Great Places to Stay
- The Inn at Inverbeg, Loch Lomond
By Yon Bonnie Banks and By Yon Bonnie Braes
Loch Lomond has been a magnet for visitors for centuries. The loch is the largest expanse of fresh water in Britain (27.5 square miles) and is over 22 miles long and five miles wide at its broadest point, with around 30 islands, three of them inhabited. And above the loch is Ben Lomond, 3192 feet (973 metres) high and the most southerly of the "Munros" (the 284 mountain peaks in Scotland over 3,000 feet).
But it's not facts and figures that entice tourists and sightseers to Loch Lomond. It's the easily accessible wild grandeur that encourages an estimated 7 million people to visit Loch Lomond every year, driving up the lochside, less than 20 miles from Glasgow city centre. Perhaps the glamour of the area is helped by that famous song "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" (attributed by some to a homesick Jacobite, incarcerated in Carlisle jail in 1746) but the stunning beauty of the scenery brings people back again and again.
Loch Lomond is also the perfect location for an active, sporting holiday as well as a relaxing break. There are boat trips on the loch, opportunities to go sailing, canoeing, fishing as well as hill climbing, walking, hiking or cycling through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
The Inn at Inverbeg
There has been an Inn at Inverbeg since 1814. Located around half-way along the western shore of Loch Lomond, it was a welcome stopping place for food, drink and a bed for the night, providing traditional hospitality in an attractive low, long white-washed two-storey building. Until the post-war modernisation of that stretch of the road along the shores of the loch, traffic passed right by the door. Now it is set back behind trees (and flagpoles - a useful marker) from a fast stretch of the A82, but still has fine views down to the loch.
In recent years, The Inn at Inverbeg has seen a number of changes of ownership. Then in 2007 the Inn was bought by the Colquhoun family, who already operated the 4-star Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel at Luss, a few miles south of Inverbeg. With their local knowledge and a respect for the traditions of the building, they embarked on a major modernisation and expansion of the property but with the firm aim of retaining as far as possible the original feel of a drover's inn. The design consultant has achieved that with an impressive mix of features in the public areas and simple elegance in the bedrooms. There is also a satellite Beach House, right on the lochside, with an even higher standard of fittings and equipment.
The Inn at Inverbeg is under the personal supervision of Graham Kelly, an enthusiastic manager who has been involved with every detail of the modernisation project. His efforts have already been recognised by the tourist agency VisitScotland, which has graded Inverbeg with a well-deserved 4 star Inn status (high end) and expect to award 4 star Gold status in 2009.
My first reaction on entering The Inn at Inverbeg was - "Wow - impressive!" From the small entrance hall (reception is a small desk with a computer screen - and bright, welcoming staff) there are three main public areas, each with their own unique features, but all blending together to give that feel of a traditional Scottish hostelry. There is a large lounge, with huge, comfy leather seats to sink into, subdued lighting, slate flagstone floors and carpets with just a hint of tartan, while the stone walls and timber doors emphasise the ambience of a traditional inn. The full restaurant menu (of which more later) is available here as well as in the main restaurant and the bar. And of course you can wander through to the lounge from the bar and relax in these plush sofas!
"Mister C's fish and whisky bar" has been embellished with hand-crafted wood from a local elm tree that was blown down in a storm. This brilliantly sets off the display of 200 (yes, 200) malt whiskies, representing all the main whisky producing regions of Scotland. In addition, the bar stocks a good range of best quality local ales including Loch Fyne Ales and Houston Brewing Company. The seating in the bar has been designed to encourage people to have something to eat - while enjoying the views out of the large windows. I particularly liked the snug little corner areas, providing more secluded seating.
The Inn at Inverbeg hosts monthly whisky sampling nights and there is live music every Friday and Saturday night, performed by talented local musicians and singers. During my lunch-time visit, it was clear that the bar was a popular place for passing travellers to drop in and have something to eat and drink before continuing their journey. Which of course is what The Inn at Inverbeg has been doing for all its long history.
The main building at Inverbeg currently has 12 bedrooms, but a major extension is being built and will be fully operational for the 2009 season, providing another 11 bedrooms. All the rooms have been fully modernised and have all the facilities you would expect from a high class establishment. The rooms are a good size and are tastefully furnished in gentle, warm colours. They have been fitted-out with hand-crafted walnut furniture and rich fabrics which reflect the surrounding landscape. Wall-mounted flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access to the Internet will be available (useful in an area where the surrounding mountains and hills can interrupt connectivity to other data communication links).
