Mid Argyll could well be tagged as “Overlooked Scotland”; a little out of the way, no big towns or cities, not the easiest place to get to (certainly without a car), but, with its history, scenery, serenity, wildlife, culture and opportunities for walking and cycling, well worth the effort if you do go.
OK, so you can’t get to Kintyre by train, but you can take the bus and, if you have a word with Citylink beforehand, you might even find they’ll transport your bike. Coach 926 leaves Glasgow’s Buchanan Bus Station four times a day for Ardrishaig and for as little as £6 single, the 2 hours 45 minutes journey won’t seem long enough to take in the view of all the passing lochs and mountains from the window
Indeed, if getting to your destination is as important as the holiday itself, why not make your journey into an epic? Take the train from Glasgow to Gourock, then ferry to Dunoon, bus to Portavadie, another ferry to Tarbert and a final bus to Ardrishaig. It takes just over four hours, but where else on mainland UK ( and, yes, you are still on the mainland) could you combine rail, road and sea with scenery to die for? Use Traveline Scotland to organise your journey.
This jewel in the west of Scotland has the lot: as well as its unique history, relaxed pace of life and jaw-dropping scenery, it also has hotel/restaurant/cafe owners who actually seem to like and welcome visitors! What’s not to like?
Confined to a weekend visit, my major problem was so much to see, with so little time to do it. So, taking my theme as the area’s rich vein of history, ancient and modern, I headed for Kilmartin Glen to find out more about its standing stones, burial cairns, rock art, forts and carved stones that originated in the Neolithic period (6,000-4,000BC). Mid Argyll has the densest concentration of cup and ring marked rocks in the British Isles and the Glen contains Europe’s largest cup and ring marked site at Achnabreck.
The Glen is also home to one of Scotland’s most important historic sites of any period; Dunadd Fort, thought to have been built and occupied by the Dal Riata people from about 500AD. This area is now believed to have been a cultural and social centre where people, ideas and power were exchanged between lands connected by the sea.
Check out the artefacts and interpretations at the award-winning Kilmartin House Museum browse the rock art silver jewellery in the shop and sample the yummy home baking in the adjoining cafe.
But don’t be misled into believing the area declined in importance as time moved on: the first book to be printed in Scots Gaelic, John Knox’s liturgy, was translated by John Carswell, a 16th century Protestant reformer, in 1567 at nearby Carnassie Castle an attractive two mile stroll out of Kilmartin.
Head back to Ardrishaig to enjoy a later, but no less important, artefact; the delightful nine mile Crinan Canal Known as “Britain’s most beautiful shortcut”, it was built in the late eighteenth century between Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne and Crinan on the Sound of Jura.
The canal provided a lifeline between the islands of the west coast and the Clyde Estuary and enabled the puffer ships that transported coal, food and other essentials throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to avoid the long, arduous voyage round the south end of the Kintyre Peninsular.
Today, around two thousand mainly pleasure vessels, still pass through the canal and the waterway can also be appreciated, on foot or by bike, as an engineering marvel and an idyllic route through some stunning scenery.
When you reach Crinan, check out the top-floor gallery at the Crinan Hotel and, at certain times of the year, you might be lucky enough to see round one of the old puffer boats under renovation in the harbour.
Walking opportunities in the area are virtually endless, from gently coastal and woodland strolls to a lesser-visited Munro not too far away, while the Sustrans National Cycle Route 78 (Oban to Campbeltown) directly links Kilmartin, Crinan, Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig.