12 life-affirming Argyll experiences
After a tough few years, we could all do with a spirit-soaring, life-affirming getaway. And for me, there is no better place in Scotland for a positive break than glorious Argyll and Bute. So join me now hopping on bikes, seaplanes and tour boats as I share with you a dozen life-affirming experiences you can savour in Argyll this year.
- Dream with McCartney – The new Kintyre 66 is Scotland’s driving route for dreamers. The sounds of Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre echo no matter what’s on your stereo as you ease out of Tarbert into a world of big skies, sweeping beaches and epic views. Highlights abound, from reborn Campbeltown and the fishing village of Tarbert itself, through to wee detours down to the mysterious Mull of Kintyre itself and a hop across to the beach-kissed Isle of Gigha. Read more in my Wild About Argyll K66 blog.
- Drift back through time – Historic sites just don’t come any more rewarding than Kilmartin Glen. Spread out across an expansive plain lie countless ancient attractions, from standing stones and stone circles to cryptic carvings and burial cairns. Then there is Dunadd. Creep back through time ascending this rugged knoll and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Celtic kings who once held sway over embryonic Scotland.
- Savour a Taste Trail – I’ve written a lot about these glorious new taste trails – indeed you can check out my in-depth guides to the quintet on this website. The Spirit and Beer Taste Trail are alive with fine distilleries – making both whisky and gin – with breweries there too and a few surprises. The Coffee and Cake Taste Trail is a glorious distraction from the strains and stresses of the world, while the Vegan Taste Trail was a real eye-opener to me. I’m a huge fan of the bountiful Seafood Taste Trail, and the Farm Produce Taste Trail too, which shows the strength in depth that Argyll boasts with its world-class produce.
- Take the green rails west – Scotrail’s new Highland Explorer carriages are a brilliant idea, really catching the zeitgeist as we all start to look at greener ways of living. They can take a whopping 20 bikes and have dedicated seats for cyclists. Sweeping you from Glasgow to Oban you can get off at numerous points en route that links into Argyll’s rich web of cycling routes. I recently headed out on it and my blog shares my adventures from Oban up to Port Appin and then back down to Oban using a brace of ferries to explore Lismore, then a day cycling with my teenage daughter on Kerrera. Easing along on two wheels under big skies in Argyll, looking out for wildlife and looking forward to a gorgeous dinner alive with local produce, couldn’t be much more life-affirming.
- Escape to Scotland’s Forgotten Peninsula – I’m writing this in Cowal at the glorious new The Hollies. This gorgeous sandstone mansion overlooking the Isle of Bute has proved an ideal base for our multi-generational family group of nine. Over this weekend we’ve bubbled away in the outdoor hot tubs and the infinity pool at Portavadie, soared along the sands of Ostel Bay, tucked into a superb hamper of local produce from Secret Coast Hampers and headed off on a self-guided search for wildlife. Now that to me is the ideal life-affirming weekend. You can read my Cowal blog here.
- Savour Scotland’s seafood capital – Oban styles itself as ‘Scotland’s Seafood Capital’ and it does justify the title. You can watch the boats busying about before tucking into boat-fresh seafood at the famous seafood shack down by the pier. Then check out fishmongers as you work up an appetite for fish and chips later on, or a decadent seafood feast in one of the town’s seafood restaurants. Oban’s seafood is just one of the reasons I reckon Oban stacks up well for a life-affirming staycation – read my tips in my Oban staycation blog here.
- Walk the West Island Way – No, not the West Highland Way, but the West Island Way. It’s not just brilliant piggyback marketing, as this glorious 30-mile adventure offers a spirit-soaring Scottish walking experience. I hiked it last year for over three days. I loved how wild sections of it were across the hills of the extreme south and much of the north. Also the sandy beaches I came across, the historic sites and the welcoming settlements of Port Bannatyne and Rothesay itself. I highly recommend this seriously underrated walk, which was Scotland’s first island long-distance walk when it opened in 2000.
- Follow Orwell to Jura – There is something about the Isle of Jura that just makes my heart soar. It’s easy to see why George Orwell retreated here to find the space, wildness and solitude necessary to pen his epic 1984. This is an island with a population of 6,000. Red deer that is! There are only around 200 people, one real road, one whisky distillery, one hotel, one bar and not much else. The KLF notoriously burned £1,000,000 here too. Jura is a surreal island that makes you think about the bigger things in life and I’ve never had anything but a spectacular time here. If you get the chance, go!
- Dramtastic Islay- For whisky aficionados, there is only one Scottish island to head to. Islay is alive with nine whisky distilleries and each has its charms. For the ultimate whisky escape, I recommend staying at the Port Charlotte Hotel, which has its well-stocked whisky bar. Newbie Ardnahoe is an essential distillery to visit. While the smallest, Kilchoman, is fascinating too. The perfect whisky day is tackling the trio of southern Victorian distillery dames. A new walkway and cycleway now handily links Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Each is great fun to visit, enjoy a toast to life when you’re there and snare a bottle to take home and taste Argyll whenever you like.
- Meet our Mammal Cousins – There is nothing quite like seeing a dolphin or whale out in the wild and handily the sprawling Argyll coast is alive with all manner of marine wildlife. You can see porpoises all over, dolphins too, then on to various species of dolphin, basking sharks and even whales – everything from humpbacks to killer whales. My favourite spots for heading out to meet our marine mammal cousins are on boat trips from Tobermory on Mull and the very northern shores of Coll. But I’ve seen marine wildlife everywhere from porpoises out a hotel in Tobermory, dolphins bashing by as I hiked the Stevenson Way on Mull and a basking shark that circled my wee dinghy when I was a child off Bute. The Hebridean Whale Trail offers more ideas.
- Take the High Road – Many Scots don’t even realise how much of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park is actually within Argyll. A dramatic way to arrive is on a seaplane sploshing down onto the famously bonnie, bonnie waters. There are loads to do, from taking a boat trip to hiking the West Highland Way on the eastern shores and cycling around. The heritage village of Luss is a must and there is even an island populated with wallabies to explore! I never get bored with Loch Lomond – here is a blog I penned about the area to help you find plenty to do.
- Tell me a story – Argyll is a land that swirls in legends and mythic tales; an escape for dreamers, poets and writers. Visiting the region makes sense in this official Year of Stories Scotland 2022. Look out for one-off special events to celebrate this special year, as well as annual events that are being given a Year of Storie's makeover. I’ve written a Year of Stories blog (coming soon) too that delves into storytelling culture in Argyll and why this unique region is so inspirational for storytellers.