REVIEW: Drimsynie Holiday Village

A little adventure goes along way for city girl Megan Amato at Drimsynie Holiday Village near Lochgoilhead.

TUCKED away at the top of Loch Goil, a sea loch on the Cowal Peninsula, next to the wee village of Lochgoilhead sits Drimsynie Holiday Village, an award-winning holiday park in the Cove Communities fleet that has introduced a range of leisure sports to its already large rota of family-friendly activities.

Cove kindly invited Scottish Field along with a few others, and I – professional snacker and occasional kayaker who enjoys a leisurely, emphasis on leisurely, hike through Scotland’s gentler hills – happily agreed to go along.

Drimsynie is an easy two-and-a-half-hour drive from Edinburgh and an hour-and-half drive from central Glasgow. The drive itself is stunning on a clear day as the holiday park is in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

However, as my companion cancelled – and therefore my ride – I trained from Haymarket to Helensburgh before getting a wee bus to Drimsynie. Unfortunately for me, it was a typical dreary spring day, so there wasn’t much to see on the “scenic” route beyond the grey.

The bus drops you off right in front of Drimsynie Estate Lodges, making it an assessable holiday park for those who are keen on nature without the hassle. The estate itself is huge, spotted with Alpine-like lodges, cottages, caravans, and glamping pods that surround the main hotel and leisure centre.

My room was cosy and clean with what I’m sure would be spectacular views of Loch Goil and the Arrochar Alps if the temperamental weather cleared. A special treat, however, was the glass bottle of Irn Bru, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, and bag of colourful boiled sweets from Gordon & Durward – a truly Scottish welcome.

View from Megan Amato's window at Drimsynie Holiday Village

As if it knew to expect us, the weather the following morning looked more promising. After meeting up with the weekend’s organisers and the other guests, our instructor – Scott McNabb – guided us through the gear we would need for canoeing, paddleboarding, and gorge walking. Everyone was kind and keen and Scott was friendly and helpful, which inspired confidence in the company for the day to come.

Despite the promise of sunshine, I donned one of the lighter-weight wetsuits and jacket hung up in a neat row along with the hiking boots. After being fitted for buoyancy devices and paddles, we were piled into a passenger van.

The loch was dead still and dry, despite the grey skies, creating the optimum atmosphere for our canoeing trip. Scott broke us into pairs, did a buoyancy check, and gave us a brief breakdown of the mechanisms of canoeing before allowing us to launch off. As I was the only one who came alone, I was paired up with his assistant, Thomas —the likeliness of capsizing diminished.

After launching off the pebbled shore, Scott instructed us to row to a certain point and almost immediately I could feel the strain in my unexercised arms. But I didn’t mind a little pain with such stunning views on clear placid water.

Thomas must have noticed my painful attempts at paddling as he quickly corrected me on the proper method to paddle. Sure enough, Scott had also been watching us flounder across the loch and instructed the group with the same advice along with a few tips and tricks for navigating.

We glided over the water slightly more gracefully than before, our confidence boosted even if our pride was not. However, bruised egos were quickly forgotten as we neared our most anticipated attraction: seals. Quietly and gently and at a respectable distance as Scott instructed, we floated into the stretch of water where Scott had once scene more than 100 seals gathered and we were not disappointed by the dozen or so lounging on the shore and dipping their puppy-like heads into the water.

As a group, we floated in awe for a good ten minutes, taking identical pictures of spotted grey seals on grey stony shores. Hushed exclamations carried over the water and the seals watched us back with nervous, curious eyes. If a canoe got too close for comfort, the animals would slip into the safety of the water – except for one seal, who wasn’t moving off its perch for anybody.

Afterwards, we canoed to the bustling Boatshed Café for hot drinks and spectacular views before heading back to the hotel for lunch. I was particularly peckish at this point, having skipped the complementary breakfast for an extra half-hour of sleep.

After lunch, collective grunts and gasps and embarrassed laughter could be heard as we all wriggled into the thick wetsuits. If that didn’t make movement rigid enough, the jackets and buoyancy aids over the top would.

Once we arrived at the destination for our next activity, gorge diving, Scott gave another safety talk that included how to effectively help someone – grab their arms or vests, not their slippery hands – and the proper position for jumps and slides. The water was as cold as you’d expect a Scottish river to be at the end of March, but once we rubbed it on our faces to acclimatise, everyone was good natured about getting in.

I am not the most graceful of people on the best of days. Walking in a wetsuit and hiking boots pooling water up a slippery burn must have bene amusing for the birds passing by to watch. I’m sure the fish laughed as I tripped and fell and the insects hummed as I was dragged up small waterfalls. My companions did laugh – good naturedly, of course, as they had their own devious journey to navigate.

