If Arran is Scotland in miniature then Lochranza must be one of the prettiest Highland villages you could ever visit and the Scottish Youth Hostel is located in a prime setting to take advantage of the breathtaking surroundings.
I was staying for my second #SYHAdventure and if I thought the view from my previous room at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, which looked on to Ben Nevis itself, would take some beating then I was happily proved wrong!
If I had a check list for my perfect Highland view then a tidal sea loch, mountains, ruined castle, wildlife and pretty little white cottages would be definite inclusions and to my delight they had all been tantalisingly arranged outside my window. It took me a while to draw myself away from observing the roaming red deer, fishing heron and the incoming flow of the tide below.
If you have preconceptions about staying at a youth hostel you really need to leave them here, with private en-suite rooms and modern shared facilities on offer alongside traditional budget dormitory options, this recently renovated accommodation is great value and a bonus for me was being able to take my dog as Lochranza is one of several dog friendly SYHA escapes.
I have explored all the villages on Arran and although all picturesque, Lochranza is without doubt the one I would choose to stay in. Other than lacking a shop which is a bit inconvenient (you can buy basics at the SYHA) it has everything a lover of the outdoors and picturesque scenery could want and I was not the only one there to take advantage of this natural playground judging by the bikes and kayaks lining the outside of the building.
With a 13th Century ruined castle, whisky distillery and abundance of wildlife on the doorstep there is plenty to keep you entertained even if you don't want to stray far.
The SYHA theme for May is wildlife and their Lochranza Youth Hostel is the perfect wildlife watching location, you only have to look out the window to spot red deer, seals, and a wide variety of bird life, venture a little further from the doorstep and you could be rewarded with a plethora of creatures including red squirrels, golden eagles and otters.
Low level hillwalking is the most popular activity on the island and provides plenty opportunity to seek out some of the island's more elusive inhabitants. There are lots of signposted trails from Lochranza so I decided that it was time to turn to social media and ask the locals for their recommendations. No surprise that I had lots of suggestions but I opted firstly to follow the route to Laggan as I was promised spectacular views across the water to my home island of Bute.
LAGGAN COTTAGE ROUTE (approx 8 miles return, moderate walking)
From the Youth Hostel turn right and follow the signpost for Laggan (4 miles) a little further along the road. The route starts just after the golf course, look out for the sheep and red deer keeping the fairways trim or sunbathing in the bunkers, I can imagine playing here has a few challenges!
The path then begins a gentle but steady climb to the summit as the views on the ascent open up to reveal the surrounding stunningly rugged glen with the miniature sized whisky distillery and cottages in the valley below.
I spotted lots of wildlife along the route with red deer, sheep and birds of prey keeping a watchful eye as I wound my way over the stony track, past waterfalls and streams.
A large rock jutting out from the side of the path about two thirds of the way up made a perfect place to pause and absorb the encompassing sights and sounds from the winding road and lush farmland far below to the jagged mountain tops brushing the clouds in the distance.
With a final push to the summit I watched the deep blue of the Firth of Clyde unfold before me and what a reward for my efforts! As promised I had dazzling views across to Bute with the mainland beyond and deciding that this was a perfect lunch spot, I sat for a while watching the toy sized fishing boats traverse the peaceful sparkling water.
As the path winds down sharply towards the whitewashed Laggan Cottage look out for the ruins of Cock Farm far below, this desolate area was once home to over 100 inhabitants before the Clearances. It was this community that built the once vital historic pathway between here and Lochranza that is now only trodden for leisure purposes.
It is possible to make this a circular walk by returning via the Cock of Arran, however I was happy retrace my route and end my walk with sweeping views across Lochranza. This is a really rewarding route with extensive vistas, varied scenery and plentiful wildlife.
With a whisky distillery on the doorstep it would have been rude not to visit and after a long walk I felt I deserved a taste of the local dram. Apparently this is the third most visited distillery in the country and I joined a mix of nationalities on one of their basic Oak tours. With a well stocked whisky shop and a cafe onsite this is a good visiting option.
The Four Seasons Hotel sits dominantly overlooking the picturesque Loch Earn in St Fillans, Perthshire. If it is accommodation with a view that you are looking for then booking one of their loch facing rooms or chalets would be enough of a reason to stay. However, I was there to not only admire the views (which are stunning) but also check out their pet friendly credentials, or rather my furry companion Willow was going to run the hotel through it's paces.
