Articles - Ardtornish House
The A82 runs north from Glasgow to Inverness. Along much of the route the scenery is magnificent and favourite views are often topics for discussion. Some folk rave about Loch Lomond or the mountains of Glencoe. For others the rushing rivers, woodlands or the watery wastes of Rannoch Moor are most appealing. Yet it’s no secret that at times this road can be frustratingly busy with tourist traffic, especially at popular viewpoints.
Leaving it all behind however, is easy. At Corran, a few miles north of Ballachulish, you can cross the narrows of Loch Linnhe on a Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry. Minutes later, leaving the ferry and the village of Ardgour behind, you’ll appreciate the absence of traffic and the equally magnificent scenery. This is Morvern, a peninsula that feels like an island.
Though Morvern is connected by ferries to the mainland and the Island of Mull to the south, there is a sense of remoteness. Should you ever long for serenity such as you’ll find here, you might consider driving some twenty odd miles more to Ardtornish House near the southern end of the peninsula for a slow food adventure.
Ardtornish House is the focal point of Ardtornish Estate which extends over a large area of Morvern. Here, like other proponents of the Slow Food movement, it is believed food should taste good and be produced in a way that fully respects the environment, human health and animal welfare. Where possible, as Ardtornish Estate is also a working farm, food is grown and sourced on the estate and failing that as close as possible from like - minded providers.
Should you visit Morvern to take part in an Ardtornish Slow Adventure you’ll have opportunities to eat well while escaping the pressures of modern living – at least for a few days.
On arrival you’ll be offered home baked cake and coffee before a stroll through the estate kitchen garden to select salad leaves, vegetables or fruit in season for your dinner.
There are different Slow Adventures on offer. One might involve a walk from Ardtornish House of less than three miles to Leacraithnaich Bothy (more easily pronounced Tearnait Bothy) which stands on a hillside overlooking Loch Tearnait. Like other bothies on Ardtornish Estate it belongs to the Mountain Bothy Association whose members volunteer to maintain their properties.
The accommodation at Tearnait Bothy is basic. There’s no running water, electricity or toilet – just two rooms of rough stone walls beneath a corrugated iron roof. A fitted platform raised a few inches covers the larger area of floor. Bothy goers claim their space on the platform by unrolling and laying out their sleeping bags.
The living room boasts a dining table and two benches, three chairs and another table where food can be prepared in front of the window. When logs are burning fiercely in the fireplace and candles and tea lights are lit the room is cosy, though still somewhat other worldly.
After lunch and more coffee and cake mid - afternoon, adventurers can attempt to catch fish from Loch Tearnait for their supper. Should fishing lessons be needed, an Ardtornish Estate ghillie and a deer stalker/fisherman will demonstrate the fine art of casting a fly. Chances are they will also tell tales of the ones that got away.
You may also hear about the seemingly unconcerned otters that swam back and forwards over the fisherman’s wellington boots while he stood in the shallows of a loch, concentrating on casting.
But fear not. If the fish are not biting, your alternative dinner will already have been a major consideration for someone else. On my evening in the bothy, along with two other adventurers and our guide Karl Bungey, we dined on a pre-prepared Ardtornish Estate venison casserole, lentil stew and potatoes with a side salad. Water from Loch Tearnait was filtered. The convivial evening passed with conversation and a ‘wee dram’ of whisky round the fireside.
Next morning Karl cooked a leisurely breakfast. The freshly baked bread, new laid eggs and small batch sausages with herbs had been sourced locally mere miles away. At the moment there are nine local businesses involved in this Slow Food venture.
After breakfast, as we walked back down the track to Ardtornish House, we learned a little about our natural surroundings and the wildlife of these hills including red deer, otters and golden eagles.
The walk took us to a slipway on Loch Aline, a short distance from Ardtornish House where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of sandwiches thickly spread with mackerel pate and chicken liver pate on home baked bread. There was fruit and nuts and cake flavoured with whisky. The hamper had been packed with considered care at the Ariundle Centre, Strontian, another of the local, Slow Food enterprises.
After lunch we paddled Canadian canoes on Loch Aline under the watchful eye of our guide, Karl, a canoeing coach and experienced outdoor education teacher.
Canadian canoes are designed to carry large loads and be stable. With two seated paddlers, one at the front and one at the back on opposite sides, the skills required to travel safely on the water can be learnt fairly quickly under instruction.
Loch Aline is a sea loch that opens into the Sound of Mull. Before the tide ebbed too far we returned ashore and were soon walking back to Ardtornish House where our bedrooms in the South Wing were in marked contrast to our bothy accommodation the previous night.
The present Ardtornish House dates from 1884 and was built to replace an earlier house that was knocked down. Bedrooms are spacious with period fittings such as heavy mahogany furniture and marble fireplaces. To keep these fires burning, servants would have been summoned by the ringing of bells which are still in place, high up on the wall of a back door entrance.
Walking instead of driving, or being driven, is the norm on a slow adventure and an evening stroll along the woodland path by Loch Aline is a pleasant way to arrive at The Whitehouse Restaurant in the township of Lochaline in time for dinner. The Whitehouse, no distance from the loch, is an award winning restaurant with close links to Ardtornish Estate. As well as having its own kitchen garden behind the restaurant, products sourced from the estate include beef, venison, lamb and mutton. Sea food and fish at their freshest come from local waters.
The restaurant has two smallish rooms. The waiting staff bring a board with a chalked - on menu to each table and explain the ingredients of each dish. The list is not long – from two starters, two main courses and two desserts the staff recommend you pick four taster dishes.
Your choice of a starter course might be - Smoked salmon, Lochaline quail egg, cauliflower crema, avruga, samphire and backyard beetroot.
Your choice of a main course might be - Sea water poached cod fish, roast Mull scallop, Fishnish geic, seashore botanics, sheep yoghurt, potted tomato and herring roe.
Your choice of dessert might be - Morvern Tart - a rich concoction of fruit and nuts soaked in whisky and baked in a caramel and pastry casing.
Now replete, the soft adventurers were grateful for the offer of a lift back to Ardtornish House. The rest of the evening was passed discussing the highlights of the previous days while seated in the comfortable armchairs of a lounge.
Breakfast in the South Wing of Ardtornish House next morning was followed by a gentle cycle to end our Slow Adventure.
For further information: Ardtornish Estate: www.ardtornish.co.uk
Ariundle Centre: www.ariundlecentre.co.uk
Karl Bungey Otter Adventures: www.otter-adventures.co.uk
Whitehouse Restaurant : www.thewhitehouserestaurant.co.uk
Slow Adventure contact: Jane Stuart – Smith 07884361545 firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Peoples' Friend magazine