By Karen Carruth 

Back in the mid-1980s when I had just left school, I was among a group of stroppy teenagers taken to an outdoor adventure centre in deepest, darkest, Argyll.
I clearly remember getting off the bus and huffily announcing that there was ‘nothing to do’. There really was nothing there. The village centre was marked by a small post office and a well-used red post box that faced onto a loch and that was pretty much it. 
However, over the next five days, I was proved wrong. We had the most memorable time. Abseiling, we walked for miles, we kayaked, and I remember attempting to build a raft to cross (unsuccessfully) the loch, all while the postmaster lazily propped himself against the door frame of his shop and shook his head at the noisy spectacle we were making. Yet there was ‘nothing to do’.
I have just returned from a weekend in Argyll. The first I have been back over that way since then, and again there was nothing to do as far as my children could see. And again, we managed to entertain ourselves, and two kids, for a couple of days and it cost us nothing except a little effort from the old legs. 
We were heading for a lovely cottage called North Lodge which sits at the entrance to Ormidale Estate, a half hour drive from both Tighnabruiach in one direction and Dunoon in the other, which is where the ferry from Gourock dropped us off. From Glasgow you can be driving off the ferry at Dunoon in not much more than an hour. 
Some advice if you are heading that way. Do not under any circumstances arrive while it is dark. The sat nav gives up on you, there is no phone signal, and as it is darker than the inside of a cow’s stomach – unless you have studied the travel instructions, which I hadn’t, you might as well have landed from another planet for all the sense of direction that was maintainable. 
The cottage was finally found. A recently renovated Victorian cottage which is a two bedroom, beautifully maintained retreat, which was welcoming and warm on a freezing cold February evening. We got the wood burning stove on, unpacked the cars and settled in for a cosy night ‘til we could get our bearings the next morning. 
North Lodge is an extremely comfortable and centrally located cottage which sleeps four, or five, if you are bringing an infant. The cottage was built in 1883, and it retains the character very well, even though it was refurbished beautifully last year. A king size bedroom and a twin is perfect for families and with the wood burning stove on, it was as cosy as a pie. 
Because it was February it wasn’t the time to be sitting out in the garden but there is a trout stream flowing along the boundary at the back of the house, and while we were there, I was compelled to stand in the stream with my wellies on each morning. I was hoping to catch sight of the wildlife that lives in the banks of the stream but unsurprisingly the wildlife wasn’t keen to share their morning with a crazy women in her pyjamas with a camera around her neck. But it’s there, just hiding really well until I left. 
The cottage provides the perfect base for a walking, cycling or indeed, a horse riding exploration of the Cowal Way.
The Cowal Way is a trail that runs for 57 miles across the Cowal Peninsula from Portavadie to Inveruglas. The walk has varied terrain and glorious views over the Firth of Clyde towards Bute and Arran, and is reputed to be blessed with a plethora of wildlife along the way to spot. The walk links directly to the West Highland Way at Inversnaid (by ferry from Inveruglas) and to the Kintyre Way at Tarbert (by ferry from Portavadie). 
However, a day at the beach in February was just what we needed to detach the kids from the wifi in the cottage, so we wrapped up and headed toward Kilbride Beach, which is a crescent-shaped sweep of sand at Ostell Bay, probably around a half hour drive. 
Just after leaving the cottage you climb steadily on the A8003 from Clachan of Glendaruel, following Loch Ridden’s western shore, which takes you past a viewpoint which sits at a height of 500ft, giving a breath-taking view down the East Kyle with the Cowal mainland to the left and the Isle of Bute to the right, it’s called the Tighnabruaich View. A layby has a steady stream of visitors hopping out their car to take photographs, to read the map which gives you an idea of what you are looking at, and then they are off again. 
The Colintraive to Rhubodach ferry makes its five-minute crossing every half hour and during the summer months the paddle steamer Waverley can be seen weaving its way through the Kyles and islands. Looking beyond the Easy Kyle is the Firth of Clyde and just visible is the town of Largs on the Ayrshire coast. It is worth the stop, I would think it’s one of the most stunning views in Scotland. 
Back to the beach and it takes a bit of effort to get to there as there are no obvious roads that take you straight in. We parked up at Kilbride Farm, followed the signs to the beach and walked the path through farmland ‘til the terrain changed to a mix of seagrass and marsh underfoot. I’ve no idea whether it was the smell of the sea or the sand that was underfoot but the dog realised there was a beach within smelling distance and took off like a rocket toward the sea and we just followed, dodging the boggier parts of the flat that you have to cross to go through a bank of sand dunes. 
It is worth the walk, maybe a mile, for what feels like a remote, unspoilt beach. Gorgeous white sands, not another soul in sight, stunning views across Loch Fyne to the mountains of Arran. It was too cold to be paddling but I would imagine on a warm day it would be idyllic. We stayed for an hour or so, until we tired of playing games and taking photos. The beach was used to practice manoeuvres in preparation for the Normandy landings, and I believe, but we didn’t see them, that there are some concrete remnants to be found from those days.  
Not far from the beach is the Portavadie resort, which is a high-end holiday destination with spa facilities, a couple of restaurants and a pretty swanky marina. We had a quick walk around the marina, just to see how the other half live, and headed to Kames for lunch.
Kames is a small village which is linked to Tighnabruaich, with the Kames Hotel taking the prime elevated spot overlooking the Kyles of Bute. The hotel offers hearty, reasonably priced, food and the waitress was a delight who went out of her way to make us, particularly the children, feel comfortable. 
I had planned to organise some horse riding for myself and my daughter, but time was against us as we were only there for two nights, but if horse riding is your thing, there is a terrific company nearby which offers a range of trips from half days to week long all-inclusive holidays. 
The area has perfect terrain for horse riding, including secret coves and bays, woodland trails, open hill land and lochs. I do fancy the idea of signing up for their coastal quest trip, which is a couple of days riding along the coast, through empty beaches, and through woodlands with the promise of an hour in a Jacuzzi at Portavadie as part of the all inclusive deal.
Tighnabruaich was the last stop on our way back to the cottage. A haven for sailors and shinty apparently, which is the local sport of choice. A trip to the local village store for supplies, and we headed back to the cottage for the evening. 
The cottage was superbly equipped, with a real quality finish to all the furnishings. It’s one of my pet hates when self catering accommodation leaves you nothing, expecting you to bring everything from salt to washing up liquid, it’s very unwelcoming. 
However, North Lodge had everything we needed and more. The wood burning stove with the logs supplied had everyone cosy while having dinner, and after a busy of day of walking, exploring, and eating, it was an early night for everyone after making use of the piping hot water in the luxury bath. 
The stream did get another visit in the morning, and the wildlife were no less co-operative, and I can imagine during the summer it would be superb entertainment for kids, keep an eye on tiny toddlers as it’s not fenced, it was only ankle deep in most areas though. 
The Cowal Peninsula is a beautifully wild area of the country. Certainly not appreciated as the fascinating destination it is for those seeking the unspoilt outdoors, adventure trips and there are plenty of fantastic eateries in the region. 

