UK Road Trip: Argyll, Scotland

Argyll is in the western Scottish Highlands, just south of Skye and west of Edinburgh. is filled with beauty, water, wonder, and lots of cows!


The natural beauty and splendour of Argyll are stunning and include 23 inhabited islands with beaches, and seven National Nature Reserves as well as the rugged mainland and coastal fjords. Whisky-making is perhaps its most famous industry, boasting many of the country's finest whiskies.

One of the region's most significant legacies is its whisky-producing roots. Home to the islands of Islay and Jura, the region is home to twenty different distilleries producing not just whisky, but gins, vodkas and other spirits too. Many books, including Robert Louis Steveson's Kidnapped feature Argyll as a setting.


On this road trip, we had rented a campervan, which we promptly dubbed "The Zedbra Van" and were driving our way from Dublin to London in a great and meandering loop. However, you can also get around by bus or train. There is a small airport at Oban which offers flights to nearby islands. Tarbert

Our first stop was in Tarbert, next to Loch Fyne and known as the gateway to the peninsula of Kintyre. This lovely town is centered around a picturesque harbour with the shops, restaurants, and galleries wrapped around the shoreline. The harbour includes many working fishing boats with fresh catch featured in most of the restaurants but also attracts a yachting crowd.

Tarbert Castle

The ruins of Tarbert Castle are on the Kintyre Peninsula. The castle is important for its connection to Robert the Bruce. The earliest structures on the site have been dated from the 13th century. In 1325, Robert the Bruce enlarged and fortified the castle, adding an extensive curtain wall and drum towers. It is open year-round and budget travellers will appreciate that there is no cost to visit.


Kilmartin Glen Kilmartin Glen was along our route and as huge Diana Gabaldon fans, we couldn't miss a chance to see cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. The Glen has one of the most important groupings of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

Carnasserie Castle

One of the first things to notice, as you enter the site, is Carnasserie Castle, high up on the hill. There is no entrance free to climb the towers to enjoy the incredible view from the top. This beautiful Renaissance tower was built in the 16th Century by the first Protestant Bishop of the Isles, John Carswell, in honour of the Campbell Earl of Argyll. The Earl apparently liked the elegance but not the location. The castle was attacked once in the 17th Century. The garrison accepted a bribe and surrendered, setting the castle on fire as they left. The castle was never restored.

Kilmartin Glen Standing Stones

There are several sets of ancient sites within the Kilmartin Glen. The most interesting, in my opinion, are the Nether Largie set of 5 standing stones. These stone are arranged in an X-shaped pattern rather than the usual circle.

All of the Standing Stones are about 3 metres tall. The middle stone includes cup and ring marks that were carved over 4500 years ago. The ancient traveller communities often camped in this area and believed that touching the stones was bad luck... so be careful if you were considering trying out the Outlander experience!

Ancient Burial Cairns

Throughout the Kilmartin Glen site are the many, many burial cairns of all sorts of sizes and shapes. Most of the burial areas were used around 5000 years ago. Five of these cairns are found near Nether Largie. Visitors can climb inside the largest.

Temple Wood

In the field next to Nether Largie in an area called Temple Wood are several monuments that were originally a circle of wooden posts placed about 5,000 years ago. It is thought that the circles were a form of a calendar that was used as hunter-gatherers began to transition to farming. Later the wooden posts were replaced by upright stones and a new larger circle was built nearby.

The site was eventually abandoned and became covered. In the 19th Century a local landowner financed the excavation and added landscaping and named this area Temple Wood.

Dunadd Fort

Many casual visitors may miss the significance of the great hill at Kilmartin. This is where the remains of the Dunadd Fortress are located. This was the heart of the Gaelic Kingdom between 500 and 800 AD. It is thought that this is where the coronation of Kings would happen.

Visitors will be intrigued by the footprint carved into the stone. It is speculated that the kings placed their foot into this carving as part of the coronation ceremony and to confirm any proclamations to his people. In a nod to the legend of the Sword in the Stone, while I was there, I did hear a local telling his young son that if his foot fit, then he would be the new king... poor lad had a much tinier foot than required.

Kilmartin Village and Church

The tiny village of Kilmartin is also worth a brief stop to explore Kilmartin Church, its graveyard and its interesting gravestones and old burial slabs.


The slabs would have been placed over the graves of notable warriors, priests, and clan chiefs. Most are from the 1200s to the 1700s and are decorated with designs that give interesting insights into the community at the time. Many include swords but there are also carvings of dogs and farming tools.

The most anncient slabs were brought inside the church to prevent further weather. Some of these date from about 200 AD.

A special treat were these enterprising young lad performing outside the churchyard. I think the drummer's Mam made him do it. There weren't a lot of people visiting but I would guess they made enough in tips for some sweets.

Commando Memorial Near Lochabar, alongside the highway on the way to Fort Williams is the Commando Memorial. Many of Britain's soldiers trained in the Highlands before serving in WWII. There are also memorials to those lost in more recent actions.

The memorial includes a statue of three bronze soldiers looking out across the Glen. There is also a remembrance garden where the ashes of many commandos now rest. On a clear day, the monument commands excellent views of Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest summit)


Oban

The small town of Oban is often referred to as the "Gateway to the Islands" because of the ferry port but it also has a lovely promenade and harbour. A rather surprising feature on the hill is McCaig's Tower, also known as McCaig's Folly built by John McCaig. He was a fan of Roman architecture and wanted to build a personal legacy as well as support the local economy by providing construction jobs. Work began in 1895 when McCaig was in his 70s. The work was only partially complete when he passed and his family did not want to continue to build. It is now part of a public park and residential area.

Oban is also the original home of the Oban whisky distillery (The Scots spell whisky without an "e"). This is one of the oldest and smallest distilleries in Scotland. It has been in this location since 1794 before the town was founded. After a refurbishment in the 1890s little has been changed. Tours include seeing the process of the distillation, tastings of different-aged whiskies, and an interesting museum and gift shop.

We stayed at the local campsite on the hill, Oban Caravan and Campsite. We enjoyed the tremendous views in every direction.

I've barely scratched the surface of this beautiful area of Scotland. There are many trails and towns needing more exploration. Argyll is full of adventures and a road trip is an idea way to find some hidden gems. The three days we spent in the area were a sampler, once again proving that there is no way to see everything on any single trip.

 

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