Argyll & the Isles
Argyll is a district characterised by its long sea lochs and the fact that you very often have to drive round them, rather than take a ferry across. This means that you can take in much of the lovely surrounding scenery on the way. From the Mull of Kintyre in the south, up to nearly Fort William in the north, it provides a wealth of attractions.
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A Wealth of Beautiful Countryside to Explore
The landscape of the whole of the west coast of Scotland is one of the most superb in the world - it is a part of Scotland not to be missed. Argyll & Bute lies on the southern section of the west coast and is characterised by the long peninsula of Kintyre, many long sea lochs penetrating deep into the mainland and magnificent views inland towards the mountains and seaward towards the islands.
The Isle of Bute is known for its fabulous beaches. Its satellite Inchmarnock lies to the west.
The main islands in the southern part of this region are Bute, Islay, Jura and Colonsay, whereas further north, opposite Oban, lie the islands of Lismore, Mull, Iona, Coll and Tiree.
Apart from the stunning scenery, there are many activities on offer - watersports, walking, challenging mountain climbing, golfing (eg. at Machrihanish at the Mull of Kintyre), mountain biking, horse riding and many more. Even if you are not into sailing, it is still interesting to watch yachts navigate the Crinan Canal near Lochgilphead. The area is steeped in history, for example, the early Christian settlement at Iona and the prehistoric site at Kilmartin Glen.
The Cowal Peninsula
The Cowal peninsula can be accessed via the A83 turn-off at Tarbet at the head of Loch Lomond or the A814 from Helensburgh along the banks of Gare Loch and Loch Long. Alternatively, a shorter route is by ferry from Gourock to Dunoon which is the main settlement in the Cowal peninsula.
The first area you reach when entering Cowal is the Argyll Forest Park which includes the Arrochar Alps, ideal for expert climbers, the highest peak being Ben Ime at over 1000 metres and the distinctive Cobbler at about 900 metres. There are also less challenging climbs and many walks through beautiful scenery. The A83 climbs steeply up to the pass at the 'Rest and Be Thankful' (where the single-track B828 leads to the village of Lochgoilhead and the ruins of the 15th century Carrick Castle used by James IV). The A815 (off the A83 before Cairndow and the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden) leads to the eastern part of the Cowal peninsula whilst the A886 (at Strachur) passes through the more western section.
The road travels through the Argyll Forest Park along the steep banks of the long but narrow Loch Eck and past the internationally renowned Benmore Younger Gardens where there are many woodland walks through the exotic species of trees and shrubs which flourish in the warm Gulf Stream, and nearby forest walks.
Dunoon has a magnificent setting overlooking the Firth of Clyde with views to the mountains. The town was a popular Victorian seaside resort and was more recently used as a US naval base. The town hosts the internationally famous Cowal Highland Gathering in August featuring hundreds of bagpipe bands. It is also worth visiting the exotic birds at the Cowal Bird Gardens at Sandbank.
The western coast follows the long sea loch of Loch Fyne but the road travels inland to the tiny village Glendaruel, shortly after which the A8003 leads past Loch Riddon and the fabulous views towards the Kyles of Bute (a sailor's paradise), to Tighnabruaich, popular with yachtsmen and where there is an excellent sailing school.
The road from Glendaruel leads to the Colintraive and Ardentraive from which there is a ferry across to the large island of Bute. A narrow road leads over the hills from Glendaruel to Otter Ferry on the west coast overlooking Loch Fyne and there are several fine restaurants along the B8000 travelling north.