Argyll: Fiona Evans and family relax in the great outdoors at an enchanting forest cabin where staying in feels like going out.
Sitting in a bubbling hot tub, gazing into the mouth of Loch Long as birds dance in the dusk, it is easy to feel as though the world’s troubles have simply been washed away.
The grassy shores are dotted with buttercups and sleepy daisies, while high above a seagull waltzes with its reflection in the water. On the first night of our arrival at Forest Holidays’ Argyll site at Ardgarten, Arrochar, a member of staff told me you can see the landscape change before your very eyes. She was not wrong.
Home for our five-day stay was one of 40 timber cabins nestled on the banks of Loch Long in the shadow of Ben Arthur, affectionately known as The Cobbler, at the edge of the Argyll Forest Park.
With its floor to ceiling glass windows, the cabin offered a spectacular and rare opportunity to simply watch nature’s drama unfold. If further incentive were needed to tempt a weary traveller to soak up the views and fine air, then the outdoor terrace and private hot tub were just the tonic.
With our twin toddlers – just shy of their second birthday – in tow, exploring the local nightlife, albeit in the middle of nowhere, was never going to be an option. But with such an enchanting environment literally on the doorstep, staying in felt like going out.
It would be easy to stay here and barely venture beyond the site’s boundaries. A simple café selling breakfast, lunches and pizza; a shop offering local produce and decent frozen hand-cooked meals; a little wooden play area and a shoreline a mere stone’s throw away really would be all two little munchkins and their perpetually exhausted city-dwelling parents could need.
One day, after a short drive in search of somewhere to access the loch for a walk, we ended up back at camp, realising that what we had been searching for was actually on our doorstep.
A memorable afternoon followed as the munchkins pootled on pebbles and in shallow water until one lost his balance – a dip in the hot tub soon warmed him up. Another day we trundled through forest just minutes from the cabins, enjoying the tail end of the season’s bluebells before stumbling on a tiny sandy bank by a river where the delighted duo honed their new-found pebble-throwing skills.
For the more adventurous, bikes can be hired and activities nearby range from archery to gorge walking.
There is plenty twithin a reasonably short driving distance. With the promise of an opportunity to see some seals, we plumped for a day out to the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary, passing the famous Loch Fyne restaurant and Oyster Bar en route. Perched on the shores of Loch Creran, the sanctuary is home to a fabulous aquarium and seal rescue facility where the adorable residents also include playful otters and seahorses.
An interactive touch pool provided much amusement for the children who were able to feel crabs and starfish.
On the way back to our forest retreat the bright whitewashed waterfront buildings of Inveraray, on the western shore of Loch Fyne, provided the backdrop for the dining high-point of the holiday – fish and chips eaten from the paper overlooking the water as huge seagulls circled in anticipation.
The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, who founded the town in 1745, alongside his new dwelling, Inveraray Castle, is known for its 19th century jail as well as its bluebells. It also gained new prominence when the castle was used to film last year’s Christmas episode of Downton Abbey.
The location also provides a great base for exploring Loch Lomond. We travelled to nearby Luss, a conservation village on the loch’s shore and caught a waterbus to Balmaha, a charming hamlet with stunning views, pleasant walks and a delightful bay.
Back at base, we were happy to unwind after witnessing the full force of tired toddlers on a boat.
For those who may tire of the hot tub and the view (unlikely as that may be), a tempting menu of ‘in cabin treats’ is available, including a meal cooked by a chef and in cabin pamper sessions.
From the world “welcome” spelled out of Scrabble letters upon our arrival in the cabin to the range of handmade doggy treats available on site, Forest Holidays really do appear to have thought of just about everything.
Forest Holidays, which has eight sites across the UK, including two in North Yorkshire at Keldy and Cropton, was founded by the Forestry Commission in the 1960s.
Now an independent company, it is still part owned by the Forestry Commission which owns the land for all the holiday locations.
Forest Holidays belongs to the Green Tourism Business Scheme, the certification scheme for sustainable tourism in the UK, and all its sites have attained either Silver or Gold awards.
The Argyll cabin site uses a reed bed waste system, designed to work in balance with the natural environment – employing a natural filtration and treatment process for all waste water.
Four nights in a Silver Birch cabin, which sleeps four with outdoor hot tub, costs from £274 (0845 130 8223, www.forestholidays.co.uk).