Scotland on Sunday, Do Not Disturb
A warm welcome in the West Highlands for a relaxed and informal weekend away
It’s a long way to Inveraray. Or at least it seems to be when the A83 at Rest And Be Thankful is out of commission because of landslips or work being carried out to prevent them. But however arduous the journey, it’s well worth it for the stunning scenery and the welcome that awaits at the town’s George Hotel.
The establishment dates from 1770, when two private houses were merged. Six years later, the 5th Duke of Argyll ordered that the ground floors of each be made into churches for the Gaelic and English speaking congregations. Those churches are now the bar and lounge.
Present owner Donald Clark is the seventh generation of his family to live in the hotel and he has led a sensitive restoration project for this unique building, with rooms given names including the Wee Hoose, the Big Hoose, the Merchant’s Room, the Library and a four-bedroom house called the Barn.
We stayed in the Library, every bit a bibliophile’s haven, but for the added attraction of a great big double Jacuzzi. We browsed the shelves packed with books rather than taking a dip, enjoying the general air of aged rustic grandeur. The walls of the hotel are adorned with portraits of various Argylls and much of the furniture seems antique, yet the atmosphere is friendly and informal – it certainly put at their ease what seemed like a coach load of Glaswegians who were hell bent on a weekend of good-natured, raucous revelry.
Budget or boutique?
The George defies categorisation. It’s inexpensive, but you could find cheaper places to stay. It has little touches that you might expect in boutique hotels, but without the boutique price tag.
Wining and dining
The hotel prides itself on being “a lively haunt for both local characters and visitors alike” and it certainly is that. Four roaring fires and original solid stone flagstoned floors help create a cosy ambience.
Food is served all day from noon to 9pm and the emphasis is on quality local produce. Sitting on the banks of Loch Fyne, there is no shortage of wonderfully fresh seafood and fish bought from the nearby port of Tarbet. Loch Fyne salmon and kippers, mussels and oysters feature heavily on the reasonably priced menu, along with West Highland beef and lamb.
The George features in the Good Pub Guide and the Good Beer Guide and, with a wide choice of real ales, 100 malt whiskies and an extensive wine list, it’s easy to see why. Breakfasts are every bit as hale and hearty.
Worth getting out of bed for
Pretty much next door to the hotel is Inveraray Jail, famed as one of the best preserved jail and courtroom complexes in the world. Admittedly it’s not the most uplifting experience. The cells are small, dank and dark and often housed several people at once. The stories of inmates who were incarcerated here are mostly tales of human tragedy. Prisoners included people we would recognise today as being mentally ill rather than criminal and desperate children who stole simply to try to feed themselves and their siblings.
The spectacular landscape only adds to the pathos as the position of the prison bars high on the cells’ walls meant the inmates could not even enjoy the stunning natural beauty surrounding them.
Inveraray is the traditional county town of Argyll and the ancestral home to the third Duke of Argyll, who founded the town alongside his new home, Inveraray Castle, in 1745. The building is set in extensive grounds which contain a number of marked walks, the most strenuous of which rises more than 800 feet to the tower on Dun Na Cuaiche, which boasts a spectacular view over the castle, town and loch.
Edinburgh-based performer Andy Chung, ably assisted by an accomplished keyboard player, had the whole coachload of Glaswegians and more cutting up the dancefloor into the wee small hours.
Guest book comments
It’s hard to imagine there could be a warmer welcome anywhere in the West Highlands for a relaxed and informal weekend away.
Rooms range from £65 for a room only to £200 for The Barn. The George Hotel, 1 Main Street East, Inveraray, Argyll PA32 8TT. (Tel: 01499 302111, www.thegeorgehotel.co.uk)