Wednesday 5 August 2015
Campbeltown to Inveraray
I left Campbeltown fairly early with a thought that I would get the ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. I was really early so I drove past the ferry terminal for a couple of miles to see the ruins of Skipness Castle.
By the time I had walked around the grounds of this 13th Century castle and dodged a tractor on the road back there was a long queue for the ferry and not enough space for my car. Oh well, I wasn’t sure about going to Arran anyway as I couldn’t find accommodation and I wanted to climb Goat Fell but the weather was terrible (as usual) so the views would have been non-existent. I reassessed and instead carried on driving back up to Tarbert and caught the ferry across Loch Fyne to Portavadie on the Cowal peninsula.
This is the heart of Argyll and there were plenty of clues that on any other day the scenery would be outstanding as there are 3 fingers to Cowal that are separated by 2 sea lochs, known as the long lochs. Then you have the lochs separating Cowal from Kintyre to the West, Inverclyde to the East, and the Isle of Bute to the South. No wonder Argyll and Bute has a longer coastline than the whole of France! There are hills, trees and water everywhere you look. If only there wasn’t so much rain and cloud!
I drove up the West side of the Kyles of Bute and Loch Riddon, admiring the views whenever the clouds parted. I missed out the “middle finger” and drove around the top of Loch Striven and across to the Royal Burgh of Dunoon. Loch Striven was where Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bombs were tested.
From Dunoon I got my first sight of Glasgow, across the Firth of Clyde, confirming that I was indeed heading to South Scotland now.
Dunoon was the first place that looked like a “seaside town” since Fife on the East Coast. I was almost excited. It certainly looked like a town that was once a Victorian seaside destination, with its promenade, pier and big old buildings. I climbed up Castle Hill but the views weren’t great with such low cloud.
As I couldn’t really see much of the town I spent an hour in the rather fascinating Castle House Museum with its odd collections. On leaving the town I stopped for a quick coffee at one of the worst cafes I’ve been in – possibly a sign of the state of the town?
From Dunoon I headed North around the end of Holy Loch and all along Loch Eck to reach the East side of Loch Fyne at Strachur. Holy Loch is so named because a ship carrying sacred Jerusalem soil bound for Glasgow Cathedral was wrecked here. It also has the distinction of being the training ground for the Cockleshell Heroes and was a Polaris Submarine base until 1992.
It was the addition of so many trees, along with so much water, that made this afternoon’s drive different and spectacular. There were still lots of hills and mountains, and I went over a few as I criss-crossed between lochs. I headed back East to Lochgoilhead and drove down the dead end road alongside Loch Goil to Carrick Castle, yet another castle on a loch; Scotland has so many!
I didn’t fancy camping in the terrible weather and the only cheap accommodation I could find was the hostel at Inveraray. This meant driving back around the head of Loch Fyne, but it’s all so picturesque that it really wasn’t a chore. I particularly enjoyed driving over the A83 mountain pass called Rest And Be Thankful. I did indeed stop to admire the (obscured) view and was thankful for being in such a beautiful country. I was looking at 2 parallel roads: the A83 and an old military road cut into the hillside. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo.
On the way back down Loch Fyne I passed the original Loch Fyne restaurant and oyster bar. It also had a seafood and deli shop that looked amazing.
Inveraray was a surprise. I had no idea I was staying in such a fine example of an 18th Century Scottish new town. It was designed by one architect as an estate village to house the workers on the Duke of Argyll’s estate. Inveraray Castle is a Georgian mansion house just on the edge of the town and is the seat of the Campbells.
On the top of Duniquaich hill, overlooking Inveraray is a monument that is a prominent landmark.
The town itself also has a jail (now open to tourists), an excellent bell tower that is not part of the church, and a wonderful war memorial.
Inveraray is clearly a popular stop on the tourist trail and I quite liked it. I went for a nice dinner at The George Hotel and hung around to listen to the live band playing traditional Scottish music afterwards. It was a good evening.