Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Tarbet to Luss - West Loch Lomond: 11th August 2012

Hooray - at long last it was going to be a bright, sunny weekend and on days like this you need to get out to the beach and/or the countryside. There wouldn't be too many days like this left this summer so I decided to head up to the west side of Loch Lomond, a sort of companion to my east side of Loch Lomond blog which would allow me to visit the newly renovated and recently opened Loch Lomond Arms Hotel in Luss.

View Lomond - West in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Westerton to Balloch Central
  Bus: Balloch to Tarbet (Citylink)

My journey didn't start out well (at all). A delayed train meant that I couldn't make my connection to the Oban-bound train at Dalmuir, and with no direct connection to Arrochar/Tarbet until mid-afternoon this meant a change in strategy. OK - my next plan of attack was to get to Balloch train station, walk to the Loch Lomond Shores complex and then hire a bike at Can You Experience, a great outfit renting out out pedalos, kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes. However today they weren't allowing any bikes to be rented at all (I didn't catch the reason) so that left me scratching my head somewhat. The best option I came up with was to head out to the A82 road, catch the Fort William bound Citylink coach and after a really slow journey up the A82, I got off outside the stately Tarbet Hotel just after the A82/A83 junction. Phew - and relax!

All of this meant that I didn't think I had enough time to head out to Arrochar and visit the Village Inn or Ben Arthur's Bothy, but instead had to content myself with a short walk up along the A83 to Rustlers Restaurant and Bar next to the Arrochar/Tarbet train station.

This is (pretty obviously) a converted church and I think has only been Rusters since the start of the year (previously it was the Ben Lomond Restaurant) - they also have plans for a Craft Centre and a Museum Of Highland Life upstairs. At lunchtime it's setup mostly as a food operation, but thankfully there's a small bar with some high stools at the front with a couple of Fyne Ales on - the most excellent Avalanche & Hurricane Jack. It's a big place (it can cater for coach parties) with the tables laid out on 2 different levels, pictures of the nearby spectacular scenery & Highlanders in full battle dress on the walls and the option of eating or drinking at the tables outside. The cakes and desserts were set out for display at the back and looked seriously tempting, but I really didn't want anything interfering with the lemony citrus and dry bitterness of my Fyne Avalanche.

I then really had to start my journey back south. I walked past the Tarbet Tea Room giving their speciality Empire Biscuits a miss and then onto the main Loch Lomond cycle and footpath (Sustrans Regional Route 40). The path is at times very adjacent to the main A82, but at other times follows an old military road and also some extended lay-bys. In almost all of these lay-bys were masses of cars, camper-vans & motorbikes, especially when there was direct access the the lochside (there were a lot of pitched tents near the shore), and almost everyone seemed to have set up a Bar-B-Q for lunch causing a local greenhouse & smokehouse micro-climate.

About an hour and a quarter after leaving Tarbet I came into sight of the Inverbeg Holiday Park which extends a fair distance into the Loch - it's obviously a haven for those who want a water-sports style holiday.

On the other side of the main road is the multi-award winning Inn at Inverbeg (please, please use the under-pass here to get across the road).

This was a very busy place throughout my short stay, full of diners inside, lots of people arriving to check-in for holidays and cyclers & walkers stopping off for a drink or a coffee - the front of house directs all this with quiet efficiency. I went through the foyer and into the modern bar and was quite happy to see Fyne Avalance, Orkney Dark Island and Orkney Northern Light available on hand-pull. The weather had hazed over slightly but I didn't see why everyone had de-camped inside so I walked out to the decking area at the front of the hotel and sat outside with my nice bitter Northern Light and a great view of the Loch.

They have an interesting system for food here. You unfold the menu for Mr C's Fish & Whisky Bar, enter your table number & tick the appropriate boxes on the menu with the supplied pencil, and hand in your order to the staff - it all seems to work pretty well. My soup and sandwiches certainly arrived in very good time.

I do like the place - there's good food, decent beer & great views - from a selfish point-of-view it would be great if it were 20 miles closer to Glasgow, but then it simply wouldn't be the same place.

Next to the Inn are the Inverbeg Galleries hosting a seriously impressive collection of original paintings, prints of Loch Lomond & the surrounding area and lots of artists' material. There are a number of large rooms here and I could quite easily have spent the best part of an hour wandering about.

Unfortunately the ferry which used to cross the Loch in the summer from the pier at Inverbeg to Rowardennan hasn't been running this year so the only real way to get to the most southerly of the Munros, Ben Lomond, is from the east side via Drymen and Balmaha (although a ferry does operate from Luss to Balmaha).

After Inverbeg it was less than an hour's walk to Luss, a small village which swells considerably in size during the summertime, especially on a sunny day. I first passed the Lodge on the Loch on the outskirts of Luss, a fantastic setting for all sorts of functions (just bring the credit card), and in the centre of the village the main Visitor Centre car park was choc-a-bloc with people taking advantage of the sun and the nearby sandy beach. Slightly further along the main street I eventually came to the newly renovated and extended Loch Lomond Arms Hotel, which had only opened on the Wednesday before, and where I planned to meet up with Rob, who had bussed it in from the Fyne Ales brewery tap.

First impressions are that the place certainly has had some money spent on it (reports of £3million+ from the local clan chief) to make it a cut above a standard Vintage Inn type place. The signage sort of guides you gently into the bar and it was great to see 3 hand-pulls on - Loch Lomond Kessog & Ale of Leven (and lots of bottles) as well as Belhaven IPA.

The bar was packed (and seemed to stay that way which was great for an opening weekend), quite narrow (and probably not all that conducive to being propped up), but there are a lot of tables available. The staff really were excited, chatty & very polite, if a bit confused about what to do at the end of the cask of Kessog, but I'm sure they'll pick it up pretty quickly. For sit-down meals there are at least 2 dining rooms on either side of the bar - lots of solid wood, brass fixtures, candles (& antlers!) are present and it's all very classy indeed.

There's a small interior courtyard area and also an excellent beer garden well located to get the last of the day's sun. Even here I could easily pick-up the WiFi connection for which I was handed a one-off key after making a chance remark to the staff - very nicely done. The place seems to have got off to a great start and here's hoping it continues to do well and provide some great local real ales.

Unfortunately the travel issues that had plagued me at the start of the day came back to haunt me again - Rob will probably never travel with me again! None of the local buses from Luss to Balloch seemed to be running so (after more than an hour's waiting about) we headed out to the A82 bypass and caught the Citylink back to Glasgow - hopefully that's my 'bad' travel day over for this year.

Return Travel:-
  Train: Luss to Glasgow Drumry Roundabout (Citylink)

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