned that we returned to the hotel’s restaurant on the second night too.

We were given a large suite with one of the comfiest beds we had even slept in and, after the long drive, and my calamitous navigating, we were so worn out that we went straight upstairs for a nap.

Like the hotel, the suite was decorated for traditional Scottish country living. It had red floral curtains, chairs and a sofa, and dark wooden furniture. The suite was lovely and warm – I hate to think what the hotel’s heating bill must be – and the bathroom had a powerful shower, reinvigorating us before going down for dinner. After driving through the cold, dark and mist, the warmth of the hotel was exactly what we needed.

The hotel is just outside Tarbert, which is picture postcard pretty, with its fishing marina flanked by arts and crafts shops, restaurants and cafes – one of which, bizarrely, is a kind of homage to James Martin, with pictures of the Saturday Kitchen presenter lining the walls and his kitchenware on sale.

While beautiful and relaxing, there is only enough in the village to occupy visitors for an afternoon. So, after browsing and gift buying, we returned to the car to explore a bit further afield.

On a moody autumnal day, with a rough and rugged coastline, and a slate grey sea, this part of the west coast has a desolate beauty, interrupted only by wee hamlets and small herds of cattle.

It’s an awe-inspiring landscape. We drove as far as far as Campbeltown, thinking we might find a quiet pub to watch the rugby, however, it was less pretty so we decided to head back instead.

That night Scotland lost the rugby, but wrapped up in baronial splendor, we were still winners.

• Stonefield Castle Hotel, Tarbert, Loch Fyne, Argyll (0844 414 6582, Bed and breakfast with a double room costs from around £90 a night, principal suites, with views looking over the loch, start at about £140 a night. To go to Tarbert from Edinburgh, take the M8 and M9, then turn on to the A82 and follow it onto the A83. It takes just over three hours.