Going self-catering as a family doesn’t have the same ring to it as being waited on hand and foot at a gorgeous hotel. But, after a weekend at the remote Knockdow House on the Cowal peninsula in Argyll, I’ve discovered that quality self-catering does not mean compromising in the slightest. This venue is breathtakingly plush. It’s Downton. It’s dreamy. And it’s only taking bookings until September so if this corner of the world intrigues you read on and act now.
Knockdow House is real getaway, it’s secluded and tranquil, but kids are more than welcome. If you want a luxurious great escape this might be the one.
CHECK-IN – We’d driven from Dublin (I’m not kidding) so we were all wrecked by the time we arrived off the Gourock-Dunoon ferry. The owner, Fatima, met us in person and showed us to our accommodation. We were in the Cumbrae Suite and I could instantly see it was so beautiful that I worried my grubby little family might mess it up. I was so tired but Fatima told me to relax, let my kids explore and just enjoy the surroundings. She knew instantly what I needed to hear and we all chilled out! A very personal way to check in.
THE SUITE – The Cumbrae suite is simply stunning – take a look at our YouTube tour here. The photos reveal how elegant it is but the attention to detail regarding the furnishings, the finish and the polish cannot be underestimated. From thick, heavy curtains with beautiful trims and thick soft carpets, to excellent bedding and eye-catching radiator taps. I never thought in all my days my head would be turned by radiator taps. The pride and money invested in Knockdow is notable.
The twin room for the boys was so elegant I felt they should be wearing little breeches, frilly collars and knee length socks. Cute! Our master bedroom, with its large marble ensuite, was sumptuous. I particularly liked the bay window, with table and chairs, where I felt I should perch quietly doing my embroidery. The living area was vast, and there was a television discreetly tucked in a cabinet so my tots didn’t get CBeebies or Milkshake withdrawal symptoms in the morning.
The kitchen had a washer/drier, a small dishwasher, and cleaning cloths, tablets and liquids were provided. In the fridge we discovered a bottle of milk and a freshly baked Victoria Sponge, a delightful introduction to local cooking. Bizarrely though there was no clear dining space or dining table: bear in mind we’d packed healthy pasta with bright red tomato sauce for the kids, so there was no way on God’s good earth we’d let the tots eat anywhere near a sofa or carpet. My two year old is still at the stage where (on a good day) 2/3 of the food goes in his mouth, and 1/3 inevitably goes elsewhere. On a bad day it’s the other way around. So we pulled a wee side table onto the wooden floor and they dined standing beside it. I ate at my ’embroidery table’ as it is now fondly known. A family dining table would be my only slight change to the entire Knockdow experience.
THE BIG HOUSE – Our suite was just one wee corner of Knockdow House. On our first morning we explored the public rooms- take a peak at our video here. Until recently Knockdow could be booked as an exclusive-use wedding venue, and when you stand underneath the domed glass ceiling you can imagine all the brides and grooms saying their vows on that very spot. Again the detail of the furnishings and decoration couldn’t be missed and I’ll covet the matching mirror and light fitting pictured left for a very long time!
The house was originally the home of the McGorrie Lamonts of Inverchaolain and Knockdow for over two hundred years, until it was sold out of the family in 1958. The current owners acquired it in 2010 and a loving process of restoration began. You can tell it’s been a labour of love.
THE GROUNDS – More of the morning was spent roaming the grounds. Ample outdoor ‘toys’ are provided for adults and children alike, plus there’s a small play area for little ones. We walked down to the lake: rich with lily pads you feel you should be wearing period costume, or a wedding dress at the very least. It’s a beautiful setting.
WHAT TO DO – From Knockdow we jumped in the car and headed north to visit Benmore Botanic Garden. We didn’t know what to expect but we spent four hours there! I hadn’t appreciated that it’s part of the Royal Botanic Garden circuit: the flagship garden is in Edinburgh; with Logan in Galloway; Dawyck in the Borders; and Benmore in Argyll. Benmore is mountainous and ideal for rugged little explorers. We took our buggy everywhere and our two year old either hiked or got pushed around. I would thoroughly recommend this destination, and if anyone wants a more detailed blog post let me know.
On our return from Benmore we released the tots into a playpark in Dunoon with sea views, before dining at Rio, an Italian restaurant in the centre of town. That night we returned to Knockdow shattered and slept like logs.
LOCATION – Knockdow is beautifully remote, and I think this keeps the prices relatively low considering the quality you get. It’s on the mainland, so you can drive, but we caught the Western car ferry which runs brilliantly regularly and takes around twenty minutes to cross the water. Check the map to work out what route would be quicker for you. If you can buy your tickets in a shop displaying a Western ferries sign, rather than onboard, it’s apparently significantly cheaper. You may have to get used to the geography of the area, things are close as the crow flies but can be difficult to reach as you’re essentially on one of three fingers (peninsulas) and deliriously close to the Isle of Bute but getting between these destinations isn’t as easy as you may hope and requires a little forethought if you’re not used to the region, which I certainly wasn’t.
Once you arrive in Dunoon stock up on what you need as it’s a half hour drive to Knockdow and there are no shops in its immediate vicinity. Knockdow is a pure, rural retreat so with a little planning you can feel like the lady of the house.
OUR STORY – A car is pretty much essential in Argyll and for visiting Knockdow. We’d completed an Irish road trip, sailed from Larne to Cairnryan before driving to Gourock, sailing to Dunoon, and spending two nights in Argyll. Phew!
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