Sheepskin Life The Ferry House, Loch Creran, Scotland late October 2013
Skyfall may not have been my favourite Bond film (Dame Judi Dench bowing out as M? Mr Fiennes you have much to live up to) but I would be fibbing if the 23rd installment of 007’s missions didn’t elicit a deep longing to visit Scotland. The breathtaking scenes of Daniel Craig steering his silver-birch Aston Martin through majestic snowcapped mountains, past pine forests shrouded in mist and along heather-clad moors under a dark and brooding Scottish sky were compelling: wild, remote, ruggedly beautiful. This was the Scotland I yearned to experience.
Fast-forward a year after Skyfall’s release and we are ensconced in the Ferry House, a beautiful cottage in Scotland’s Argyll county and one of the properties in the Sheepskin Life collection of unique holiday homes. We may not have managed the vintage Aston Martin (though our metallic-hued hire car could perhaps be described as silver-birch after a dram of whisky or three!) but the surroundings are everything promised by Skyfall and more. Secluded, atmospheric and wildly beautiful, the Ferry House is perched on the site of an old ferryman’s house on Loch Creran. With the glassy loch as its front yard and 66 acres of private woodlands and fields as its backyard, the Ferry House is a haven in which to relax and recharge: a place to drink in the stunning views, breathe in the crisp, cool air and savour the quiet serenity. Thirty minutes after arriving at the Ferry House, we are huddled in our winter coats exploring the rocky shoreline of the private beach, a treasure-trove for beachcombers with tiny rockpools and inky black rocks covered in slippery, yellowish-green seaweed which makes a squelchy “pop” as we walk over it. Gazing across the flat expanse of the loch towards the distant mountains on the Isle of Mull, we keep an Attenborough-esque eye out for the fat little heads of otters and seals bobbing near the surface. Being a sea loch, Loch Creran is home to plenty of marine life and the lovely lady who takes care of the house* mentioned that she had recently seen two otters playing in the water near the shore. An hour later, with the weather closing in, fat drops of rain beginning to fall and no sign of the elusive otters, we scurry inside to dry off and defrost. Clearly Mr Attenborough is made of sterner stuff than us.
Built just a couple of years ago, our stay at the two-bedroom Ferry House had us desperately wishing that it were our holiday cottage. And judging by the guestbook on the coffee table, we were not the only ones to put it at the top of our Santa Claus wish-list. Open plan with simple, stylish interiors, the Ferry House has been designed with the rural location, and indeed the Scottish weather, in mind. Huge sliding glass doors frame the ever-changing views of the loch and mountains and seamlessly connect the outside with the inside. Wooden floorboards (with underfloor heating) and a log burning stove in the living room ensure the cottage is warm, cosy and inviting no matter what the weather outside**. The log fire was so inviting that we didn’t even contemplate turning on the television during our stay. Instead we were content to read, play board games (the Ferry House has a number of games and books to borrow) and savor our wine while listening to the crackle and pop of the fire. Upstairs, the bedrooms are decorated in soothing neutrals with soft white linen and lovely tartan wool blankets and curtains. Roof windows in the bedrooms are perfectly positioned to make the most of the vistas, and provide an excellent lookout station for seals, boats and deer. We were unlucky not to see any of the former but the family of roe deer that made an appearance at dusk each night made up for our lack of aquatic wildlife spotting.
