Nine things you need to know about the Argyll Forest Park

Stretching from the Holy Loch at Dunoon to the jagged peaks of the Arrochar Alps, Argyll Forest Park is the place for an outdoor adventure in Argyll. It’s Britain’s oldest Forest Park, established in 1935 to promote and encourage hill walking and forest recreation. Today there is so much on offer in this natural playground. Drive the scenic roads, walk or cycle the many way-marked trails or climb up to the mountain tops and ridges for panoramic views of Argyll. Here are nine things you need to know about Argyll Forest Park.

1. On the edge of the Highlands
Argyll Forest Park covers a large part of Cowal. It’s at one end of the Highland Boundary Fault, the crack in the Earth’s surface that marks the line between Lowland and Highland Scotland. You’ll find soaring mountains, dramatic glens, open moorland, tumbling waterfalls and hidden lochs in this glorious part of Argyll. It may feel wild and remote, but it’s easily accessible from Glasgow.

2. A forestry heritage
The Forestry Commission took on its first tract of land in Scotland when it leased part of Glenbranter in 1921. At the time, the estate laird was music hall star Sir Harry Lauder. Later, Glenbranter village was built for forest workers who helped with the huge planting schemes that covered Argyll.

3. A place to grow
Hundreds of thousands of trees were grown at a tree nursery at Ardentinny and sent to plant forests all over Scotland. Today you can explore stunning woodland on trails once the preserve of the foresters who nurtured the seedlings here. The Laird’s Trail is a fabulous route around Finart Bay. Climb through the larch forest to the Laird’s Grave for great views across Loch Long.

4. Kilmun Arboretum
In 1930 the Forestry Commission planted over 260 different tree species at Kilmun in large trial plots to see how suitable they might be for Scotland. Today Kilmun Arboretum is a tree collection of international note. Each species has been planted in a separate grove, so you can meander through small forests of silver firs, giant sequoia, coastal redwoods, Oregon maple, Chilean southern beech and more.

5. Red squirrels
Argyll Forest Park is one of the best places to see red squirrels in Scotland. At Glenbranter there’s a red squirrel viewing camera giving a fly-on-the-wall view of these lovely creatures. You’ll find a number of wildlife hides. Be quiet and patient and you’ll be in with a good chance of spotting a red squirrel, as well as a variety of other wonderful wildlife.

6. Mountain bike trails from Ardgartan
Argyll Forest Park offers some fantastic cross-country mountain biking routes. There’s a whole network of trails from Ardgartan that make for a great day out. The 11km Glenshellish Loop is a good introduction to off-road cycling and you can enjoy splashing through a ford at the head of the glen! The 35km Loch Eck Loop is for those who fancy a challenge. This epic route takes you through the forests fringing Loch Eck.

7. Benmore in bloom
Benmore Botanic Garden near Dunoon has a world-famous collection of flowering trees and shrubs including over 300 species of rhododendron. One of the highlights has to be the avenue of Giant Redwoods, arguably one of the finest entrances to any botanic garden in the world. Established in 1863, these majestic giants now stand over 50 metres high.

8. Puck’s Glen
Enter an enchanted woodland world at Puck’s Glen. The paths here were first developed by James Duncan, a sugar merchant, scientist and art-collector from Greenock, who owned the Benmore Estate in the 1870s. He wanted the glen to be a wild, magical place that would intrigue his visitors. There are two trails here: one winds through the gorge with its tumbling waterfalls, the other takes a longer route to great viewpoints.

9. Keep it clean
You’ll find disinfectant mats at the entrance/exit to some of the trails in Argyll Forest Park. This helps minimise the spread of tree disease and keeps the forests healthy for the future. It’s important to use the mats to clean any boots, paws or wheels.

Find out more about things to see and do in Cowal & Dunoon and find out more about Argyll’s Wildlife & Nature Reserves.

Header photo: trees at Benmore Botanic Garden