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Crinan Hotel, Crinan, By Lochgilphead, Argyll
No views in Scotland can take your breath away like those from the Crinan Hotel. Looking out over the glassy seas to the islands of Jura, Islay and Scarba, you’re in a place of unparalleled natural beauty. The cosy serenity of the place, and the sheer majesty of the surroundings, is simply staggering.
Thanks to a couple of unfortunate fires, the hotel itself is a curious architectural mish-mash, but then you’re not here to look at the bricks and mortar, you’re here to gaze at the sea and to eat what comes out of it. Anything else is a bonus.
The Crinan Hotel is situated at the mouth of the Crinan canal, where it disgorges itself into the Sound of Jura, cutting off the need to sail around the whole Mull of Kintyre. It’s a cutesy, picture-postcard hamlet dominated by the reconstituted Victorian hotel, the sea lock that lets boats out into the sea, and by the sawn-off lighthouse plonked on the lawn overlooking the quay.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Crinan. It was the set for Para Handy, so you can hire a boat to ferry you across for a walk on the paps of Jura, to see the Corryvreckan whirlpools, or simply to mosey around the shoreline hoping to see minke whales, basking sharks, porpoise, seals or the seaweed-eating goats that live on the small islands of the Sound. Alternatively, take a wander along the towpath, where you might run into the pair of otters that gambol freely about the place.
The hotel itself has a stoically traditional ambience, but its walls are enlivened by the art of Frances Macdonald, the proprietor’s wife, in the same way that the atmosphere of the place is given a shot of social adrenalin by the presence of bow-tied proprietor Nick Ryan. A former bellboy who worked his way up to catering manager for Cunard in the Sixties, he has spent the last 40 years regaling visitors with salty old sea dog stories and has become something of a West Coast institution.
Upstairs, the bedrooms would be surprisingly ordinary were it not for the extraordinary views, but there’s nothing run of the mill about the Westward restaurant. The fish and seafood is so fresh out of the water that the exact time at which it was landed is noted on the menu, while the simplicity of a pared-down offering that changes daily results in a range of dishes that don’t try too hard, but which allow you to savour the glory of food prepared with some of the finest raw ingredients in the world. In short, the Westward is a considerable cut above most seafood restaurants.
Thanks in part to its restaurant, but even more so to the splendour of its surroundings, much the same can be said for the Crinan Hotel.