There is something quite special about discovering, almost by accident, an oasis of calm – a place so silent and beautiful that it takes your breath away.

An October holiday – or “staycation” as we call it these days – on the Cowal peninsula in Argyll and Bute coincided with some exceptionally dreich and damp weather. But as Billy Connolly famously said: “There’s no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes.”

So, donning boots and waterproof jackets, and determined to get that much-needed fresh air and change of scenery, we pulled into the car park at Benmore Botanic Garden, north of Dunoon.

Country Lifestyle Scotland:

Thinking it was closed as there were no other cars there, we went on to enjoy – yes, enjoy! – a stroll around various parts of the 120-acre site in the rain. There’s an assumption that everything and everywhere looks better when the sun shines but when the garden as is as majestic as Benmore … well, that’s simply not true.

Crossing the picture-postcard footbridge to enter the garden, we were soon looking up as its famous 150-year-old Redwood Avenue towered above us, the air still and silent all around. Choosing not to following the map we were given when we bought our tickets, we explored somewhat aimlessly, savouring the solitude and breathing in the smells of the damp forest.

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The autumn colours perhaps weren’t quite as vibrant as they would be had there not been so many clouds in the sky but the yellow and scarlet foliage was still striking and coming across the pond, the raindrops rippling on its surface, when we least expected it, made us so glad we’d made the effort to come to Benmore.

Home to trees and plants from around the world and changing with the seasons, Benmore is something of a hidden gem, a sister site to Logan in Dumfries and Galloway and Dawyck in the Borders – all three of them smaller but no less beautiful or important than their parent, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

From world-famous collections from the Orient and Himalaya to North and South America, Benmore is renowned for its rhododendrons – 300 species – as well as Douglas fir, Scots pines and Monkey puzzle trees, but also its splendid Victorian Fernery, Chilean and Bhutanese pavilions, and the dazzling Golden Gates.

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In fact, there are about seven miles of trails within Benmore Botanic Garden We didn’t climb up to the viewpoint on this visit but if you do, and on a good day, you can enjoy views of Holy Loch.

Earlier this, Lonely Planet named Benmore Botanic Garden in its top 10 lesser-known locations across the UK for 2021. Having been there for the first time – and having it all to ourselves as far as we were aware – I wholeheartedly concur.

Benmore, Logan and Dawyck Botanic Gardens are now closed for the season and will reopen next spring. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is open all year round. Full details are on the website at www.rbge.org.uk