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A Stay in Rural Scotland

Isle of Eriska

For some hotels, the approach is everything. At the Isle of Eriska it begins on a two-lane highway that wends its way west through barren Glen Lochy and past the aptly named Loch Awe to the seaside at Ledaig, where a narrow road leads through sheep pastures to a clanking metal bridge. On the far side is Eriska, a 300-acre private island where a turreted Victorian castle stands amid green lawns and woodlands. Inside it's more cozy than grand: a succession of homey parlors, a massive staircase, 17 well-appointed guest rooms done in creamy hues of pink or sage and furnished with agreeably mismatched antiques. Outside, a sweeping lawn is set with big, comfy chaises. Relax. You've arrived.

There's not much else to do on Eriska; that's the point. You could drive to the port town of Oban, where ferries leave for Mull and the Western Isles; or you could head for the Great Glen, the rift valley that runs past Loch Ness to the North Sea. The walking trails on Eriska itself can be covered in a couple of hours, and the six-hole course is hardly tempting to the serious golfer. Remote, serene, ringed by water and mountains, Eriska is a place to be, not to do. The food is wonderful, which is fortunate because the next option is 45 minutes away. And the service . . . well, let's just call the service eccentric.

Virtually abandoned for 20 years, Eriska was purchased in 1973 by Robin Buchanan-Smith, who moved his family here and turned the place into a hotel. They run it now with a starchiness that verges on caricature, especially in the dining room, where Mr. Buchanan-Smith dines alone as waiters stand at attention in ill-fitting waistcoats and the evening light slowly fades. No complaints about the cooking: grilled local scallops on a creamy sea-lettuce risotto, rack of lamb carved tableside with rosemary gravy. But I did find it disconcerting to ask for coffee with dessert and be told, with a nod toward the adjacent library, "I'm sorry, sir, the coffee is in there; the coffee is not in here."

The library, it turns out, is quite a scene after dinner, its chairs occupied by other guests—most of them British, many of them regulars who return for a week each year. There's a great selection of malts, and the mood is convivial, especially after a waitress puts a plate of scraps out on the lawn for the badgers and turns on the light so we can watch them feast. No one talks of golf, except to laugh at the corporate types who go to Gleneagles and boast of their score. Here at Eriska, that would be bad form indeed.

Oban, Argyll; 44-1631/720-371, fax 44-1631/720-531; high-season doubles from $335.

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