1902 – Glorious Argyll
AT A GLANCE
Fresh local seafood
Stunning Argyll scenery
Sightseeing boat trip
Welcome to Argyll and to this wonderful tour exploring Argyll's islands, its lochs and seaways and its glorious gardens. This tour takes you to a selection of the very best of Argyll's glorious gardens, we visit the isles of Arran, Gigha and Bute, we stay in wonderfully comfortable hotels, and eat the freshest seafood imaginable. All this and more, unhurriedly and at our own pace.
Broadly covering the area of ancient Dál Riata or Dalriada, the lands of the Scoti who, tradition has it, came from modern-day Ireland and conquered the Picts to found Scotland, Argyll is a large, sparsely populated region with its own special beauty. Its scenic splendour is especially characterised by its wooded glens, heather-clad mountains and long, deep sea lochs, to which man has added romantic castles, picturesque fishing ports and stunning gardens.
Argyll is Scotland's centre of woodland gardens and, arguably, has the world's finest collection of such gardens. There are at least 50 gardens in the area – ranging from the likes of the world-renowned Arduaine and Benmore Botanic Garden to smaller, private gardens, owned by a dedicated band of knowledgeable gardeners, and every size of garden in-between.
Two organisations, Scotland's Gardens and Glorious Gardens of Argyll & Bute have useful websites, and I am deeply indebted to Kenneth Cox and his wonderful book Scotland for Gardeners, which makes planning Scottish tours so much easier.
Sleeping & Eating
After our first night, at Ashtree House in Paisley, we spend the first four nights of the tour on the sea, at the wonderful and widely-acclaimed Crinan Hotel and the second three nights of the tour on the banks of Loch Fyne, at the equally wonderful The Creggans Inn.
With an emphasis on fresh, local produce – and especially the local seafood – we eat particularly well on this tour, dining-out at the award-winning Kilberry Inn, the ever-excellent Starfish and a new, though much-vaunted restaurant, Inver. Bon appetit!
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23 - 30 April 2019 | 8 days
Gardens = GREEN Hotels & Restaurants = RED Transport = BLUE Other Attractions = ORANGE
DAY 0 – MON 22 APR
The joining point for this tour is Ashtree House, and we ask that you arrive at Ashtree House at anytime during the course of today. This first night is included in the price, and we include it so that we may leave at a reasonable time tomorrow morning, the first day of the tour.
Ashtree House is a 15-room independent, family-run establishment in central Paisley, some ten minutes by taxi from Glasgow International Airport, and Paisley is immediately south-west of central Glasgow. The town has a rich history, from its 12th century abbey to its world-famous fabric patterns. We have been staying at Ashtree House since 2007.
NB. Dinner is not included in the price and if you wish to arrive to Ashtree House earlier than 22 April, then please let us know.
Picture: Minibus on the ferry from Arran onto Kintyre
DAY 1 – TUE 23 APR
We leave Ashtree House and head to the coast, to Ardrossan, for the ferry across the Firth of Clyde, to the Isle of Arran for lunch and the early afternoon at Brodick Castle (pictured above). Now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, Brodick Castle is the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Hamilton who, in common with many other great landowners, Victorianised their medieval castle in the mid-1800s and made it more homely, though wasn't for another century until they took their gardening as seriously. But by marriage to one of the great plant-breeding, Cornish families, Brodick is now famous for the huge number of its Magnolias and three national collections of Rhododendrons, including a collection of Horlick hybrids, raised at Ascot and Archamore House, on Gigha.
Later in the afternoon we drive across the beautiful northern half of Arran to Lochranza, for the ferry onto the Kintyre peninsula, and onward to the Crinan Hotel, our home for the next few days. At Crinan we can truly unwind, settle in and chat about the week ahead over drinks and dinner in the Sea Food Bar and, perhaps, watch the sun come down over the Sound of Jura.
NB. Please note that we will depart Ashtree House by 09.30 (to take the 11.05 ferry from Ardrossan), and if you are not staying at Ashtree House or you are arriving into Scotland today, then you need to be at Ashtree House by no later than 09.00.
Today's driving is about 70 miles/112 km
DAY 2 – WED 24 APR
We spend our first full day of the tour hugging the Argyll coast, starting with a morning visit to the famous gardens at Arduaine (pictured above). A windswept, seaside hillside of bracken and rushes might not seem the ideal choice of site for a garden, but James Arthur Campbell was not deterred when, according to his journal, he 'turned the first sod of the garden in August 1895' and thus began a garden which, by the time of his death in 1929, contained some 220 different rhododendrons. The garden is particularly good for rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias and is breath-taking in April and May, and even earlier in some years.
From Arduaine we return south, stopping for lunch at the excellent café at the equally excellent Kilmartin Museum. Spanning some 5,000 years – and with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rocks, stone circles, forts and castles – Kilmartin Glen has one of Europe's most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains, and we will visit the museum and explore just a few of the more than 350 ancient monuments.
Our final visit is to Ormsary House, on the shore of Loch Caolisport, has only recently opened to the public. Its woodland garden has azaleas, rhododendrons and a collection of trees and shrubs, whilst a walled garden, which has evolved over a couple of centuries, is on two levels, the top half producing plants, fruit and vegetables for the house. Most conveniently, Ormsary House is just a few minutes from Kilberry Inn, where dinner will be served.
