The Kintyre Peninsula gained it's title 'Scotland's only mainland island' thanks to King Magnus Barefoot in 1098.
A treaty between the Viking Magnus and the Scots stated that if his boat could pass between an island and the mainland, the island would be considered Norwegian - to pass between Kintyre and the mainland, Magnus stood at the helm of his longboat and his followers dragged it across the land. As a result Kintyre became part of Norway until it was returned to the Scots in 1266.
The Viking occupation is just one of the many historic chapters of this pretty peninsula and as you travel around today with the stunning and peaceful scenery unfolding around you it is hard to imagine that this area was the setting of another infamous MacDonald massacre in 1647 when approximately 300 men were murdered by The Covenanters at Dunaverty Castle in Southend.
Standing stones, ruined chapels, castles and prehistoric caves scattered around the landscape are reminders of the many civilizations that have called this place home over the centuries.
I'm ashamed to admit this was my first visit to Kintyre as I always thought it was a bit too far to travel to when I lived in Glasgow and I wasn't sure if it was worth the three hour drive to Campbeltown, the main town on the peninsula. Since moving to Bute last year, Kintyre is now my neighbour just across the water and it has been tantalizingly calling me over to visit since I arrived. It is also much easier to get to as a 30 minute drive on the mainland to Portavadie and a 25 minute ferry journey means that I can be at Tarbert and the head of Kintyre in approx an hour. Although the ferry is not the cheapest option I decided on this occasion that it was worth it to save time driving there and would give me more time to explore once I arrived.
I had booked accommodation at Machrihanish, about three quarters of the way down the west coast and other than that my only plan was to drive clockwise and follow the coast around the peninsula, stopping off anywhere that sounded interesting and trying to visit all the main settlements to see what they had to offer.
My first stop on arrival from the ferry was Tarbert, a pretty fishing port with a picturesque harbour and a hilltop castle makes this the most photogenic little town. On arrival I made my way up to Tarbert Castle, a short. easy climb. There is not much of the building remaining, although it was once a Royal Castle of significant importance with connections to Robert the Bruce. The views from the hilltop are some of the prettiest I've come across in Scotland and a pleasant introduction to the area.
Tarbert has plenty of eating options, pubs and a small selection of shops. Walking around the harbour provides the opportunity to admire the varied boats including a couple of traditionally designed Loch Fyne Skiffs.
I really enjoyed the short time I spent in Tarbert and it is a place I immediately fell in love with so I know I will be returning sooner rather than later and giving myself more time to savour the scenery.
A short detour from the tourist road takes you along the rocky coastline popular with campervans to the little village of Skipness. To be honest had it not been for the signpost to the Castle I might have missed going here altogether. I didn't know anything about Skipness Castle before parking up and following the short wooded walk to this grand structure which was first started in the 13th Century. As I exited the trees and the castle was revealed in all it's glory I was suitably impressed and even more so by the fact it was free to visit.
Although it is technically a ruin, it is still a considerable size with several floors and dark nooks and crannies to explore. Standing in the dimly lit rooms and negotiating the dark staircases certainly sent my imagination into overdrive about what it must have been like to live there.
The biggest surprise was finding a little wooden door at the top of the stairs leading onto the roof with magnificent 360 degree views. I have to be honest and say this is among one of the best castles I've visited in Scotland and I'm so glad I made the detour to get there as it was one of the highlights of my weekend.
There is also a Chapel nearby dedicated to St Brendan and although I didn't have time to visit it apparently has some interesting carved medieval tombstones.
As I continued on south towards Carradale i found myself stopping every 5 minutes to take in the breathtaking scenery towards Arran. Photos just don't do it justice but I would highly recommend taking the scenic route if you do visit Kintyre just for the views.
In need of tea break I was delighted to find Nellie B's, a quirky dog friendly cafe with WiFi and homebaking, in other words the perfect stop! This is the place to hire bikes and buggies and there is also a little heritage display opposite the cafe.
As I enjoyed my coffee and cake I helped myself to some of the information leaflets and discovered that Carradale is a great place to explore the outdoors. Forest trails, mountain biking, river walks, geocaching and wildlife spotting made me wish I had more time there to enjoy some of my favourite pursuits. After refueling I made my way to the harbour for a short walk before heading to Campbeltown.
The historic Royal Burgh of Campbeltown has been occupied for over 8000 years and is the main town on the Kintyre Peninsula. With historic buildings, a colourful harbour and surrounding green hills there is a variety of interesting scenery to enjoy as you walk around. Sights to look out for include one of the oldest cinemas in the world, the Linda McCartney memorial garden and the heritage centre.
