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.
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.
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.
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.