Argyll – where to start?

People walking on the summit of the Barr Mor trail at Taynish NNR, Argyll and Stirling Area

In an online special, Editor Don Currie takes a look at Argyll – the subject of our Summer 2013 Explore section.

Photo: Lorne Gill/SNH

Whatever you seek, you’ll find it in Argyll.

Wildlife? This beautiful region has golden eagles, otters, basking shark and red deer by the thousand – plus a thriving population of beavers in the Knapdale Forest. Less headline-grabbing species include the lightning-fast hen harrier and the gorgeously coloured marsh fritillary butterfly.

History? Here you can trace the origins of the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata, and place your foot in the carved rock hollow where its newly crowned kings are said to have placed theirs. It’s not a bad idea to start at Kilmartin House Museum, one of the best small museums you’ll find anywhere, appealing to curious toddlers and history buffs alike, and blessed with a marvellous café.

Scenery? With its awesome sea lochs slicing their way deep into the land, its ancient oak woods, its precious peat bogs and its alluring Atlantic sunsets, this part of Scotland has lashings of landscape.

Sport? Argyll has long been a magnet for sailors keen to discover its countless inlets and strike out for its magnificent islands. More recently they’ve been followed by surfers who know Britain’s best waves, mountain bikers and trail runners wanting to leave the beaten track and sea kayakers drawn to this convoluted coastline, with its stacks and caves.

Islands? Argyll has some of Scotland’s most renowned, from mountainous Mull and its tiny neighbour Iona, birthplace of Christianity in Scotland to inspirational, rugged Jura, where George Orwell found the peace he needed to complete his masterpiece, 1984. Gigha made headlines when the community bought it just over a decade ago, and the sense of pride among the friendly islanders is still strong.

Drama? If life has been getting a little cosy and predictable, get that pulse racing with a boat trip through the frightening Corryvreckan whirlpool or a bold expedition into Fingal’s Cave on Staffa, where the powerful waves that inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture surge and crash among the basalt columns.

Walking? The dramatic Kintyre Way offers nearly 100 miles of views as it zigzags its way down the peninsula. And if something shorter and more level is more your thing, why not take a stroll along the Crinan Canal, Britain’s prettiest shortcut, and reward yourself with a meal at the Crinan Hotel, with its dramatic western views and harbourside charm.

Eating? The seafood, fish, lamb and beef produced in these parts is among the best there is. Enjoy it at countless foodie havens such as Inverawe Smokehouse, the Kilberry Inn, the Royal Hotel, the Creggans Inn and Ee-usk.

Drinking? Islay, with its eight distilleries, is a place of pilgrimage for whisky lovers the world over. They come to sample the peaty delights of the island’s sought-after single malts and see the surprisingly pretty buildings where they are made in ways unchanged for centuries. Campbeltown, home to the equally prized Springbank, is classed as a whisky region in its own right.

Golf? Machrihanish, the historic links course in Kintyre, and its much newer neighbour, Machrihanish Dunes, are among the world’s finest places to play the noble game – as is the Machrie course on Islay. But if you’re an occasional weekend thrasher and would prefer somewhere less daunting, there are plenty of homely courses all over Argyll, some nine-hole and some the full 18.

Argyll and the islesCastles? Inveraray Castle is a handsome 18th-century building in a dramatic setting on the banks of Loch Fyne, while Castle Duart, on Mull, is older, more rugged and equally fascinating to visit.

Enough question marks – we’ve established that Argyll must be investigated, so all that remains is to plan your visit. And the best way to do that? See www.exploreargyll.co.uk and of course, don’t forget to pick up a copy of our summer issue.

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