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On the Road Again with a Mazda MX-5 to Argyll in Scotland
Now that we are approaching what Frank Sinatra attractively called the autumn of our years it might seem surprising that we fell for the Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 2.0i Sport in such a big way. After all, these flashy little sports cars are for the young aren’t they? Not so! Look around as you drive and you will be amazed at how many older drivers are taking to the roads in these nifty two-seaters. And, come to think of it, why pay for a car to transport four or five people around when you only need to move yourself and a passenger? So, we feel a slogan coming on. Buy a sports car and save the planet! Luckily we are still fit enough to roll in and out of the low, leather seats and what a joy to open the top at the push of a button and feel the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces.
We had an invitation from Niki McGrail Beadnall and her husband John to join them at Ardlamont House, their newly acquired Georgian country estate which sits at the bottom of the Cowal peninsular in Argyll, a particularly beautiful area of south west Scotland. The two lovebirds had just got married and were spending vast amounts of money and time in restoring and furnishing the main house and were still in the process of converting the lovely outbuildings and cottages into bijou residences for visiting tourists. In addition to all that they were keen to show us a remarkable ace up their sleeves in the form of a motor yacht called Llanthony built in the 1930s for a wealthy Welsh family and which took part in a number of daring rescues at Dunkirk in 1940 during the Second World War. So without further ado we packed the little trunk of the Mazda and set off.
On our way north we dropped in on the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. It was rhododendron time and the gardens were hosting a very important visit from the International Rhododendron Society, with delegates arriving from Europe, Canada and the United States as well as China where so many of the rhododendrons adorning these Scottish gardens originated from. In fact these amazing gardens only a stone’s throw from the city centre has the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside China.
The seventy acres, containing thousands of trees and shrubs, also boasts a Victorian Palm House, the tallest of its kind in Britain, and a Scottish heath garden which recreates the plantings and landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. On a lovely evening we walked the gardens in the company of a number of delegates who told us of their pride and passion for growing rhododendrons in different parts of the world. We also met two adorable Chinese ladies who had travelled from their homeland specially to view the gardens and to see for themselves where many of their native plants ended up growing so successfully. The Scottish climate is perfect for rhododendrons and they have grown and prospered thanks to those intrepid plant hunters of the nineteenth century who travelled into the mountains of China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Burma and Tibet to find the best and most colourful specimens to ship back to Britain. Those that found their way to the Victorian estates of Scotland passed through the Royal Botanic Gardens to be recorded and more often than not a sample was kept and planted. The result for us all to look at today is a spectacular display during May and June.
All that walking had worked up an appetite so we headed off to our hotel for the night, a new concept in hotels that go under the name of Dakota. Named after the famous Dakota aeroplane they are the brainchild of Ken McCulloch who also happens to be the brains behind the Malmaison hotel group. Together with his designer wife Amanda Rosa he has opened two hotels in Scotland, one in Glasgow and the other in Edinburgh. The first one was opened in Nottingham. Situated next to motorways and busy roads the idea is to capture the traveling public who want a comfortable room and good dining for the night at a reasonable price. So for a flat rate of just under $200 a night you get a very good and surprisingly spacious suite with complimentary homemade cookies in every bedroom, Egyptian cotton sheets adorn the welcoming beds and 32” LCD televisions come as standard. Toiletries from Monaco provide an extra touch of extravagance.
Each hotel boasts an excellent restaurant simply called The Grill. They pride themselves on finding good locally sourced ingredients so we ordered a huge roast shellfish platter which came with lobster, langoustines, crab, mussels, clams and scallops. It was superb and just what we wanted with a bottle of Sancerre to wash it all down.
We were not sure what to expect from this hotel but from the moment we stepped inside it oozed a calmness all of its own. The lobbies are painted in chocolate and cream with squashy sofas to flop into and take the weight off your feet. The staff seem switched on and helpful. We met the manager who gave us a run down on the place and was full of praise for his boss Ken Mculloch.
Portrait of Britain, published by Dorling Kindersley.
Husband and wife, Keith Allan and Lynne Gray are travel writers and photographers based in Berwick upon Tweed on the English/Scottish border. They have worked for The Times, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, House and Garden, Scotland on Sunday and The Herald. For more than twenty years they have worked as freelance producers and reporters for BBC Radio, working from their own independent studio for BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 and Radio Scotland as well as the BBC’s World Service.