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Issue 84 - Best of Argyll

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015

 

This article is 25 months old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Best of Argyll

Charles Douglas recommends where to go, what to do...

Fronting Scotland's west coast mainland onto the North Channel of the Atlantic Ocean is the region of Argyll which, to the north, adjoins the district of Lochaber. Together they incorporate most of what was once known as Dál Riata, the Gaelic kingdom colonised by Scots from Ireland in the 6th Century. The resonances of that first millennium migration are still to be found at Dunadd, the ‘Fort of the Add’ near Kilmartin, south of Oban, where the kings of Dalriada were inaugurated upon a humble stone carved with the image of a boar.

This is a spectacular territory of lengthy sea lochs fingering into the mainland to divide the Cowal and Kintyre peninsulas. To penetrate the landmass of Argyll from the east, either take the ferries from Greenock, or from McInroy's Point, Gourock, to Hunter's Quay Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula. Or travel in by road on either the A814 from Helensburgh skirting the north shore of the Firth of Clyde along the Gareloch, or on the A84 from Tarbet which sits on the northern banks of Loch Lomond and past Arrochar near Loch Long.

The journey by car, coach or train from Glasgow or from Edinburgh takes around three hours. There are also flights from Glasgow airport to Macrihanish, Campbeltown on Kintyre. Whichever way you choose to travel, the scenery is spectacular.

On the eastern shore of the Gare Loch, which cuts its way north from the Firth of Clyde, is Her Majesty's Naval base, Clyde (also known as HMS Neptune), one of the UK operating bases of the Royal Navy.

Also connecting into the Firth of Clyde is the Holy Loch, named after the 6th Century Saint Munn. This became a submarine base during World War II and until 1992, operated as a US Polaris nuclear submarine base. Today, it is home to the splendid Holy Loch Marina, a pivotal location in sailing and yachting circles.

Much of this territory, as you drive north to connect with the A83, was once dominated by Clan Lamont but their misfortune was that it encroached upon the Clan Campbell fiefdom. Following the Battle of Inverlochy during the Scottish Civil War of 1645, the Lamonts seized the opportunity to run rough over Campbell territory. It was a bad move. In revenge, the Campbells seized and destroyed the Lamont strongholds of Toward and Ascog, slaughtering and hanging over 200 men, women and children. This dire event became known as the Dunoon Massacre although for some strange reason it has never inspired the level of revulsion afforded to the equally brutal Massacre of Glencoe which took place 47 years later. A second Castle Toward was built in 1820 by Kirkman Finlay, a former Lord Provost of Glasgow. However, after World War II the estate was sold to Glasgow Corporation, then acquired by Argyll & Bute Council. In 2010, the South Cowal Community Development Company, a charitable organisation, was set up to oversee a proposed community buy out but at the time of going to press, the situation is still ongoing.

Today, the pleasant waterfront town of Dunoon is served by two ferry companies, Western Ferries and Argyll Ferries. On Castle Hill, overlooking the breakwater, is a fine statue of Robert Burns' Highland Mary, the poet's great love Mary Campbell who was born and died in the town. There can also be seen the remains of the 12th Century Dunoon Castle which Mary Queen of Scots visited in 1563. The annual Cowal Highland Games are held at Dunoon in August.

Benmore Botanic Gardens, an arboretum outpost of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens, is situated a distance of seven miles to the north, close to Loch Eck.

The northern section of the Cowal Peninsula embraces the rugged wilderness of Argyll Forest Park which comes under the supervision of the Forestry Commission Scotland. In 1916, the Glenbranter estate and Invernoaden House, once owned by the Maclachlan family, became the home of the legendary Scots entertainer Sir Harry Lauder. The estate was sold to the Forestry Commission in 1921 and the house demolished during the 1960s.

The Argyll Mausoleum at Kilmun on the A880 on the northern shore of the Holy Loch, was built on the site of a 6th Century chapel in 1780 to house the remains of the dukes of Argyll and their families. However, the last duke to be interred there was the 10th Duke in 1949 and since then the dukes of Argyll and chiefs of Clan Campbell have been buried on the holy Isle of Inishal on Loch Awe.

After connecting with the A815 at Cairndow, the A84 from Loch Lomond travels past the village of Strachur and, still hugging Loch Fyne on its western shore, reaches Inveraray. On the outskirts of the town is the original Loch Fyne Restaurant and Oyster Bar, founded by John Noble, fish farmer and owner of the nearby Ardkinglas estate, who died in 2002. Ardkinglas House is open to the public every Friday afternoon between April and October. The Ardkinglas Woodland Garden is open throughout the year. The very excellent craft brewery Fyne Ales, which also operates from Cairndow, was founded by John Noble's cousin Tuggy Delap and her husband Jonny in 2001.

