So we “Thelma, Little Thelma, Louie and Louie” set out on an adventure in the Highlands and tackled the narrow and winding roads of the route.
We stay at the Ballachulish Hotel; the slightly creaky older sister of the newer, clean-cut, Scandinavian-style Isles of Glencoe Hotel.
The Ballachulish Hotel’s rooms have been refurbished (by Travel Lodge standards) and the dining room is light and airy, but it’s as if the builders forgot to renovate the second-floor hallways and stairways. (In fact, the creaky staircase is worth a visit just to hear it — and to be honest, I imagine Americans would love the idea of staying in a creaky old castle hotel. And so will my teens.)
Notwithstanding the slightly tired second floor, the welcome is warm and friendly. The staff is nice, bending over to feed my picky eaters lunch – and the chef even offers “off the menu” items within minutes.
The package is a hotel stay with two activities linked to the Isles of Glencoe Hotel and we choose Clay Pigeon Laser Shooting and Paddleboarding – so despite being at the Ballachulish Hotel we are allowed to use the facilities at the Isles of Glencoe… which also has a small pool.
“Swimming pool.” I used the golden word. I think having a pool for all ages of kids is really a deal maker. And while our visit comes on one of Scotland’s hottest weekends – I think it hit 29C – my kids insist on using the pool two or three times a day.
On day one we head off to try paddle boarding on Loch Leven (yes there are two in Scotland) and are taken along by instructor Struan, who has a hybrid Scottish accent – he’s lived in Canada for years – and lots of words as used “nasty” and “horny” during our class, even for me – and I’m lagging behind.
But if you haven’t tried paddling before, it’s really fun – even if like me you don’t like to put your face in the water… it’s a very calm and relaxing experience – and the essence of paddling a board on a hole 100 times Jumping in and out is perfect for the kids.
Struan is patient with us – even when the teenagers decide to take him down and capsize. Of course that doesn’t happen, he’s too fast. After about an hour (everything is very relaxed up here) we drive back to Balla for dinner at Fish, as the restaurant is called.
And boy did we not expect what was to come.
Tempurua squid, waygu burger, crawfish scampi and truffle macarob cheese were just some of the delicacies we tried. It’s a busy dining experience as well as relaxed and friendly.
We feel comfortable in the hotel because the service is attentive, unobtrusive and wonderfully friendly. We’re filled to the brim – there are no tiny bites at this restaurant. Fish feeds its hungry vacationers well.
As we settle in for the night, we are “treated” with a dull, loud roar over our room; After examining Nancy Drew’s dimensions, we discover it’s the water pipes that are rumbling (the innards of the Grand Old Dame of the Loch creaking) and it’s not just the very loud snoring of our guest next door.
So we didn’t have the best night’s sleep of our lives, but as expected, the staff are on it and telling me they’ll be transporting us – and our luggage – when we return from our trip.
The second day it’s off to the breakfast buffet – and although my kids never eat much in the mornings at home, they set off in seconds with sausage, bacon, eggs, toast, croissants. Full, continental, light and fresh – everything is included and ensures a brilliant start to the day.
This comes after a detour to the Isles of Glencoe for the kids to take a dip in the pool, which while small never seems to have more than a few swimmers in it at a time.
We booked laser skeet shooting with Chris at The Woodlands (www.woodlands.scot) for our second day – and neither of us have done anything like this before. You get what it says on the tin: you shoot flying clay discs, but with a laser instead of a bullet. My sons take it like a duck to water and almost always hit the target. Must be easy I guess. It is not. My daughter and I are struggling to get into double digits (this adds up our scores) while the boys are in the hundreds. But still, it’s good competitive fun and a new skill to add to the boys’ hats. An hour flies by.
We drive to Fort William – about 20 minutes away by car – and grab some snacks and lunch at Morrisons. The city center is well served with supermarkets and souvenir shops, and there are many Americans and Scandinavians. It feels great to have tourists back after lockdown. I hope it’s not too early to mention it, but the lack of masks and handwiping is welcome. People from all over the world are relaxing after the last few years of Covid restrictions. It feels like we’re going back to normal.
As the sun splits the trees we decide to check out the Silver Sands of Morar – about 50 minutes drive from Fort William. Back on the winding roads you really need to keep your wits about you as the scenery is some of the most breathtaking I have ever seen. The hills are so close to the roads that you could almost run your fingers through the tall grass as you drive by.
The beach is a wow – with sugar-soft sand and crystal blue water that you only expect in the Caribbean. Although I love swimming in open water, the water is cold so I decide to only admire it from the beach.
Back in our second home, we are delighted with our new room on the first floor. It’s a larger space with a more luxurious feel and no creaky pipes. We love it.
The location of the Ballachulish Hotel is stunning. In fact, the setting is far more beautiful than that of the Isles of Glencoe. In fact, the landscape here is so Scottish, so rugged, that this could be one of the best hotels in the Highlands.
As part of the Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels group, it will get there when it comes to shedding the rougher edges. I would go there again in a heartbeat.
Ballachulish Hotel, near Fort William, Glencoe. PH49 4JY
Rooms start at £130 per night and include breakfast and use of the facilities.
Winter Sale: Book by the end of January and get a 25% discount.