Local Riding, Fresh Water Fishing,
Walking, and Archaeological sites are all
Argyll is known as one of Europe’s greatest walking areas, and Kintyre has some of Argyll’s best walks to offer, from gentle strolls accessible by car, to some rather more rigorous stretches in outstanding scenery. The ‘Kintyre Way’, opened 2006, is a long distance walking route of 140km (87 miles) approximately, starting in Tarbert and finishing at Southend. A detailed leaflet is available from Visitor Information Centres and www.kintyreway.com There are excellent forest walks, several for example around the Carradale district, with perfect picnic spots, looking across the uplands of the spine of Kintyre and across the Kilbrannan Sound towards Arran and beyond; these are also popular for Cyclists, who will Appreciate the way marked “SUSTRANS” cycle route and facilities from Campbeltown to Claonaig, while a trip to Gigha is best enjoyed with a bicycle to reach all of the quiet corners of “God’s Island”. From dramatic Beinn Ghuilean, overlooking Campbeltown Loch, and easily accesible from the town, you can look across the Clyde towards Arran and Ayrshire, or out into the Atlantic to Islay and Jura.
Other walks include numerous coastal paths and beaches, such as the Gauldrons at Machrihanish, from where one can walk past the peak of Cnoy Moy and beautiful bays such as the “Inans”, via the Wildlife Reserve of Largiebaan all the way to the Mull of Kintyre. Accessible at Low Tide, after checking tide times with the Visitor Information Centre, is Davaar Island, with its unusual cave painting of the crucifixion. It is a memorable and disturbing vision.
Kintyre is well blessed with exceptional beaches, fine clean sand in numerous locations, but the long stretches at Westport, Southend and Tayinloan are perhaps the most popular for Water- sports; Surfing and Windsurfing is especially popular at Westport, one of Scotland’s best beaches for these activities, scene of competitions, yet beautifully unspoilt. There are both pontoons and moorings around Kintyre, and large numbers of yachts will be seen throughout the season enjoying Europe’s finest sailing waters, but especially during the Tarbert Series in May. There is a lively Music and Cultural scene, with several festivals during the year in various locations, which win international acclaim, both for their musical content, and their warm, friendly atmosphere. The Visitor Information Centres will always be pleased to advise on dates and venues for all of these activities.
Golfers will especially enjoy Kintyre for its fine choice of courses, five unique and diverse ones to choose from, but all very reasonably priced, and delightfully uncrowded.
Machrihanish, a classic links course, was described as far back as 1886, in a book by Alfred Barnard, as “...a golfing ground, said to be the best and most extensive in Scotland”. Today’s golfers will not be disappointed, and both 18 and 9-hole courses are offered. Dunaverty, another 18-hole course, is slightly shorter, but makes a very pleasant alternative, perhaps sligthly less challenging than its bigger neighbour. 9-hole courses at Tarbert, Carradale and on Gigha offer further variety, where keen golfer or beginner will enjoy their game. Even in the towns and villages, especially Campbeltown - the largest, Carradale and Machrihanish, deer and feral goats are regular visitors to domestic gardens, and various species like Buzzards and other birds of prey are found close to all of the villages in Kintyre. A casual walk in the forests around Carradale will bring one into contact with birds such as Siskin, Coaltit, Goldcrest, Woodcock and Owls. Red squirrel and Red, Sika and Roe deer may be seen in and around woodland areas whilst on the moorland and heathland areas, Slow-worms and Adders are present.
The Mealdarroch National Nature Reserve offers limited access opportunities, however the splendid walk from Tarbert to Skipness allows views of the native woodland, once common throughout Kintyre. The woodland consists of Oak, Rowan, Birch, Hazel, Holly, Ash and Elm providing ideal conditions for a profusion of Mosses, Liverworts and Ferns. Rhunahaorine Point and the surrounding farmland, is of international importance as a winter feeding area for geese, including Greenland White-Fronted and Greylag varieties. Occasionally, numbers of Barnacle, Brent and Pink-footed geese can also be seen. At dusk, they fly to roosts on the upland lochs including Lussa and Tangy Lochs.
Walks into the interior will provide further opportunities to view many specialised plants including sundews and butterworts, mainly found on peatland, water lilies and bog bean on upland pools and lochans. Moorland birds such as Red Grouse, Golden Plover, Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles are present, but may require early starts to afford best viewing opportunities.
Uisaed Point and the Gauldrons are found by following the road right through Machrihanish to where it ends close to the Marine Research Station. (Parking is restricted). This is without doubt the best location in Kintyre for watching seabirds and passing migrants, particularly at first light following stormy weather at sea. Almost 200 bird species have been recorded from this location including several rarities. Seals and Otters are seen regularly, and porpoises and whales occasionally. Walking southward along the coast for half a mile brings you to a dramatic bay backed by an amphitheatre of cliffs, the Gauldrons, where several interesting plant species can be found.
Largiebaan can be reached by continuing along the coast from the Gauldrons, mentioned above or from the B842 leaving Campbeltown taking the single track road which is signposted to Homeston Farm. About one mile aiong this road (on the right) is an unsurfaced road, follow this to the deserted steading at Glenahanty, proceed on foot to Largiebaan Farm, beyond which follow the 220 metre contour through a forestry plantation, across the shoulder of Cnoc Moy, until the sea cliffs are reached at Rubha Duin Bhain. This is a strenuous walk, and the cliffs are dangerous so care is required. The majestic section of coastline is now an Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) reserve. The cliffs support nationally important plant species including Alpine varieties. Such species include Yellow Milkvetch, Mountain Avens and Purple Saxifrage. Again birds of prey are present and a population of wild goats are established along this coastline, using many of the caves for shelter.
