Kintyre roadThe Argyll and Bute coast is very indented and probably the most difficult to follow by road.  Due to the mountainous nature of the region many roads are narrow, with passing places only suitable for small vehicles.  A considerable amount of backtracking is necessary as many of the major roads end at the coast and there is no definite route to follow.

The Isle of ArranMost islands can be reached by ferry and although they are not strictly part of our main coastal trip we have included some that can be reached using Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. 

Camping sites are restricted or absent on many islands as camping is discouraged.

We solved the problem by making two trips to the area:
Our journies
  • First, in a motorvan to the eastern side of the Cowal Peninsula and Kintyre where campsites are available and roads are good.

  • Second, by car to Western Cowal, Knapdale and ‘island hopping’ to Bute, Islay, Jura and Arran.



Moffat townWe broke the long journey north by spending the first night in Moffat, a pleasant little town in the Scottish Lowlands. The main street is wide and tree-lined with interesting buildings on either side.

Moffat ramThere are the ubiquitous Scottish tweed and knitwear shops and a fine bronze statue of the Moffat Ram in the centre, a symbol of the town’s role in sheep farming. The sculptor, Brodie was said to be so upset that he had forgotten the ram’s ears, he committed suicide!

Erskine BridgeThe next morning we drove round the Glasgow motorway system to resume our coastal journey at the Erskine Bridge over the Clyde. 

It was a foggy morning and we took the A82 along Clydebank where the docks once produced liners such as Queen Mary and the QE2.  The widening river and mudflats looked miserable in the mist but we could just see across to Port Glasgow.



DUNBARTONSHIRE

The Gaelic name was Dun Breatton, meaning the fort of the Strathclyde Britons. This county runs north between Loch Lomond and Loch Long, and its southern boundary is the industrial Clydebank.




Dumbarton


The town was founded in the 5th century on the Roman Antonine Wall and became the capital of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde.  The last shipbuilding yard closed in 1963 when distilling took over as the main source of income. 

Dumbarton RockTo find the castle we had to go down some pretty depressing side streets but were rewarded by the magnificent site of the twin 240-ft basalt summits of Dumbarton Rock towering above us on a promontory in the river.  This place has a longer history as a stronghold than anywhere else in Britain. 

Guard houseBy 870 Dumbarton Rock was home to a settlement that served as a fortress and capital of Strathclyde. By 1222 there was reference to a 'new castle'. The Portcullis Arch was built in the 1300s, and the Guard House about 1580. During this middle phase of its life, it served as a royal castle and in 1489 James IV besieged the castle twice to suppress a rebellion by Lord Darnley.

Dumbarton RockIn 1545 Dumbarton was captured on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots, who came here for safety in 1548 before sailing for France. By the time of Cromwell's arrival in 1652 it surrendered without a fight. From 1670 to 1790 most of the earlier buildings were swept away and replaced with what you can see today.

Nestled at the foot is the Governor’s House and then numerous steep steps took us to White Tower Crag with a rather tattered Scottish flag and wonderful views over the Firth of Clyde.  We went past batteries of cannons to the ‘Beak’, the lower of the two ancient volcanic plugs and back past the guard house where an ugly face is carved in the stone, said to be of the man who captured and sent William Wallace to London.



Helensburgh


HelensburghCalled the ‘Garden city of the Firth of Clyde’ and birthplace of John Logie Baird the town was not endearing at all.  It is different, in that it is designed in a grid pattern with wide tree lined streets and must have  been elegant once.  There is an obelisk on the promenade commemorating Henry Bell – the designer of the first seagoing steamship.

Hill HouseWe stopped in a large car park by the pier and tacky amusements and having seen the dirty beach, made a quick exit to find Hill House which is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Edwardian Masterpiece. 

Hill HouseThis place is amazing and we had to queue to get in, but once inside it was wonderful. The furniture, lights, carpets, wallpaper, windows and even curtains were designed in the Arts and Crafts style to complement one another and the whole place is way before its time.  Outside the gates and street lamps were also of the same style and there was an interesting rectangular wind driven sculpture. I am a huge fan.



Gare Loch


GairlocheadFrom the beauty of Hill House, we drove along the east of pretty Gare Loch to see ugly fences and miles of barbed wire around the huge submarine base at Faslane.  This area is home to a number of major naval installations dating back to the cold war and earlier conflicts. A small, colourful group of protesters were camped near the gate and a CND symbol of planted daffodils adorned the hillside.  Faslane Peace Camp has been in existence since 1982 to non-violently oppose the presence of nuclear weapons.

