THE sound of the water gently lapping at the shore greets us as we arrive in Inveraray. The blue sky, dotted with fluffy white clouds, is reflecting off Loch Fyne and into our eyes, momentarily blinding us as we stretch our legs. 

We walk the short distance from the main street to the small harbour, where birds swoop and dive above the dazzlingly clear waters.

I look across the bay, back towards the road we took in, to the bridge (two ornate stone arches that date back to the 18th century) that spans the River Aray. Just up river and above the trees, I can make out the grey turreted towers of Inveraray Castle, seat of the clan Campbell and the Dukes of Argyll for centuries.

My three-year-old daughter goes tearing across the grass to the harbour wall. She hops two-footed onto the narrow ledge with the fearlessness that only comes from not knowing danger. My heart is in my throat in the couple of seconds it takes to reach her and hold her hand.

“A crab, daddy!” she screams, causing an elderly couple nearby to look up and sending a startled seagull flapping in the opposite direction.

I look down and, true enough, a tiny green-blue crab inches its way underwater along the foot of the harbour wall. On the far side of the loch, green rolling hills give way to the craggy peaks of the Arrochar Alps.

We turn back towards Main Street, which rises steadily towards a picturesque square that bisects the road. Right in the middle of the square, the magnificent Inveraray Parish Church is beautifully framed by uniform rows of white and black buildings that line the street. Right at the top is our accommodation, The George.

The George Hotel is something of a Scottish institution, with the building dating back to 1770. The building was, in fact, two separate houses that were part of a project by the Duke of Argyll to create Scotland’s first planned town.

The buildings were merged to create The George way back in 1860 by the Clark family and it is in their hands that the hotel remains to this day. 

Inside, the George is like a fine single malt: rich, full of character and most definitely Scottish. We walk towards reception and are led upstairs along tartan carpets to our room, a gorgeous master with a four-poster bed and a double jacuzzi raised on a platform overlooking the room. The decadence of the room means that when we close the door it is easy to imagine that we are lords and ladies ensconced in the bedroom of our Highland mansion. 

As we head back out to sample some of the surrounding area, we can hear low-level conversation punctuated by occasional howls of laughter from The George’s public bar. More of which later.

Inveraray Castle sits on the hillside overlooking the town and is instantly recognisable as a location used in Downton Abbey, when the Grantham family travelled to their Scottish cousins at “Duneagle Castle”.

The castle is home to the 13th Duke of Argyll and inside its huge ceilings and grand rooms are much more welcoming than many of its contemporaries across the country – no doubt partly due to the fire that extensively damaged the interior in 1975, requiring a huge restoration project to be carried out.

We head north along the loch and shortly arrive at one of the area’s most famous places, Loch Fyne Oysters. Rows and rows of fresh seafood are laid out in the refrigerated counter. Fresh pink langoustines, smoked salmon and haddock, succulent plump scallops in their shell and, of course, the gnarly rock oysters lying on a bed of ice. It’s enough to get the appetite going, which is just as well because we have booked in for dinner at The George later that evening. Before we head back, however, there’s time to visit the famous Inveraray Jail, which is conveniently located right next door to our hotel. The jail tour takes us through the early 19th century judicial system, which, putting it mildly, was not for the faint of heart – think thumb screws and cells that held up to 30 people, men, women and children.

 

After that I am ready for a drink so, while my family get ready for dinner, I pop into The George’s public bar. A couple of men are standing warming themselves in front of the roaring open fire when I step into the bar. Well, it is summer in Scotland. Because of the thick stone walls, what was a gentle murmur from the outside becomes much more of a cacophony inside as tourists, locals and passersby mingle and have a good blether. With the crackle of the fire as background noise and a tinkling of glasses as whiskies are sampled, the atmosphere is fantastic. I imagine many tourists think this is what all Scottish bars are like. If only.

HeraldScotland: Roaring fire at The George

As much as I would like to stay inside, hunger calls and so I head back through to the lounge, where we are seated close to another open fire for dinner. 

My steak is perfectly seasoned and chargrilled on the outside, pink and succulent on the inside, leaving me in no doubt why the hotel was recently named as Best Town Hotel at The Scottish Hotel Awards.

My wife opts for seafood – what The George and the area in general is renowned for. She has a dressed crab which is soft and white-pink and accompanied by a fresh salad.

Back in our room, the low murmur of the now packed bar and lounge is snuffed out completely and the only noise we can hear is the soft patter of rain on the window as we nod off to sleep.

Thomas Hawkins was guest of The George, Inveraray. Rooms start from £70 per night. See www.thegeorgehotel.co.uk for more information