Competition Joint Winners (Helen Tracy, Yeovil, Somerset)
Today we are having a day to discover Oban. It's my first ever visit and I was interested to hear the information our coach driver gave us about the town as we neared the centre. Sunshine highlighted McCaig's Tower, the Folly at the top of the hill and lent an odd, foreign looking air to an otherwise very Scottish resort. Seagulls were sweeping the harbour, searching for food, not caring whether it was provided by tourists or trawlers.
We were dropped off right in the centre, and I headed towards somewhere with coffee and a view of the water. There is a certain calm in the air in Oban: the shops are busy, as are the streets, without a feeling of push and shove which is prevalent in my home town.
Here, people had time to chat: shop assistants asked "Where are you from?" and actually waited for an answer. Weather was discussed frequently, as this was an unusually warm spell. It seemed as though I was in a different time zone here; slower, kinder and far more enjoyable.
I watched the ferries coming and going, speculating which one would carry my coach party to Mull the next day, en route to Iona, and hoped the weather would hold for the trip.
Several people took the time to stop and chat, pass the time of day, and exchange good mornings. I decided I should climb up to that Tower and view Oban from there.
It was quite a climb, but well worth it! The view is panoramic and spectacular.
By the end of the downward walk back into the centre, I was ready for a well earned lunch.
Fresh sea food never tasted better!
Oban is an easy place to discover on foot: there were interesting shopping opportunities here, apart from the usual Scottish souvenir shops. Many outlets displayed hand made items which make unique gifts. Most of all though, the gift of Oban is the atmosphere - peaceful, calm and welcoming.
Our coach was waiting at the designated pick up point and we set off on the scenic journey back to Loch Awe Hotel. A very warm welcome waited for us there too: smiling staff, warm reception rooms with heart-stopping views and a cup of restorative tea!
A perfect end to a perfect day.
Helen Tracy, Yeovil, Somerset
Competition Joint Winners (Denise Langley, Billericay, Essex)
A memorable day out with Lochs and Glens? Aren't they all? Even the comfort stops en route frequently produce encounters to dine out on back home!
But our number one highlight has to be our trip to Edinburgh (worthy of a visit in its own right) on the day we visited the Royal Yacht Britannia. From its legendary Rolls Royce to its crazy Wombat, the whole experience was unforgettable.
We expected opulence and grandeur on board, and the Queen's Dining Room (elegantly laid with sparkling lead crystal and highly polished silver) was certainly impressive. But of course any ship that carries its own limousine on board is bound to be rather special.
Yet even more memorable, perhaps, were the comfort and homeliness of the ship - I almost wished I'd taken my slippers! We never dreamed we'd see inside the Queen's bedroom, but the Royal Yacht surprised us and the room itself was pretty, dainty, modest and simple, with a small desk and a single bed for Her Majesty. And throughout the ship unexpected little touches left us in no doubt that this was first and foremost a real home for the Royal Family…and yet home for its many crew members, too. Their quarters, also modest and simple, were rather more cramped and rather less pretty, but the on-board commentary gave us a genuine feel for the lives and duties of the sailors on board. Theirs was certainly an interesting and demanding job!
There was something fascinating around every tight corner and through every narrow doorway. Lifebelts and shiny brass bells were to be expected, of course, but our favourite accessories included the wooden barrel containing the sailors' rum rations (lettered in brass 'The Queen, God Bless Her') and the neat and colourful flag locker (with a folded flag for every occasion!)
Naturally we treated ourselves to coffee and cake in the Royal Deck Tea Room - who could refuse? And no visit to the Royal Yacht would be complete without a slice of Britannia's Lemon Drizzle Cake, so yummy that the recipe is now published online for us all to recreate at home!
But I expect you're wondering about the Wombat. Well, he's large and furry and lives in the Officers' Mess - but let Lochs and Glens whisk you off to Edinburgh and you can go and discover the Wombat's story for yourself…
Denise Langley, Billericay, Essex
Inversnaid - Evolution of the Hotel
When we purchased the Inversnaid Hotel just over 30 years ago, there had been only four previous owners since the original hotel opened in 1820. Each family had expanded the business with a variety of building extensions, the whole process being documented by that 19th century invention, the picture postcard.
There were probably more cards produced of the Inversnaid than any other hotel in Scotland. It was a favourite subject of photographers, no doubt due to its scenic location. Over the years we have gathered together at least two hundred different views of the building, the great majority being published between 1902 and 1914, known as the golden age of postcards, when it became the fashion to exchange cards with friends and relatives, not because either party had actually been to the place shown on the card, but because it had an appealing picture. The craze stopped abruptly at the outbreak of war and never really caught on in quite the same way again.
Just occasionally a gem of a card comes to light that was produced before this period, such as the three shown above. They are very few and far between, but are the most revealing in seeing just how the hotel evolved.
Approaching the island of Staffa for the first time is an unforgettable experience. The famous Fingal's Cave, immortalised by Mendelsson in his Hebridean Overture, is immediately obvious flanked by the great basalt columns which make the island so unique.
Now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, the island is a protected nature reserve with puffins, sometimes known as Sea Parrots, being the main wildlife attraction.
Despite being only half a mile long and completely uninhabited, Staffa has been a source of inspiration for countless visiting artists over the centuries.
Famous visitors to the island have included Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the artist J M W Turner, and poets and writers Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott.
And now you too can visit Staffa. A cruise to the island is to be included in a number of Loch Awe Hotel itineraries in 2015. As usual, details in the accompanying brochure.
Ally Gibson, our popular manageress at the Loch Awe Hotel is shown here with husband James shortly after their wedding at the Falls of Lora in the Spring. The ceremony was followed by a reception at the Loch Awe Village Hall and they honeymooned aboard a cruise liner in the Mediterranean.
Ally first started work in the bar of the Loch Awe Hotel in 2007 where her talents were quickly spotted and she was given the opportunity of working in other hotel departments in order to develop her management potential. After a successful period as a relief manager at the Loch Long Hotel she was appointed to her present position back at Loch Awe.
We wish them both every happiness and success.