Monday, 5 January 2009

Dog-friendly holidays: Ballachulish Hotel, Scottish Highlands

I've just returned from the freezing and extremely beautiful West Highlands, staying on the banks of Loch Linnhe (about two hours drive north west of Glasgow, or half an hour from Fort William). What struck me - aside from the good food, cheerful residents and positively cinematographic beauty of the place - was how very dog-friendly the hotel I stayed in was, and what a lot of scope for wonderful walks there was.

The Ballachulish Hotel is a pleasantly crumbly place on the banks of the Loch, which does package deals for short breaks that work out decent value due to the good meals included. In their brochure they state that dogs and other pets are welcome by arrangement, and well-behaved pooches can come into the communal (though obviously not eating) areas. We found ourselves sharing afternoon tea time by the fire with a very curious and bouncie Westie (how appropriate!), two curious black Labradors and a bouncy - and huge! - one year old Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Crossing the road to spend a few peaceful moments watching the mist change colour as the sun rose above the hills, I reflected that it was the perfect place for an active dog. Just in that one stretch of ground there was a pebbled shore, a grassy bank, a brook, some muddier patches and of course the water of the Loch - a veritable symphony of sights, smells and textures. As if to prove my point, the Labs came bounding over to investigate our ankles and generally explore.

We encountered another Lab and a Collie on walks in nearby Inchree and Callop (which I'll forever think of as Narnia, thanks to the photo we took, above), so clearly the locals have the right idea. Another hotel we stopped at for lunch in Arisaig while exploring the area by car had a couple of resident pooches of its own, Harris and Lewis; I don't think I've ever met such a docile, friendly and good-natured pair of dogs (except maybe Hubble).

Despite being a cat owner, it seems work comes with you wherever you go - even on honeymoon. As more people choose to stay at home to save travelling costs, I suspect Scotland will become a mecca for dog owners as they find the freedom to enjoy a holiday with their best four-legged friends.

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