Discovering Argyll’s Secret Coast
I shuffled my feet back and forth on the bristly doormat to release the mud I’d only just acquired on route through the garden.
In my hand was the key to the North Lodge, our cosy little nest for a wintry weekend in western Scotland.
As I stepped inside the inviting abode, I swiftly deposited all ‘thought junk’ from the working week – and daily life in general – into the fast-flowing burn just a few steps behind me.
My immediate plans involved the sofa and a blanket; my literal ‘warm-up’ before braving the elements again to explore the area.
Argyll’s Secret Coast wouldn’t be a secret for much longer.
Why is it a secret?
I’ll hold my hands up here – I was unaware of this special secret until I was invited to stay at the cottage. Maybe that’s just a failing on my part, or is it that this pretty peninsula is sometimes overlooked by visitors?
Either way, the Cowal Peninsula (its less romantic alias) is a wonderful wee wedge of land which is hugged by Loch Fyne on one side, and the Sound of Bute on the other.
Quintessential Scottish delights are scattered all around Argyll’s Secret Coast just waiting to be discovered; castles, forests, coastal stretches and bonnie views aplenty.
The Isle of Bute only is just five minutes by ferry from the village of Colintraive, so a cheeky island day trip was definitely on the cards (separate blog coming soon). Our exploits were otherwise limited to a slow-paced loop around the coast in the car, and some blissful chill-time in the evenings.
Welcome to the North Lodge.
The North Lodge sits by the road to Tighnabruaich on the Ormidale Estate, within mooing distance of neighbouring cows. The entrance is around the back, allowing for maximum appreciation of the natural water feature before going inside.
In warmer weather the bedroom window would have been left open to fall asleep and wake up to the soothing soundtrack of running water.
The interior is tastefully decorated in country chic style with a pastel palette of colours which perfectly compliment the natural tones of the scenery outside.
The corner sofa, TV and wood-burning stove appealed to my inner couch potato, but I resisted the temptation (for all of 15 minutes) and decided to check out the bedrooms first.
Myself and the other half quickly claimed the larger of the two rooms with the huge bed, leaving the twin room for my bestie and her partner. I suspect she wasn’t too disappointed at having her own bed, given his tendency to fidget!
During our stay we planned to eat out and to self-cater, so the well equipped kitchen, complete with a pull-out dining table for the four of us, was much appreciated. The bathroom was bright and fresh, with a big bath and shower, and a heated towel rail.
At the North Lodge, you instantly feel at home, which is of course a credit to its lucky owners.
A cottage with a story.
Anna Davies and her Mum purchased the property in the winter of 2015/16 and spent the months that followed channelling their time and good taste into its renovation and redecoration.
There are accessories from East Lothian and Portobello dotted around the cottage, little echoes of Anna’s permanent residence not far from Edinburgh.
Now three generations of the family – from Anna’s Mum and Dad, to her two wee ones – enjoy escaping to the cottage whenever the feeling takes them. It is otherwise available as a holiday let for Scotland enthusiasts like myself.
With no previous connections to the area, they simply fell in love with the rural setting and nice restaurants and amenities nearby.
The North Lodge is not just a pretty face; she has an interesting story too. It was designed by leading 19th century architect John Honeyman, who lent his talents to multiple religious buildings in Scotland and had none other than Charles Rennie Macintosh join his practise in 1889.
The cottage’s previous owner also has a local claim to fame, as it was he who devised the area’s popular walking route, the Cowal Way; 57 miles of wild scenery and coastal views. We had intended to tackle some of the trail during our stay, but decided to cover more ground in the car instead.
Starting with the nearest village.
Take me to Tighnabruaich.
Our first drive to the waterfront village of Tighnabruaich was when daylight had disappeared, shrouding the roadside in complete darkness. We passed a ‘Viewpoint’ sign, and were tragically unaware of what we were missing.
On the morning of our departure, we returned to find out.
Hello Tighnabruaich Viewpoint!
We continued onto the village itself, which is small and mostly residential but has three wee pit stops on the main street which are worth checking out.
Restaurants in rural places are so often a hit or miss; either a ‘hidden gem’ or ‘steak pie and chips fresh from the freezer’. Something told me Botanica would be different. Maybe it was the attractive website and 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor.
We burst into the restaurant seeking shelter from the rain, and were warmly welcomed by owner Leoma who showed us to our table. Her husband and co-owner Michal was cooking up a storm in the open kitchen – on his own! I was even more impressed by his solo skills when the food arrived.
I had olives and homemade chilli flatbread to start and, after much deliberation, chose steak for my main (food envy avoidance, since everyone else did too). Both dishes were beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.
Sticking to the subject of food, we were drawn into this little establishment by our noses. We had not long eaten breakfast in the cottage, but the smell which wafted from the kitchen and out into the cold street was enough to make any mouth water. Excellent business strategy!
The delightful interior was dressed in cutesy, kitsch accessories, pretty patterns and colourful woodwork. A popular spot with visitors and residents alike, The Tea Room is a lovely local business at the heart of the community.
My bestie went for a takeaway cup of soup (the source of said enticing smell), and her partner indulged in a white hot chocolate. Oh my – it was like a Milkybar in a cup.
Myself and the other half bought a meringue to share; clearly still meringue on the brain since our meal at Botanica. Trying to eat it in the car was a hoot – we ended up wearing it!
Next door to The Tearoom is another beautiful burst of colour, however the treats here are of the visual variety. The walls of the Tighnabruaich Gallery are adorned with contemporary art from near and far, alongside curious sculptures and handcrafted homewares.
I’m not going to pretend I know much about art, but I’m a sucker for colour, and love seeing creative depictions of our bonnie landscapes and coast.
I was surprised that this gem of a place was so remote, and that it was open on a Sunday so ended up in conversation with the friendly owner. I complimented the wee row of paintings I’d just been admiring and asked, “I saw that the artist is called Robbie Baird, is he local?”
He replied, “That’s me!”
Robbie is originally from Hampshire, but has lived in Scotland for fifteen years and is now pursuing his passion in this small village.
Argyll’s Secret Coast – what a great place to be a “local”.
I’ll be back.
Though it was my first time visiting Argyll’s Secret Coast, we chose not to comb through the peninsula’s nooks and crannies, and instead embraced our remote location and cottage comforts. This may have been influenced by the relentless rain, or simply the need to relax.
The homely cottage, coastal fresh-air fix, scenic stimulation and taste bud treats made for a perfect weekend retreat, and ample incentive to return.
- The North Lodge is 3 hour drive from Edinburgh
- For more details on the cottage, including prices visit the website here
I was invited to stay at the North Lodge in exchange for a blog about my experience. The activities I enjoyed while in the area were paid for by myself.
All of my opinions and descriptions are my own.