Many people have heard of Kintyre thanks to Sir Paul McCartney's iconic song about the mull at the southern end of this Scottish peninsula. However, not so many people visit this part of Scotland 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.
I decided to make this part of the country my home for a weekend and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of scenery, engaging history and amount of things to do in such a compact area. I would encourage you to discover this underrated part of Scotland for yourself and hopefully my guide to Kintyre will help you with planning your own trip to this pretty Scottish peninsula.
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.
The Kintyre Peninsula 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 a long weekend.
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 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 peninsula's many historic chapters. As you travel around the stunning and peaceful scenery 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.
Recommended stopping places
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 and I've included a map of Kintyre and my recommended stopping points at the bottom of the page.
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.
About Peterhead Prison Museum
Peterhead may not be the first town in Scotland you think of as a tourist destination. It is probably better known as one of the busiest fishing ports in Europe and home to one of the most notorious prisons in the country.
When the Victorian built HMP Peterhead finally closed in 2013 to be replaced by the modern facilities of HMP Grampian, it was a stroke of genius to turn the old jail into a museum and open up Scotland's own version of Alactraz to the public. An institution that put Peterhead on the map for all the wrong reasons is now becoming one of its biggest tourism assets.
Some might call it dark tourism but the history of Peterhead Prison is just as valid and relevant as any Scottish castle or stately home.
For most people that have never spent time in a jail, there is a natural curiosity to find out what goes on behind the barbed-wire fences and the steel barred windows. As a tourist attraction it has to be the most unique place I've visited in Scotland.
Like many people, the images of prison guard, Jackie Stuart, being taken hostage and paraded on the rooftop during an infamous riot in 1987, will always be etched in my mind. As I walked out the reception and entered the grounds, I was immediately confronted with the intimidating prison building and protest banners iconically associated with the riot.
I regularly sing the praises of Dumfries and Galloway in southern Scotland and today I want to delve a little deeper into this underrated region by sharing one of my favourite parts; the Rhins of Galloway. This south western peninsula is home to the most southerly point in Scotland at Mull of Galloway, with coastal scenery dramatic enough to rival anywhere on the north coast. Not many tourists venture this far south which is a shame as they are missing out on rich history, beautiful scenery and some quirky character.
I have visited the Rhins of Galloway several times over the past few years and have sampled the best the area has to offer, In this blog post I wanted to share with you my recommended list of things to do in this scenic part of Scotland and I hope it inspires you to explore this Scottish hidden gem for yourself. All but one of the places I've mentioned are also dog friendly which makes a refreshing change. There is nothing worse than feeling restricted in what you can do when you take your furry friend away with you. This is not the case in the Rhins of Galloway as there are plenty of places that make you and your dog feel genuinely welcome.
Mull of Galloway
Visiting the Mull of Galloway is an absolute highlight for me and I'd go as far as to say it is one of my favourite places in Scotland (as a Scottish travel blogger I don't make that statement lightly!).
The road south through the Rhins of Galloway takes you past Scotland's most southerly store and post office in Drummore before ending at the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse and Gallie Craig Coffee House with its turfed roof and breathtaking views. On a dry day I can't think of a more dramatic spot in Scotland to sit outside and enjoy a pot of tea with a freshly baked scone.
I love lighthouses and it is a real treat to be able to explore inside one. The Mull of Galloway Lighthouse has an exhibition on the ground floor which is also dog friendly, however you will have to leave your pooch below if you also want to climb the 115 steps to the top of the lighthouse. I was lucky to visit on a clear day and was rewarded with views of Scotland, England, Ireland and the Isle of Man!
The surrounding area is an RSPB nature reserve and a walk along the clifftops is a must to really appreciate the spectacularly wild landscape. Did I mention that this is one of my favourite places in Scotland?!
Portpatrick is a pretty harbour village with some nice places to eat and is the perfect spot to potter away for a couple of hours, enjoying the scenery and seafood. I usually stop by The Crown Hotel or The Harbour House Hotel as they are both dog friendly.
On a sunny day there is nothing better than picking up some local ice-cream and watching the boats come and go from the harbour. Portpatrick is also home to Dunskey Castle, one of my favourite castles in Scotland. The atmospheric ruins are dramatically perched on a cliff top and a walk down to the shore below reveals a big spooky cave which is apparently haunted! I have stayed at the adjacent Castle Bay camp site a couple of times and waking up to the view of Dunskey Castle is something special.
