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Mirror Travel: The lochs ..and the Lakers; Roy Markland has a Fyne time in the Highlands, where a pair of kippers gets you three.

SO WHO'S going to be the first to try them? We look around like kids egging each other on to a dare.

Remarkably, none of us has ever had oysters.

Yet here we are with a plateful in front of us, in the restaurant run by the oyster farm up the road.

We've already trudged along the muddy shore in borrowed wellies to look at metal trestles holding bags of growing oysters

We've walked around the sheds where they are cleaned, graded and packed to be sent anywhere between this restaurant and the Hong Kong Hilton.

And we've peered from a boat at the mussels growing on long ropes suspended from buoys in the beautifully clear water of Loch Fyne.

Yet still we're reluctant to try the oysters. Finally someone takes the plunge and the rest follow. Relief spreads across each face in turn, though I'm left wondering why they're considered such a delicacy.

I follow them with Loch Fyne's famous kippers. "A pair", says the menu. In Scotland it seems a pair means three. Who's complaining? They really are a delicacy.

With more coastline than France - all those long, narrow sea lochs - it's small wonder that Argyll is noted for its seafood.

After we've eaten, it's back on the minibus for Alasdair to drive us along one of my favourite routes, past the ruins of Kilchurn Castle at the top of Loch Awe, between the towering slopes of the Pass Of Brander and into Oban.

It's a cliche to mention the views in the Highlands but they jostle for your attention. The one from the window of my hotel - tucked down the narrowest of lanes a few miles from Oban - almost defies you to close your eyes on it and go to sleep.

WE SPEND a morning at a centre near Appin on Loch Linnhe.

Some brave a chilly day for a windsurfing lesson from Paul Zvegintzov. I indulge my love of sailing, joining the rest in a 17ft dinghy.

At a lunch stop a few miles away, we gaze across Glen Creran at what is justifiably claimed to be one of the most sensational mountain views in Scotland.

Later, while the others are off pony riding, I pluck up courage to try Paul's 17-footer again singlehanded. Scudding up a sun-filled loch, I reckon I must be getting something right when a woman leaps out of her car to point a camera at me. Pride comes before a fall. In that moment's loss of concentration, I'm drifting towards a rocky shore. Before I can ready the outboard and pull the starter, Paul speeds up in his safety launch - he'd been keeping a watchful eye on me - and talks me out of trouble.

This area has a richness to it, and there's a very exciting way to see it. We cross the cheekily famous Bridge Over The Atlantic - yes, those few feet of water really are a piece of the ocean - and into Easdale on Seil Island.

From there we take a 40mph white-knuckle ride around the islands on a rigid inflatable. Seals basking on rocky islets lift their heads to gaze warily at us. Deer stare down from impossible-looking slopes and a rare golden eagle soars above us.

Then the grand finale, the Gulf Of Corryvreckan between Scarba and Jura. Here the strong tides hit an underwater ridge, creating one of the world's biggest whirlpools, heard at its height in towns 10 miles away. And Tony doesn't believe you should view it from a distance - those 300hp turbos are powerful enough to take this boat scarily close and out again in safety. In Tarbert, a fishing village almost unchanged since I fell in love with it three decades ago, the annual Bell Lawrie regatta attracts more than 200 yachts with crews from Canada, America and Australia.

Will Rudd, a regatta official, takes us to watch some of the races - miles of billowing, multicoloured spinnakers and frantic rope-hauling. Our grandstand is a 51ft two-master, full of turned wood and carved scrollwork.

I'm "persuaded" to take the wheel. And I also accept a wee dram, simply to be polite. A "wee" dram? This is the country that thinks a pair of kippers means three.

So there I stand, with half a tumbler of the Water Of Life in one hand and the controls of a boat worth more than the average house in the other.

In a pub at this harbour edge, I used to sit in a corner seat with the schoolfriend who introduced me to Tarbert, chatting to Davy the landlord, Raymond the barber, Petie from the boatyard and others.

THIS once quiet bar is much changed, packed almost to bursting tonight with yacht crews curing their dehydration.

But I find myself once again in that same corner seat.

"Have you been to this part of Scotland before?" asks Malcolm MacDonald next day as we admire the view from his holiday chalets on the coast near Ardrishaig.

I tell him of long-ago holidays in an isolated cottage just outside Tarbert. And how I arrived there one day with a certain lady, the confetti still in our hair.

What do you want from a holiday - peace and romance like we had in that cottage, or noisy pubs and clubs? Sun, white, sandy beaches, history, sightseeing?

You can find them all in these parts. This is a place to unwind in whatever way you want.

Then there's that traditional Highland welcome. Drive into so many of these villages and there's a sign saying: "Welcome to ..." They really mean it.

On the other side, as you leave, the signs say: "Haste ye back."

You probably will.

LOCH FYNE: THE BOTTOM LINE

ROY Markland travelled as a guest of the Scottish Tourist Board (08705 511 5110) or www.visitscotland.com.

Foxholes Country Hotel, Lerags, Oban (01631 564 982). Dinner B&B pounds 46 pp/night

Brenfield Croft Cottages, by Ardrishaig (01546 603 284). From pounds 150a week. Short breaks (Mon-Fri or Fri-Mon) pounds 75 to pounds 120. Electricity extra.

Linnhe Marine Watersports Centre, Appin Home Farm, Appin (07721 503 981).

Sea.fari Adventures boat trips. (01852 300 003) or www.sea fari.co. uk

Loch Fyne Oysters, Clachan, Cairndow. (01499 600 264).
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Markland, Roy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 15, 2000
Words:1039
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