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Issue 18 - Perfect for the family

Scotland Magazine Issue 18
January 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Perfect for the family

The Isles of Glencoe is the perfect base for exploring some of Scotland's most impressive and intimidating regions. Dominic Roskrow reports

It’s not the smartest hotel in the world, or the most stylish. Indeed, by the end of a hard tourist season it looks a little battered and frazzled at the edges. For all that, though, the family hotel Isles of Glencoe is charming, friendly, welcoming – and the ideal family launch pad for exploring the broody area it is based in and the beautiful lochs it lies close to.

The Isles of Glencoe specialises in family stays, providing rooms with children’s dens: an area set apart with bunk beds and a television so that the children can have their space while the parents enjoy a drink while overlooking the scenic views across the loch on which the hotel is sited.

Each day the local ranger comes in to the hotel to answer questions and to provide information on the myriad of activities such as cycling, walking, golf, sailing and, for the more adventurous, ‘rib riding’; speeding across the loch in a motorised dinghy.

The hotel itself has a leisure centre with swimming pool, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room, and a range of beauty treatments are available. All lovely at the end of the day, perhaps, but the hotel’s main advantage is location and the opportunity it provides to explore Glencoe itself and as far afield as the legendary Loch Ness.

The hotel takes its name from the small islands littered across the loch itself– the burial place for generations of Macdonalds. And that fact, coupled by the disturbing and tragic history of Glencoe itself, make for an intensely atmospheric and at times unsettling experience when you’re outside the hotel.

The weather plays its part, too, constantly changing and casting deep shadows across the glen or shrouding the surrounding hills in cloud.

If you’re not familiar with the tragedy of the massacre at Glencoe, then the visitor centre provides an audio commentary set within an historical appraisal of the region. There is an excellent interactive facility there too which illustrates the ongoing struggle to preserve the region environmentally while making it accessible to holidaymakers, walkers and climbers.

From the centre it is easy to access a number of walks suited to all abilities, including gentle walks suitable for young children to impressive waterfall sites.

And should you wish to travel further afield, then Loch Ness is an obvious and very worthwhile outing.

You can travel for miles along the banks of the long and narrow loch with its broody dark waters and stunning scenery. But the best way to experience it is to take a trip with Jacobite Cruises.

The company offers various outings, varying in length from an hour to several hours. We took a two hour cruise which included a stopover at the magnificent Urquhart Castle. Here a great deal of effort has gone in to providing the visitor with information to the various ruins so that you get a sense of what it was like throughout its history. A stylish visitor centre provides even more support, including an audio-visual presentation.

But it’s worth a visit for the view alone. And on the day we were there, with the autumn heathers combining every shade of gold, purple and brown, and the sun picking out the patterns across the hills, it was hard to imagine a prettier place on the planet.

On the boat itself an adequate commentary provides some of the facts behind the Loch Ness monster story, though greater volume wouldn’t go amiss. And the company considerately provides children with a ‘goody’ box to keep them busy while you’re soaking in the immensity of the nature around you.

Then it’s back to the warmth of the hotel and a drink in the family-friendly lounge area before dinner. At meal times children can either join their parents or eat earlier with other children and then be put to bed with a baby monitor so that the parents have time to dine together.

It’s a snug and relaxing place to spend the evening, and the staff are friendly and approachable. A marvellous way to discover one of Scotland’s most impressive regions.