The next stop is Inveraray Castle, ancestral seat of the earls and dukes of Argyll. It was designed in 1747, along with plans for the creation of a new town nearby, employing William Adam, Roger Morris and Adam's sons John and Robert. Visited in 1874 by Queen Victoria, the Royal connection was further enhanced in 1871 when her daughter Princess Louise married the Marquis of Lorn, heir to the Campbell chiefship.

Still very much the private home of the 13th Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their family, the spectacular interiors are open to the public daily from 1 April to 31 October. The annual Inveraray Highland Games takes place in the grounds in July.

The whitewashed loch side town of Inveraray is especially delightful. Among the visitor attractions are the Georgian Inveraray Gaol, which is now a museum, and the Inveraray Maritime Centre which is based on the iron sailing ship Arctic Penguin, moored at the pier. On the Main Street is Loch Fyne Whiskies, one of Scotland's most outstanding Scotch whisky retailers.

A short distance from Inveraray is the National Trust for Scotland's garden of Crarae, celebrated for its spring colouring and autumn colours. Further along the road to the south is Minard Castle, built by the Campbells of Knockbuie in the 18th Century.

From Asknish, the route continues to Lochgilphead where the administrative centre of Argyll and Bute is based in Kilmory Castle, former home of the Campbell-Orde family. Two miles to the south is Ardrishaig, where the Crinan Canal, which opened in 1801, travels from Loch Gilp across country to reach the Sound of Jura on the west coast of the mainland.

Tarbert, built on an inlet of Loch Fyne, extends over the isthmus linking Knapdale to Kintyre. In the late 11th Century, Magnus Barefoot, King of Norway, had his longship carried across the isthmus to confirm his possession of the Western Isles. On the hill above the village, on the southern shore of East Loch Tarbert, are the remains of Tarbert Castle, fortified by Robert the Bruce in the 14th Century and rebuilt by James IV in 1494.

From Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbert, the Caledonain MacBrayne ferries sail to Port Ellen and Port Askaig on Islay, while coastal A84 continues south, providing spectacular views out to sea. At Tayinloan, there is a ferry service to the picturesque small island of Gigha where the gardens of Achamore House are a blaze of colour.

At Glenbarr Abbey there is the Clan MacAlister Visitor Centre and Museum. The road then sweeps onwards to bi-pass the popular Macrihanish golf club and Campbeltown Airport before swinging east to reach Campeltown.

The town of Campbeltown once boasted twenty eight Scotch Whisky distilleries but only three remain – Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia, all impressive. The town annually hosts the Mull of Kintyre Music Festival and Caledonian MacBrayne has recently introduced a seasonal ferry service to and from Ardrossan in North Ayrshire .

Celebrated in Sir Paul McCartney's iconic song, the headland of the Mull of Kintyre affords spectacular views across the North Channel towards the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland and the distant lump of Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast. It was here that the Scotti from Northern Ireland first landed to create their kingdom of Dál Riata, and close to the holiday village of Southend, with its serried ranks of caravans, there is a rocky outcrop featuring footprints alleged to be those of Saint Columba when he and his followers first set foot on Scottish soil in AD563.

On returning up the coast to Lochgilphead, the A816 provides an alternative route leading through the rural district of Knapdale to the north of Argyll passing through Kilmartin and Arduaine and eventually to the coastal town of Oban.

Kilmartin is a small village at the heart of Kilmartin Glen which houses the richest concentration of prehistoric sites in Scotland. Legend has it that a contingent of the fugitive Knights Templar arrived here from France after the Black Friday of 1307 and helped to forge the weaponry which allegedly won the Battle of Bannockburn for Robert the Bruce. An impressive array of 14th Century gravestones is to be seen carved with symbols of the Knights Templar.

More significant, however, are the remains of the Iron Age hill fort of Dunaad, which between AD500 and AD900 was the capital of the Kingdom of Dál Riata.

Before the Crinan Canal was created, Crinan was known as Port Righ, the King's Port, taking its name from its proximity to Dunaad. Duntrune Castle on the Poltalloch estate on the north side of Loch Crinan, was built in the 12th Century by the MacDougall Clan, but passed on to Clan Malcolm, who occupy it to this day.