WhistlefieldFrom here our route was to become complicated around the fingers of the peninsulas of Rosneath, Cowel and Kintyre with much backtracking along a multitude of narrow, dead-end roads.  The first obstacle came at Gairlochead when we had to divert round bridge repairs.  We were able to regain the route down the west of the loch after stopping at a picnic spot called Whistlefield with excellent views over the water.



Rosneath Peninsula


Kilcreggan pierKnown locally as the green isle, the name derives from the Gaelic ‘Rosneimhidh’ meaning a sanctuary. Much of the peninsula is MOD property, but we were able to drive down through Rosneath to the rocky shores of Kilcreggan at the point.  Here, there are Victorian villas and the little community is rather pleasant but spoilt by a rather nasty looking caravan site. 

Directly south, across the Clyde is the port of Gourock and there is a ferry in summer and various pleasure cruises.  The mist spoilt any chance of seeing the good views.

Trident submarineTurning north into Loch Long we passed through the pretty village of Cove and the road ended at the Trident submarine base at Coulport.  We were able to drive through the Gairlochead Forest along a steep road and back to the eastern side of the peninsula.



Loch Long


Loch LongThis 17-mile loch cuts north into the 'Arrochar Alps' and although we were on an A-road, it was very narrow, twisty and full of potholes – not recommended in a motor van.  We found this out afterwards!  The West Highland Railway runs high above the road and an oil tanker depot at Finnart is one of the deepest in Europe.

Wooden figureWe finally emerged at Tightness (aptly named) and reached the head of the loch at a pretty village called Arrochar.  There is a large picnic spot around the head of the loch, no doubt used by multitudes of walkers and mountain climbers.  Placed at strategic intervals are wooden figures of what look like little old men but as the information plaques had been removed we didn’t ascertain their significance.

This is the starting point for the climb to Beinn Narnain and its smaller neighbour Ben Arthur, better known as The Cobbler.



ARGYLLSHIRE

We crossed into Argyllshire, a highland area, large and empty with stunning scenery and home of the Campbells.  There are green rolling foothills, lochs teaming with salmon and trout below purple heather clad mountains.  A large area is managed by the Argyll Forest Park with visitor centres and picnic sites.




Ardgarten


View over camp siteAs we had driven north we were able to see caravan sites on the opposite shore of the loch at Ardgarten and there were three, one Forestry Commission, one caravan club and one camping and caravan club. Spoilt for choice, we opted for the third as it was the smallest, but they were all pleasant and the situation on the loch with the high mountains behind was superb.

steps to Prince of Wales footbridgeWe spotted a cycle trail on the OS map and were informed that it was a circular 5 miles "but you may have to carry the bikes up a few steps".  The trail proved to be up a mountain so the bikes were given a real initiation – pushed for a good deal of the way on a rocky track - but the views above the camp site were breathtaking.

AndyThe steps up to the Prince of Wales footbridge proved to be almost vertical – I bet the POW came up in a landrover to unveil the plaque!  It was good going down, but our hands ached from holding the brakes and we rode back triumphantly to our van and followed our dinner with a walk by the loch in complete darkness.



Cowal Peninsula


Forest Visitor CentreThis area lies between Loch Fyne and the Firth of Clyde and has narrow glens, lochs, moorland and sea lochs as well as offshore islands, notably Bute. The Fjord like sea lochs, distinctive forked coastline and U-shaped valleys owe their creation to the last Ice Age, when the area was covered by a sheet of ice. The ice ploughed deep crevices to create the distinctive coastline and hill bound lochs.

We headed north west through the rugged peaks of Glen Croe that dominated the steep climb to the ‘Rest and be thankful' pass, a fine viewpoint where cattle drovers enjoyed a break after a tough climb.  We did and we were!

Rest and be thankful Rest and be thankful

View from St CatherinesThe road then fell to Glen Kinglas and followed the Old Military Road to reach the east side of Loch Fyne where the hamlet of St Catherines affords views of Inveraray on the opposite side.  This was once a ferry point and a traditional gypsy wedding site but it is now a yacht anchorage and is dominated by a static caravan park.

Loch EckAt Strachur, we turned south-east across the peninsula following Lock Eck. It is said that the name of Strachur comes from the Gaelic for 'Glen of the Heron' but the village that was originally called Clachan.