It is hard to find a truly dog friendly hotel in Scotland, believe me after 20 years as a dog owner who travels I have tried many to various degrees of disappointment. I understand not all hotels and their guests want to embrace travellers with a furry companion but those that claim they do often fail on the most basic levels. I'm glad to say that The Four Seasons passed every dog and human test with flying colours and at last I feel as if I have found a hotel that truly welcomes humans and dogs with equal measure.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised as owner Andrew Low is himself a dog lover and boss to the resident canine reservation managers, Sham and Pagne (it took me a while to get the connection, perhaps Andrew's favourite tipple?). It is also a wedding resort...for dogs and yes they have had a canine wedding, can you get any dog friendlier than that?!
Before we even arrived I was impressed by the pet concierge service on the website with options to book a pet walker/sitter, groomer and order from a canine menu. As I was planning to take advantage of dinner at the hotel's Meall Reamhar Rosette Restaurant I decided to call and inquire about the pet sitting service. A quick phone call back confirmed that the local pet sitter Norma was booked at the time requested and myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland could enjoy a relaxing, romantic meal for a change, now I was getting excited, this seemed to good to be true!
I was also delighted to see that they didn't charge any pet supplements on to their rates, usually an excuse to bump the price up for the privilege of bringing your dog, how is that ever pet friendly?
On arrival the whole family was warmly greeted and while I was busy admiring the STUNNING VIEWS from our room, Willow was delighted to discover a Bonio on the bed. A handy list of walks in the area suitable for humans and dogs was a useful addition to our welcome pack along with bottled water and homemade shortbread for the humans.
The bedroom and bathroom looked as if they had been recently partly refurbished and I was delighted to find Arran Aromatics products in the bathroom to pamper myself with!
The hotel is a mix of modern bright decor with quirky objects decorating the corridors and walls which owner Andrew has picked up on his many exotic travels. I loved wandering around admiring his eclectic acquisitions from around the world and there is a very interesting guest lounge with an opium bed imported from Bangkok which was not what I expected in a lochside hotel in Scotland!
The hotel also has six separate dog friendly chalets onsite which would be ideal for families.
WARNING: Reading this blog may make you want to (1) immediately book a trip to Islay with Scottish Routes (2) crack open a bottle of Scotch (3) both of the above!
Whisky, Uisge Beatha, Amber Nectar, Liquid Gold
Whatever you call it, every variety of this Scottish aqua vitae all derives from three main ingredients, malted barley, yeast and water. So simple yet so complicated as any whisky lover will tell you.
There are many subtle factors that contribute to the unique character of each bottling and regional differences in Scotch Whisky are obvious even to the untrained palate with the peaty notes of Islay drams among the most revered. This little west coast island is home to 8 distilleries, famed around the world for the quality of their product and responsible for countless whisky pilgrims descending on it’s shores.
My own love affair with Scotland's national drink started with a seasonal job in a Highland whisky shop where, despite being a whisky virgin, i was given responsibility of selling a very fine range of malts and blends to aficionados and novices alike. My first few weeks involved being thrown in at the deep end of an amber tinted pool and reading my way through a pile of books with daily knowledge quizzes. My education was more than just theoretical though and involved ALOT of sampling and after hours drinking, oops I mean training sessions!
One thing that I didn't get to do was visit the distilleries that produced the hundreds of bottles that I became an expert at drinking and selling, so when Scottish Routes invited me to experience their 4 Day Islay Whisky Tour I immediately dropped all other plans and packed my bags!
There are 8 distilleries on Islay and the tour takes you on very different experiences around 6 of them, namely Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich. If that doesn't sound enough of a dream come true, then a bonus visit to Deanston Distillery en-route will ensure that the mood is set before you even have time to toast your fellow whisky devotees!
DAY 1 - Highlights
The tour normally starts from Edinburgh although Glasgow pickups can be arranged if required and this is where I boarded and began my journey into the fascinating world of Scotch a short time later at Deanston Distillery in the village of Doune. Joining up with the rest of my international group we dipped our first toe into the malted world of whisky production during a tour of this former cotton mill. I quickly learned that being on a whisky tour in Scotland means that drinking Scotch at any time of day is not only considered sociable but compulsory and certainly no-one on the trip was complaining when we were offered our first drams at what others may still consider 'breakfast' time.
Although Day 1 is essentially a travelling day, the first port of call at Deanston Distillery is followed by several scenic stops to break up the journey with a relaxed lunch at Oban, famed for it's seafood and with enough time to pop in to Oban distillery if you would like to sample the local dram.
For me, a chance to stretch the legs at arguably one of the most historically rich sites in Scotland was a real treat. Kilmartin Glen is home to over 350 ancient monuments within a 6 mile radius and we had the opportunity to explore a few of them before boarding the bus for the evening ferry.
The ferry journey is a relaxing 2 hours and with a malt of the month being served on board in double measure at a bargain price your Islay whisky journey officially starts as you cross the water!
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