While the Ferry House is undeniably special, what makes it even more so is that it is under the Sheepskin portfolio. We love self-catering holiday homes (so much easier to prepare a meal in a proper kitchen rather than trying to rustle up a snack using one teaspoon, a saucer and the hotel bathroom sink!) and have rented many over the years but none have offered the level of personalised service nor ease that Sheepskin does. They remove the tedious side of self-catering (loo paper, toiletries, olive oil, condiments, firewood, milk, butter and a fresh loaf of bread were waiting for us on arrival) as well as spoiling guests with a lovely welcome hamper: a Sheepskin-branded jute bag filled with freshly ground coffee, Teapig Morning Glory teabags, a jar of rich, gloriously thick passion fruit curd (delicious on toast for a decadent holiday breakfast), a box of Cradoc’s pear and earl grey tea cocktail biscuits (these were scrumptious with locally smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon and glass of champagne), and a package of crumbly, fudgy cookies. About two weeks before the start of our visit, Sheepskin also sent us a personalised booklet setting out directions to the Ferry House, details about the cottage, the location of the nearest shop, cash machine and petrol station, as well as a comprehensive guide on things to do in the area. Given that part of my enjoyment of any trip starts at the planning stage (I am also an avid reader of hotel compendiums!), the Sheepskin booklet was a lovely touch and had me excited about the cottage and our first visit to Scotland.
Standing outside the cottage on the last day of our stay, with only the lonely cry of seagulls and the slow, rhythmic lap of waves against the loch shoreline breaking the silence, it occurred to me that the Sheepskin ethos “like life but better” pretty much sums up our Ferry House experience. And as for that dreamy silver-birch Aston Martin? I am quite sure Sheepskin could arrange that too ;)
Eat + Drink:
Being a self-catering cottage, we cooked most of our meals and tried to use locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible.
On our drive to the cottage from Glasgow airport, we stopped at Inverawe Scottish Oak Smokehouse for excellent smoked salmon, and smoked haddock for fish pie.
Jackson Brothers’ Butchers, Oban has good quality local lamb and beef for roasting or throwing on the barbie (the Ferry House has an outdoor bbq if the weather is fine).
Oban Fish and Chips, Oban. Worth a visit for traditional British fish and chips. The fish was very fresh and the batter light and crispy. (The fish and chips were apparently a favourite of Rick Stein’s on his “Food Heroes” program….albeit 10 years ago!).
The Creagan Inn, Loch Creran. The nearest pub to the Ferry House with lovely food, a log fire and fabulous deck for sunny weather days.
Castle Stalker View Café Tea Room, Appin. A decent latte fix + view of the loch and Castle Stalker.
Ben Nevis Inn, Fort William. If you are bagging (or at least attempting to “bag”) the best-known Munro***, Ben Nevis, this is where you come to toast your success (or drown your sorrows) and fill up your tummy. Even if hillwalking is not on your list of pleasurable things to do on a holiday (hellllloooo that is so not a hill: that is a full-blown mountain!), this is a pretty, atmospheric place for lunch or dinner. Take a stroll up the first part of the Ben Nevis path and then warm up at the Inn with coffee laced with a generous slosh of alcohol (I had the Baileys latte).
Glengarry Castle Hotel, Invergarry. If you are exploring further afield (Fort Augustus/Loch Ness), this lovely old country house hotel has beautiful grounds and public rooms well worth a visit. Pop in for the old-fashioned Scottish afternoon tea (homemade scones with jam and cream, dainty triangle sandwiches, a selection of homemade cakes and a pot of tea). Don’t miss the Invergarry Castle Ruin on the grounds.
Scotland is achingly beautiful with the most majestic landscapes I have ever seen. Every exhilarating drive we did produced oohs and aahs and can-you-please-stop-the-car-for-a–photo moments. We had our Skyfall re-enactment (minus the Aston Martin) on the Glencoe drive. Make sure you take the road off the A82 to Glen Etive to get the full Bond experience. It is a single-track road but there are plenty of passing places and we didn’t see many other cars (although it might be different during the summertime).
The Sheepskin guide sets out lots of other things to do including The Jacobite steam train, hikes, and trips to nearby Islands.
*who met us on arrival and owns possibly the best labrador ever…..gorgeous Harley who posed so obediently for photographs.
**it does rain rather a lot in Scotland as you can probably tell from my images….but that just adds to its beauty (although perhaps not the photographs!). If it does rain, do as the locals do and wrap up warm, shrug on waterproofs and stoically carry on.
***I admit that I had no idea what “Munro bagging” was until I set foot on Scottish soil.
We were hosted by Sheepskin Life The Ferry House during our stay.