Puck's Cottage - BenmoreThe valley is surrounded by high, forested hills where an avenue of giant Californian redwoods dominates Younger Botanic Garden at Benmore. This place is an outpost of the Edinburgh Botanic Garden and specialises in rhododendrons. We took the zigzag path up to a viewpoint within the garden and wandered around for an hour or so.  It was lovely.



Holy Loch


Strone PointThe glen emerged at Holy Loch and the northern road took us to Strone Point with a small jetty and a view back to Kilcreggan and Gourock

Holy LochThis small sea loch used to be a base for US Polaris submarines and the site at Sandbanks on the southern shore is now up for redevelopment.  There are now yachts moored while two British contenders for the Americas Cup race were built here. The loch emrges in the Firth of Clyde



Dunoon


Ferry terminalThe town has a 4-mile promenade built around two sheltered bays and is the most densely populated part of Cowal.  There is a ferry terminal to Gourock so the resort is popular for Glasgow holidaymakers. Hotels and gift shops dominate. Dunoon Stadium is the setting for the world famous Cowal Highland Gathering.  Dunoon is the capital of the Cowal region, and grew from a village to a major Clyde seaside resort in the 1800. It is dominated by Castle Hill upon which sits Castle House, built in the 1820s by a wealthy Glaswegian who generated local protest about access to common land around the house. 

Highland MaryWe went up the steps to the top where a statue of Robert Burns’ sweetheart - Highland Mary (who was born here) looks out across the water towards Ayrshire.

Across the Clyde we could see the lighthouse at Cloche Point and the giant chimney of the power station at Wemyss Bay.  We drove to the south of the peninsula through the village of Inellan, strung along a sandy shore, and on to the ruins of Toward Castle.  This was a Lamont stronghold from the early 15th century, until it was besieged by the Campbell's in 1646. The Lamonts supported Charles II, whilst the Campbells were Covenanters.

Toward lighthouseBuilt upon a small promontory, Toward lighthouse stands 56 feet above high water, and was lit for the first time in 1812. It's beam is visible over 24 miles and the original keeper's cottages are still there today

From here there is no through road so we had the weary trek all the way back to Strachur on Loch Fyne. The West of Cowal is dominated by even smaller roads, more suited to exploration by car; so we included it with our island hopping trip with several sailings on CalMac ferries.



Loch Fyne


CaindowLoch Fyne is 40 miles long, one of the biggest lochs and famous for wood smoked kippers.  The road drops steeply to the loch at Caindow where there is a salmon leap.  We passed the rather smart Dunderaeve Castle, which is now a private residence and continued beside the Old Military Road to Inverary.



Inveraray


Inveraray castleThe best view of the castle is approaching from the north.  It is a fine example of 18th century architecture and looks like a French chateau with a magnificent interior and woodland garden.  The castle is now the residence of the Duke of Argyll who is the chief of the Campbell Clan and was built at the same time as the new town.

InverarayThe small Georgian Royal Burgh was planned and then built about 1753.  The white painted buildings line the loch and enclose the small main street and carpark behind an arched wall. 

Arctic PenguinThere is a three masted schooner in the harbour, the Arctic Penguin, which is now the maritime museum and there was a piper outside. 

Inveraray jail Inveraray Jail is also open to the public at Ł4.50 each, but it proved a worthwhile visit.  The former county courthouse was moved to Dunoon in 1953 and the prison closed in 1889 but the unusual exhibition has been put together very well. 

PiperThere is an old prison and a new one and each cell told a story of the people who had been in them and how they lived.

We visited the local whisky shop and bought a bottle of the local Loch Fyne but as there is no distillery nearby it was only the label we were paying for! (Bottled in Edinburgh).

There is certainly plenty to see around here. A little south of the town is the Argyll Wildlife Park and the Auchindrain folk museum, an original West Highland Township that has been restored with refurnished.

Inveraray



Lochhgilphead


LochhgilpheadThe A83 runs down the loch, passing Crarae Garden and many forest walks, but it was not until we reached Lochgilphead that we were able to stop, as the picnic spots were only for small vehicles.  The town is a crescent of houses and is a planned town in the style of Inveraray. It has straight streets with several small shops selling local pies and gooey cakes, which we took advantage of to buy some lunch.

ArdrishaigArdrishaig is a pretty little port with buildings straddling the canal; it is not very attractive along the main road but does have two good carparks. To the south is an elevated canal which reaches the loch at Ardrishaig.  This is the 9-mile Crinan Canal linking with the Sound of Jura and saves a 120-mile sail around the Kintyre peninsula.  There are several locks at the harbour entrance and the road has a bridge that resembles a level crossing.