Twelve miles south of Oban is Seil Island, separated from the mainland and accessed over the 18th Century humpback Clachan Bridge, popularly known as the ‘Bridge over the Atlantic.’ In the 18th and 19th Centuries, a number of small offshore islands – including Seil, Easdale, Luing and Belnahua – became the centre of the Scottish slate industry. On Seil there is now a small golf course, a yachting anchorage at Phuilladobhrain, and the Scottish Slate Islands Heritage Centre at Ellenabeich. A small ferry services the Folk Museum on the neighbouring island of Easdale.

As a terminal for steamships and ferries and following the advent of the railway in 1880, Oban, capital of the ancient district of Lorne, was rapidly transformed into a bustling Victorian resort of hotels and boarding houses and, with its strategic position, nothing much has changed since apart from there being a small airport at North Connel, and that seaplanes fly directly into the bay from Glasgow's seaplane terminal.

Oban town is twinned with Laurinburg in North Carolina, USA, and Gorey, County Wexford in Ireland. Pulpit Hill on the south side of the town is the classic viewpoint. Although McCaig's Folly, floodlit at night and modelled on the Colosseum in Rome, takes centre stage. Alas, its benefactor John Stuart McCaig died in 1902 before he could complete the project and it has remained as we see it today ever since.

One essential experience is a visit to the Oban Distillery, and another great attraction is the Argyllshire Gathering which takes place in August and attracts Highland dancers and pipers from far and wide. From Oban's horseshoe bay on the Firth of Lorne, ferries plough their routes to the islands of Lismore, Kerrera, Mull and Iona, Barra and the Uists.

On a 70ft high crag just north of the town sit the ruins of Dunollie Castle, ancestral home of Clan MacDougall who from opposing the accession of Robert the Bruce fell from influence and power in the early 14th Century.

Continuing north across the Connel Bridge into Benderloch (a mountain chain between the two arms of Loch Creran and Loch Etive), the A828 gives way to Appin where the road loops around Loch Creran then follows the edge of Loch Linnhe to Loch Leven. Standing on an islet on Loch Linnhe is the four-storey high tower house of Castle Stalker, gifted by a Duncan Stewart to gain the favour of King James V in 1450. Although privately owned, there are limited tours between May and August.

Back to Oban in the south, the A85 speeds towards Taynuilt and at a junction between Tyndrum and Crianlarich, the A82 points north and enters the bleak expanse of Rannoch Moor. Meanwhile, the A85 continues east passing the entrance road to the Inverawe Smoke House managed by the Campbell-Preston family. Inverawe House, which they still occupy, was a setting for Robert Louis Stevenson's ghostly poem Ticonderoga: a Legend of the West Highlands.

From Taynuilt, the A85 flanks the northern shore of Loch Awe before reaching its tip at Dalmally. Here, the remarkable Ben Cruachan Power Station, now in its 50th year, distributes water between Cruachan Reservoir and Loch Awe. On Innis Chonnell, an island in Loch Awe, are the ruins of the original 11th Century stronghold of Clan Campbell.

Recommended Itinerary

A circular route from Connel Bridge into Benderloch, via Barcaldine and Appin, and on to Ballachulish before swinging south again through Glencoe, Glen Etive and Rannoch Moor, passing Bridge of Orchy, and back on to the A85 at Tyndrum.

Distance: 97 miles
Approximate time by car (without delays): 2 hours

A828 Connel: A cantilever bridge spans Loch Etive at the Falls of Lora. In 1966, the bridge was converted for the exclusive use of road vehicles travelling through Appin.

A828 Benderloch: The name in Gaelic means ‘Mountain between two Lochs’, and Benderloch forms part of the Lynn of Lorn National Scenic Area.

A828 Appin: The road runs along the coast of Appin, which is the name given to the district bounded to the west by Loch Linnhe and to the south by Loch Creran.

A828 Port Appin: The village is situated to the north of Loch Creran where it meets the sea and there is a passenger ferry link to the island of Lismore. There are two excellent hotels, The Airds House Hotel & Restaurant, and the Pierhouse Hotel & Seafood Restaurant. Offshore, on an inlet of Loch Linnhe, with the Lynn of Lorne and Lismore beyond, is Castle Stalker, a four storey tower house.

South Ballachulish: The village is, strictly speaking, in Lochaber on the north side of Loch Leven, but nevertheless the southern section sits at the northern point of our route. As there was no road to the head of Loch Leven until 1927, the famous Ballachulish Ferry, established in 1773, operated until a road bridge was built in 1975.