Full details of the cottage at:

Activities nearby: 

Fishing is available nearby North Lodge Cottage on the River Ruel. Permits can be obtained for The Kandahar Fishings which is arguably the finest beat on the River Ruel, offering over a mile of double-bank fishing for the purist fly-only angler. Permits can be obtained from If you are happier on the water then for a small charge there is a mooring available on Loch Riddon about a mile from the cottage. 

Sailing and kayaking
The entire area is surrounded by lochs, there are many opportunities to get onto the water. Sailors flock to this area for the scenery and varied sailing grounds. You’ll find marina facilities at Holy Loch Marina and Portavadie, Loch Fyne. There is also a sailing school at Tighnabruaich if you fancy learning the ropes. 
Kayaking is perfect for this area, you can go out with Sea Kayak Argyll which is based at Dunoon, which runs various trips. 
Tighnabruaich Pier has boat trips leaving regularly, which can give a different perspective of the coastline than from the road. 
If you are lucky enough to get yourself aboard the Waverley, the last sea going paddle steamer in the world, it regularly paddles its way around the Cowal coastline. It can be boarded from Dunoon during the summer months. 

Kid’s entertainment
If the kids are going stir crazy and the weather isn’t helping, then you can head to Hunter’s Quay which is a huge holiday village in Dunoon. You can use their facilities on a pay as you go basis. There’s a magnificent all-weather leisure complex with two heated pools, sauna, steam and jacuzzi; fitness centre and dance studio; massage and treatment rooms, and children’s fun centre. There is also regular live entertainment and restaurant facilities.

Garden tours
Benmore Botanic Gardens is just a half hour drive from our little cottage at Ormidale. Benmore is set within a magnificent mountainside backdrop. There are 120 acres housing a world-famous collection of flowering trees and shrubs. Visitors are welcomed by an impressive avenue of giant Redwoods, arguably one of the finest entrances to any botanic garden in the world. Established in 1863, these majestic giants now stand over 50 metres high. There are seven miles of trails through the gardens leading you through the Victorian Fernery. The gardens have all the facilities needed, including café, shop and toilets. 
Check out for full details of all the gardens in the Argyll and Bute area, the group comprises 20 gardens varying in size, style and maturity, dating from the 13th to the 20th century. They are spread throughout the mainland of Argyll, often in dramatic scenery, and to the islands of Bute, Gigha, and Seil, with many outstanding plants to be discovered including species rhododendrons, magnolias and fine specimens of conifer, some of which are the largest trees in Britain.