St Columba Journey
Follow in the footsteps of St Columba, the Irish abbot and missionary who introduced Christianity to Scotland. This epic journey takes you through some of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes of Argyll & The Isles. Visit sacred sites, takes detours to secluded islands and see how Columba’s powerful spiritual legacy is felt today. ‘St Columba Journey: Exile and Resurrection’ is one of Scotland’s Pilgrim Journeys. You can see the full route and find more information and maps at www.scotlandspilgrimjourneys.com. This site also provides alternative routes for cyclists and walkers, as well as information about public transport.
Inveraray to Campbeltown
Begin your journey at the handsome town of Inveraray on the western shore of Loch Fyne. From here, head south on the A83 towards Lochgilphead and then Tarbert. As you travel, Loch Fyne opens into the Firth of Clyde affording magnificent views.
Tarbert is a bustling fishing village with a fine selection of hotels, restaurants and art galleries clustered around the harbour. It’s also where you can catch the ferry to Portavadie and the Cowal Peninsula…but that’s for another journey! Just past Tarbert, bear right onto the B8001 towards Skipness. At Skipness Castle, with its ancient chapel of St Brendan, enjoy the view to Bute.
Next, retrace your route as far as Claonaig to join the B842 and continue south via Carradale to Saddell where Somerled, Lord of the Isles, founded a Cistercian Abbey. It's here that medieval pilgrims would set sail for Arran and the Holy Isle. Finally you reach Campbelltown, capital of Kintyre.
Local tip: At low tide you can walk across a shingle causeway to Davaar Island, which lies at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch. It’s essential that you check the times of the tides or you could be caught on the island for longer than you intended!
Campbeltown to Tarbert
From Campbeltown take the road south to Southend. Your next stop is where Columba first set foot in Scotland near the Mull of Kintyre. Visit St Columba’s Chapel at Keil before resuming your journey north – as Columba did - by Glenbarr and Killean.
At Tayinloan hop on the ferry to pretty Gigha - or God’s Island - which is dedicated to Blane’s uncle, St Catan. There’s also the option of catching a ferry from Kennacraig to Islay and enjoying a 90-mile loop that takes in Jura, Islay and Colonsay, where Columba’s influence can still be seen in everything from place names to crumbling ruins where religious sites once stood. Mountainous Jura, with the Corryvreckan whirlpool at its northern end, is a likely location for Columba’s special retreat.
From Kennacraig press on to Tarbert, the gateway back into mid Argyll.
Local tip: Just to the west of St Columba's Chapel look out for St Columba's Footprints carved into a rocky outcrop.
Tarbert to Crinan
From Tarbert take the B8024 north to Kilberry and Knapdale. This road hugs the coast and offers stunning views across Loch Tarbert and the Sound of Jura. At Kilberry you reach the centre of scenic Knapdale with Kilberry Castle and St Brendan’s Chapel, which houses an exquisite collection of medieval carvings. Continue onwards to Achahoish where you can visit St Columba’s Cave and other sites connected to the saint.
From Lochgilphead, you can either head straight to Crinan, or, if you have time, head west to explore the area around Loch Sween. On the east side of the loch you’ll find Castle Sween and the church of Kilmory Knap with its carved crosses. On the west lies Tayvallich and Keills Chapel with another set of outstanding carvings.
Crinan to Oban
You're now about to enter a part of Argyll that is packed with sacred sites. Visit the citadel of Dunadd, where kings were inaugurated, and Kirkmichael Glassary with its ancient Church of Kilbride. Next comes Kilmartin Glen with its complex of cairns and standing stones, then Kilmartin with its carvings, church and museum. Continue on through this beautiful area of mid Argyll past the villages of Ardfern, Craignish, Kilmelford and Kilninver until you arrive at Oban.
Local tip: Walk to the top of Dunadd Fort and you’ll be treated to immense views. Look out for a footprint carved in rock – it’s thought to have formed part of Dál Riata's coronation ritual.
Oban to Iona
At Oban catch a ferry to Iona. This lovely island is also known as Columba’s Isle, but it has a spiritual heritage that extends back long before the saint landed here. It is from here that Columba and other Christian pilgrims set off on missions to the Scottish mainland.
Experience the peace and beauty of the island and visit the restored Benedictine Abbey, the ruined nunnery and the ancient burial ground of Scotland’s kings.
From Iona, you can continue to follow Columba’s Journey all the way to Tain via Mallaig, Fort Augustus and Inverness.
Local tip: On your way to Iona, take the time to explore the Ross of Mull. The Ross of Mull Historical Centre gives a fascinating insight into the history, geology, archaeology, genealogy and wildlife of the area