A82 Glencoe: With Buchaille Etive Mòr standing over the mouth of this dramatic narrow glen, the village's name will forever be associated with a dark, wintry night in 1692 when a group of British Government
soldiers were ordered to murder the MacIan MacDonald clansmen and women who had provided them with shelter. The story is expertly told at the National Trust for Scotland's Glencoe Visitor Centre.

A82 Rannoch Moor: Fifty square miles of boggy moorland which have been designated a Special Area of Conservation. Not a place to run out of petrol.

B8074 Bridge of Orchy: The village sits on the West Highland Way. Considered to be one of the best white-water rivers in the UK, the bridge was built in the 17th Century by British Government soldiers
to help them pacify the rebellious Highland clans.

A82 Tyndrum: Just north of the village, the A82 meets the A85 as it travels from Perth and Crieff in the south towards Oban in the west. It was built over a battlefield site where Robert the Bruce was defeated
by Clan MacDougall in 1306. The Green Welly Stop shop is a popular stopover for visitors.

A85 Dalmally: Once part of the extensive Campbell of Breadalbane estates, the village sits on the old cattle and military road between Tyndrum and Oban. Two miles west of the village on the eastern side of
Loch Awe, are the ruins of Kilchurn Castle.

A85 Taynuilt: Situated on the River Nant before it flows into Loch Etive at Airds Bay, Taynuilt's prosperity began with the construction of the Bonawe Iron Furnace in 1753.

WHERE TO VISIT

1. Campbeltown Heritage Centre
Campbeltown PA28 6JU
Showcasing the history of Kintyre.
Tel: +44 (0) 7733 485 387
campbeltownheritagecentre.com


2. Castle House Museum
Argyll Street, Dunoon PA23 7HH
The story of the holiday resort of Dunoon from the early 19th Century.
Tel: +44 (0) 1369 701 422
castlehousemuseum.org.uk


3. Castle Stalker
Between Ballachulish and Connel
Former island stronghold of Clan McDougall, the Lords of Lorne, and Clan Stewart.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 740 315

4. Clan MacAlister Centre
Glenbarr Abbey, Tarbert PA29 6UT
Magnificent 18th Century residence incorporating Clan MacAlister Centre.
Tel: +44 (0) 1583 421 247
glenbarrabbey.org


5. Crarae Glen Gardens
Inveraray PA32 8YA
Beautiful National Trust for Scotland garden on Loch Fyne.
Tel: +44 (0) 8444 932 100
nts.org.uk/property/crarae-garden


6. Cruachan Power Station Visitor Centre
Dalmally PA33 1AN
The world's first high head reversible pumped storage hydro scheme.
Tel: +44 (0) 1866 822 618
visitcruachan.co.uk
castlestalker.com


7. Dunaad
A816 Lochgilphead PA31 8SU
Historic fort with footprint on rock where early Scottish kings were inaugurated.
Tel: +44 (0) 1847 851 473
kilmartin.org

8. Dunollie Museum, Castle and Grounds
Dunollie House, Oban PA34 5TT
Open from April. Gardens and seat of the Clan MacDougall.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 570 555
dunollie.org


9. Inverary Castle
Inveraray PA32 8XE
Magnificent ancestral seat of Clan Campbell and the earls and dukes of Argyll.
Tel: +44 (0) 1499 302 203
dunbeath-heritage.co.uk


10. Inveraray Gaol
Main Street, Inveraray PA32 8TX
Living museum incorporating an 18th Century prison.
Tel: +44 (0) 1499 302 381
inverarayjail.co.uk


11. Oban Distillery
Stafford Street, Oban PA34 5NH
Distillery tours of one of Scotland's oldest distilleries.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 572 004
oban.org.uk


12. Slate Islands Heritage Museum
13A Easdale Island, Argyll PA34 47B
A remarkable collection of social photographs and artefacts.
Tel: +44 (0) 1852 300 307
slateislands.org.uk


WHERE TO STAY

13. Ardanaiseig Hotel
Kilchrenan, Taynuilt, Argyll PA35 1HE
A historic country house. Winner of the SHA Country House Hotel of the Year Award 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1866 988 164
ardanaiseig.com


14. Ardtorna B&B
Barcaldine, Oban, Argyll PA37 1SE
Luxurious accommodation. Winner of SHA Guest House of the Year (Argyll & Lomond) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1831 720 125
ardtorna.co.uk


