Story and photos by Bo Zaunders

view from flat of Kyles of Bute copy


From Glasgow we headed west, first by train to Gourock, then by ferry to Dunoon the main town on the Cowal peninsula in the Argyll region.

Walking along the shore in search of the Selborne Hotel, where we would stay for the night, we sighted the Victorian pier, a colorful 125-year old structure for which Dunoon is famous. And there, above the pier on top of a small hill we could see the remains of the Dunoon Castle, once an important stronghold said to date from the 11th century. Also on the hill, on a tall pedestal, stood the statue of a young woman, unveiled in 1896 on the centenary of Robert Burn’s death, and featuring Highland Mary with whom the poet had a short fling.

We found the hotel, and got a lovely room overlooking the River Clyde.

Lorne resaurant in Dunoon copy

Ready for a good Scottish lunch the next day we chose Lorne, a place on the main drag claiming to possess Dunoon’s finest bar and kitchen. It proved to be an excellent choice. The staff greeted us as if we were old friends and when I asked about their specials and something representative of the region it was suggested I try their haggis with baked potato, salad, and whisky sauce.

Why not? Even though I remembered haggis as being high on the list in the “Disgusting Food Museum” in Malmö, Sweden, I decided to give it a go.

And, as if to confirm that we were back in jolly old Scotland, why not indulge in a glass of single malt? The waitress, hearing that I was curious to try something exceptional, immediately brought me an armful of bottles to pick from.

I picked Jura. Not a bad choice, just a small sip and you felt wonderfully filled-up and satisfied. In that respect it reminded me of Drambuie, the whisky liqueur from the Isle of Skye.

Haggis at Lorne copy

As Roxie, my wife, enjoyed an Argyll Smoked Salmon Pate, I dug into my haggis. Exceeding all my expectations, it was much enhanced by the whisky sauce, which proved absolutely delicious.

At 2PM we took a bus to the village of Tighnabruaich, where a self-catering flat awaited us.

In the streets of Dunoon, practically everyone we saw had greeted us with nods, smiles and hellos, and on the bus we soon chatted with John, a fellow passenger. At one point the driver stopped the bus just so that we could snap a picture or two.

Tighnabruaich – I still struggle with the pronunciation of it – has been called a hidden gem, a pretty little village sitting on the shore across from the Isle of Bute, and very much part of what has been called the secret coast of Scotland

Self-catering flat overlooking the kyles of Bute copy

Up an exterior, then an interior staircase and we were in the flat that would become our home for the next seven days. It was quite roomy with an impressive row of seven large windows overlooking the beautiful Kyles of Bute. Conveniently, a small grocery store was on the main street, just three doors away. A quick jaunt, and we were all set for a simple dinner.

As time went by, we would make daytrips to Rothesay, the principal town on the Isle of Bute, and Talbert, a large, picturesque fishing village accessible by a ferry crossing Loch Fyne to the west. 

Incidentally, before leaving for Scotland, Roxie had followed the 10-day weather forecast and become increasingly alarmed. By the time we left, rain was predicted throughout our entire stay. Fortunately, this turned out to be far from the case. On our arrival the sun shone, and continued to do so for much of the time. Expressing our surprise at such an unreliable weather forecast, we were met with amusement, even laughter. How could one be so silly as to believe in weather predictions in Scotland?

Batterd fish at Tighnabruaich Hotel copy

In Tighnabruaich we soon discovered a couple of nice places for drinks as well as food. The bar and restaurant of the Tighnabruaich Hotel, across the street from us, was one them. I recall our dinner there, Roxie enjoying scampi with lots of green peas and I a succulent battered halibut. We also visited the Kames and the Royal, two other hotels with bars and restaurants.

Fireplace in Tighnabruaic, with Rx copy

As mentioned, the weather was well beyond our expectations. Still, this was at the beginning of May and not overly warm. So, on a couple of occasions, Roxie would build a fire in our wood burning fireplace, and relax with a book on the couch next to it.

Walking around in the neighborhood, often on single-tracked roads lined with yellow gorse, we were struck by the quietude of it all. Discounting an occasional car, speeding as fast as the road would allow, nothing could be heard except the twitter of birds and, now and then, the babble of a brook.

Dog in pub copy

By contrast, a couple of times, as we entered a bar, we met with the penetrating sound of dogs barking. Dogs were a common sight in every pub, but more often than not they rested quietly next to the feet of their owners.

Castle in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute copy

Our visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute brought a wealth of history. Apparently it has been inhabited since the beginning of the Mesolithic era, about 10,000 years ago.

At the Isle of Bute Discovery Centre and then at the Bute Museum, we traced its history, inspecting such things as Stone Age tools, the reconstructed face of a young Bronze Age woman whose skull had been found in 1600s, and a Viking sword. Much of Bute’s history centers on the Rothesay Castle.

Surrounded by a moat and sitting on a hill above the Bay of Rothesday, it is one of the earliest stone castles in Scotland, and has experienced dramatic sieges and the rise and fall of kingdoms. Once a wooden Norse fortress, it was turned into a Scottish stone keep; English ownership followed after which it became a royal Scottish possession. Somewhat to our disappointment, it was not open to visitors at the time we were there.

Before returning to Tighnabruaich we took a walk along the shore, noticing its many large beautiful houses, many of which, we were told, dated back to Victorian days, when Bute became a popular summer resort.

View of the Cowal peninsula and the Isle of Bute copy

A popular sailing destination, this region is also famous for its fishing. In the village Tarbert, on our second day trip via ferry, this became abundantly clear. The entire village is built in horseshoe shape around what must be one of the most charming fishing harbors I’ve ever seen.

Tarbert harbor copy

What better finish to our trip than dinner at a restaurant featuring some of the best food from Scotland? We found it in Ardamurchan in Glasgow the night before we left to go home, a restaurant/bar priding itself on sourcing the freshest most sustainable produce Scotland has to offer.

 Cullen Skink copy

As a starter, I chose Cullen Skink, a famous Scottish soup, made from milk, potatoes, leeks, onions, and smoked haddock, the last of which gave it a lovely smoked flavor. In all its simplicity, it was a soup made to perfection. 

Roxie was already enjoying a Braised Wild Venison Stew, when I decided on another house specialty: Hand Dived Barra Scallops. Fortified by caramelized onion and truffle pate, bacon and crispy leek, the scallops proved extraordinarily rich and full-flavored.

A gratifying visit. With an after dinner drink we toasted Scotland, and its secret coast.




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