Walk in the footsteps of Saints and Kings, and the magic spell of Scotland’s only mainland island will capture your imagination, as it has other visitors for thousands of years. Many have tried to keep Kintyre for themselves, but the beauty of Kintyre is a secret that just cannot be kept. A scenic trail indeed, easy to follow, yet wit delight the eye, in which to re-charge your batteries for the hectic world outside.
On the dramatic Atlantic Seaboard of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, a temperate climate fed by the warmth of the North Atlantic drift makes Kintyre an all year round destination, with a quality of scenery matched by a choice of accommodation to suit all tastes. The food is world renowned, especially the locally caught seafood, Campbeltown cheeses and the beef and lamb produced in the lush farmland coveted by so many invaders. Todays local whisky follows tradition claimed by some to go back to Saint Columba himself, who, it is rumoured, first distilled “The water of life” - Uisge bheatha - here. From being the cradle of Whisky making, Kintyre became its capital too, with a distilling industry growing from a few illicit stills to 34 distilleries producing nearly 2 million gallons of whisky a year; the song “Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky...” was never far from the truth!
Whether you arrive by Road, Ferry or Air, and follow it by Car, Cycle or on Foot, the Kintyre Trail will enchant you. When you are long back in the outside world, you will find yourself day-dreaming of the land of Saints and Kings, sunsets and seascapes...
People have lived at the head of Campbeltown Loch for many thousands of years, and throughout Kintyre lie the visible signs of the many who have lived and died here, each adding their own bright fragile strand to its history. Many influences are to be found in the names of places and people here, from the Bronze and Iron ages, then early Christians, through the Kingdom of Dalriada, the Norse invaders, the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and the brutal Covenanters of the 17th Century. All have left their mark carved in the landscape, and today in many places, you can easily see and touch for yourself, the evidence from the Bronze age onwards of those who have ruled, lived and worked the land here.
No relic is perhaps more poignant than the gravestones which mark their passing, among the finest to be found in Europe, and part of a resource of world class quality. Many Churches and Graveyards in Kintyre hold carved crosses and slabs which record Warriors and Saints, Shepherds and Lords, Farmers and Fishermen of past generations. Shown here is one of these, which you can see at Saddell Abbey. The grave of Donald McNair and his father Neil shows a Knight, wearing gauntlets, now dead for six hundred years, yet only yesterday in today’s Kintyre, as McNairs farm land near Saddell to this very day
Standing Stones, 34 at least in Kintyre, reach back into Neolithic times as far as 2500BC, and burial cairns of Neolithic farmers like that still standing on Blasthill Farm by Southend, emphasise for just how long Kintyre has been a fertile agricultural area. The many Bronze and Iron Age Forts and “Duns” give a hint to how long this land has been fought over too. Kildonan Dun, a few miles south of Saddell dates from perhaps as early as 200BC, built with stone walls, well preserved, on a rocky hill by the shore next to the road. Artefacts from it are to be seen in Campbeltown Museum, and help us to understand how sites like it had already stood there for 1500 years when Donald MacNair passed away.
By 300AD, the Gaelic-speaking Irish tribe, called Scotti by the Romans, started crossing the North Channel from Antrim to Kintyre, founding a kingdom called Dalriada after their home area in Ireland.
By the 6th century they had spread throughout what is now called Argyll - “The coastland of the Gael”. In 843AD Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada became the ruler of a joint kingdom of Piets and Scots, and within 200 years Gaelic language and culture had penetrated to almost every corner of the kingdom, now called “Scotland.” By 500AD there were important forts throughout Argyll but including Tarbert, Dunaverty (at Southend), and on some of the islands.
Above the medieval chapel at Southend, on a rocky outcrop, two footprints are carved in the rock. One of them is known to have been carved by a local stonemason in 1856, but the other (nearest Ireland) is ancient and perhaps was used in the inauguration of kings, who would promise to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. St. Columba sailed to Iona in 563AD, and landed in Kintyre at that time to pay his respects to the ruler of Dalriada. The outline of a rectangular building to ^ the West of the footprints may just be all that remains of an Early Christian chapel, possibly established by Columba himself, since the medieval chapel below is dedicated to him. In the distance the island of Sanda reminds us that Columba was not the first to bring Christianity to Kintyre, for there the chapel dedication is to St. Ninian of Whithorn, who died in 422AD.
The great Celtic war-leader Somerled, who freed Argyll from Viking dominance in 1156, founded the Cistercian Abbey at Saddell which spearheaded a flourishing of
13th century. One of the churches built at this time is the chapel of Kilcolmkill which lies just to the North of the main road, a mile West of the village of Southend.
Around this time the origins of Tarbert Castle were founded on a Dalriadic stronghold, the oldest surviving parts built for the Lord of the Isles in the 13th Century, but it was enlarged and strengthened by King Robert the Bruce. He repeated the feat of Magnus Barefoot, in dragging his ship over the narrow isthmus, this time to fulfil a prophesy of final victory over the English.
But the darkest deed in Kintyre’s history must be the dreadful massacre at Dunaverty Castle in 1647, when after the Battle of Rhunahaorine Moss, the remnants of MacDonald’s army surrendered at Dunaverty after a siege and were murdered by the Covenanters under General David Leslie. Little was left to bear witness to the destruction of a site fortified for a thousand years.
In more genteel times, Kintyre became so justly famous for farming and its whisky, served for decades until recently by Steamers, like the Waverley, which still visits in Summer, to remind us all of the great seafaring history of the area, and happier times than those which came before.