Monday, 29 April 2013


Rosneath is a village just inside the mouth of Gare Loch, off the Firth of Clyde.  In the 6th century AD St Modan arrived here and founded a church.  The present-day parish church includes the earlier ruins, and in 1880 a carved stone was found there which is thought to have been St Modan's tombstone.  There is also a headstone believed to mark the grave of the only African slave buried in Scotland.  St Modan's Well is renowned for its healing waters.  Rosneath Castle, a neo-classical mansion which replaced an earlier structure owned by the Clan Campbell, was used as a military hospital during the First World War.  Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, resided there until her death in 1939, and the castle and estate were sold.  Since this coincided with the start of the Second World War, and since Gare Loch offered ready access to deep water combined with the flat terrain of the estate, Rosneath was chosen as the site for a naval base.  The naval base is now gone, but much of the Rosneath Peninsula is still Ministry of Defence property.  That said, there is still room for leisure activities on the peninsula, most notably at Cove Park, which offers residencies for artists.  There is sailing and other watersports activity at Rosneath Castle Park and a Sailing Club at Cove.  The peninsula is also home to a variety of wildlife, including buzzards, hen harriers and sparrowhawks up above and roe deer down below.   Kilcreggan, at the southern end of the peninsula, has a pier from where ferries leave for Gourock.

Map of the area.

© 2007 Thomas Nugent, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


There seems to be a theme emerging in the lochs around this part of Scotland.  In Holy Loch and Loch Goil we had past and present submarine activity, while Loch Long was used for testing torpedoes during World War II.  The testing facility, which was decommissioned in 1980, was located at Arrochar at the head of the loch, leaving an unsightly eyesore at this end of the loch.  Tubes were used to fire torpedoes up the loch, while a camera in the control room had a full view of the loch's 17 miles.  Further down the loch, at Coulport, there is a Royal Naval Armaments Depot with facilities for handling Trident warheads.  On the eastern shore of Loch Long is the Finnart Ocean Terminal, a petrochemical transfer facility.

Arrochar is very close to the much more famous, land-locked Loch Lomond, being just a 5-minute drive from Tarbet along the Old Military Road, also known as the A83.  The low valley between the two villages used to be used to drag boats between the sea and Loch Lomond.  Arrochar was once the preserve of the cattle-raiding MacFarlanes, from the 11th century until the clan territory was sold in 1784.  The clan chiefs used to occupy a site where Arrochar House now stands; the house is now part of a hotel.  The "Arrochar Alps", ranged around the head of the loch, are a group of very steep mountains popular with rock climbers, who started coming here in numbers at the time when the steamer services from the Clyde started frequenting the loch. 

Map of the area. 

© 2010 Postdlf, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 21 April 2013


The surroundings of Loch Goil, which is an arm of Long Long, and which forms part of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, is reminiscent of the landscape around the Norwegian fjords.  The loch is used for exercises by Trident submarines based at Faslane.  On the west shore of the loch is Carrick Castle, a tower house on a site originating in Viking times, which has undergone a couple of reincarnations since.  The castle was the scene of dramatic action in 1307 when Robert The Bruce drove out the English magnate Henry Percy.  In the 16th century it was visited by Mary Queen of Scots.  Later, the castle suffered severe losses after being bombarded by HMS Kingfisher during the rebellion by Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll.  The castle is a ruin, but is undergoing restoration.  At the head of Loch Goil is Lochgoilhead, which offers a holiday village, a caravan and camping site and an outdoorcentre.  Like Dunoon, Lochgoilhead grew up thanks to the steamer services from Glasgow.  However, these no longer run, so that the village is now mainly accessible by road.  From Lochgoilhead a path leads to Rob Roy's Cave, where the 18th century rebel is reputed to have hid.

Map of the area. 

© 1977 Sarah Charlesworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 20 April 2013


The origins of the name of Holy Loch on the east side of the Cowal Peninsula appear to have been lost in the mists of time.  Submarine Loch would have been an appropriate name if the loch's recent past were taken into account.  During World War II the Royal Navy used the loch as a submarine base, carrying out exercises and trials.  Later on, from 1961 to 1992, the US navy took over, establishing a Polaris submarine base on the loch.  This led to the loch becoming a focus for anti-Polaris demonstrations.  There is footage of one such demonstration on the British Pathe website, showing protesters marching with banners and people being carried away.  In 1967 the loch became the focus of attantion of a different kind.  An East German called Peter Dorschel took up residence in a house at Hunters Quay, a northern extension of Dunoon situated at the entrance to Holy Loch.  But Dorschel did not choose the house out of a desire to enjoy wonderful views of the loch: he was a spy and had been ordered to settle in the area by  his handlers with a view to gathering intelligence on the base.  However, his activities were rumbled and he was jailed for 7 years.  Nowadays the loch is a base for more pleasurable pursuits.  There is a marina offering yachting and sailing facilities.  Hunters Quay is a terminus of a car and passenger ferry service linking the Cowal Peninsula to to McInroy's Point near Gourock.  