Gorge diving at Drimsynie Holiday Village

However, despite the aches and pains that would follow this aquatic adventure, each rocky slope I climbed felt like an accomplishment, and when I successfully braved a more challenging route, I gave myself a mental slap on the back (I couldn’t physically reach my back if I tried).

The final test of my bravery came at the end when we were given the option to jump off a cliff into a gorgeous waterfall pool. My fear of heights mixed with my ever-present anxiety about death as I watched others confidently walk up the cliff and throw themselves off.

Despite the knot in my stomach, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t try. So, with encouragement from my fellow adventurers, I lumbered up the hill with a rapidly beating heart to meet Scott who gave me two options and showed me where and how to safely jump.

As I stared down at the pool, I had a small panic attack and nearly turned back. To Scott’s everlasting credit, he was both encouraging and supportive of whatever choice I made. With tears in my eyes, I stepped up from the slippery lower platform to walk back down the cliff when some courage – or desperation – welled up and I turned back towards the water. And then I jumped. It was scary and exhilarating and a little painful as water shot up my nose and the shock and the cold engulfed me, but I am so glad I did it.

Those much braver challenged themselves by jumping off the waterfall, and I watched happily from the side-lines. Afterwards, we all trudged back together, a little cold and exhausted but still in great spirits.

After our return and almost ceremonial removal of sogging wet garments, we washed up and rested before dinner. While the weather had held out for both excursions, it was pouring on our short trek to the Goil Inn, a quaint pub-soon-to-be-inn with a big community feel in Lochgoilhead with views over the loch.

The staff were just as lovely as the views and the meal itself was phenomenal. If you haven’t been to the Goil Inn before, I highly recommend you visit and even if you have, I still urge you to go as they had a recent chef change.

Many of us opted for pan-seared Barra scallops with a braised beef croquette and butternut squash puree as a starter. Phrases such as “the best scallops I’ve ever had” were parried about and I can confidently say that it wasn’t an exaggeration. Each ingredient was cooked perfectly and complimented each element beautifully.

For the main course, some had pub classics like fish and chips and cottage pie, while others had a restaurant favourite: the steak. Each had rave reviews, but the true star of the show was the Shetland-landed langoustine with fries and garlic bread. If I was a cartoon, my heart-shaped eyes would have flashed when those beautiful crustations were placed so lovingly before me.

You can never go wrong with chips and garlic bread – two well-loved carbs – but the tender and succulent langoustines practically melted in the mouth. Truly, truly divine. There is always room for dessert in my world, and I thoroughly enjoyed the perfectly gooey warm raspberry brownie topped with (dairy-free) vanilla ice cream. It was sprinkled with seeds, adding a subtly delicious twist to the classic.

After giving compliments to chef Joe, our satisfied group scurried back through the rain just in time to enjoy the end of an Elton John impersonator set and the beginning of Elvis in the large reception room of the hotel.

The next morning, I woke up with aches and pains in places I didn’t know existed and remembered that we would be going abseiling. I made my excuses as to why I wasn’t going to join in: my hand and fingers was swollen (true) and my body hurt too much (also true), but mostly I was scared – I had used up my limited store of courage the previous day.  I would be a spectator instead.

Abseiling with Drimsynie Holiday Village

We drove up a small dirt road with stunning views over the loch and mountains to reach the destination. The small cliff down which my new acquaintances would be abseiling didn’t look as scary as in my imagination. In the end, I regretted not joining in, especially after watching the enthusiastic duo rappel with such outward aplomb. But alas, I had not brought the proper clothing to be hung over the side of a cliff. A lesson for myself to always listen to the Boy Scouts’ advice.

The drive back was just as beautiful, and Scott kindly stopped at a viewing point so the group of people who work in the media in some form or other could get their snaps. Though I left with aches and pains, I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun – a sentiment that echoed through every one of us who participated. It even inspired this lazy person to leave her house and go gorge walking again in the near future.

Drimsynie Hotel & Holiday Village has a host of activities and amenities for guests of all ages to enjoy, including a gym, spa, restaurant, café, and bars. It also has plenty of indoor family-friendly activities, such as a ball pit, climbing frame, games, and more in Rusty’s Fun House. Those a little older can try out body zorbs, fencing, archery, snorkling, and aeroball.

Those who are eight and older and keen to venture outdoors can row or paddleboard and hope to see the local seals, get wet waist deep (or more) as they trudge up a gorge, or bravely go climbing and abseiling. 

Cove Communities operates several holiday villages around Scotland, the wider UK, and the United States. Check out the link to view the range of parks and amenities it has to offer.

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Plus, don’t miss our readers’ hotel reviews in the April issue of Scottish Field magazine.