After a busy and successful season last year, Fyne Sea Tours went in search of some well-earned ‘down time’ and what better place to chill out than on the Kintyre Peninsula.
This remote region of Argyll with its magical views, windswept beaches and mystical historical stories to tell makes it a unique corner of Scotland.
If you haven’t travelled to this area before then we recommend you put it on your ‘destinations to go to’ list. We want to share with you our adventure following the Kintyre 66 route which is a new 66 mile loop of the peninsula and describe some of its delights along the way.
Included in your visit to this area could be a boat tour?
We know a really good boat tour operator in the area!
The Mainland Island
This 30 mile peninsula, with a multitude of places to visit, deep seated history to digest and without question, awesome vistas of sea, sky and islands, it oozes with remoteness resembling being on an island rather than on mainland Scotland.
It is quite unbelievable that it is approximately 140 miles or four hours by road from Glasgow to the peninsula and yet only 37 miles as the crow flies.
On our travels, taking in the windswept views across the Kilbrannan Sound to the east and the Sound of Jura to the west definitely gave us a feeling of isolation akin to being on a distant island.
Room with a View
Our base for our visit was Stonefield Castle, a baronial manor, just north of the traditional working harbour of Tarbert. Technically in the area of Knapdale but a perfectly good location for discovering Kintyre. Built in 1837 and sitting in 350 acres of woodland landscape, Stonefield Castle was the seat of the Campbell family until the mid 1940’s when it was sold to Captain Edmond Sears who converted it to a hotel.
The grandeur of the place is brought to life by the high-ceilinged hall and rooms, walls decorated with artwork and pieces of antique furniture, not forgetting the sweeping dark wood staircase.
Our excitement at staying in a castle was topped by having a room with a view overlooking Loch Fyne across to the rolling hills of the Cowal Peninsula. Even Crystal Reluctant Sea Dog was happy and showed enthusiasm at being allowed admittance into the bar as well as our bedroom!
A Trip to Tarbert
After a delicious full breakfast, we set off to explore, driving into Tarbert with its harbour and Robert the Bruce Castle sat on the hillside.
Over the years we have grown fond of this working town, as our children have grown up, with its coloured villas, pier, jetty slipway and small independent shops.
Many a time have we enjoyed family walks up to the castle, taking advantage of the impressive viewpoint down onto the town, where Robert the Bruce is said to have resided in his midlife around the early 1300’s.
The ruins of the castle (only parts of it are left now,) are in part due to the stone from its walls being used to build the harbour wall in the 1800’s when the herring industry grew here.
A busy bustling town back then compared to the slower pace of life nowadays.
Heading south on the A83 we travelled by the shores of west Loch Tarbert. A map or sea chart shows that there is a narrow neck of land about two miles in distance between Tarbert which lies on east Loch Tarbert and west Loch Tarbert.
In 1093 Magnus Barefoot (not making this up) who was King of Norway at this time is said to have sat at the helm of his galley whilst his men dragged his vessel across the short expanse of land in return for him being able to take the ‘island of Kintyre’ as his own.
Maybe that is why there is still a sense of ‘island living’ here.
A Frontier Castle
Turning left onto the B8001 we travelled across the peninsula to the opposite shore, passed the ferry terminal at Claonaig to the pretty hamlet of Skipness. With the sun appearing from the clouds, shards of bright light produced spectacular, eye catching views across the Kilbrannan Sound towards the rugged outline of Arran.
There is yet another castle to explore here. Clan MacSween built Skipness Castle in the early 13th century and occupied it until into the 1600’s.
Walking round this castle, with its commanding location and remoteness, reinforced to us how important these stone structures must have been for the MacSween clan protecting what was their territory.
Luckily we didn’t meet the ghost of The Green Lady of Skipness who is said to still frequent this frontier castle.
Turning to head back to the car we passed Skipness Seafood Cabin which was closing for the season. Having begun life in a trailer in the late 1980’s, it increased in popularity and now serves delicious local food from a cabin by the shore. Another ‘must do’ on our next visit.
Hidden Kintyre Treasures
Continuing on our travels south on the B842 we drove through the small villages of Crossaig, Cour and Grogport with their commanding views across the water over to the north western shores of Arran.