Ardrishaig Sea loch  The canal was opened in 1801 when ‘Clyde Puffers’ used to transport cargo between Glasgow and the coast. In the nine miles from Ardrishaig to Crinan there are 15 locks and the canal reaches a height of 65 feet above sea level. Work started on the canal in 1794 under Sir John Rennie and not properly finished so Thomas Telford was asked to redesign parts of it.

We continued south past Stonefield Castle and gardens.  We once stayed at the hotel and enjoyed whisky tasting in the bar as well as eating the famous kippers for breakfast, whilst overlooking the loch.

As it was beginning to rain we drove through Tarbet and decided to stop on our way back.



The Kintyre Peninsula


Scotland’s only mainland island, about 40 miles long, with the Atlantic one one side and sheltering the Isle of Arran on the other. This long peninsula is warmed by the Gulf Stream and is very peaceful with a craggy coastline and a low-lying plain studded with prehistoric sites.

Viking heritage centreThere is a Viking heritage centre just down the road where we stopped to look inside the exhibition.  We watched a man turning a wooden bowl on a home-made lathe which looked like hard work but was producing good results.

We learnt that years ago a Viking called Magnus Barelegs sailed around Kintyre, but to claim the territory he needed to complete the voyage.  Not to be robbed of the large ‘island’ he sat in his Viking ship whilst his men hauled it on the land across the short distance from West Loch Tarbet to Loch Fyne.

Cleonaig BayAlthough the road down the east side of the peninsula is single track with passing places, it was quite a shortcut to our next stop at Carradale.  The ferry to Lochranza on Arran leaves from Cleonaig Bay and there were a few cars waiting on the jetty. The MV Loch Tarbert can carry 18 cars and up to 150 passengers for the 30 minute journey across the Kilbrannan Sound.

Ferry to Lochranza Skipness castle

Just up the coast at Skipness are the remains of a 13th century castle but not much is left now.



Carradale Bay


Carradale BayThe rain really set in as we negotiated the single track road.  It became twistier and very steep in places. At the top of the hills the mist had turned to fog and the hills that appeared around blind bends were a killer. Eventually we made it to Carradale and drove on down a little track through a farm to the campsite that was pretty much empty.

Carradale Bay siteIt is probably the nicest site we have been to as we were right by the sea and surrounded by gorse bushes.  A walk on the completely empty but mist-shrouded beach confirmed this.   A real oasis of peace and beauty but the whole time we were there the heavens were depositing inches of rain.  We had intended to stay longer and go for walks and bike rides but this wasn’t on because of the weather, so we reluctantly left. 

We found that the road to the west was equally difficult and I would hate to negotiate it towing a caravan. 



Saddell Bay


This is the beach where Sir Paul McCartney filmed the video for his hit song "Mull of Kintyre" accompanied by Campbeltown Pipers. By the beach, stands Saddell Castle, nowadays rented out as holiday property. It was built by Bishop David Hamilton around 1512 using some of the stones of the ruined abbey, but burnt by English raiders in 1538, and later rebuilt.

Nearby is Saddell Abbey, founded in the 12th century by Somerled, the first Lord of the Isles. It was second only to the Abbey on Iona and the most important ecclesiastical site in the Lordship of the Isles. In the 16th century, James IV stripped the last Lord of the Isles of his lands and power and the castle was suppressed.

Arnacross BaySaddell became a centre for the production of medieval carved grave-slabs and there are several on display, including life size stone warriors and noblemen.

The pretty inlets of Black Bay and Arnacross Bay began to emerge from the mist and by the time we approached Campbeltown Bay.

Davaar IslandDavaar Island with its lighthouse was clear and it is possible to walk to it along a causeway for 3 hours each side of low tide. The island is uninhabited, save for sheep, and its main attraction is a cave painting of the Crucifixion secretly produced by a local artist, Archibald Mackinnonin, the late 19th century.



Campbeltown


Campbeltown harbourCampbeltown is an austere place, not improved by a multitude of road works which I remember were there on our last visit about 8 years ago! 

Campbeltown harbourThe town was originally called Kinlochkilkerran but was renamed in the 17th Century by the Earl of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell.

CampbeltownHills rise around the harbour and although it was once important for herring fishing there is now more trade from the tourists and sailboats.  Its heyday was during the Victorian era, when its shipbuilding was strong, its fishing fleet vast and it seemed there was a distillery on every street.