15. Bridge of Orchy Hotel
Bridge of Orchy, Argyll PA36 4AD
SHA Small Country House of the Year Regional Award 2014.
Tel: +44 (0) 1838 400 208
bridgeoforchy.co.uk


16. The Creggans Inn
Strachur, Argyll PA27 8BX
Family run inn with classy dining room. Winner of SHA Inn of the Year (Argyll & Lomond) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1369 860 279
creggans-inn.co.uk


17. Greystones
13 Dalriach Road, Oban, Argyll PA34 5ED
Boutique B&B with stunning views of Oban and an award winning restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 358 653
greystonesbar.co.uk


18. Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa
Isle of Eriska, Benderloch, Argyll PA37 1SD
Superb family run mansion house on a private island.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 720 371

19. Knockderry House Hotel
Shore Road, Cove, Argyll G84 ONX
Winner of SHA Small Country Hotel of the Year (Argyll & Lomond) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 842 283
knockderryhouse.co.uk


20. The Pierhouse Hotel
Port Appin, Argyll PA36 4DE
Winner of the SHA Family Hotel of the Year (Argyll & Lomond) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 730 302
pierhousehotel.co.uk


21. The Queen's Hotel
Corran Esplanade, Oban, Argyll PA34 5AG
Waterfront hotel with a great reputation, especially the Glen Campa restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 582 505
thequeenshotel-oban.co.uk


22 . Rosslea Hall Hotel
Ferry Road, Rhu, Argyll G84 8NF
A Victorian mansion with fine dining.
Tel: +44 (0) 1436 439 955
rossleahallhotel.com

23. Stonefield Castle Hotel
Tarbert, Loch Fyne PA29 6YJ
A baronial luxury hotel.
Tel: +44 (0) 8448 159 833
bespokehotels.com/stonefieldcastle


24. Taychreggan Hotel
Kilchrenan, Taynuilt, Argyll PA35 1HQ
Winner of the SHA Country Sports Hotel of the Year (Argyll & Lomond) 2015.
Tel: +44 (0) 1866 833 211
taychregganhotel.co.uk
eriska-hotel.com


WHERE TO EAT

25. The Airds Hotel and Restaurant
Port Appin PA38 4DF
Three Michelin Rosette award winning restaurant in converted ferry inn.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 730 236
airds-hotel.com


26. The Barn
Millcroft, Tighnabruich PA21 2BW
Relaxed family friendly restaurant located in small hamlet. A delight.
Tel: +44 (0) 1700 811 225
thebarnatmillcroft.co.uk


27. The Creggans Inn
Strachur PA27 8BX
Superlative dishes in MacPhunn's Bar & Restaurant or two AA Rosette Loch Fyne Dining Room.
Tel: +44 (0) 1369 860 279
creggans-inn.co.uk


28. Crinan Hotel
Lochgilphead PA31 8SR
Spoiled for choice between Westward Restaurant and Crinan Seafood Bar.
Tel: +44 (0) 1546 830 261
crinanhotel.com


29. Cuan Mor
80 George Street, Oban PA34 5SD
Food is locally sourced and there is home made beer.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 565 078
cuanmor.co.uk


30. Hawthorn Restaurant
5 Keil Crofts, Benderloch PA37 1QS
Family owned seasonal restaurant north of Oban, open May to October.
Tel: +44 (0) 1631 720 777
hawthorn-restaurant.co.uk


31. Loch Fyne Restaurant and Oyster Bar
Clachan, Cairndow PA26 8BL
The celebrated original oyster bar on the shore of Loch Fyne.
Tel: +44 (0) 1499 600 264
lochfyne.com


32. Monachyle Mhor
Balquhidder, Lochearnhead FK19 8PQ
Award winning restaurant overlooking loch.
Tel: +44 (0) 1877 384622
mhor.net


33. Muneroy
Campbeltown PA28 6RW
Home baking and freshly prepared dishes.
Tel: +44 (0) 1586 830 221
muneroy.co.uk


34. Oban Seafood Hut
Calmac Pier PA34 4DB
Lunch or dine on the pier. Great value.
Tel: +44 (0) 1234 578 445
obanseafoodhut.co.uk


35. Seafood Cabin
Skipness Estate, Tarbert PA29 6XU
Fresh seafood from Arran. Open May until September.
Tel: +44 (0) 1880 760 207
theseafoodcabin.co.uk


36. Starfish Restaurant
Castle Street, Tarbert PA29 6UH
Friendly small restaurant in the centre of town.
Tel: +44 (0) 1880 820 733
starfishtarbert.com