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Tarbert: Stonefield Castle Hotel

It is a bit of a thrill to stay in an actual castle, even though this one only dates from the 1830s. Approaching along the graceful tree-lined drive, I exclaimed that the building looks like a smaller version of Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey). It is surrounded by well-kept gardens. Reception really gave us the red carpet treatment as the porter came out in a pouring rain to greet us with 2 umbrellas -- not for himself but for the 2 of us -- and insisted on carrying all of our bags up to our room. The decorations and furnishings in the common areas are lovely, including a library, a drawing room, and a snooker room with a dart board.

Our room was, however, nothing special. Carpet, paint, drapes, mattress were all rather worn. The plumbing was a problem: the toilet would run for hours unless we lifted the lid and manually pulled up the float, and the shower dripped constantly. Worse, it was impossible to regulate the shower temperature; the water went randomly from ice cold to scalding hot and back every 30 seconds or so.

Oddly, there were no leaflets or placards informing guests of the castle's history. Who built it, who lived there during which eras? Who knows? I was especially curious about this upon noting the Bible verses set in stone above the entry and a good many religious books in the library.

The restaurant is spectacularly situated overlooking Loch Fyne and a small island (which is accessible by causeway on the castle grounds), but its style and décor dates from ca. 1960. Breakfast (included in the price of an overnight stay) and dinner are served in the restaurant; you can also order dinner from a more modest menu in the bar, whose décor is much more in keeping with the traditional style of the rest of the castle.

Tarbert is an out-of-the-way location, halfway down the Kintyre peninsula between Inverarary and Campbeltown. It is near ferry connections to Portavadie to the east and the isles of Islay, Jura, and Gigha to the west. The town is attractive, circling the harbor and crowned by a ruined castle dating to Robert the Bruce. It hosts a famous yacht racing event in late May every year, at which time rooms are completely booked up for many miles around.

Of the places to stay in Tarbert this is probably the best. I wouldn't mind staying there again, but I hope they are able to afford some plumbing repairs and some general sprucing up.

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