Springbank distilleryOf the 30 distilleries, only two remain but unfortunately neither has cottoned on to the fact that money can be made from the ubiquitous visitor centre.  There is a heritage centre housed at the library and a small maritime museum but the grey stone hotels did not look inviting.

 



Mull of Kintyre


views down the Firth of ClydeSouth of Campbeltown is the road to Southend and to the Mull of Kintyre. The road is 8 miles to Southend with a further t miles of single track road out to the lighthouse on ‘the Mull’.

There is a coast road returning to Campbeltown which gives superb views down the Firth of Clyde beyond Ailsa Craig (looking like a doughnut in the sea) to Ayrshire and Galloway and the small island of Sanda.

SandendSouthend is a small village with marvellous sandy beaches, where static caravan sites proliferate, and an 18 hole golf course.

St Columba's footstepsIt is also here that St Columba first landed in Scotland on his journey to Iona and close by are St Columba’s Chapel and cave as well as St Columba’s footprints carved in the rock.

Mull of KintyreThe spectacular drive not to be missed is a long steep twisty route to the Mull of Kintyre - made famous by Paul McCartney’s record, selling 2.5 million copies in 1977.  (We did the trip by car - not possible in a large vehicle). We had to stop and open a gate onto the road and thankfully didn't pass any other cars.  The last few hundred yards to the lighthouse must be taken down the cliff on foot but from the cliff you can see Ireland only 12 miles away.

A Mull is a headland and this part of the Mull has been a bit of a plane's graveyard over the years and there are still airplane parts lying around which have been up there for more than 30 years. This is not far from where the MOD Chinook crashed in 1994.



The Atlantic Coast


MachrihanishMachrihanish used to be a centre for the salt and coal industries but now has an airfield and the famous Machrihanish Golf Club. The bay is 5-miles long and backed by dunes with Atlantic waves crashing in. 

Atlantic wavesWith it's spectacular panoramic views out over the ocean there are beautiful sunsets to be seen here. The beach runs to Westport and then the coast becomes low and rocky and a surprising feature is an isolated cemetery sitting between the road and the sea. 

Glenbarr AbbeyGlenbarr Abbey sounded interesting but turned out to be an 18th century Gothic House – just as well, as it is closed on Tuesdays anyway. It was formally presented to Clan Macalister in 1984 by its owner the 5th Laird of Glenbarr as the Clan Centre.



The Island of Gigha


Gigha ferryFurther north, the tiny Island of Gigha came into view with its little Cal-Mac ferry waiting at Tayinloan. We visited Gigha a couple of years back and fell in love with it.  The ferry docks at the only village – Ardminish.  There is one pub and Mrs.McSporran’s little shop, which sells superb locally made cheese and very nice walking sticks!  A few farms dot the landscape together with several prehistoric remains.

Achamore HouseThe Clan McNeill became the undisputed Lairds in 1590 after a fierce power struggle with the MacDonalds. At the end of the 19th century Captain William Scarlett, the 3rd Lord Abinger purchased the estate and built Achamore House. The gardens grow plants that flourish in a mild climate and there is a tiny 13th century ruined church.

13th century ruinOn the 15th March 2002 the Island was purchased by the inhabitants of Gigha. It is now owned and managed by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.Isle of Arran ferry

There is another ferry port at Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbet transporting passengers to the islands of Islay and Jura.

 



Tarbert


There are a number of Tarberts in Scotland, and each is characterised by a narrow strip of land, usually where two lochs nearly meet. The name comes from the Gaelic "Tairbeart". This is literally translated as "draw-boat" and more usually as "isthmus".

TarbertThere is a picturesque harbour, popular with the yachting fraternity, and it is a bustling Victorian fishing town, which hosts Scotland’s largest regatta each May.  Loch Fyne herrings used to be the main industry but fish are still brought into East Loch Tarbert each morning and unloaded, 

TarbertThere are seafood restaurants along the quay and seafood festivals are held here regularly. Past the fish quay you reach the slipway for the Portavadie ferry and beyond is the ‘White Shore’, a beach composed entirely of scallop shells.

Today the town is a crossroads linking four different ferries. The Islay Ferry from Kennacraig, the ferry to Portavadie on Cowal, the ferry to Arran from Claonaig and one to Gigha from Tayinloan.

We retraced our route north as far as Lochgilphead and then made our way across country to Edinburgh and back home down the north-east coast.


 

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