By Kate McCabe
When we think of adventure sports, we often think Switzerland, Austria or even New Zealand.
But here in the UK there is fresh white snow, clean lakes and rivers, rugged mountain ranges and ice cliffs right at our back door.
Scotland is the UK’s adventure capital and the Argyll region puts you smack bang in the middle of it all — skiing, snowboarding, sledging, fishing, mountain bike-riding, shooting, ice climbing, mountaineering and hiking, all much more accessible and affordable than the European equivalent.
A scenic train ride from London’s Euston Station takes you to the small village of Crainlarich. Close to the coastal town of Oban, historic city of Stirling, Glencoe Mountain Resort, picturesque town of Fort William, Ice Factor Adventure Park and the famous Ben Nevis Mountain Range, Crainlarich provides a perfect central base.
Four Aussies and a token Kiwi headed up north to experience the region for themselves.
We were greeted at the Crainlarich Hotel with a warm Scottish welcome. It was refreshing to hear the country twang and to breath crisp, fresh air — reminding us that for the next few days we were far from the bustle of London life.
The 100-plus year-old building has recently been restored into a cosy country lodge, complete with spacious ensuite rooms, a homely lounge with an open fire and a chef ready to cook up warming local delights and pub classics. Tastefully decorated with fishing reels on the walls, taxidermy creatures in glass cabinets and peaceful maritime paintings, the hotel had a real mountainous feel.
Staying in such luxury here is not expensive, and the appreciation of a hot shower and comfortable bed is ten-fold after a long day on the slopes or an afternoon by the water waiting for a bite.
With strong winds unfortunately forcing us to stay at low altitude, on day one we drove into Oban for a spot of fishing. From March to September, the many tour and charter companies operating out of the town offer deep sea and fly fishing excursions. Being slightly too early for the season, we resorted to pier fishing as suggested by the ginger-haired Gavin Mcdougall at the local tackle and artillery shop. “Yeah, I could sell you something… but you lot’ll probably just throw it away.” He said, showing not much faith in our fishing skills.
He told us that if we carefully constructed a kit using fishing line, bolts and hooks from the £1 store down the road, and a fillet of haddock from the local supermarket as bait, “You’ll definitely catch something. I guarantee it”.
It might have been the first time that any fisherman ever has been guaranteed a catch. So we grabbed some beers, bought ourselves each a brimmed fishing hat had dropped some lines into the Atlantic Ocean. Gavin was right. After just one hour we did make a catch. Unfortunately it was only a crab. But you should have seen the one that got away…
We headed to the pub to brainstorm some fishing tales. Strangely, the small ocean-view tavern had a dusty six pack of VB stubbies at the back of the fridge which we promptly polished off.
Back in Crainlarich, we enjoyed a Saturday night in. A hearty winter meal and a few Whiskeys by the fire place. The musical stylings of Allan Mackintosh and his accordion kept us entertained and relaxed. It was a lesson in Scottish folk music.
The next morning, we took advantage of the Hotel’s free transfer service to the nearby Glencoe Mountain Resort — Scotland’s first ski resort — which had opened four weeks early due to the recent heavy snowfall. The mountain has two small cafes, ski and snowboard hire, 19 downhill runs (including ‘Fly Paper’, the longest and steepest run in Scotland) and 7 lifts/tows.
It is an intimate resort with friendly staff and easy access to runs. Unlike resorts back home in Australia, Glencoe isn’t a busy commercial centre with bars, accommodation, shops and restaurants. Instead, it’s all about the snow.
The views from Glencoe’s highest point are stunning, looking across frozen lochs and snowy peaks.
We gave the mountain a good crack — some of us showing more potential than others. The great thing about Glencoe is that if offers a perfect mix of beginner and expert runs.
A few face-plants later, and one collision involving a stationary skier who was waiting in line for the chairlift being taken out but my inability to stop, we had had an amazing day and somewhat improved our snowboarding skills.
Argyll is one of the most naturally scenic regions in the UK, and with so much on offer it is the perfect location for an adventure-packed break.
Glencoe Mountain Resort offers day passes and hiring services: www.glencoemountain.co.uk.
The Crianlarich Hotel offers its guests free transfers to and from Glencoe.