Map of the area. 

© 2006 Dave Souza, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


Dunoon is a resort on the east coast of the Cowal Peninsula in the Firth of Clyde.  Its pier, originally built in 1835, used to receive the many paddle steamers arriving from Glasgow, bringing hordes of excited passengers "doon the watter" from the big city for a spell of R and R in the coastal resorts of the Firth of Clyde.  Nowadays there are frequent ferries from Gourock to Dunoon, some carrying vehicles, some passenger only.  With the onset of foreign package holidays during the 60s, Dunoon's tourist trade went into a decline, prompting a band called the Humblebums to pen a song called "Why Don't They Come Back to Dunoon".  Billy Connolly once told a cruel joke about the town while performing the song, about a competition in which the first prize was a week in Dunoon and the second prize was a fortnight in Dunoon.  Further decline came about in the 1990s following the closure of the US submarine base in nearby Holy Loch. 

All this was not enough to put Emma Thompson off choosing Dunoon for her marriage to Greg Wise, or having a second home nearby.  And with good reason, since the town occupies a lovely position around two bays with an attractive mountainous hinterland.  Between the two bays is the ruined Dunoon Castle, originally built in the 11th century.  There isn't much left of the castle now, but it is worth the hike up to it for the views over the Firth.  Just below the castle is a statue of "Highland Mary", or Mary Campbell, who was romantically linked to Robert Burns.  Also nearby is CastleHouse, which houses a museum with displays on the history and heritage of the area.  In summer boat trips are available on the Waverley paddle steamer.  Golfers are catered for by the Cowal GolfClub.

Webcam of the seafront.

Map of the area. 

© 2007 Peter Fuller, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


The island of Bute, which is reachable by ferry on a short crossing from the mainland at Colintraive or a longer one from Wemyss Bay, covers just 47 square miles but manages to pack in something for everyone.  Garden lovers are well catered for, with three fascinating sites to choose from.  Ardencraig Gardens is credited with having the best display of summer bedding anywhere in Scotland.  Ascog Hall Fernery and Garden has as its star attraction a rare sunken Victorian fernery.  The Gothic Revival mansion Mount Stuart has 300 acres of gardens, including a walk taking in pools and cascades which replicates the Via Dolorosa, while the garden known as the Wee Garden proves to be something of a misnomer, since it amounts to five acres of plants, with the emphasis on the Southern Hemisphere.

History buffs will find plenty of interest on the island.  RothesayCastle, in the island's main town of Rothesay, dates back to the 13th century, having been built to defend the area from the Norse hordes.  It is a remarkably well preserved, moated castle.  St Blane's Church, two miles south of Kingarth, is a ruined monastery with views over the Sound of Bute towards Arran.  The island also has a number of standing stones, the most easily accessible of which are to be found in Kingarth on the way to St Blane's Church.  A more recent and unusual historic sight is the Victorian loos near Rothesay pier.  They are still functioning as a public lavatory, and users can luxuriate among ornate ceramic and marble decor.   Rothesay is very proud of its Victorian heritage, and recently held a Victorian Day with a range of events and people dressed up in Victorian clothing. 

There is plenty of scope for enjoying the great outdoors on the island.  Wildlife enthusiasts have a range of species to look out for.  Sea creatures include porpoise, dolphins and grey seals; bird watchers can expect to see birds of prey including Ospreys and Golden Eagles.  Other outdoor pursuits include walking, sailing, sea kayaking and golf.

Map of the area. 

