Great Places to Stay
- Creggans Inn, Strachur, Loch Fyne, Argyll
Loch Fyne - the longest sea loch in Scotland - is famous for its fine, Fyne seafood. The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar on the road to Inverary is a popular pit-stop for hungry travellers. But it's more than just a restaurant - a third of sales at this quality seafood business are exported worldwide. Crates of oysters are flown out each week to Hong Kong, Germany, Austria and Singapore, although smoked salmon remains the leading product with weekly exports averaging 2,500 kg. On the opposite side of Loch Fyne from Inverary is the Creggans Inn at the edge of Strachur, a small, sleepy, West Highland village. This is a dramatic and stunningly scenic part of Scotland, full of ancient history, magnificent forests and wildlife.
This charming old white-washed hotel - a coaching inn since the days of Mary Queen of Scots - is virtually on the loch shore and a great place to stay for touring the area. It has an interesting family history too. Sir Fitzroy Maclean had an exceptionally distinguished career - soldier, founder member of the SAS, and a driving force behind the Armed Forces during WWII. He was a diplomat and Member of Parliament. He knew the novelist Ian Fleming and it is widely believed that this parachuting adventurer and war hero was the true-life model for James Bond, 007. Sir Fitzroy was also a prolific and best selling writer, especially on the history and culture of Russia and also of Scotland. In the 1950s he bought Strachur Estate, which included the Creggans Inn, a medium sized hotel. Lady Veronica Maclean - herself a writer of cookery books - managed the kitchen, and soon many of the world's rich and famous would visit the Inn, which became a focal point of Strachur during the 60s and 70s. Following the death of Sir Fitzroy in 1996, his son Charles took on the management of the Inn, until 2000 when it was sold to the Robertson family.
The beauty of the long extended property is that most of the bedrooms across two floors have loch views. These are mainly standard rooms although there are two larger superior rooms, 3 and 10. Most bedrooms have been fairly recently refurbished with Osborne and Little or Toile de Jouy quality wallpaper and curtains. The bathrooms have been refurbished, many with a bath and separate shower and quality Amtico flooring. In Superior rooms you'll find extra luxuries such as bathrobes. Number 3 is at the end of the corridor and a spacious square room with windows on every side. Room 10 is, in contrast, a long room with pretty red check furnishings. Then there is the Suite, room 12, decorated in blue and yellow with a separate sitting room featuring antique furniture and rather nice green velvet chairs.
Every room is individually decorated - many with attractive polished country pine furniture. Hotel Review Scotland would like to recommend room 16, all bright fresh sunshine yellow and exceptionally fine views from a large window. On the second floor are two very pretty rooms - 22 with 2 twin beds and red 'willow pattern-style' wallpaper and 23 with double bed, similarly decorated in blue. These attic rooms with coomed ceilings have their own staircase and next door to each other and therefore ideal for a family with children.
A country inn is a place to relax, curl up in an armchair and read a book in front of the fire. The main sitting room downstairs does not have a real log fire - in fact there's no chimney behind the electric fire. The room is furnished with dozens of wooden armed chairs circa 1972. More chunky armchairs and sofas would be more comfortable and perhaps some softer lighting in the evening to make it a little more homely. At present it is like an old people's home. Upstairs there is an attractive residents' lounge with dozens of good books to borrow - including some by Fitzroy MacLean. The room has radiators and a traditional fireplace but on this review visit the fire was unfortunately not lit. It really is so important to ensure warmth in a hotel - especially with our Scottish climate when it can be cool at any time of the year. One place you will find a log fire burning is in the Bar so this is the place to sit if you wish to experience the traditional ambience of a country inn.
The restaurant is a long, elegant room with five high windows overlooking the loch. This was formerly the hotel's function suite and is still used for ceilidhs, live music events and parties around New Year. It's a long barn of a room with polished wood floor and no curtains pulled across the windows so it can be chilly - but here there is a fine old hearth and roaring fire in winter. OK, so let's describe the menu and the food. Before dinner, guests are invited to sit in the lounge to study the menu while enjoying an aperitif and plate of canapés. Now for the good news. The dinner menu is excellent value with a superb four-course dinner and coffee for £ 28. A new Head chef Calum Williamson arrived in April 2004 and has already clearly stamped his mark on creating a distinctive, contemporary style featuring local produce.
The menu is extensive with six starters and main courses. Begin perhaps with three fat, delicately soft Pan-seared Scallops with a mussel and saffron cream sauce, or Loch Fyne Oysters or Home-smoked Chicken salad. Then an intermediate course such as Hot Smoked Salmon with crème fraîche - a perfect tiny portion as an appetiser. This may be followed by Fillet of Beef served imaginatively with wild mushroom and herb ravioli, glazed shallots and a port wine jus. There's a Chef's special each evening, on this evening it was Grilled Monkfish with saffron mash and a chervil and smoked oyster sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked sitting atop a mound of pureed potato. Fantastic. Vegetarian dishes are also on offer. Portions are ideal so that you are sure to be tempted by dessert or cheese. What about a classic Bread and Butter Pudding or Chocolate Mousse? The fine Scottish cheese selection included Mull cheddar and Dunsyre blue. The wine list is specially selected by Alex Robertson from Corney & Barrow wine merchants. Full marks for half bottles of champagne and also Hochar's lipsmacking Chateau Musar from the Lebanon. There are three well-priced red and white house wines.
And a Cosy Pub
At the far end of the inn you'll find a traditional pub - popular with local residents as well as hotel guests. In the AA Pub Guide 2004, Creggans Inn was highlighted in Pick of the Pubs for "extra special quality which makes it stands out from the crowd." The Pub is divided into various areas - the bar itself and the dining area, both with a real fire. A first class lunch and evening meal are served with classic Scottish dishes such as Cullen Skink soup, Loch Fyne Mussels with a Guinness cream, Tarbert Cod in beer batter and chips, Venison sausages and Steak pie. The Creggans Whisky list, featuring some excellent malts, is compiled by Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies, the whisky shop in Inverary.
The Inn is on the Strachur Estate where you can enjoy a leisurely walk through the Strachur House Park, which was developed in the late 18th century. The flower garden is a delight with lawns and several herbaceous borders including roses and Japanese anemones. Lady Veronica created her own Burn Walk featuring rhododendrons, woodland shrubs, spring bulbs and a rock garden. In the flower garden there's still the slate table and bench where Fitzroy Maclean used to write in the summer months. The Inn has boat moorings for use by guests and loch fishing for trout can be arranged.
I had been well aware of the Creggans Inn for many years due to the Fitzroy MacLean family connection, but this was my first visit. I was impressed by the fresh, bold decoration in many of the bedrooms and certainly many of the standard rooms (16 and 23) are as spacious and comfortable as the two Superior rooms. But it's Calum Williamson's fine cooking and fresh seafood that will certainly bring me back here again - next time perhaps a hearty lunch in that cosy pub. Guests have made their way to this fine - and famous - country inn from the United States, Italy, Holland, England and across Scotland - maybe you can do the same?
For more information or to make a reservation see the Creggans Inn Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creggans Inn is in Strachur, Argyll - see the Map of the area (the scale can be enlarged to show more detail).
For tourist attractions in the area, see:
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