The Best of an Argyll Road Trip – Part 1
Full of Highland promise, Argyll is the beginning of so much to follow for those working their way north to Scotland’s true soul. A massive region, Argyll is still so often merely passed through on road trips as travellers make bee-lines to the likes of Glen Coe, Skye and the North Coast 500. I can almost imagine myself into the back seat of the average visitor’s car….
“This is pretty nice isn’t it? Why don’t we stop here for a bit?”
“Can’t. We need to get to Portree before dark. Just stick your camera out of the window and see what you can get. It’ll have to do….”
Well, Scotland lovers. It doesn’t just ‘have to do’ and I strongly advise giving Argyll lots of respect and reserving at least a couple of days for exploration. Sparsely populated for the most part, it’s incredibly easy to find solitude and remote, untouched beauty. You’ll encounter lochs, peaks and landscapes that are a match to almost anywhere. Equally, it has some timeless man-made appeal and is home to several of our most memorable castles, mysterious relics and whisky heritage. Not to mention the bustling coastal hub of Oban, where many a fine seafood supper has been tucked away.
Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe
Awe. What a bold statement. But awesome it most certainly is and it’s without question one of Scotland’s most picturesque bodies of water. Slithering its way through the centre of Argyll, the weather is almost always moodily grey in this part of the country that just oozes personality. Throw is some loch-side accompaniments like immaculate St Conan’s Kirk and the unforgettable Kilchurn Castle and the scene is complete. The latter is much-photographed and much-loved. An almost dream-like picture as mountains meet loch with beautiful ruin sandwiched in between, it’s a solid contender for Scotland’s best castle. The above video gives an idea of the landscape and I’ll be heading back for more unusual angles over the summer as I put the drone to maximum use.
Ok so it’s not awesome, it’s just damn fine but don’t presume to believe that it’s any indicator of inferiority. Edging its way down the Cowal Peninsula on the eastern shoreline, remoteness kicks in almost immediately. You can read more about these parts, my unique stay at Ardkinglas and my journey south to the fascinating Argyll Mausoleum on this blog. As for the better-travelled western shore, the majority of the tourism interest centres on pretty Inveraray and its fairytale castle. You can opt to continue south-west following the shoreline as you increasingly leave the coaches behind and approach Kilmartin from the south.
Hikers flock to the eternally popular Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) that overlooks this other fabulous loch, running parallel to Awe and Fyne, further to the east. The walk is a great one for most mid-level hikers and the route is challenging without being treacherous. Park up at Arrochar and reserve most of a day. If you’ve got the budget, set aside time for a stop for some oysters at the bar at the northern tip of Loch Fyne afterwards and join the aforementioned tourist route on the A83 to Inveraray.
Leaving the lochs behind it’s time to get to the historical heart of Argyll. This is the land of prehistory. Known as Dalriada, Irish settlers pitched up here in the 6th Century and were ultimately to merge with the Picts to form the first Scotland as we know it. Numerous standing stones and stone circle sites can be traced and will get Outlander fans into a right state.
If you are after some proper scenic solitude, you can avoid Argyll’s maze of A roads by taking the B845 that will bring you down (or up, depending on where you are) the western shore of Loch Awe. Single track, it is in good condition and you’ll encounter a mere smattering of other travellers. The road runs from Taynuuilt to Kilmartin and takes a little over an hour. Look out for birds of prey hovering menacingly overhead.
I also suggest a quick stop at Carnasserie Castle when down in Kilmartin. Not one I had even heard of I must admit (the shame!) it’s a spooky 16th century former residence that gets the imagination working. Argyll is great for this stuff – old ruins that have been pretty much abandoned and left to the elements. My favourite kind of Scottish history.
I say again, Argyll is massive and can’t be done in a day but, if you are based in Central Scotland, it’s very do-able to take on chunks of it spread over several seperate road trips. The peninsulas will test any day-trip plans but other than that a round trip from Glasgow to the above sites makes for a brilliant drive. The Glasgow to Inveraray path is a case in point where you will pass the magnificent Rest and Be Thankful, amongst many other must-see landscapes.
This is merely an introduction to some of the highlights of Argyll and more is coming. The interactive map below will help to give you an idea of the geography – I’ll keep adding to it as subsequent posts are created in the next few weeks. Specifically look out for follow-on blogs on the area in and around Oban on the west coast and also as I work my way south into the Kintyre peninsula. Undeniably cut-off and a challenge in terms of accessibility, it’s a force in whisky circles thanks to Campbeltown (a whisky region all of its own) and the giant Springbank in particular. Beaches, golf and, naturally, magnificent landscapes await.
For more chat about Argyll’s best bits, here’s my Radio Scotland chat on some of the highlights of the region:
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