This year for the first time we took our boys on a two-week break. We were craving a decent amount of time to fully get off the hamster wheel and go on adventures. We considered several options for location, but decided to stay in the UK to test the waters of a longer holiday without throwing busy airports and flights into the mix. We settled on Scotland, more specifically the west coast which neither Jacob or I had seen much of either.
If you follow me on Instagram you may recall that we found there was so much to do for families in the area. In fact we still have plenty on our list that was left unticked, more than enough to have a second third and fourth lovely holiday up there another time.
On this occasion we left our pooch at home. We do enjoy going on holiday with her but we have found in the past that having her with us can limit our options. As it happened almost everything we did we could have done with her, so I think she will come exploring with us next time too!
So, where did we go and what did we do?
We stayed on the edge of Loch Fyne which is part of the Cowal peninsula region. It was a delightful choice, and with the gulf stream passing it was much better weather than we had realised. Our jumpers didn’t get worn very much, and we saw palm trees growing happily through local towns, much to the intrigue of Chief who, aged 8, is old enough to question the hows and whys of that.
The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful, I’m not sure that I would ever tire looking out at mountains reaching into the clouds. The lochs were like mirrors when the wind was still, and the reflection across the vast expanses of water was magnificent. It was a great space to get the creative side of my brain ticking over. It was so peaceful too, with very few vehicles on the roads and a quiet calm across everywhere that we ventured. If you are considering going on holiday here for the first time you are in for a treat! To help, I have shared our rough itinerary below. Just as a guide to get you going. If you are off to Scotland, I hope you have a great trip!
Our two week itinerary:
Glenfinart Walled Garden
This enchanting garden had lots of little pockets hidden away but bursting with colour. There were some great activities for the children, including a mini potting shed and ride on toys.
You can choose from a variety of routes here depending on the age and fitness levels of those in your party. I was still recovering from the long journey up to Scotland when we went here so I picked a shorter route with a wander along the river and a short ascent. The boys went much further up with Jacob and got fantastic views across the forest along with finding some lovely waterfalls.
Old Castle, Lachlan
There is not a huge amount to see at the castle itself, although information boards share stories of reported sightings of ghosts in the locality. A short scramble down to the beach finds you amongst rock pools filled with crabs and even small fish. We also spotted grasshoppers nearby and the boys thoroughly enjoyed exploring here.
Owned by the Scottish Natural Trust, these gardens are described as Britain’s “finest example of a Himalayan-style garden” and they did not disappoint. We were a little pushed for time when we visited but could have easily spent a full day wandering among the plants, waterfalls and bamboo tunnels.
The location for the reintroduction of beavers into the wild, Knapdale is a fantastic spot to visit. There are two very interesting information centres which are small but extremely well managed and the staff were very helpful. It’s easier to spot the beavers first thing in the morning or at dusk. The boys were a bit too tired to hang around to see them on this occasion but we did see one of the beaver lodges which was a first for us all! Also here was a view point overlooking Bellanoch and the River Add.
I don’t think I have been to a more magical location. We loved every inch of the walk along the waterfalls here, looking at moss covered logs, seeing rainbows in the water spray and spotting wildlife like frogs. It was divine and so peaceful. I could have gone back again and again!
Dunoon and Loch Eck
We went to Dunoon for a spot of shopping and to use the swimming pool which the boys really enjoyed. There are a good selection of shops, a small cinema (which had cheap showings of children’s films at the weekends when we were there) and a nice walk along the edge of Loch Long too. On our way back to our cottage we stopped off at Loch Eck which was simply gorgeous. A perfect spot for a picnic or simply to while away time reading or writing.
We opted to get a ferry across Loch Lomond from Luss, feeling that Balloch was a little too busy for us (although I’m told that there is a good shopping village there). Luss was small but very pleasant. The residents seemed quite relaxed about the hoards of visitors tramping the streets between the main car park and the jetty and from there we saw swallows swooping over the loch, bought ice creams (including vegan options) and had a picnic on the beach before boarding the boat. Our trip took us to the island of Inchcailloch, which literally means the ‘Isle of the Old Woman’. It’s thought to be named after Saint Kentigerna who travelled there from Ireland to preach and spread Christianity in the 8th century. The remains of a parish church dedicated to her can be found on the north of the island.
This working smiddy is delightful and a great place to visit with children who can have a go at pumping the bellows and hammering (cold) iron bars, whilst they watch hot iron being hammered and moulded into shape. Also in this town is Strachur House, home to the Maclean family. It boasts an impressive garden which is open to the public on certain weekends, and definitely worth a wander around if you’re in the area, for the opportunity to spot red squirrels playing as much as for taking a walk in the impressive and well thought out garden.
What a lovely town! Bustling shops and a lively community meet with a ferry port, along with boat trips out to a local seal colony. The town is overlooked by the impressive McCaig’s Tower, built around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries as a lasting monument to the McCaig family and to provide winter work for local stonemasons.
There are lots of outdoor, family activities available in the region. Our boys chose to go on a short pony trek, but other options include canoeing, a crossbow range, paintballing, wakeboarding, gorge walking or mountain biking. Or for something slightly less draining on energy levels there are sea plane journeys available which looked like a lot of fun!
Argyll Secret Coast
There is lots to explore on this coastline. We went to Ostel Bay which was stunning and virtually empty, just one other family was there. It was a terrific spot. You need to park in an unmarked bay on the side of the road, next to a house where the owners sell ice creams, lollies and other light refreshments. A 15 minute walk down to the beach from there will deliver you to the coast, with that gulf stream contributing to warm waters which were crystal clear giving us a good view of shoals of small fish darting around our feet.
This is a super place for all the family to explore. The guided tour via headphones was very interesting and I felt provided more information about the jail than the information boards. Staff were extremely helpful too, telling stories of the jail and providing detail about what a typical day might have looked like. One cell is set up as a modern cell which the boys found interesting if not slightly unnerving! Jacob and I learnt why police prison vans are called ‘Black Marias’ here as well.
Benmore Botanical Garden
With a beautiful fernery and a lovely avenue of redwoods, Benmore is worth a visit. It’s a great location for stretching your legs and helping children (and adults) to identify a variety of different plants and trees. We saw a red squirrel here too, which ran across the path just by us.
I hope that this might help you to plan a trip to the beautiful Argyll and Bute region, and that if you do go you have lots of fun! As I said above, we came home with plenty of places left unticked, ready for a future trip. Where would you recommend we go next time we visit? Let me know in the comments below!