Today's driving is about 90 miles/145 km
DAY 3 – THU 25 APR
Our day is spent on the Kintyre peninsula, starting with a drive to Tayinloan for the 20-minute ferry across to the Isle of Gigha, to visit Achamore Gardens, Gigha's jewel-in-the-crown. Created by Colonel Sir James Horlick in 1944, with his inheritance from the family-owned hot-drinks company, and with the assistance of Kitty Lloyd Jones, Achamore Gardens is the home of Horlick’s renowned Rhododendron and Camellia collection. The garden flourishes in Gigha's warm microclimate, it is home to several champion trees and hosts unusual plants and trees from around the world, including the Wollemi Pine.
Leaving the island on the lunchtime ferry, we continue south to Campbeltown, once home to no fewer than 34 distilleries, it proclaimed itself – with some good reason – the whisky capital of the world. Today, although still one of five distinct malt whisky producing regions, only three distilleries remain, and we will visit Springbank Distillery for a tour and a tasting.
Our journey home takes us along the attractive, and less-travelled, eastern side of Kintyre, with beautiful views over to the Isle of Arran, and we will stop for dinner at Starfish, a seafood restaurant in the lovely fishing port of Tarbert.
Today's driving is about 130 miles/210 km
DAY 4 – FRI 26 APR
Today we are exploring the Sound of Jura aboard the Sgarbh.
The Sgarbh – Gaelic for cormorant – is a beautifully restored classic motor boat, moored right outside the hotel. Built on the River Clyde in 1947 as a herring fishing boat, she retired in 1953 and was fitted-out for cruising. Built of teak, fully varnished, completely original – and the last of her type – she is over 20 tons, 40 foot long and completely safe!
We will take a picnic with us and, if the weather is particularly fine, lunch on some sheltered beach, but otherwise we can lunch onboard Sgarbh and, whatever we do, it will be fun and interesting and we will be surrounded by stunning scenery all day long.
Dinner in the dining room, at the Crinan Hotel.
Picture: Jura from the prow of Sgarbh
DAY 5 – SAT 27 APR
After loading the minibus and saying our goodbyes in Crinan, we cross Loch Fyne by ferry, from Tarbert onto the Cowal Peninsula, to visit Benmore Botanic Garden. One of three outstations of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Benmore was once part of the hunting grounds of the Dukes of Argyll, changing hands between wealthy Victorians until 1889, when Henry Younger, a wealthy Edinburgh brewer, bought the estate. He made many improvements and introduced exotic shrubs and trees to the woodland garden and, in 1924, his son gifted the estate to the nation, with the RBGE taking on a part of it to house a large collection of plants, brought from China by George Forrest.
Benmore has many magnificent trees, not least an imposing avenue of Giant Sequoias; one of the finest collections of plants from Bhutan, including numerous rhododendrons; and a charming, restored Victorian Fernery (pictured above).
We spend much of the day at Benmore, before a short drive north to Loch Fyne and The Creggans Inn, our home for the next three nights, where, if time allows, we will walk to neighbouring Strachur House, for an early-evening stroll through their garden, before dinner at Creggans Inn.
Today's driving is about 60 miles/100 km
DAY 6 – SUN 28 APR
We drive south through some particularly beautiful countryside, to spend the day on the charming Isle of Bute – crossing onto it, on one of the shortest ferry journeys possible – to visit the gardens at Mount Stuart (pictured above). Built by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, then one of world's wealthiest men, Mount Stuart is undoubtedly one of the most outstanding Gothic Revival buildings in Britain – it is the star of the show and we take a guided tour of it.
We have lunch at Mount Stuart and make our way back to the mainland with visits to nearby Ascog Hall, to visit its rather splendid Victorian Fernery – the Victorians were big on their ferneries – call in at Ardencraig, the local authority's nursery, famous for its bedding plants (for which we will be too early) and glasshouses and stop, for a stroll around Rothesay, Bute's chief town.
We will dine at Inver, a new and much vaunted restaurant on the shores of Loch Fyne, en route home to The Creggans Inn.
Today's driving is about 80 miles/130 km
DAY 7 – MON 29 APR
We spend today on the shores of Loch Fyne, starting with a visit to Crarae Garden, one the finest examples of Himalayan-style woodland gardens in Britain. The 20 hectare garden was created in 1912 by Lady Grace Campbell, the aunt of intrepid plant hunter Reginald Farrer, who sourced trees and shrubs from China, Nepal and Tibet – many of which still grow along its steeply-sided 'Himalayan' gorge. From Crarae we return to Inveraray, for lunch and the mid-part of the day at Inveraray Castle (pictured above), the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll and seat of Clan Campbell – and Christmas venue for the Granthams in Downton Abbey! There has been a castle here since the 1400s, although the present castle dates to only 1746, with late-1800s additions. We have time in the castle, in the gardens and in the Georgian planned town.
We may stop at the world-famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, its neighbouring Tree Shop Garden Centre, and, possibly, Fyne Ales, en route to the ever-magical Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, a stream-side woodland garden with no fewer than five of Britain's tallest or largest conifers, underplanted with some stunning Rhododendrons.
We will enjoy a sumptuous end-of-tour dinner at The Creggans Inn.
Today's driving is about 60 miles/100 km
DAY 8 – TUE 30 APR
After loading the minibus and saying our farewells, we set off to Dunoon for the Western Ferry across the Clyde and onward to Glasgow Airport, for those of you catching flights, and to central Glasgow, for those of you who are either staying in the city or continuing your journey by rail.
NB. Please note that we plan to arrive at Glasgow Airport by 10:30 and the city centre about an hour later and, although we can adjust timings slightly, if you need to be at the airport significantly earlier than this, we will need to arrange transport for you, to the airport, at your expense.
Today's driving is about 50 miles/80 km
Picture: A private group outside the Crinan Hotel, 2017
During our tours we endeavour to be as faithful to our itineraries as possible, but sometimes changes do occur, either necessarily or unavoidably.