Argyll's Secret Coast

As it’s name suggests Argyll’s Secret Coast remains largely undiscovered compared to other parts of Argyll. The Secret Coast lies on the South West of the Cowal Peninsula and is a place of picturesque views and tranquility. Despite this area of Argyll only being an hour away from me I have very rarely visited because I wrongly thought there wasn’t here other than Portavadie Marina and Spa. Portavadie contacted me during the Spring asking if I would like to stay and explore the area and as I love visiting new places and promoting Argyll I gladly agreed!

Travelling to Portavadie for me almost feels like visiting an island as the quickest way to get there is catching the ferry from Tarbert and crossing Loch Fyne. It only takes about 25 minutes and is a beautiful sail with views on to Arran in the South and Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig in the North. In summer you are very likely to see a porpoise or two, Simon and I counted five on our crossing.

Portavadie very kindly arranged for us to stay in one of their luxury apartments. These apartments are really stunning and offer views over the marina and out to the imposing mountains of Arran. The bathroom in our apartment even had a sauna.

On arrival we cracked open a bottle of Prosecco and sat out on the veranda which was just bliss on a mild summers evening. I had also been left a lovely wee goodie bag full of local products including a local speciality coffee so it was fun rifling though that.

That evening we ate in the Marina Restaurant and Bar, I’ve said it before in previous blogs but this place really is exceptional, the 2 AA Rosette awards confirms this. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows with views over Loch Fyne where a lot of the seafood on the menu was caught. It’s not only the seafood options that are local, many other ingredients on the menu here are sourced from ‘Argylls’ Larder.’ After much deliberating we decided to share a crab starter. Actually I’ll rephrase that, Simon got a starter and I ate half of it! The restaurant also does fantastic cocktails which is a proper treat as I don't know anywhere else in Argyll that does proper cocktails. For mains we opted for the the Loch Fyne langoustines which were caught by the fishermen of Tarbert and the 8oz Sirloin steak .

We started the next day with a full Scottish breakfast before heading out for a drive around the area. We drove across to Millhouse (where I saw my first ever woodpecker) and then over to Kames where we headed south along the shores of the west Kyle of Bute. From this road you are treated to picturesque views of the Island of Bute and the Island of Arran. I love this time of year, the countryside is so green and fresh especially in an area like this. Along the way I spotted an area which was littered with pink and white fox gloves. The foxgloves grew in an area where a forest had been felled so it was great to see land that can often look quite ugly and deceased be filled with such vibrancy.

Our first proper stop of the morning was at Ostell Bay which is on the most southern shores of Loch Fyne. This is a beach of gorgeous golden sand which is pretty unusual for this area of Argyll, most of Loch Fyne’s shores are rocky and constructed from shingle. We parked up in the large lay-by at Kilbride farm and from here it took us about 15 minutes to walk down to the beach. We are both fast walkers so it may take others a little longer but no more that 30 minutes. The beach looks straight out to the Isle of Arran and with it’s distinct mountains it was quite a sight even on an overcast day. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be at sunset.

As you can see from the photograph we took the SUP down to the beach but because it was so windy neither of us could stay on. Instead we had a lot of fun ‘surfing’ about in the waves. Another plus point of this beach is it’s really safe particularly for children. Even about 50 meters off shore the water is only about 3 foot deep. The beach also has lots of little pools which are great for kids to play in and on a summers day they’ll warm up quite nicely.

After all that frolicking about in the water we were starving so headed to Botanica at the Barn at Millhouse. This restaurant which also has a farm shop and garden is beautifully rustic. They use local suppliers and even grow their own herbs and vegetables in the barns garden. For lunch we both opted for the seafood pasta.

As mentioned the restaurant has a garden and in the garden they have goats. I love goats. I think they are the funniest animals. Sadly we didn’t have much time to spend with the goats as we were booked on a boat trip on the Kyles but I still had time to take a couple of photos. Looks at their faces, so much personality!

We left the goats to meet Donald in Tighnabruaich who owns DC Marine. Donald runs boat trips on the Kyles of Bute on a converted fishing trawler called Morag. We spent about an hour on the water admiring the beautiful scenery as Donald entertained us with local tales. At the North end of the Kyles lie three islands; Eilean Mor, the big island. Eilean Fraoich, Heather Island. And Eilean Buidhe, yellow island. Collectively they are known as ‘ The Burnt Islands’ and Donald explained the reason for this. Around 1000 years ago this area was under invasion from the Vikings until The Battle of Largs in 1263 where the Scots finally defeated the fearsome northern warriors. During this time and after the battle the Vikings took their dead to these island to be burned, sending them to their afterlife in Valhalla. From then on the islands were known as the ‘Burnt Islands.

We returned to Portavdie after the boat trip and made use of the spa. It turned into a beautiful afternoon so relaxing in the outdoor infinity pool and hot tub was delightful. I also really like the upstairs spa area with its hydro pool and panoramic views. It’s always much quieter up here and sometimes worth paying that wee bit extra to use the upstairs facilities.

For dinner that evening we were treated to a lovely meal at The Royal an Lochan in Tighnabruaich. The building dates back to the 1860’s and offers beautiful views over the Kyles and onto the Isle of Bute. Like all in all other restaurants around here the food is all local. We both opted for fish and chips which was landed by the fisherman of Tarbert. The portion was so big both of us struggled to finish it. We sat in the dining room all evening but the hotel also has a public bar which is frequented by the shinty loving locals. If you are looking for a wee bit of local craic this is the place to go.

The next day we got up at stupid o’clock to catch the sunrise, I think the official time was 4am. I’ve heard that the view of the Kyles from the A8003 is one of the best in Scotland so since we were only 20 minutes drive I decided it would be a good idea to capture sunrise from here. That morning it didn’t seem like such a good idea and the sunset wasn’t overly spectacular but it was a gorgeous way to start the day and looking back i’m glad we did it!

Sadly this was out last morning in Argyll’s secret coast but we’ll definitely be back! There’s loads of places i’ve spotted to take the paddle board and I want to go back the beach on a really hot summers day. It would also be a great place for cycling, you can actually hire bikes at Portavadie. We were offered two that morning but after the early start neither of us could be bothered so we spent a while in the pool before leaving. The crossing back to Tarbert was absolutely stunning as there was hardly a breathe of wind and the reflections were almost perfect!

I hope this has inspired you to visit one of Scotland’s hidden gems and I would just like to say and massive thank you to Portavadie for putting us up and organising everything. Also a big thank you to all the local business who gifted us such wonderful food and entertainment.