The Southern Upland Way is a long distance walk that starts in Portpatrick and even if you only follow the start of the route you will be rewarded with some great viewpoints over the village.
The choice of unique accommodation in Scotland has exploded over the last few years, with an ever-growing number of people (myself included) looking to spend the night somewhere more memorable than a bland hotel room.
I've stayed in a few unique places recently including a fishing boat, railway signal box, yurt and converted train carriage and I've become a bit addicted to taking staycations in quirky residences around Scotland!
Airbnb is fast becoming my go-to website for affordable or unusual accommodation and this summer I stumbled on an absolute gem in Glenwhan Gardens when I was searching for a little getaway.
The Shepherd's Hut at Glenwhan Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway ticked all my boxes -
Needless to say, I booked it immediately and a few weeks later myself, Mr Adventures Around Scotland and Willow the dog set off for our four night break in the stunning Rhins of Galloway, one of the most underrated parts of Scotland in my opinion.
Despite regularly visiting this area of Scotland, I'd never actually visited Glenwhan Gardens before and although it is only a short detour off the main road, you do need a car to get around if you stay here.
As we approached the Shepherd's Hut I was delighted that it was even cuter in real life than in the photos, however it is the setting in the gardens that makes this such a special place to stay.
One place in Scotland I get asked to write about more than anywhere else is the Isle of Skye. Despite visiting numerous times, there are many reasons why I have never got round to publishing a blog post about Scotland's most popular island until now! I thought it was time to share my top recommendations for things to do on the Sleat Peninsula which is at the lesser visited southern end of the island.
There are a zillion articles out there already that list the top attractions on the Isle of Skye and the last thing the world needs is yet another blog about the Quiraing, Fairy Pools or Old Man of Storr, although I'm sure there will be many more to come! However, despite what numerous other travel blogs might lead you to believe, there is way more to see in Skye than the cliched list posts of must see attractions that swamp the internet. If you follow my Scotland travel blog, it is hopefully because you want to explore beyond the typical Scottish tourist attractions.
On my last two trips I have based myself in the Sleat Peninsula in South Skye which is known as 'The Garden of Skye' due to its relative greenness. There is no shortage of ruined castles, picturesque villages and stunning scenery to keep you occupied and a new whisky distillery is bound to make the Sleat Peninsula a more tempting destination, although there is not yet the same hectic crowds that you will find further north
Despite The Isle of Skye bursting at the seams with visitors at certain times of year, it is still possible to find quiet corners away from the crowds. My two biggest pieces of advice if you want to have the attractions and wild beauty of Skye all to yourself, is to visit off-season (April and October are good times as many attractions are open for the season although check individual listings for exact dates) and secondly, to explore the lesser visited parts of the island.
If you want to visit the Isle of Skye but don't want to be caught up in traffic queues and tour buses or just want to experience a different side of the island, you definitely need to check out my list of top things to do on the Isle of Skye's Sleat Peninsula!
Take the ferry to Armadale
Armadale Bay is home to the ferry terminal which connects the Isle of Skye with Mallaig on the mainland. Although you could drive across the Skye Bridge, following the stunning 'Road to the Isles' from Fort William and boarding a ferry feels like you are going on a proper island adventure. This is my preferred way to travel to Skye, although another unique way to travel to South Skye is via the world's last manually operated turntable ferry from Glenelg.
Armadale Bay has a few pretty shops and Rhuba Phoil has a short circular woodland walk which is a fairly easy leg stretcher. Look out for the viewpoints as you follow the winding path through the trees and take some time to enjoy the coastal panorama surrounding this permaculture community.
Another one of my favourite things to do is grab a coffee from The Shed and enjoy the views to Knoydart.
Visit - Armadale Castle and Museum of the Isles
On my most recent trip to the Isle of Skye I rented a Clan Donald Holiday Lodge within the estate at Armadale Castle on the Sleat Peninsula. The 20,000 acre estate in the South of Skye was once the traditional lands of Clan Donald and was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust in 1971.
The estate is home to a range of walking trails, historic gardens and the stately remains of Armadale Castle, however the highlight of my visit was a tour of the Museum of the Isles. I highly recommend setting 1 - 2 hours aside to follow the audio guide through the 7 galleries full of fascinating objects, spanning 1500 years of history. This is definitely one of my top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula.
