The great gardens were mostly conceived in the Victorian era when the huge estates in the Highlands and Islands were at their peak. Many gardens were laid out to complement grand country homes or castles, while others are private and hidden on some of the most beautiful Hebridean Islands. Flowering rhododendrons and azaleas turn these peaceful locations into a riot of colour and alongside the subtle greens from native birch, oak and pine combine to form a wonderful natural tapestry.
On the Isle of Bute we visit two wonderful horticultural sites - one small, one enormous! Ascog Fernery was recently restored and is the only one of its type. Mount Stuart is one of the largest, most spectacular High Victorian Gothic houses in Britain and a real treasure trove for the garden enthusiast. We also visit Gigha, a gem of an island, nestling close to the mainland just off the Kintyre peninsula. Here Sir James Horlick (of bedtime drink fame) created his marvellous woodland garden at Achamore.
Other grand gardens include Arduaine at Loch Melfort, the quaint private garden of An Cala on the Isle of Seil, Crarae Gardens with its great Asiatic flowering shrubs, and Benmore Botanic Gardens, near Dunoon, which make this a collection of gardens which stand shoulder high to gardens anywhere in the world.
Our tour will be based at Loch Melfort Hotel. This small but comfortable country house hotel enjoys spectacular sea views over Loch Melfort and is renowned for its locally sourced food. It is also conveniently situated adjacent to Arduaine gardens.
- The spectacular staircase and gallery at Mount Stuart
- Island tranquility on Gigha
- Stunning views from the highest point of Arduaine
- An Cala, one of the finest private gardens in Argyll
- A riot of rhododendrons from start to finish
The Western Seaboard of Scotland is home to some of the finest gardens in Europe. Many types of plant flourish in this gentle and moist climate, enjoying the benefit of the Gulf Stream which is kind to unusual exotic shrubs and trees.
Thursday 25 May 2017
We depart from our designated pick-up points and head for Wemyss Bay where we will catch the lunchtime ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Our first visit will be to the spectacular house and gardens of Mount Stuart, which is one of the largest, most spectacular High Victorian Gothic houses in Britain and yet one of the least known. The gardens were only opened to the general public for the first time in June 1995. These 300 acres of stunning woodlands and gardens are a real treasure trove for the garden enthusiast. The temperate effect of the Gulf Stream on Bute ensures that there are always many exotic plants, palm trees and Mediterranean blooms to be seen here. There is a pavilion glasshouse in the grounds which nurtures rare species from the tropical rain forests of south-east Asia while native British plants thrive in the fertile soils and mild climate.
Thereafter we will visit Ascog Hall Fernery. In the secluded and long neglected gardens of Ascog Hall a sunken fernery with beautiful rock work and water pools was found. Even in its dilapidated state the potential was spotted and it has now been carefully refurbished with an impressive collection of ferns researched by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Open to the public only recently for the first time this unique fern house is a joy to behold. It offers a rare opportunity to glimpse a bygone era and is a tribute to the imagination and ingenuity of Alexander Bannatyne Stuart, a former owner of Ascog Hall in Victorian times, whose passion for collecting exotic ferns inspired him in his endeavour to replicate a tiny fragment of sub-tropical jungle on a small Scottish island.
Later we catch the ferry to Colintraive and continue to Portvadie for the ferry to Tarbert. On arrival we travel to our accommodation – the Loch Melfort Hotel where dinner will be served in the evening.
Friday 26 May 2017
This morning following our full Scottish breakfast we will depart from our hotel in time to catch the late morning ferry to Gigha. Gigha is a small and beautiful island lying just off the Kintyre peninsula. Here, Sir James Horlick (of bedtime drink fame) came in 1944 and started to make a woodland garden. His new plantings were protected by evergreens and old broad-leaved trees. At Achamore Gardens rhododendrons reign supreme, constituting one of the best collections in Scotland. Please proceed to the comfortable Gigha Hotel immediately after leaving the ferry in Gigha where lunch facilities will be available (not included). We will return to the mainland on the late afternoon ferry and continue to our hotel where dinner is served in the evening.
Saturday 27 May 2017
This morning we will head north to Loch Melfort to visit the National Trust for Scotland's garden at Arduaine. The garden here was started in 1897 by James Arthur Campbell, a tea planter, and a friend of Osgood MacKenzie, the maker of Inverewe. It is a splendid site, full of the most magnificent plants. It is most rewarding to keep going to the viewpoint which gives an exquisite panorama of the calm waters of Loch Melfort below. Our afternoon visit will be to the small and private garden of An Cala on the Isle of Seil. This is a quaint garden very much on a domestic scale, which relies for its impact on its situation looking out to the sea with the islands of Luing, Scarba, Mull and the Garvellachs in the distance.
Dinner is served at the hotel in the evening.
Sunday 28 May 2017
This morning we will check out of the hotel and visit Crarae Gardens, recently rescued by the National Trust for Scotland. Crarae has a marvellous site in a precipitous glen on the north west bank of Loch Fyne. At the very centre of it lies the glen, a romantic wooded ravine, stuffed like a good plum pudding with plenty of rich fruit; the great Asiatic flowering shrubs - azaleas, camellias and magnolias.
Our last visit is to Benmore Botanic Gardens, the country annexe of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. You are free to explore this splendid garden, with its magnificent mountain backdrop. The garden has a history dating from the 1820s with the first plantings of conifers, and today, superb old specimens of Douglas fir, larch, Scots pine and a magnificent avenue of Wellingtonias make a wonderful background to later collections of rhododendrons, shrubs and trees.
We continue to Dunoon to catch the ferry to Gourock before continuing to our original pick-up point where we will arrive in the evening.
- 3 nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast at the 3-star Loch Melfort Hotel, Argyll. All rooms have private facilities
- All ferry transfers
- Comfortable coaching throughout
- Visits to the gardens of Ascog Fernery on Bute, Achamore Gardens on Gigha, An Cala Gardens, Arduaine, Crarae, Benmore Botanic Gardens and a visit to the house and gardens at Mount Stuart
- Services of a Brightwater Holidays tour manager
- Single room supplement £120.00
- Insurance £21.00 (under 65); £42.00 (65-74); £63.00 (75-90)
- Rail/air travel and overnight accommodation in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Perth available on request.
Aberdeen 0600 2145
Dundee 0730 2015
Perth 0800 1845
Kinross 0900 1845
Dunfermline 0915 1830
Edinburgh 1000 1815
Glasgow 1115 1700
Please note all timings are approximate and may be changed. They will be confirmed when the joining instructions are sent out, approximately ten days prior to departure.