A road-trip around the Kintyre Peninsula
Many people have heard of Kintyre thanks to Sir Paul McCartney's iconic song about the Mull of Kintyre which is situated at the southern end of this Scottish peninsula. However, not so many people make the effort to actually visit this underrated part of Scotland, mainly as it is a bit off the beaten track. It isn't a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else; you really only go there if it is your destination.
In my opinion it is a very worthy destination due to the variety of scenery, engaging history and amount of things to do. It is a compact area which is ideal for a long weekend road-trip. It also makes a great inclusion to a longer west coast road trip in Scotland.
Hopefully my guide to things to do in the Kintyre Peninsula will inspire you and help with planning your own trip to this pretty part of Scotland.
Where is the Kintyre Peninsula?
The Kintyre Peninsula is on the west coast of Scotland in the southern part of Argyll. It is a narrow strip of land which points down towards Northern Ireland. In fact at its nearest point, Kintyre is only about 12 miles from the Antrim Coast which can be seen just across the water on a clear day.
It runs from the picturesque town of Tarbert in the north to the Mull of Kintyre in the south and as it is only about 40 miles long, its small size makes it an ideal part of Scotland to explore over two or three days.
So where is the Mull of Kintyre?
Immortalised by Sir Paul McCartney, the Mull of Kintyre is at the very southern tip of the peninsula - 'Mull' translates to rounded headland. Not only did the former Beatle write a rather famous song about this remote part of Scotland, he also bought a farm in the area where he could escape from the stresses of fame.
The history of Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula gained its title 'Scotland's only Mainland Island' thanks to the Norwegian King Magnus Barefoot in 1098 who wanted to add Kintyre to his claim on all the western islands.
A treaty between the Vikings and the Scots stated that Magnus could rule the islands off of the west coast of Scotland separated by water and navigable by a ship. Legend tells that Magnus reached Kintyre in 1093 and decided if his boat could travel around it, then he could also claim Kintyre as one of his 'islands'.
To circumnavigate the peninsula, Magnus stood at the helm of his longboat and his followers dragged it across the narrow strip of land which connects West and East Loch Tarbert. 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 Kintyre's many interesting historic chapters. 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.
Kintyre has also seen its fair share of bloodshed. As you travel around the stunning and peaceful scenery it is hard to imagine that this area was also the setting of another infamous MacDonald massacre. In 1647 approximately 300 men were murdered by The Covenanters at Dunaverty Castle in Southend.
My recommended stops around the Kintyre Peninsula
I went on a 2 day road-trip around Kintyre, staying at Machrihanish, about three quarters of the way down the west coast. I followed the coast clockwise around the peninsula, heading down the east coast and back up the west. If you decide to do a similar road-trip, here are my recommended stopping places -
Below is a round-up of what there is to do at each place mentioned and a map of Kintyre with my recommended stopping points
Kintyre Peninsula map with my recommended route and stopping places
About Caol Ruadh
Entering the enchanted grounds of Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park (pronounced 'Col Ru') feels a bit like stumbling out of a rabbit hole into a strange world beyond.
The sculpture park is an outdoor gallery which displays and sells work created in Scotland by established artists. I've visited a few times over recent years and have observed dozens of unique artwork by a variety of designers on each occasion, including pieces by famous Scottish artists Andy Scott (creator of the famous Kelpies) and Rob Mulholland (creator of 'Still' the popular mirror man that until recently stood in Loch Earn).
Around every corner is something mysterious and wonderful, sometimes natural, sometimes man made but always a delightful surprise.
The gardens are a wonder of their own, with stunning views across the Kyles of Bute and access to the scenic shoreline. Rustic summerhouses, a characterful boathouse, walled garden, wildlife pond and tennis court are just some of the architectural jewels.
Camping and glamping in Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula is a bit off the usual tourist trail in Scotland, yet as I discovered, it has so much to offer. Its compact size makes it ideal for exploring over a long weekend which is exactly what I did.
There are quite a few accommodation choices in Kintyre, however I opted to stay on the campsite at Machrihanish Holiday Park. This was partly due it's location, partly due to the reasonable cost and more importantly the fact that it is dog friendly. I also decided to leave the tent at home and upgrade from camping to glamping in one of their cosy wigwams. All the wigwams have lovely open views across the fields to the water in the distance. The views from the wigwams are probably some of the best in the holiday park as they don't face onto anything.
The holiday park has several different options including camping, glamping (wigwams and bell tents), lodges and static caravans. There are also touring facilities for motorhomes, caravans and campervans.
Machrihanish Holiday Park Location
Machrihanish is on the southwest coast of the Kintyre Peninsula and makes a great half way point to stop off if you are spending a couple of days exploring the area.
If you plan on eating out, The Old Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant is a short walk from the holiday park or Campbeltown is approx 4 1/2 miles away with a choice of places to eat. If you plan on self-catering then Campbeltown also has numerous local shops and 2 supermarkets.
There is a regular bus service between Campbeltown and the holiday park if you don't want to drive.
The holiday park itself is next to the golf course and a short walk from the beach and as you can imagine it is a pretty and peaceful location. As the west coast of Scotland is famous for its sunsets, in the evening I headed a little further south along the coast from the campsite and found the perfect viewpoint just past the sea bird observatory (approx 5 mins in the car).
Get more ideas for your trip in my guide to Kintyre
The Fairy Legends of Puck's Glen
Navigating the well worn and sometimes slippery stone steps that wind through the narrow woodland gorge of Puck's Glen is hazardous enough at times, but they are not the only reason you have to drag your eyes from the bewitching scenery to check your footing from time to time. Poca Ban is the resident spirit that disguises itself as a ball of wool and rolls around the glen looking for unsuspecting victims to trip up all in the name of some warped fairy fun. It seems quite fitting that a glen named after the mischievous sprite in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has a playful spirit of its own.
Poca Ban is not the only mystical Scottish fairy that you might encounter on your walk through Puck's Glen, concealed in the trees you might spot a Ghillie Dhu, wearing clothes of leaves and moss or catch a glimpse of the nature sprites that dance in the leafy shade of the ferns.
It's very easy to believe that enchanted creatures are hiding in the shadows of this magical landscape and I mean magical in the truest sense of the word as it really feels like you have crossed an invisible barrier into an otherworldly dimension. Frothy waterfalls, bubbling pools, hanging moss, tumbled stones and tall shady ferns, Puck's Glen is prime real estate for fairy folk.
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