This week an event that saddened us greatly, the funeral of a friend who should have enjoyed many more years of life, took us back for a couple of days to Argyll.
Despite the sadness of the occasion, it was impossible not to appreciate the lushness of the scenery we drove through, with greens of every hue punctuated by bursts of joyous colour.
Bluebell carpets of intense blue were spread beneath trees while rhododendrons and azaleas were ablaze. This part of Argyll is a place where these not only survive, but thrive. Until we stayed there, I considered rhododendrons to be shrubs, and was amazed by their height as trees, often with stunning ruby red or cinnamon bark.
Like rhododendrons, trees here also grow to record-breaking heights. Entrance to the botanic garden at Benmore is via a sierra redwood avenue, said to be one of the finest entrances to a botanic garden anywhere in the world. The avenue was begun by an American, Piers Patrick, a year after his purchase of the estate in 1862. He planted 50 sierra redwoods, natives of the western slopes of Sierra Nevada in California. Some of these trees now stand over 50 metres high.
The estate later became part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, its west coast mountainside situation ideal for growing many species that thrive in its moist climate.
Not far from Benmore is Loch Eck, a loch that, to me, should be as well known as Loch Ness or Loch Lomond. By the shores of the loch are two old inns: the Coylet is a coaching inn dating from the 17th century; the Whistlefield started life as a Drovers Inn, situated on an ancient cattle-droving trail that began in the West Highlands and led to the markets of Central Scotland, and from there to Smithfield in London. The oldest part of the Whistlefield is now the beer cellar, and dates from around 1455, with the main structure of the building, originally single-storey, completed around 1663.
We stayed overnight in the Coylet where we had a family-sized bath snuggled within the bay window with a view of loch and hills — a bath with a view for sure.
We tootled along the road to enjoy a meal in the Whistlefield where our starters of pigeon breast, for husband, and smoked prawn in Drambuie cream sauce, for me, went down extremely well. The very large, exceedingly tender, venison steaks of our main course didn’t disappoint either.
The funeral the next day was followed by a cup of tea in the Royal Marine Hotel — not as old as the inns but with an interesting history nonetheless. Originally built in 1856 a number of rooms were let
to the exclusive Clyde Yacht Club. After the Club received Royal patronage, it purchased the hotel, but in 1888 it was gutted by fire and was subsequently rebuilt. Its visitors book records the stays of leading businessmen and royalty. At its gate still stands the first telegraph office in Scotland, when built it was used to relay yacht race results to London.
On the road home we fitted in a visit to the new visitor centre at Kilmun Church where the mausoleum, last resting place of many of the Dukes of Argyll, is being refurbished. But more of that at another time.