A Weekend of West Coast Indulgence.
I love an adventure, and my sanity relies on a regular fix; mini or muckle.
My most recent weekend escape was even more eagerly anticipated than most. I was taking my taste buds on a wee tour of the West Coast in search of a hut on the harbour, an old coaching inn, and a road-side café.
Scenic rail journeys, bonnie vistas and sunshine strolls would all be woven into the weekend, but the real focus was food, glorious food. My childlike excitement was in full swing.
Some think that “food is just fuel”, and I think they’re mental!
Food is always a key influence in my levels of ‘adventure satisfaction’, and let’s just say this weekend was off the scale.
Read on for my trio of tasty recommendations in Oban, Taynuilt and Tyndrum, and some nearby walks to appease your calorie conscience along the way.
The Adventure Starts Here.
We embarked on our standard rail ritual, as we boarded the train in Glasgow for Oban; locate pre-booked table seat, sprawl across two seats each, unpack and arrange journey snacks, prepare for non-stop Scottish landscape entertainment through the window.
Soon there were hills springing up from the horizon, as the city became a blast from the past. The highlights of the journey thereafter were the rustic remoteness of Crainlarich Train Station and the ruins of Kilchurn Castle on the fringes of Loch Awe. There was also a hopeless attempt to catch a glimpse of the Falls of Lora as we clickety-clacked past the Connel Bridge.
Arriving into Oban, we stored our overnight bags in the train station’s lockers, and quickly advanced towards our lunch stop; I should say my lunch stop, as the other half has a phobia of seafood!
1. The Oban Seafood Hut
Scotland, the land of fizzy ginger refreshments and deep fried everything. Scotland, also the land of super-fresh, guilt-free fast food prepared in a wee green shack.
Welcome to the Oban Seafood Hut, an authentic harbour-side institution which won’t dent your bank balance. The chalk-board menu is filled with fishy favourites, all freshly caught nearby.
As I pondered over numerous tempting options, the friendly staff dished out samples of hot smoked salmon and mussels cooked in white wine, shallots and garlic.
I finally committed to a couple of oysters and half a lobster, which were quickly served to me on paper plates. It was all deliciously fresh with the added novelty of dining alfresco by the sea.
Ever the glutton, I joined the fast-moving queue once again, as I simply couldn’t leave without grabbing a famous prawn sandwich for the road. The soft brown bread was bursting with juicy little prawns of the utmost freshness. How the bread is not soggy is one of life’s great mysteries and simple pleasures!
No trip to Oban would be complete without a seafood-fix at this wee gem. It’s a truly authentic, no-frills experience which puts expensive seafood restaurants to shame.
Walk it off.
Armed with my perfect prawn sandwich, we set off in the direction of McCaig’s Tower; Oban’s very own Colosseum overlooking the town. Built by a local banker who wanted to provide employment for the stonemasons in the area, this 19th century structure is more than just a pretty landmark.
The incline is short and steep, but worth every step. Within the granite walls are manicured gardens and wooden benches, while the balcony outside boasts views out over the town, and to the Isle of Mull and Lismore Lighthouse in the distance.
Next stop – Taynuilt
2. The Taynuilt Etive: Restaurant with Rooms
Just twelve miles and two train stops from bustling Oban, lies the quiet village of Taynuilt. Stepping onto the platform of the picturesque train station, we took a few moments to appreciate the blissful silence and dramatic backdrop of resident munro, Ben Cruachan.
Our Saturday night would be spent dining and resting our heads in the Taynuilt Etive: Restaurant with Rooms – a beautifully refurbished coaching inn, with a history spanning over four hundred years.
We were welcomed by the lovely Lauren, who showed us to our room and planted the ‘pre-dinner cocktail’ seed.
Our deluxe double room (no. 1) was flooded with natural light, illuminating the attractive furniture and nautical décor. It was classy, comfortable and charming. We enjoyed a cuppa on the private patio, and put our feet up to indulge in some TV, before heading downstairs to the bar.
Lauren tempted me to a delightful rhubarb gin cocktail, and we were shortly invited through to the restaurant to begin our dining experience.
The hotel and its fine food offerings are the lovechild of Chef Patron John McNulty; an immensely talented and passionate young wizard of the food world. His right-hand man and General Manager/Head Sommelier David Lapsley looked after us throughout the meal, delivering a genuinely warm and unscripted service.
