We received an invite to Portavadie Marina on Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland, a stunning outdoor playground near Loch Lomond, Loch Katrine and the Isles of Bute and Arran. As the crow flies Loch Fyne isn’t too far away but the winding scenic roads take time, so we inhaled deeply and packed three month old Mr Baby into his wee car seat and embarked on the 4-5 hour drive from Aberdeen, most of which he slept through. Phew. Arriving by boat at the marina must be exhilarating but arriving by car was rewarding enough, and far more realistic… The marina complex is large but the font on its signage is tiny, I have no idea why, so the last five minutes of the journey kept us on our toes as we tracked down our accommodation.
The marina is only seven years old so its accommodation offering is fresh. You can choose between cottages, which are a little separate from the restaurants and reception areas, offering privacy and seclusion. The other option is sleek, elegant apartments by the waterfront, with views of the loch and in the same building as the main restaurant and shop. We selected the ‘lodge’ accommodation; smart ensuite rooms in another separate block – our superior room had its own balcony and lots of space as it was wheelchair friendly and therefore very baby/buggy friendly too. The travel cot was complimentary but we had to bring our own linen which was no problem. The Lodge Kitchen and Bar serve breakfast in the morning and ‘hearty home cooked’ food and a kids’ menu from midday to 9pm. You had to walk a couple of minutes to the other block to dine at the main restaurant, the Marina Restaurant, where the floor to ceiling glass showcases views of the yachts coming and going. I liked the mix of guests in the restaurants – sailing types in wet weather gear/fleeces dining next to couples dressed up for a romantic meal, everyone rubbed along nicely together and there was no right or wrong way to dress for dinner.
The staff were notably friendly and helpful – many of them live onsite so working at Portavadie is more than just a job to them, it’s a huge part of their life and social scene. They also made me feel very welcome with a small baby in tow.
Portavadie is exceptionally self contained, set apart from the world on the edge of the loch. As a fully functioning marina there’s clearly lots of water around but it appears be cordoned or barricaded off in one form or another. Whilst vigilance is required I didn’t expect it to be so child friendly or safe. Most harbours have several sheer drops into the water which is part and parcel of their function but here it was noticeable how difficult it would be to access the water by accident. My babe is in arms but I would return with my toddler because Portavadie’s designers have done their best to ensure all ages can make the most of the setting. Boats positioned at one stretch of the quayside are being maintained so there’s an industrial element which kids could find interesting – seeing a boat close up, its hull out of the water etc.- but again supervision and common sense are required. Portavadie is an interesting mix of scenery, working boat yards and maritime leisure.
A Sea Safari can be booked through Water Adventure – 30 minute trips gives you the opportunity to look for sea birds, seals, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks. The Tarbert ferry stops practically at the back door of the Lodge offering up an ideal day trip, especially if you hire bicycles from the marina. Sailing courses and yacht charter can also be arranged, and the area is renowned for the Cowal Way hike. The nearest villages to the marina are Kames and Tighnabruich, but the proximity to the playground of Loch Lomond also provides extensive potential entertainment and activities. The reason I can’t give a description of Mr Baby whizzing off on a Sea Safari or peddling furiously off the Tarbert ferry is that we didn’t undertake any of the activities available. We’d been invited to Portavadie for a very special reason, a wedding of a very good friend. Whilst anyone who has taken a baby to a wedding before knows you spend much of your time internally pleading with them not to cry during the ceremony, not to cry during the speeches and not to bring up milk anywhere or on anyone. Mr Baby aced it. The wedding and reception were beautiful and flawless.
For those potentially interested in a trip to Portavadie it’s currently expanding to include new spa faciltiies and a leisure centre with indoor and outdoor pools, a gym and a cafe/deli. This should open around August 2015 and will transform the offering for families. It would be interesting to return to the marina once the works are finished, shiny and new, as I think these developments will be a real game changer and make the location a one stop shop for short breaks.
When it came to heading home it became apparent that we were leaving a relaxing microcosm to re-enter real life. We suspended disbelief a little longer by having lunch on Loch Lomond at the rather lovely Cameron House Hotel Boat House. The walk to the the Boat House restaurant along the loch side was picturesque in itself and we were able to dine al fresco with a great view of their marina – scallops and black pudding for me, a traditional burger for Mr Husband. As we had Mr Baby in tow we only dared attempt one course. Cameron House is another great west coast find – as well as hotel accommodation there are also one, two, three and four bedroom self-catering lodges available. There is a pool, spa, golf and fine dining available onsite so you can go self-catering one night then tap into the resort facilities the next.
The Boat House staff were very welcoming towards Mr Baby and as we sat in the sun with a coffee I was genuinely grateful for the weekend we’d experienced. As we departed Mr Husband was hugely excited to see a seaplane take off – what a great way to see the loch and dramatic countryside. Hopefully we’ll return with the children and perhaps take to the skies.
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