There are many archeological ‘finds’ in Kintyre of which two can be found in Grogport. We didn’t get out of the car here but there are remnants of a Bronze Age Cist, or stone burial chamber, estimated to date back to approximately 2000 BC and known locally as ‘The Sailors’ Grave.’ There is also a peculiarly shaped and cup-marked boulder, which has mysteriously named The Priest’s Chair. There’s so much to discover here.
Time to Stop in Carradale
The twisting road continued to take us into Carradale where we stopped for a drink at Glen Bar Restaurant. The area was busy due to an organised running event being held there.
As a small fishing village, Carradale’s first pier was built in 1858, as the herring industry thrived in this part of Scotland. There is still a fishing fleet, now dealing in shellfish.
This is also the place where suffragette Flora Drummond died in 1949.
Happy School Days
Just south of Carradale as the road dips and sweeps to the left the impressive stone pillars and gates of Torrisdale Castle come into view (yes, another castle!) Built in 1815, and home of the Macalister family, who run self-catering accommodation on the estate.
It is also the home of Beinn an Tuirc Distillery where Kintyre Gin has been produced since 2017. If gin is your tipple I highly recommend this one, from personal experience, which uses water sourced from the hill from which it takes its name. ‘Beinn an Tuirc’ means ‘The Hill of the Wild Boar’ and is the highest point in Kintyre above the distillery.
It even has a Gin School where you can blend your very own bespoke gin to take home. It’s a pity we did not have time to stop here to partake, so it’s another great excuse to return.
The Famous Castle of Kintyre
Venturing further south through Saddell (derived from the norse meaning of sandy dale) where there is an abbey and a bay with a late Iron Age hillfort called Kildonan Dun also has a castle (I’m beginning to lose count now) which appeared in Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” music video. Luckily for Crystal Reluctant Sea Dog who was snoozing in the back of the Landrover, we declined the opportunity to burst into song as we drove passed!
Caves and Castles at Campbeltown
As we dropped down into Campbeltown, a former burgh town, with its imposing villas on our right and views of the town, harbour, waterfront and Campbeltown Loch to the left, there is a sense of that lost grandeur from back in its heyday.
I would be lying if I said there wasn’t another castle here in Campbeltown. Yes, another one! The castle of Lochend once stood at the top of Castlehill but in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms appears to have been razed to the ground in 1647 where there is now a church on the site.
We parked by the waterfront, eating our sandwiches, gazing out to Davaar Island. This tidal island, linked to the mainland by a natural shingle causeway called the Dhorlin is known for its seven caves, one of which contains a life size cave painting depicting the crucifixion. Caves but no castle here.
Walking round the town we passed Springbank, one of three whisky distilleries in the town. Once proclaimed the ‘whisky capital of the world,’ Campbeltown boasted 34 distilleries! It’s probably thankful these distilleries are shut now otherwise we might never have left the town.
A Beach to Take Your Breath Away
On leaving Campbeltown completely sober we headed in a northwest direction on the A83 towards the west coast of the peninsula. After the calmness of the sheltered east of this finger of land, the force of the weather, arriving from the North Atlantic, hit us we stumbled on an absolute gem of a place called Westport Beach. We’re sure Crystal Reluctant Sea Dog, with her ears in a vertical position could have become airborne on several occasions in the windy conditions as we walked along the sand.
Stretching over six miles, Westport Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the west coast of Scotland. We watched surfers taking advantage of the atlantic waves as they came crashing in. The Machrihanish Dunes here are a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) and its the biggest sand dune area in Argyll.
I’m so pleased I had my new binoculars with me to zoom in on the delights of this beach and its breath-taking views out to sea.
An Archipelago of Islands
Continuing northwards, hugging the coast road, we experienced jaw dropping views of Islay and Jura out to sea. With the mighty Paps of Jura towering down on the islands of Gigha, Cara and Gigalum in the foreground this had to be the highlight of our trip. The vista was spectacular.
These Inner Hebridean islands are famous for their peaty, single malts and Jura is where George Orwell intermittently lived, completing his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four.’
Travelling on passed the ferry terminals of Tayinloan to Gigha and Eilean Ceann Na Creige to Islay we were once again, nearing Tarbert, having completed our day trip around the Kintyre 66 loop.
The Fyne Sea Tours crew (remember the boat tour operator I mentioned earlier) were suitably chilled having thoroughly enjoyed their exploration of this remote yet charming part of western Scotland.
With many places still to explore, (including some distilleries) on this peninsula, we will be keeping Kintyre on our ‘destinations to go to’ list.
Kintyre is still calling!