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
My recommended things to do and places to visit in Kintyre
Stop A - Tarbert
Tarbert sits at the north end of Kintrye and is an attractive gateway to the peninsula. The town can be reached by car by taking the road south from Lochgilphead or for those looking to get off the beaten track in Scotland, I highly recommend taking the road down the east side of Loch Fyne from Glasgow to reach Portavadie and crossing to Tarbert by ferry. Another rewarding option is the route I travelled, crossing from the Isle of Bute to Colintraive then travelling along Argyll's Secret Coast to Portavadie before taking the ferry. This is a part of the country that not many Scots ever visit never mind tourists!
Tarbert is a pretty fishing port with a picturesque harbour and a hilltop castle. I've been a few times now and always find it to be the most photogenic little town. On arrival I suggest making your way up to Tarbert Castle, a short. easy climb. The earliest parts of the castle date back to the 13th century, although there is not much of the building remaining. It was once a Royal Castle of significant importance with connections to Robert the Bruce and the views from the hilltop are some of the prettiest I've come across in Scotland.
Tarbert has plenty of eating options, pubs and a small selection of shops. Walking around the harbour also provides the opportunity to admire the varied boats including a couple of traditionally designed Loch Fyne Skiffs.
Stop B - Skipness Castle
From Tarbert, take the road south and then east. A short detour from the coastal road takes you along the rocky coastline 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 dates back to 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. Skipness Castle is now among one of my favourite castles in Scotland and I'm so glad I made the detour to get there.
There is also a Chapel nearby dedicated to St Brendan and although I didn't have time to visit it this time, there are apparently some interesting carved medieval tombstones.
Stop C - Carradale
From Skipness follow the B842 south along the east coast to the next suggested stop at Carradale, another picturesque village overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound and the west coast of Arran. If you're in need of a tea break head to The Network Cafe which also has a little heritage display opposite.
The cafe hires out bikes and electric buggies which opens up exploring opportunities to a wide range of physical abilities. I love that they are trying to find ways to make the local trails as inclusive as possible.
While 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 refuelling I made my way to the harbour for a short walk before heading to my next stop at Campbeltown.
Just south of Carradale is the home of Kintyre Gin which is made at the Beinn an Tuirc Distillery in the Torrisdale Castle Estate. The distillery has a shop and runs tours throughout the year.
As you head further south you may want to detour to Saddell Bay and follow in Paul McCartney's footsteps along the beach which featured in the Mull of Kintyre music video if you feel that way inclined!
If you do visit Saddell Bay, look out for the Antony Gormley sculpture. Named 'GRIP', the abstract human form gazes out over the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran from the rocks below Saddell Castle.
Stop D - 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, heritage centre and museum. 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. Springbank 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.
The whisky heritage of Campbeltown is a big tourist draw to the area and it is possible to take a tour at each of the distilleries. If you fancy a heavenly whisky themed holiday in Scotland then Kintyre is the perfect place to visit as you can easily combine a trip to Campbeltown with a trip to the whisky island of Islay as the ferry departs from Kennacraig, which is also on the Kintyre Peninsula.
If you have the time then you can walk to Davaar Island which is just off the coast of Campbeltown. It is connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide so make sure you check the tide times before venuring across! One of the sea caves on the island has a famous painting of the crucifixion.
Stop E - Southend
The village of Southend is the last settlement at the south eastern end of the Kintyre Peninsula. Full of folklore and sweeping sandy beaches this is an intriguing place steeped in legend.
I visited the Keil Caves which have evidence of occupation from as early as the third century AD onward. 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. Some even say it is his actual imprint although others say it was carved by a local mason in 1856, I'll let you decide which is more plausible! 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, describes the massacre of 300 of the MacDonald garrison. They were killed 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. Unfortunately these massacres were all too common in Scotland at one time and I've featured quite a few similar stories on my blog from different parts of the country.
With a fascinating history, clean wide beaches and the cutest street name ever, Teapot Lane, Southend is well worth seeking out. Don't leave without a visit to the top rated Muneroy Tearoom for some delicious home baking.
Stop F - Mull of Kintyre
As the road follows the peninsula from east to west, you eventually reach the southwestern tip of the peninsula at the famous 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 civilisation in the form of a pylon, a sign or the tarmacked road!
The winding road continues on for 6 miles before you reach a small car park and to my dismay I discovered that reaching the lighthouse involved a very steep and snaking walk of over a mile as cars aren't permitted beyond a certain point. A couple of bends in and I wimped out and decided to head back to the car as the effort didn't seem to offer any special reward. I also 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 and settled for a photo instead, deciding that was enough and sometimes life is just too short for some adventures.
In hindsight I wouldn't have made the detour to the lighthouse had I known what was involved with the challenging road and steep descent on foot. If you're short on time, I would give this particular diversion a miss.
Stop G - Machrihanish
During my visit to Kintyre I stayed at the Machrihanish Holiday Park. I opted to leave the tent at home on this occasion and booked into one of their cosy glamping wigwams, which was also dog friendly. 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.
If surfing is your thing, then Pete's Surf School is located on nearby Westport Beach. Pete offers lessons for all abilities and also hires out equipment.
Although the sunset was pretty it was 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 west coast sunset over the Atlantic and behind Islay.
At the end of a busy day exploring and travelling my little hut was the perfect refuge for a sound nights sleep.
Stop H - Tayinloan
As you continue along the west coast back towards Tarbert, there are views across to Islay, Jura and Gigha which is just a short ferry ride away.
The ferry port for Gigha is located at Tayinloan and I highly recommend adding a trip to Gigha to your itinerary if time permits. The island is pretty small and it is possible to explore on foot or by bike if you don't want to take the car. I spent a day there and managed to cover most of what I wanted to see.
The main road back from Tayinloan to Tarbert may not be as scenic as the east coast but it is the quicker option when you're heading home, which is why I recommend travelling down the east coast when you arrive.
Kintyre Food & Drink
Kintyre has a few local food and drink specialties which it would be rude not to sample during your visit, here are a few suggestions to get you started -
Camping and Glamping in Kintyre
As I mentioned before, I stayed at the Machrihanish Holiday Park during my trip. If you are wanting to go camping or glamping in Kintyre then this is a great choice.
The campsite can accommodate tents, touring caravans, campervans and motorhomes. Glamping options include wigwams and bell tents. There are also lodges and static caravans for rent if you need more space. I found the facilities to be of a good standard and the location is ideal for exploring this lovely part of Scotland.
At the moment I can't personally recommend any other accommodation as this is the only place I've stayed in Kintyre, however if that changes in the future I will be sure to update you!
More ideas for your trip to Kintyre
Here are a few more suggestions for things to do on your trip to Kintyre -
Walk the Kintyre Way
If you would prefer to enjoy the scenery at a slower pace then you might want to ditch the car and put your walking boots on instead. The Kintyre Way is a long distance walking route running from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish in the south. Approx 100 miles long, it is split into 7 sections and can be done comfortably between 4 and 7 days.
Go island hopping
Kintyre is the gateway to a few Scottish islands thanks to several ferry terminals along the peninsula. You can easily combine your trip with an island adventure to
Pop over to Northern Ireland
Due to its close proximity, a seasonal passenger ferry runs from Campbeltown to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland. The crossing with Kintyre Express takes 90 minutes and bikes are carried for free. I visited the Antrim Coast during the summer and it really is beautiful.
Get more ideas for your trip to Argyll
How to get to Kintyre
Now you have hopefully been persuaded to journey to this lesser visited part of Scotland, you are probably wondering how to get there so I have covered the various options below
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