The Cowal Food Journey
The Cowal Food Journey
1 day to 3 days
For anyone who is passionate about food, Cowal offers the best of fresh, local produce. The sea lochs provide seafood caught daily and there’s high-quality game and beef – include Highland cattle beef – from the hills. The thriving community of local producers create everything from smoked delicacies to local ales. And the many cafés, restaurants and pubs serve it all up in relaxed surroundings. To celebrate Scotland’s Year of Food & Drink 2015, we’ve put together this fantastic food journey through Cowal. Follow the trail to discover a feast of traditional delicacies. What could be more enjoyable than stumbling upon a hidden gem of a restaurant and trying the catch of the day? And there are lots of other things to see and do along the way. See Visit Cowal and Argyll’s Secret Coast for more places to eat in Cowal and Food From Argyll for more about Argyll’s producers.
1. Cairndow to Strachur
Start your journey at the famous Loch Fyne Oyster Bar & Restaurant, which sits at the head of Loch Fyne just under an hour’s drive from Glasgow. It’s a fabulous place to enjoy world-class seafood in lovely surroundings. There’s also a deli, where you can buy seafood, fish and other local produce and delicacies. The company started out in the 1970s, farming oysters in the clear waters of Loch Fyne and selling them direct to the public in a nearby lay-by. Today Loch Fyne Oysters still produces seafood in the loch, as well as smoking fish on site, all of which is served up in the restaurant and available to buy in the deli. The main menu is served from 12pm to 5pm each day. Or if you’re starting out early, how about stopping for breakfast and sampling the famous Loch Fyne kippers?
Fyne Ales Brewery, Shop & Bar is just along the road and well worth a visit. When leaving Loch Fyne Oysters, turn left on to the A83 and then take the second left and follow the winding road up Glen Fyne for a few minutes and you’ll find the brewery. As well as bar selling a wonderful selection of ales and home-cooked food, there’s also a shop where you can buy the full range of bottle ales and mini casks, as well as beef from Fyne Ales’ own herd of Highland Cattle. The steaks are divine. Take a tour with one of the expert brewers to see how the beers are made then learn about the beers through a tutored tasting. Afterwards, sit in the courtyard and enjoy the sun with a pint of your favourite beer and a steak pie.
Your next stop is the Creggans Inn at Strachur. You might want to visit Ardkinglas Woodland Gardens for a short stroll first. It’s a few minutes’ drive along the A83 towards Glasgow. Open all year round, there are some lovely trails with wonderful views of Loch Fyne, including a Gruffalo trail for the young. And if you fancy getting hands-on, cookery workshops are held throughout the year in the Edwardian Kitchen in Ardkinglas House.
Continue heading east along the A83 and then take the A815, which hugs the east bank of Loch Fyne, until you reach The Creggans Inn. There are two dining options at this warm and welcoming family-run hotel. MacPhunn’s Bar & Restaurant is great for a relaxed meal while the 2 AA Rosette Loch Fyne Dining Room offers fine dining. You’ll find local, seasonal ingredients on the menu. Or why not just enjoy a dram in MacPhunns Bar? It’s named after ‘half hung Archie’ MacPhunn, the sheep stealer who after being hung in Inveraray for murder was revived by a dram.
Locals tip: The Tinkers’ Heart, a pattern of quartz stones which was originally laid in the 1700s, has been used by generations of Scottish Travellers as a wedding place. You’ll find it in a field beside the A815 on east Loch Fyne near the junction with the B839.
2. Strachur to Portavadie
At Strachur take the A886 and then the B8000. This winding single-track road will take you through some of Argyll’s most stunning scenery. It will also take you to Invercottage Restaurant, a restored croft on Lachlan Bay which serves up superb local cuisine. How about langoustines creeled in the bay or Gigha halibut? From Invercottage, there’s an easy walk across the bay to see the ruined Castle Lachlan, a unique and atmospheric 15th-century fortress with a striking outlook.
Carry on along the B8000 until you reach the wonderful Oystercatcher pub/restaurant, which sits at the heart of Otter Ferry serving up delicious locally sourced food in an unbeatable shore-side seaside setting. The sturdy white-washed building is surrounded by plenty of outdoor tables so you can enjoy beautiful views over the loch on a fine day. Tuck into local oysters, mussels and scallops washed down with a locally brewed Fyne Ale.
The Oystercatcher opens out onto Otter Bay and the old Otter Ferry Pier The huge Otter Spit stretches right out into the loch from Otter Bay and is always teeming with birdlife. If you time it right, at low tide you can walk along the spit for about a mile.
If you can drag yourself away from the view, it’s time to head to Portavadie for something completely different. Follow the B8000 until you reach the crossroads at Millhouse and then turn right to Portavadie. You’re now in the heart of ‘Argyll’s Secret Coast’, an undiscovered corner of Cowal that’s bordered by two pristine stretches of water, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne, and is renowned for its seafood. And where better to sample local seafood than Portavadie, Loch Fyne, a modern development centred around a marina? On a sunny day you can’t beat sitting on the terrace with a glass of cold Chablis, watching the yachts sail in and tucking into fresh seafood cooked to perfection. You can hire bikes or kayaks.
Local tip: At Evanachan Organic Farm in Otter Ferry, Fiona Barge makes delicious cheese with milk from her four Jersey cows. As well as cheese, you can buy organic vegetables and free-range eggs from the farm.
