MORE FROM SCOTLAND MAGAZINE
Visit the places that inspired Paul McCartney along Scotland’s latest touring route, on the Kintyre peninsula, where you’ll find history, beaches and whisky galore…
How do you fancy a road trip with Paul McCartney, an adventure alive with big skies, sweeping beaches, award-winning whisky distilleries, remarkable local produce and Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema? Welcome to the Kintyre 66, Scotland’s newest driving route – the country’s very own Route 66 on the Kintyre Peninsula. If you explore it soon, you can savour this region without the crowds, as I discovered when I took to its empty roads with McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre blasting out of the car’s stereo.
The hugely popular North Coast 500, this is not. The lesser-known Kintyre 66 started as a bit of a joke, as Niall Macalister Hall, owner of the Kintyre Peninsula’s Beinn an Tuirc Distillers, tells me as I sample one of his crisp gins while overlooking Kintyre. “The more we thought about it, the more the Kintyre 66 was the perfect way for people to explore this criminally ignored peninsula,” he beams, delighted people have instantly taken to his creation in a part of Scotland that has long been off the main tourist map.
Kintyre hasn’t always been ignored. This Kintyre Peninsula was once a fulcrum of the embryonic Scottish nation – an anchor of the Scottish tribes, long before Robert the Bruce and Bannockburn. The starting point of the Kintyre 66 is on the peninsula’s northern tip, in Tarbert, on the shores of Loch Fyne.
It’s ideal – the fishing fleet still busies in and out of the working harbour, and I enjoy boat-fresh scallops and lobster in the Starfish restaurant on the historic waterfront. Robert the Bruce joins me, or at least his ghost who still haunts the rugged ruins of Tarbert Castle just above the village. I unfurl a map of the route which is handily circular, and plan stops and which of the six spurs off the main loop to tackle.
I track the A83 south, out of Tarbert, in the wake of the Vikings, who dragged their longships across the narrow isthmus from the Atlantic and claimed Kintyre as their own ‘island’. It brings me to the ocean and a necklace of white sand beaches that accompany me most of the way south. McCartney is singing as I sweep along, snatching glimpses of the isles of Jura (where George Orwell wrote 1984) and the community-owned Gigha. The latter is one of the route’s spurs. I resist the temptation to nip over to Gigha to dine again at the sublime Boathouse and laze on its beaches, but if you have time, you shouldn’t resist.
A trip along the Kintyre 66 is best when you slow right down. It’s not a long route, so you can stop off without worrying about having a huge distance to drive afterwards. My longest stop on day one is at Westport Beach, where I join a sprinkling of local dog walkers on a massive beach that soars between hill and ocean. I switch the music now to Andy Stewart’s ditty Campbeltown Loch, hoping – as he did – to find the town’s famous loch awash with whisky.
This remote outpost on the southern fringes of Kintyre used to be a major whisky hub, with more than 30 distilleries producing a volley of malts. At one point, it was said that more money flowed through Campbeltown’s Glebe Street than the whole City of London.
Grand merchant houses still preside over the town and myriad church spires vault across its grand skyline. The most striking religious site is the Campbeltown Cross, one of the finest in all Argyll. In the 20th century, Campbeltown fell into serious decline, and at one point it looked as though it might lose all its whisky distilleries. Mercifully, I find that it has turned a corner, and there is now a trio of whisky distilleries producing an excellent range of malts.
This is an extract. Read the full feature in the March/April issue of Scotland, out on 18 February.
Published six times a year, every issue of Scotland showcases its stunning landscapes and natural beauty, and delves deep into Scottish history. From mysterious clans and famous Scots (both past and present), to the hidden histories of the country’s greatest castles and houses, Scotland‘s pages brim with the soul and secrets of the country.
Scotland magazine captures the spirit of this wild and wonderful nation, explores its history and heritage and recommends great places to visit, so you feel at home here, wherever you are in the world.