The Five Ferries is a unique circular route that takes in some of Argyll’s most stunning peninsulas and sea lochs, as well as the lovely Isle of Bute. Whether you're motorised or pedal-powered, by catching five Caledonian MacBrayne ferries you can travel from Ardrossan on the Scottish mainland to the Isle of Arran to the Kintyre Peninsula to the Cowal Peninsula to the Isle of Bute and then back to the mainland. It’s a thoroughly rewarding way to explore this lesser known part of the west coast of Scotland. The scenery is stunning, the roads are quiet and there are loads of interesting attractions to visit. On top of that, you’ll find some fabulous places to eat and drink along the way. The total distance (excluding ferry journeys) is just over 71 miles. You can drive or – if you’re fit – cycle it in a day, or alternatively take your time and savour the journey, perhaps over the course of a weekend.
It’s worth buying two CalMac Hopscotch tickets – Hopscotch 4 and Hopscotch 5. Check the CalMac timetable for ferry times.
Ardrossan to Arran
Start your trip with a leisurely ferry ride from Ardrossan on mainland Scotland to Brodickon the Isle of Arran. If you’re travelling by car, you might want to take a spin around the island (about 50 miles) before catching the ferry from Lochranza to Cloanaig on the Kintyre Peninsula. If you’re on a bike you’ll probably want to head straight to Lochranza, which is 14 miles along a coastal road. On the way you’ll pass castles at both Brodick and Lochranza.
Arran to Kintyre
The crossing from Lochranza to Cloanaig on Kintyre takes about 30 minutes. From here, it’s 10 miles to Tarbert, which is a bustling fishing village and a great place to while away a few hours. There are some lovely places to eat overlooking the harbour and a number of art galleries selling local arts and crafts. Take a walk up to Tarbert Castle to enjoy the stunning views down Loch Fyne.
Alternatively, if, after disembarking at Cloanaig, you have time on your hands and don’t want to head straight to Tarbert, turn right as you come out of the ferry terminal and drive along the beautiful coastal road to Skipness. Explore Skipness Castle, where you can climb up a narrow staircase to the roof and be treated to wonderful views across the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran.
Double back and you’ll pick up the road to Tarbert. If you’re in a car, you have the option to travel south down the east coast to the Mull of Kintyre and Campbeltown on the B842 and then back up to Tarbert on the A83. It’s a stunning drive and you’ll pass lots of lovely beaches, which are perfect for picnicking or to stretch your legs. Saddell Bay on the east coast and Westport Beach on the west coast are both glorious.
Local’s tip: During the summer, you can enjoy delicious fresh seafood at the Skipness Seafood Cabin, located a stone’s throw from Skipness Castle.
Kintyre to Cowal
From Tarbert you take the ferry to Portavadie on the Cowal Peninsula. As you arrive in Portavadie you’ll see Portavadie Marina. With a couple of restaurants and a shop, as well as boats bobbing in the marina, it’s a fabulous place to spend an hour or two. On the other side of Portavadie Bay you’ll find Glenan Wood and a well-marked circular walk that takes you through ancient oak woodland to Glenan Bay. When you’ve finished exploring Portavadie, head to the pretty seaside village of Tignabruaich where there are some good lunch options a gallery.
Next take the B8003 out of Tighnabruaich, stopping at the viewpoint to take a photo of the Kyles of Bute. You might even see the Waverley steaming its way ‘doon the watter’. Follow the A886 to Colintraive where you catch the ferry to Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute.
Before you board the ferry, drop into the Colintraive Hotel, which is just next to the ferry terminal, to try some fantastic local seafood. Squeeze in a visit to Caol Ruadh, a wonderful sculpture park based in gorgeous grounds just on the outskirts of Colintraive.
Local’s tip: On the road from Portavadie to Tighnabruaich, stop at the Barn at Millhouse for coffee and cake or a spot of lunch. If it’s cold outside, sink back into the sofas by the fire; if the sun’s shining, enjoy your drink in the garden.
Cowal to Bute
The ferry from Colintraive to Rhubodach only takes a few minutes, so before you know it you’ll be on the beautiful Isle of Bute. It’s 10 miles from Rhubodach to Rothesay, where you catch your ferry back to the mainland. Rothesay is a seaside resort brimming with character. There are loads of great cafés, shops, gardens and visitor attractions to explore.
If you have time, follow the coastal road south to Mount Stuart. This spectacular neo-gothic palace set amid acres of lush woodland is a real highlight of a visit to Bute. And if you’re not in a hurry to catch the ferry, head west to see some of Bute’s finest beaches. Ettrick Bay is stunning and has a fabulous tearoom which is open from April to October.
The crossing from Rothesay to Weymss Bay takes about 45 minutes on the ferry. From here, it’s about 18 miles back to Ardrossan, the start of your journey.
Local’s tip: Don’t miss the Victorian toilets in Rothesay. They’re a masterpiece of marble, ceramics and brass.