3. Portavadie to Colintraive
Continuing your drive through Argyll’s Secret Coast, in just three miles you will move from a west-facing coastline at Portavadie to an east-facing coastline one in the twin villages of Kames and Tighnabruaich. But before you reach Kames, stop off at the The Barn at Millhouse, a small, family-friendly cafe in a beautifully renovated cattle byre. The lovely garden is a perfect spot to relax over a cuppa on a sunny day and has views over to Arran. Fresh, local produce is always on the menu. Most of the vegetables are from the owner’s garden and the eggs from her chickens. Delicious coffees, hot chocolates, milkshakes and home baking are served all day.
In Tighnabruaich you’ll find The Royal An Lochan which has featured on the property show Location, Location, Location – and what a location it has! Situated overlooking the shoreline centrally in Tighnabruaich, this hotel with restaurant and bar, boasts fine views over the West Kyle to the Isle of Bute. There are separate restaurant and bar menus, with the restaurant offering both traditional and speciality dishes including succulent duck, chicken and halibut dishes which make the most of seasonal vegetables. Naturally enough, seafood features prominently at the Royal and diners can expect to see a variety of fish, langoustine, mussels and scallops on the menus as both starter and main courses.
Further into the village of Tighnabruaich you’ll find a welcoming little establishment known simply as The Tearoom. Despite its small size, it’s very much at the heart of the community in every sense. You will always find a warm welcome there, and it’s a great place to meet some of the locals. The menu changes on a regular basis but if you are looking for tasty home baking, hearty soups, sandwiches and mains and excellent coffee then you should not be disappointed!
A few miles’ drive north of Tighnabruaich stop to look at the spectacular view of the East Kyle of Bute from the National Trust Lookout point. From there on a clear day you’ll see your next destination, Colintraive where the Colintraive Hotel has a richly deserved reputation for the quality of its food and the warmth of the welcome extended to all visitors by owner Patricia and her staff. Diners have the choice of enjoying a bar meal in the gastropub, where pets are welcome, or dining à la carte in the refurbished restaurant and lounge.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll enjoy ingredients which have been locally sourced and lovingly prepared to create a range of dishes which reflect the fabulous larder of the west coast, sometimes with an Italian twist, a combination typified by the hotel’s seafood linguine signature dish.
Local tip: It’s well worth visiting Caol Ruadh Scottish Sculpture Park, located just outside Colintraive. It’s a unique outdoor art gallery that seems to spill organically out of an impressive late Victorian house with pieces dotted around the extensive grounds running down towards the shoreline of the Kyles of Bute. Open during the summer months the gallery promotes and sells contemporary sculpture created in Scotland.
4. Colintraive to Dunoon
The drive from Colintraive to Dunoon is stunning one. Head back along the A886 before turning right onto the B836. In Dunoon, the principal town on the Cowal Peninsula, you’ll fine Livingstone’s restaurant. Within a short period of its opening, this establishment has become recognised as one of the best eateries in the bustling seaside town – in fact, according to Trip Advisor it occupies the number 2 slot. Described as a world food bistro, the menu takes full advantage of the best ingredients the region has to offer.
Seasons in Dunoon describes itself as a ‘destination coffee house’ and its location is certainly handy, situated between Tourist Information Centre and the Riverside Leisure Centre on the seafront, just a few minutes’ walk from the Dunoon pier and the main street. Coffee connoisseurs and devotees of tea will find themselves well catered for with a fabulous selection of varieties and blends of both beverages, prepared to your own taste. Sandwiches, paninis, toasties and rolls are prepared and served to the same high standards as are the homemade scones, cakes and pastries.
Just four miles south of Dunoon you’ll find The Villagers Royal, an award-winning pub and restaurant located in the village of Innellan. Originally the building was both a gatehouse to the grand Royal Hotel, sadly destroyed by fire in 1981, and also a pub for the local folk. This might have been an attempt to keep them separate from the well-heeled Victorian visitors arriving at the nearby pier by steamer destined for the posh hotel. With a menu that includes steak pies, fish and chips, venison and facilities such as darts, dominoes, a pool table and free wi-fi the Villagers is an establishment that stays true to its roots and remains popular with locals and visitors alike. The Osborne Hotel is another good spot to grab lunch in Innellan. Enjoy great views of the Clyde while you tuck into some home-cooked pub food.
Whether you are a keen gardener or simply appreciate trees, flowers and the seemingly infinite variety of fauna to be found on our planet, a visit to Benmore Gardens near Dunoon, is a fabulously rewarding experience. At the café you’ll find a selection of freshly made food, from homemade soups to an assortment of cakes, sandwiches and main courses which you can enjoy indoors or in a pleasant patio area.
With so many quality, local ingredients available in Cowal, be it seafood, meat, dairy fruit or vegetables, it’s no wonder that the area has become a magnet for both talented cooks and chefs and devoted foodies alike. The above represents just a small sample of what is available in our gastronomically blessed corner of Scotland, it’s up to you to get out and explore!
Local tip: The ethereal Puck’s Glen is a great place to work up an appetite. Near Benmore Gardens, the forest’s moist shady undergrowth and delicious dark atmosphere is great fun to explore. There are two way-marked trails here: one winds through the gorge with its tumbling waterfalls; the other takes a longer route to great viewpoints and some of the finest rhododendron displays in the country.