Rothesay Pier © 2005 William Craig, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Tichnabruaich, which is surrounded by a dramatic mountain landscape, lies on the east shore of the Kyles of Bute, a narrow stretch of water surrounding the Island of Bute, and as such enjoys wonderful views across to the island.  The best place to head for in order to take in the views is a viewpoint to the north of the village on the A8003 which looks out over Loch Riddon as well as both the eastern and western Kyles of Bute.  This stretch of coast is marketed as "Argyll's Secret Coast", and Tighnabruaich has in the past been the recipient of the award for the prettiest village in this part of Scotland.  The village owes its origins to the beginnings of steamer traffic in these parts, which led to its development as a resort, and it is still visited today by the world's last surviving ocean-going paddle steamer, the Waverley, which makes trips down the Clyde from Glasgow to some of the favourite holiday destinations on this part of the coast.  Tighnabruaich is ideal for yachting, and has a sailing and windsurfing school as well as offering boat trips around the surrounding lochs.  For golfers, there is the Kyles Of Bute Golf Club at nearby Kames.  Another popular sport in this part of Scotland is shinty, which is a form of hockey played with a stick called a caman.

Map of the area. 

© 2008 Chris Downer, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 11 April 2013


It is no doubt a cause of regret for many Scottish football fans that their homeland has never hosted a World Cup.  However, in 2008 the tiny village of Strachur on the east shore of Loch Fyne provided some consolation when it acted as the venue for the Swamp Soccer World Championships.  This deliciously messy sport, which originated in Finland, is played out on a muddy field by two teams of six, and these teams can be made up of all men, all women, or a mixture of the two.  It has its own set of rules distinct from the normal version of soccer, for example the offside rule does not apply, and numerous substitutions are allowed.  As a matter of fact, Strachur was not the first place in Scotland to host the tournament: it was held in Dunoon two years earlier.  The village of Strachur is a short distance inland from the shore, and includes the attractive Strachur Parish Church, which dates from the 18th century, although there are carved grave slabs from a much earlier time built into the wall.  The church stands within a raised oval churchyard.  The village also has a Smiddy Museum and craft shop which recalls the role of the village blacksmiths in local life.  Meanwhile, back on the shore there is an inn offering accommodation and wonderful views across the loch towards Inveraray.  A few miles further down the shore of the loch is Castle Lachlan, seat of the Clan Maclachlan.  The castle is a beautiful baronial house in an extensive estate, and it offers accommodation and can be used for weddings.

Map of the area. 

© 2006 William Craig, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


Inveraray started out as a huddle of cottages watched over by the castle, the stronghold of the Campbell chiefs, who became the Dukes of Argyll.  In the mid-18th century the third Duke decided to treat himself to a new castle and, while he was at it, built a new town further away than the original settlement with the help of Roger Morris, William Adam (father of Robert) and Robert Mylne.  The result is a well spaced out, neat little town on the shore of Loch Fyne.  There used to be a fishery, and the town's motto in those days was "May you always have a catch of herring".  There was also a jail, which has been preserved as a tourist attraction.  I visited the Inveraray Jail on a day trip to the town a few years ago and found it fascinating to learn about the crimes people were thrown into prison for in those days and the sentences given.  Some crimes condemned the perpetrator to transportation to Australia, and the miscreants receiving punishments included children as young as 7 or 8.  The town's skyline is dominated by the AllSaints Bell Tower, which is normally open to visitors who can climb the 176 steps to enjoy the views from the top, but it is currently closed until July 2013. 
Inveraray Castle is a Gothic-style turreted building where visitors can marvel at the magnificence of the interiors, including the Armoury Hall, which has the highest ceiling in Scotland and, as the name suggests, an impressive display of carefully arranged weaponry.  Another highlight is the Tapestry Drawing Room, decorated in the Parisian style.  Upstairs is a gallery and the Clan Room devoted to the history of the Campbell Clan.  The old kitchen can be viewed in the basement, where there is also a tearoom.  Outside, visitors can wander round the gardens, which are a mixture of formal arrangements, parkland and woodland, while the "Policies" - a term for grounds surrounding a country house - include three main avenues, plus water features, a Watch Tower and a dovecote.  In 1975 the castle suffered a bad fire, and press reports of the time described how the local people "formed a human chain in a bid to save priceless treasures".  Thankfully, Lady Colin Campbell, based in London, launched a fund to restore the castle.

Webcam view.

Map of the area. 

© 2009 Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 7 April 2013


Travelling along the shore of Loch Fyne between Lochgilphead and Inveraray there are a couple of places worth stopping off at.  Crarae Garden managed by the National Trust of Scotland covers 126 acres in a highland glen centring on Crarae Burn.  It was planned during the early 20th century using donated plants and seeds gathered from far-flung expeditions.  The garden has some rare trees among its collection, including the National Collection of nothofagus from the Southern Hemisphere.  In autumn the garden is a riot of colour thanks to the acers, prunus, sorbus and other colourful deciduous trees.  In the spring it is time for the rhododendrons, azaleas and other exotic shrubs to strut their stuff; there are 600 varieties of rhododendron, including some which are exclusive to Crarae.  These delights, along with the waterfalls and torrents within the garden, can be explored via a series of winding paths.