We were seated in armchairs in front of the open fire for the amuse-bouche, allowing for time to read about the development of the establishment over the years, and admire the interesting artwork which peppered the room.
Setting the scene for the rest of the meal, the venison fillet was home cured and smoked in the DIY smoker in the back garden, while the bread was freshly baked with yeast from a local brewery’s ale and topped with Hebridean seaweed.
Following this, I chose the Shetland Squid to start, and the Loin of Perthshire Roe Deer as the main event. I resembled an emoji with love hearts eyes as each dish arrived, and the subsequent sound effects told a whole story of their own.
Purely for ‘fear of missing out’ rather than hunger, we shared a cheese board with the best selection of cheeses I’ve been served; Blue Murder, Isle of Mull Cheddar and Carleton crowdie, to name a few. The finale was a cup of tea, served with homemade sweets including milk chocolate tablet, and white chocolate, cranberry and raisin fudge. Heavenly.
I went to bed with a smile on my face, and resumed my cheesy grin at the breakfast table the following morning.
I knew I was in for a treat with the eggs benny. I just knew it. Freshly baked homemade muffin, melt-in-the-mouth salmon which was smoked in the back garden, and silky homemade hollandaise.
You can taste the love in the food, straight from a chef who celebrates and harnesses the best of our country’s produce – or simply grows his own. I was in awe of the effort and creativity which is carefully incorporated into every aspect of the food, and was truly appreciative at being given the opportunity to experience it.
The Taynuilt is a destination itself, one for locals to be proud of and visitors to ensure they don’t miss.
Walk it off.
Taynuilt benefits from a stunning location which shares both Loch Etive and Loch Awe. You can reach the water’s edge in just a short walk from the village centre, with the imposing Ben Cruachan never out of sight.
En route to the loch we passed by the Bonawe Iron Furnace, of which Taynuilt is famed. This historic industrial site dates back to 1753, where it successfully produced pig iron in the tonnes, including cannonballs which were used in the Napoleonic Wars.
We had a nosey at the huge furnace and surrounding buildings before continuing our Sunday morning stroll down to Loch Etive, where we sat and soaked up the views until our departure drew near.
Next stop – Tyndrum
3. The Real Food Café.
The third and final stop on our weekend of shameless indulgence came in the shape of The Real Food Café, a roadside oasis known for its award-winning fish ‘n’ chips.
The attractive exterior blends into its scenic surrounds, on a busy gateway to many epic outdoor destinations. Inside there’s a palpable buzz, with visitors who are winding down from their adventures, or are simply starting off.
Conveniently located on the train route back to Glasgow, Tyndrum was a most welcome pit-stop for our early dinner. I mean, we obviously couldn’t abandon our munching mission until the trip was officially over!
I did a double-take at the devilish display of treats, and my sweet-tooth was set on the rainbow cake before I’d even seen the hot food menu. Switching back to savoury mode, I opted for the ‘Fish Tea Deal’ – a fish supper with mushy peas, tartar sauce, bread and butter, and a cuppa for £11.95 – and washed it down with a posh apple and rhubarb fizzy drink.
The menu is loaded with comfort food fit to refuel passing road-trippers and hikers. If you have better willpower than me and prefer something lighter and less sugary, there is also soup options and a selection of salads.
Walk it off.
Colin – the super-friendly café manager from nearby Crainlarich – recommended a circular walk for us to tackle before our journey home. Crossing the train tracks and heading for the forest, the busy road blurred into the background.
We were soon enclosed by a corridor of huge trees, overlooked by a striking snow-dusted peak in the distance. The scenery appeared to be super-sized, or maybe it was just that we were so small in such a vastly beautiful space, with not another soul around.
Looping back towards Tyndrum, we joined onto a section of the West Highland Way, passing a pond linked to legends of Robert the Bruce’s missing sword, and then through the Tyndrum Community Woodland.
If we had intended to burn off what we’d consumed, it would’ve been wise for us to about-turn and start walking back to Edinburgh.
I had a date with my rainbow cake on the train however.
Next stop – Home
Does food play a big part in your adventures?
Which of the three places above would tickle your taste buds?