"I wasn’t in love with Bonnie Prince Charlie." That was the startling revelation made to me just a day or two into our Scottish break from none other than Flora MacDonald herself. We were at Dunstaffnage Castle, near Oban, where Flora was held prisoner after playing her heroic part in the escape of the Young Pretender following his defeat in the disastrous battle of Culloden in 1746.

It’s one of the most romantic tales in Scottish history. The charismatic Jacobite leader who would be king – on the run in the Outer Hebrides with a £30,000 price on his head ¬ helped during his flight by a dutiful young lassie. He took a boat ride to Skye disguised as a maid, accompanied by Flora, where they then went their separate ways and he eventually escaped to France. They never met again. The story was immortalised by the writer of the famous Skye Boat Song over 130 years ago with its familiar lines.

Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing,

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Onward the sailors cry.

Carry the lad that’s born to be King,

Over the sea to Skye.

The Flora who tells me this tale inside the remains of Dunstaffnage is a re-enactment actress bringing the story to life for tourists this summer. Flora only agreed to help, I’m told, because she was a MacDonald. The strong sense of duty comes with being a member of the clan, so she went along with the plan.

“There was no romance,” said Flora, with a toss of her dark curls and a glint in her eye. “It was expected of me so I did it. Afterwards, I was held prisoner here for a week and made to tell everything about the incident to my captors. Then I was taken to London – I was quite a celebrity.”

Speaking of romance, the base for the short break I enjoyed with my wife is highly acclaimed in that respect. Ardanaiseig is a luxury hotel in a beautiful remote setting on the shores of Loch Awe. It was voted Scotland’s Most Romantic Hotel for five years by both the Good Hotel Guide and the Scottish Hotel Awards. And a little later as we sipped champagne and nibbled oysters in the comfortable bar before a wonderful dinner, neither of us felt like disagreeing.

It is a popular venue for weddings, as you may imagine. Its honeymoon suite is a boathouse set away from the main house, right on the lochside. For whisky aficionados, Ardanaiseig has a very useful little book containing all the many whiskies available to sample. I confess I could not deny myself a wee dram to follow the divine food we had enjoyed. We stayed in Tervine, a lovely room with a brilliant view of the loch and the hills behind.

You get to Ardanaiseig by leaving the main Oban road, going six miles along the single track route to Kilchrenan then another four miles on an even narrower road to your destination… but believe me, it’s worth it.

We encountered a grey heron on the road, and saw deer grazing on the hotel lawns as well, as a crazy hare that darted in and out of sight as we ate dinner. Housemartins and swallows darted around the house. And, despite some portents of doom referring to Scotland in August beside water, we had no bother with midgies.

Built in 1834, Ardanaiseig's rooms are furnished with antiques provided by its owner, a London art dealer. Many of the paintings are talking points, particularly a reworked once stuffy Victorian boardroom scene. The faces have been changed into celebrities including Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart.

There are acres of grounds for couples to explore, narrow woodland walks and trails to Loch Awe. There are also boats on which to make expeditions to a nearby island

Although it’s perfectly possible to drive there in a day - it’s about 270 miles from Darlington - we broke our journey once we got beyond Glasgow, where our adventure in Argyll and Bute got under way. The main road takes you past Loch Lomond but we took a detour on a quieter route to Helensburgh.

One of its main claims to fame – apart from the Faslane Navy nuclear submarine base further up the Gareloch, is The Hill House, which used to be owned by Walter Blackie, of the famous publishing family.

This is an amazing place, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the beginning of the 20th century, with fabulous use of light, space and the coloured glass art he was also famous for. It’s well worth a look, with a lovely garden too and as it is run by the Scottish National Trust, members of its English sister organisation get in free of charge.

Our guide, Rosemary McIntosh (no relation) proudly pointed out two items of Mackintosh-designed furniture in the drawing room, a writing desk and a chair recently acquired from the Andy Warhol collection, each now valued at £1m.

Fans of Downton Abbey may recognise the magnificent Gothic-style Inveraray Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne, which we visited on the way to Ardanaiseig. The ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll and seat of the Clan Campbell, it was built in the 18th Century but its present splendour came as a result of a fire in 1877, after which a third floor and conical roofs on the corner towers were added.

A handsome addition to the stunning landscape and the lovely town of Inveraray, the castle was featured in the ITV upstairs/downstairs period drama’s 2012 Christmas special. As well as admiring the richly decorated rooms, there are also fine gardens to explore and a woodland walk to a hilltop folly.

Dunstaffnage Castle dates back much further into Scottish history and well before it played its part in the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie. One of the oldest Scottish castles, the mighty stronghold of the MacDougalls was built before 1240 on a huge rock above the Firth of Lorn. Captured by Robert the Bruce in 1308, the castle remained in royal hands until 1469 when it passed to the Campbell earls of Argyll. And tucked away in the trees nearby is the 13th-century Dunstaffnage Chapel.

If you have time, embark on a boat trip from Oban. We sampled the wildlife-rich island of Mull, seeing white-tailed sea eagles, buzzards, herons and otter and red deer. On Iona stands the abbey where St Columba established a Christian community in the Sixth Century. We enjoyed a glorious walk in the sun from the ferry landing to the white sands of Columba's Bay, where the saint is said to have landed after a perilous journey from Ireland 1,450 years ago.

Another must-see destination is the uninhabited island of Staffa, where volcanic activity created the astounding cathedral-like structure of Fingal's Cave - inspiration for the composer Felix Mendelssohn. The day we went it was calm and sunny and we were able to walk right into the cave. Afterwards, thanks to advice from our tour guide, we walked along the grassy cliffs for an unforgettable puffin experience.

Just sit down and wait for ten minutes, he said, and the puffins will land beside you. Our patience was rewarded and we got some great close-up photos of probably my favourite sea bird.


Ardanaiseig Hotel, Kilchrenan by Taynuilt, Argyll, PA35 1HE, Scotland

There are 16 bedrooms, with prices starting at £185 per night, plus separate accommodation in The Boatshed, the hotel’s bridal suite situated on the loch shore, and a self-catering cottage

Telephone 01866-833333

Email hello@ardanaiseig.com