Updated on January 30, 2015
Secrets of Scotland – Off the Beaten Track – Part One
All beautiful countries share this problem – you can’t see Scotland for tourists blocking the best views and roads.
Find unspoilt and less traveled paths with this series of articles on the Secrets of Scotland – the hidden parts of the country that are not on the normal bus tour itineraries.
Seeing your home country through the eyes of a stranger, as a foreigner, is always interesting. I recall being surprised at some of my husband’s observations over the years. He loved the typical British pub, with carpets. It had never occurred to me that carpets were strange in pubs – but considering all that must get spilled on them, it is amazing that there are still pubs with carpets.
When we talk to foreigners about our homeland, we are often struck by their preconceptions of what the country is like. A guy once told me that ALL British women wore dreadful clothes, long pleated skirts and boring blouses. I can only presume that he spent most of his time in the WI (although I am told that even the WI have smartened up their image).
This guy (we met in a pub in Germany, if memory serves me rightly) also waxed lyrical about the countryside, telling me that I MUST visit the West Coast, Skye and the islands. I had made the mistake of admitting that we had not gone there yet and he was astonished that I had not seen the most beautiful part of Scotland. Not that unusual really, how many people really travel extensively around their own country?
It has been a long time coming, but we eventually did make it to Skye this year. Perhaps our expectations had been raised too high over the years, as we found ourselves strangely unmoved by Skye. Crossing the bridge, totally ready to be amazed and dazzled by the wee island, I waited and waited for the moment. And it did not come.
Not that it is not pretty, of course it is. But there are areas in Scotland that touched my heart, and this was not quite one of them.
The previous day we had set out on a four day trip sans enfants (thanks to Granny and Granddad who took the kids away for a weekend in Aviemore), and our first destination was an area of Scotland so rarely visited that no one we spoke to had ever heard of it – Knapdale. It is the area between Lochgilphead on Loch Fyne and Tarbet – the northern bit of the Kintyre peninsula. The drive to get there was spectacular enough.
We stopped for lunch in the charming Inverary, grabbing a soup and a sandwich and sitting at the harbour watching the boats sail pass. Then the drive down to Tarbet, a small village on the lochside, the harbour full of boats, the cafes full of tourists.
We played golf in Tarbet – the 9 hole course was perfect for beginner golfers like us – not too busy, interesting course along the loch, with sometimes steep inclines. Before teeing off, visitors pay the green fee in a small wooden shed, into an honesty box.
Following a tip from the excellent Scotland The Best travel guide, we drove westward through Knapdale to Kilberry. It was my husband’s first time on the single track roads of the more remote areas of Scotland. Knapdale is quiet, so quiet that we hardly had to use the passing places, except to stop and gaze in amazement at the scenery. We passed verdant forests, scaring the red deer into retreating back into the dark safety of the trees, while we held our breaths and I cursed that I was not quick enough with the camera.
Turning a corner, spying the golden sands of a remote beach, the outlines of the distant islands of Jura and Islay, we stopped to take some photos and drink in the scenery. I could have stood all day and just LOOKED.
Reluctantly we drove on to Kilberry, a hamlet right in the middle of Knapdale. It consists of a couple of farms, some cottages, a beautiful but run down house, a nostalgic red telephone box and a restaurant, the Kilberry Inn. This restaurant was highly recommended in our travel guide so we stopped to have a look.
The word of the day is “unassuming” – and I bet it is the word most used to describe the Kilberry Inn. Red tin roof, white cottage. From the outside, you would think it is one of the many simple cafes dotted around Scotland, with a rosy cheeked and pinny-ed woman serving tea and scones. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cosy and inviting as the imaginary tea and scones cafe, but a glance at the menu was enough to tell us that this was fine dining. The best of Scottish ingredients – Edinvale lamb and beef, local scallops, salmon and crabs but not in a pretentious restaurant where you felt that you had to talk in a whisper. The staff are friendly, chatty without being intrusive and ready to offer a recommendation. The dining room is charming and comfortable, a place to relax and enjoy the meal. .
I started with a Pimms, with fresh mint, cucumber and organic lemonade. Refreshing and typically British. My starter was a mouthwatering salmon salad, while my husband enjoyed his rillettes of pork with the most scrumptious soda bread.
Main course, it had to be the lamb with aubergines – two of my favourite ingredients. The lamb was perfectly cooked and the aubergines in Morrocan spices a perfect accompaniment. My husband went for the beef, an uncomplicated and delicious dish. The boss, David, recommended wine to go with the meals (and to my shame I have forgotten what we chose, but they were both very good). By this point I had forgotten that I had planned on blogging about the restaurant and was just enjoying the meal and the company of my husband. I would have loved to have stayed longer, drank more wine and stayed the night in the B&B – an idea for another year perhaps.
The portions were generous but not too huge so that we felt able to tackle the pudding menu. It did bother me for DAYS afterwards – the offer of “A selection of British and Irish cheeses” – as I could not decide if the plural should not be cheese, and not cheeses.
All in all, it was a fabulous start to our trip. It is great to find places like this, so unspoiled and quiet, I am almost tempted to keep it to myself.
More about Skye and the West Coast in the coming days.