Auchindrain is an open air museum displaying a preserved "township" of the kind which was once common in Scotland, where families lived and worked together.  Visitors can step inside the buildings and houses and get a good idea of how people used to live within these communities.  It was a hard life, and serves as a reminder of how mollycoddled we all are now.  Townships such as this disappeared with the emergence of modern farms, crofting and large estates, most notably during the Highland Clearances.  There is a tearoom serving light meals and cakes, and full access to the site is available from April to October, although limited access may be possible during the winter months.

Map of the area. 

© 2007 Gordon Brown, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 5 April 2013


As a blogger, I am very aware of other bloggers who have made the news for whatever reason.  Last year Martha Payne, a schoolgirl from Lochgilphead, launched her blog "NeverSeconds", in which she photographed her school dinners and commented on them.  The blog became famous to the point where it had attracted several million visitors.  However, the local council created an uproar by banning Martha from posting photographs of the meals, prompting a backlash from the online community and a subsequent U-turn by the council.  The indomitable Martha, undaunted by all this furore, used her notoriety to raise money for Mary's Meals, a charity which raises money to feed third world children.  Martha has now ceased posting to her blog about her school dinners, but is still blogging about her charitable activities and school dinners in other countries, and her story remains inspirational.  I am sure she will work wonders whatever she decides to do with her life.

Lochgilphead is a picturesque small town on the shore of Loch Gilp, an offshoot of Loch Fyne, a short distance from the Crinan Canal, which did so much for the commercial development of the area.  Loch Gilp turns into mudflats at low tide.  The main street, characteristically for the area, is wide and was a former market place.  It was a fishing village until the Crinan Canal opened and made it a popular stopping off place for boats and for the provision of services for people passing through the canal.  Not necessarily connected to this, a lunatic asylum and poorhouse were built.  Although not large, Lochgilphead is the administrative centre for Argyll and Bute, covering a surprisingly wide area for a settlement of its size.  Each year in August, the Mid Argyll Show takes place in Kilmory, hear Lochgilphead.

Map of the area.  

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Situated on the shore of Loch Fyne and at the southern end of the Crinan Canal, Ardrishaig grew from its tiny beginnings largely as a result of the canal, which provided  a short cut to the Western Isles, removing the need for an arduous journey around the Kintyre Peninsula with all the hazards inherent in the seas off the Mull of Kintyre.  Ardrishaig was once famous for its Loch Fyne kippers, but the cessation of the herring fishing industry in the port sent it into a decline, while most of the activity moved to neighbouring Lochgilphead.  However, the harbour has an important role to play in the timber trade, with the capacity to handle tens of thousands of tonnes annually.  Visitors can enjoy a range of activities: a gentle walk along the canal maybe, or a spot of boating or kayaking courtesy of Argyll Activities.  The gothic style Ardrishaig Parish Church, which dates from 1860, is worth a wander round, with its semi-octagonal transepts, its tower with an octagonal castellated stage, and its Edwardian Art Nouveau stained glass windows.   

Map of the area. 

© 2008 John Ferguson, via Wikimedia Commons


Monday, 1 April 2013


If you look at a map of the Kintyre Peninsula you will see that it is almost an island.  It appears to be hanging from the mainland by a thread.  Tarbert lies at the eastern end of this "thread" or isthmus, which is just one mile across, while West Tarbert is at the other end of it.  Once upon a time boats were dragged overland between the two.  Tarbert used to be an important herring port, serving the herring industry of nearby Loch Fyne.  This activity has since disappeared, but the harbour is still used by fishing boats for unloading their catches.  The other maritime activity of note is sailing, and Tarbert hosts Scotland's biggest regatta each May.  Visitors can board the heritage paddle steamer Waverley at Tarbert for Loch Fyne boat trips.  From the harbour a footpath leads to the ruins of the 12th century Tarbert Castle, romantically covered in ivy.  The castle, which was built by Robert I of Scotland, is a reminder of the time when Tarbert occupied a strategic position defending the approaches to Kintyre and the Inner Hebrides.  Tarbert is something of a festival town, as in addition to the regatta there are also a number of festivals held each year, including a Seafood Festival, a Music Festival and a Book Festival.

Map of the area. 

© 2010 Andrew Wood, via Wikimedia Commons