For those looking to research their ancestry, there are also genealogical resources in the library and after all that exploring I also recommend stopping by their ornate coffee shop for tea and a fresh baked scone.
Unfortunately there is not much left of Armadale Castle itself, a stately mansion house that was largely destroyed by a fire in 1855. The house was abandoned in 1925 and it is pretty much just the facade that is left today, although it is still an imposing sight.
If, like me, you stay at one of the lodges on the estate, entry to the castle grounds, museum and gardens is free.
This is one attraction on the Sleat Peninsula which can definitely get very busy, however when I visited in April I pretty much had it all to myself!
Visit - Dunscaith Castle
When it comes to Scottish castles I quite often find that less is more and Dunscaith Castle on the Sleat Peninsula is the perfect example of this.
To reach Dunscaith, park in the layby on the main road at Tokavaig and walk along the track towards the single white cottage before following the shore towards the obvious castle remains.
The ruins of what once must have been an impressive coastal structure are perched dramatically on a big lump of rock on the shores of Loch Eishort. Dunscaith Castle is thought to date back to the 13th or 14th century and once served as the MacDonald Clan's principle seat on the Isle of Skye. It was abandoned in the 17th century and has been at the mercy of the elements since.
The stone bridge which links the castle to the mainland can still be seen, although it is missing some vital pieces and I definitely wouldn't recommend trying to cross it! It is best to visit when the tide is out so you can walk under the bridge and around the rock base. Head up to the cliff top to take in some pretty breathtaking vistas towards the Cuillin Hills.
Visiting Kilmun Church
I have mentioned on my blog before that although I'm not religious, I love visiting old churches on my travels around Scotland. I find that they are one of the best places to learn about the community and history of an area.
Recently I made a trip to Kilmun Church and Argyll Mausoleum on the shores of the Holy Loch in the Cowal Peninsula. It turned out to be so much more than just an interesting place of local worship, I found it to be a fascinating attraction with a lot to offer anyone interested in Scottish history.
There is a small visitor centre which details the story of the site from a Celtic Monastery to the final resting place of the Campbells, one of the most powerful clans in Scotland. Volunteer guides are also on hand to show you around if you wish and I found the guide on duty during my visit a wealth of information (I wish I had gotten her name!).
The only thing I found disappointing was to hear how low the visitor figures are, as this really is a special place where there has been a lot of effort put in to enhance the visitor experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning there and spent way longer than I had anticipated, partly because I got chatting with the guide over some tea and biscuits after my visit which is optional but recommended!
I really urge you to seek out Kilmun Church and Argyll Mausoleum for yourself and support this great attraction. There is so much history to discover in this little unassuming place and these are just some of the things I found out during my visit...
The history of Kilmun Church & Argyll Mausoleum
It started out as a Celtic Monastery
A Celtic Monastery originally stood on the site of the present church which is believed to have been founded by St Mund or St Mundus, a Scottish Abbot who lived in the 10th century. It is from him that the surrounding village of Kilmun got its name with its origins meaning the cell or chapel of Munn.
As I stood on the porch of my latest 'home from home' I was filled with my usual eager anticipation. Opening the door, I peeked my head inside and had a quick scope around. My first thought was 'Wow!' and the smile on my face reassured Mr Adventures Around Scotland that our new abode for the weekend was as lovely as we had hoped.
'It's like a show-home' I declared excitedly, before we kicked off our shoes and padded across the springy carpet to explore our surprisingly spacious holiday lodge.
We had been invited to stay at an ABI Ben Lomond Lodge in Loch Lomond Holiday Park and compared to other lodges I have stayed in recently, this was on another level with luxury bespoke fittings and co-ordinated soft furnishings. It really did feel like a bijou show-home and I was immediately ready to move in!
I probably shouldn't have been surprised as ABI specialise in designing quality hand built holiday homes that can be purchased by anyone wanting their own permanent holiday escape.
The open plan kitchen and living area was lovely and bright with patio doors leading out to a large porch with views to Loch Lomond and two big squishy sofas to relax on. The main bedroom had a little en-suite dressing room and bathroom, and a second twin bedroom and shower room meant that a family or larger group could stay there comfortably.
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