Tuesday 4 August 2015
Oban to Campbeltown, Kintyre
I didn’t get to sleep until after 1 am as that’s when the bar downstairs closed. I did not enjoy being cramped in a small room with 5 blokes so was up very early after a poor night’s sleep. The room stank of sweaty men and I needed to get out of there.
Guess what…it was raining. How unsurprising! My only plan was to get to the Mull of Kintyre. I had bought a road atlas yesterday as I’ve run out of maps; this means I am unlikely to be doing much walking now without OS maps to scrutinise for walks to do. Still, in this weather I’m happy just driving to be honest.
The poor weather meant the views of the islands in the Firth of Lorn (Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs), and later across the Sound of Jura to the islands of Jura and Islay, were not what they could have been.
From Oban I drove down to Easdale, the town at the end of the Isle of Seil, which is attached to the mainland by the Clachan Bridge.
From Easdale there are views across the Sound of Insh to Insh Island and the Firth of Lorn to Mull.
I didn’t bother stopping again until I reached Kilmartin, the main town in the beautiful Kilmartin Glen, which opens out onto Moine Mhor. This was a gem of a place with a great little museum giving an insight into the rich archaeological history that is visible all around this valley. There is a line of stone cairns running along the valley, standing stones, fort remains and various cup and ring marks that one could spend days looking at it all.
I think Kilmartin Glen and the raised peat bog of Moine Mhor have the largest concentration of historical places and monuments that I’ve seen.
I spent a couple of hours in the excellent little museum at Kilmartin, which also has a nice cafe. The Kilmartin church had some crosses that were similar to the Pictish crosses on the East coast, but Celtic.
I really enjoyed the drive across the Moine Mhor peat bog as it was such a different landscape – a wide open low lying area on the edge of the mountains. In the middle of the Mhor is a lump of rock with the remains of Dunadd Fort on top. This is the hill where St Columba came to anoint Aidan as first Christian king of Scotland in 574. So much history!
Next stop was Crinan and the entrance to the Crinan Canal. The road followed the canal for a bit and I was able to see a few of its 15 lochs and 7 bridges. The canal was built in 1801 and handily links the Sound of Jura with Loch Fyne, thus eliminating the need for boats to go all the way around the Mull of Kintyre. The canal is now part of the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail that goes from Oban to Helensburgh.
I drove on to Lochgilphead and across Knapdale to the pretty little town of Tarbert, at the entrance to the Kintyre peninsula.
It was raining quite hard by now but I stopped briefly to admire the harbour and, in particular, a couple of Loch Fyne skiffs that were moored up.
From here I drove down the West side of Kintyre and could just about see across to Jura and Islay; the Paps of Jura were faintly visible through the rain and cloud.
I thought I ought to check out the old RAF Machrihanish, which now serves as Campbeltown Airport. The road to the Mull of Kintyre skirts around the end of the runway.
Kintyre felt like the Wild West to me. It definitely had a really remote feeling and the drive to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse was single track, up and down, with a couple of gates to open on the way. Kintyre was the heart of the Dalriada Kingdom, started by the Gaelic speaking Scotti tribe from Ireland around 300AD.
I was surprised to see a couple of very remote houses; I wonder who lives out here and how they do their shopping? Once I arrived at the final, locked gate it was time to abandon the car and walk down the steep hill towards the lighthouse. I didn’t bother going all the way down and gave up about halfway, after about 4 hairpin bends. Despite the grey day I could see Northern Ireland really clearly; it’s much closer than I thought.
I wended my way across to Campbeltown via Southend and the road that hugs the rugged coastline.
I stopped on the Southern bit to look at Keil Caves, once inhabited, and to see the footprints in a rock. Apparently these belong to St Columba and signify the spot where he landed in Argyll when he came from Ireland to bring Christianity to the Picts.
I arrived in Campbeltown early evening and made my way to the Campbeltown backpackers. It works on an honesty payment system (put the fee in an envelope and post it in a box) and there were only 2 of us staying the night, me and a journalist who works in the town but is waiting for a house. Unbelievably this guy came from Fairfield, about 5 miles from where I am from, on the outskirts of Birmingham. Shame I didn’t like him! He did recommend the Ardshiel Hotel for a nice dinner. Their whisky bar looked amazing…if you like whisky!
I learnt that Campbeltown used to have 17 whisky distilleries and Paul McCartney used to have a place here (hence the song). These days the town looks a little rundown.