As you would expect with a large town there are plenty of places to eat and drink and a range of shops, including two supermarkets.
Once home to 34 whisky distilleries Campbeltown was known as 'the whisky capital of the world'. Now only three distilleries remain, Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank, which is the oldest independent and family owned distillery in Scotland. It is also the only distillery in Scotland to carry out the entire whisky production process, including the traditional floor malting, maturation and bottling, on its premises.
Before arriving I couldn't find information on tour times, however a notice board outside stated they take place at 10am and 2pm, Monday - Saturday, and the visitor centre is open 9am - 5pm. I was disappointed to miss the tours this time around as I am partial to a Springbank dram!
Davaar Island lies just off the coast from Campbeltown and is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide. One of the sea caves on the island has a famous painting of the crucifixion and this is another place I have added to my list for a future visit.
After a long day I was glad to arrive at my accommodation at Machrihanish Holiday Park and my cosy glamping hut for the night. After making the most of the electric kettle for a welcome cup of tea I was ready to find a suitable spot to watch the sunset.
A short distance along the road there is access to the beach through the golf course, however I decided to head a bit further along past the sea bird observatory and found a spot on the rocks near the trig point. With the churning sea and crashing waves I could really appreciate why this area is a popular surf spot and it was hypnotic watching the white horses roll towards the beach below.
The sunset was pretty but not the most spectacular I have seen which was not surprising considering the rain and clouds that made frequent appearances during the day. I have no doubts that on the right day this would be the perfect spot to admire a stunning sunset over the Atlantic and behind Islay.
At the end of a busy day exploring and travelling my little hut was the perfect picturesque refuge for a sound nights sleep.
Mull of Kintyre
Day 2 and time to explore the most southwestern tip of the peninsula at Mull of Kintyre. I have to be honest and say that while 'the mist rolling in from the sea' in the iconic Paul McCartney song sounds very romantic, in reality I found the landscape here quite bleak and the journey to the famous lighthouse was on a challenging single track road. The terrain was very much like the Highlands with heather covered hills and roaming sheep but there was a gloominess and real sense of remoteness despite the occasional reminder of civiisation in the form of a pylon, a sign or the tarmacked road!
The windy road continues on for 6 miles before you reach a small car park and to my dismay (and horror if I'm honest) I discovered that reaching the lighthouse involved a very steep and winding walk of over a mile. A couple of bends later I wimped out and decided to head back up, I figured that making it down was one thing but I may not have made the return uphill journey! I found a spot overlooking the lighthouse for a photo and decided that was enough and sometimes life is just too short for some adventures. It also didn't help that I had a schedule to stick to as the last ferry was in the early evening and in hindsight I wouldn't have made the trip to the lighthouse had I known what was involved. If you really want to visit I suggest you set at least half a day aside and you would need a reasonably high level of fitness to walk back up the hill.
Thankfully once I was back on the main road the journey to Southend was an easy one and visiting the attractions involved no heavy physical exertion. Full of folklore and surf covered sandy beaches this was an intriguing place steeped in legend. I visited the Keil Caves which have evidence of occupation from as early as the third century AD onwards. I stood on the rock with two mysterious carved footprints, one said to be associated with a king-making ceremony from the Dalriada era, the other said to be linked to St Columba and some even say it is his actual imprint although others say it was carved by a local mason in 1856. I also threw a coin into the spring water at St Columba's well and made a wish, again the real origins of the well are unknown and this all added to the myth and legend of the area.
One story from here which is sadly true is the massacre of 300 of the MacDonald garrison by the Covenanting army of Campbell Earl of Argyll in 1647 as they surrendered from lack of water. Looking around today the area is pretty and peaceful and it is hard to imagine such a bloody tragedy taking place.
With fascinating tales, clean wide beaches and the cutest street name ever ,Teapot Lane, Southend is well worth seeking out.
As I made my way up the west coast back towards Tarbert for the ferry I was disappointed that the cloud and rain obscured the views to Islay and Jura. The Isle of Gigha, however, was visible just a short distance across the water and I decided to stop at Tayinloan to watch the ferry depart for the small island. There is a good coffee shop at the ferry terminal and I finished my day off with a walk along the beach and added a visit to Gigha to my ever-growing list!
The main road back to Tarbert may not have been as scenic but it was certainly quicker and I arrived just in time to meet the approaching ferry. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend and wished that I had longer to explore and regretted that it had taken me so long to visit this 'mainland island' in the first place.
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