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Why would anyone want to sail all the way up to the head of this loch, just to tack (probably) back down it again? Well, it is very pretty to start off with. There are lots of deciduous woods hiding well planted conifer plantations, and nicely kept fields stretching down to the water's edge. At the head of the loch, right up at the end, there is a rather charming if somewhat beaten up anchorage with some rusting hulks (four in a watery graveyard at my last count), a fisherman's pier, lots of wild flowers, and usually no other visiting yacht to disturb the peace.
This is the tradesman's entrance to the village of Tarbert, half-an-hour walk up quite a busy road. As early as the 18th century there was a plan to dig a canal here to connect the west coast with the Clyde, so avoiding the perils of the Mull of Cantyre as it was then called. But there was never enough money, and eventually the connection was made a few miles further north at Crinan. If you are that keen, drag your boat across like the Vikings did, hence the Gaelic name of 'Tairbeart' meaning isthmus or portage point.
There are plenty of Clyde yachts around in Tarbert marina, quite an eclectic bunch actually, but the village is not wildly interesting. The harbour wall is a 'Telford', so a touch of quality to make up for some truly awful late 20th century architecture. Wander up to inspect, but not enter, the remains of the ruined mostly late 15th century castle. The castle itself looks much better from afar than close to because part of the stabilisation is with inappropriate brick, and there is a very shouty modern carved stone panel fixed to the southeast outer wall. However, the view down to the harbour is delightful. The outdoor gym by the marina is a good place to get rid of children for an hour or two.
Next to where the Portavadie ferry comes in, you will find Prentice Seafoods with a great selection of shellfish, so well worth checking out. There is a butcher, a very good ironmonger, a chandlery (an outpost of Ardfern Yacht Centre), a book shop/crafty sort of place, and a Co-op supermarket. Apropos Portavadie, you could take the ferry across to the modern marina built in the huge hole originally dug in the 1970s for an oilrig construction yard, but never used. There to enjoy some of their astonishing facilities — an excellent restaurant, a leisure centre and spa boasting among other things an infinity pool in which to wallow while the rain pours down on your bare head. Then wander up the road to the abandoned, concrete and graffiti-strewn village of Polphail built to house the 500 workers who were never employed. Most atmospheric. Now a distillery is planned for the site.
The best place to get a decent meal is Starfish, excellent seafood and very cheerful and friendly (you can tell the last from their website) (ph 01880 820 733). But then I have not tried the Galley Café in Harbour Street which sounds good (ph 01880 820 090). There is no real ale to be had anywhere (tried that, no demand, I was told), and the pubs do not seriously beckon. The tearoom on the front didn't welcome pushchairs in the summer but maybe that has changed.
The West Loch Hotel, originally an 18th Century coaching inn, is about five minutes walk from the anchorage towards Tarbert. The bar is not very jolly and there is no real ale, but there are good sit down meals (ph 01880 820 283). It is very child friendly and has vegetarian choices as well as absolutely excellent venison. Certainly worth a trip ashore if you are fed up with your own cooking. But, a word of caution, the hotel changed hands in 2018 so I may be out of date here.
So not really an anchorage to dally in, but useful for crew changes as there is a bus from Tarbert to Glasgow. And the anchorage is a nice sheltered place to hang out.
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At the head of West Loch Tarbert
The outdoor gym by the marina