If you would prefer to experience a little extra privacy and seclusion, then why not splash out and reserve one of the exclusive Beach House bedrooms? This is just a very short stroll from the hotel by an underpass below the main road, down to the small pier and the loch shore - or you can take your car and park there. There is a fabulous view over to Inchlonaig Island and Ben Lomond and you can watch all manner of wild birds including tall, elegant herons, swooping and diving into the water.
The Beach House used to be the private house of an earlier hotel owner. As with the main hotel building, it has been completely upgraded and provides eight rooms furnished to an even higher standard.
Instead of anonymous numbers, the rooms are each named after a Scottish mountain (such as Ben Vorlich - and Ben Lomond, of course) and are spacious and luxurious. As in other parts of The Inn at Inverbeg, good use has been made of good quality wood for headboards and doors. Some have a view over the loch and in fine weather you can sit outside, admiring the view, listening to the water lapping on the shore and enjoying some of the food from the hotel restaurant. Idyllic!
Food and Drink
One of the most important aspects of a country inn is its food and drink, to sustain weary travellers, whether it is a short stop for lunch or supper before motoring on, or resident guests or those who live nearby who require a leisurely dinner. So the menu at "Mister C's fish bar" is designed for all travellers. And although the food is of the highest quality, it is not aimed at the gourmet market.
The first thing to note is that the entire menu is available not just in the main restaurant but also in the bar and the lounge - and there is even a "take-away" service for those who want to eat on the move. So whether it's a more formal meal with fine wine perhaps, or a relaxed evening enjoying those malt whiskies and/or local ales, the same wide menu is also on tap.
Menu sheets (and I mean sheets - they are impressively large) are provided not just to list what is available, but for guests to mark what food (and drink) they want to order in due course from the bar. That makes ordering even for larger groups a dawdle!
Head Chef Michael Barton has spent 10 of his 17 restaurant years working in some of the best fish restaurants in London and the mainstay of the menu focuses on fresh, sustainable fish, caught locally where possible. There is the expected haddock and chips (battered or breaded) and cod as well as prawn and chirzo skewers. There's also coley (similar to haddock but more strongly flavoured), Thai-style fish curry, fishcakes, grilled sardines - and smoked salmon and chilli-coated squid as starters. So there's something for everyone, whether you prefer the more traditional dishes or something more adventurous. And if you insist on having meat, there's sirloin steak, steakburger or griddled sausages, all from the Buccleuch estate in the Scottish Borders.
During my visit to The Inn at Inverbeg, I had Cullen Skink (a satisfyingly thick and creamy soup made from smoked haddock) as a starter. Accompanied by warm, toasted soda bread, I wondered if I would manage the main course, the soup was so filling. I needn't have worried though, the traditional fish and chips (with mushy peas) were crisp and flaky and of the melt-in-the-mouth variety. I have to say that I didn't think haddock that large still existed in the sea these days - but there it was, with (very traditional) brown paper - but on a wooden stand. Graham Kelly, the manager, and Head Chef Michael Barton ate numerous fish and chip meals researching what produced the best results - and it shows. In my view, they surpass similar dishes I've eaten in places that have won the annual "Fish & Chip Shop of the Year" competition!
Prices are around £6.50 for starters, main courses £10, dessert £5. It is worth remembering that there is a 20% discount on the price of all food orders placed between noon and 5pm, Monday to Friday. And there is a special children's menu - "Little C's".
With their experience already of the Lodge on Loch Lomond, the new owners of The Inn at Inverbeg obviously know their market and have created first class accommodation which should prove attractive to the many travellers who come to Loch Lomond or are passing through on their way further north. They have invested a lot of time and money to produce a building which has all the facilities you would expect from a modern hostelry, but have managed to keep some of the traditional feel of a Scottish drovers' inn.
Food is of a very high standard - and plenty of it - and all the staff I met were most pleasant and helpful. There is a relaxed atmosphere - just what is needed for anyone whizzing along the A82 lochside road! It's always good to come across places that give a good impression of Scotland and Scottish food. So whether you are going to Loch Lomond by the high road or the low road - The Inn at Inverbeg can be personally recommended as an ideal place to stay and eat.
For more information or to make a reservation see the The Inn at Inverbeg Web site.
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