West Highland Line
Argyll & the Isles is a region that lends itself to romantic journeys and perhaps the most romantic of all is by rail from Glasgow to Oban on the West Highland Line. It’s a truly stunning journey up the west coast of Scotland taking in lush glens, soaring hills and tranquil lochs. Although not exclusively within Argyll, most of the route lies inside the region, with stops at Dumbarton Central, Helensburgh Upper, Garelochhead, Arrochar & Tarbet, Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum Lower, Dalmally, Loch Awe, Falls of Cruachan, Taynuilt, Connel Ferry and Oban. Hop on and off to explore Argyll at your leisure or just sit back and enjoy this famously scenic Scottish train journey.
A great way to use both this and other Highland railway lines is by purchasing a Highland Rover Travelpass. This ticket will give you unlimited travel for four days over eight consecutive days on the Highland rail lines and allow you to hop on and off at different stations as you please. It costs £81.50 which represents amazing value given the vast swathes of the Highlands it gives you access to.
Helensburgh and Dumbarton
Helensburgh is the first stop within Argyll and for those who might want to hop on and off the train with a Travelpass there’s plenty to see and do in this bustling and historic seaside town. With broad avenues, piers, promenades, shops and eateries, Helensburgh is a great place to spend a day. One of the highlights is Hill House – what is universally regarded as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s finest domestic creation. The celebrated architect and his artist wife Margaret MacDonald created almost everything to see here, from the building itself to its furniture and textiles. Helensburgh’s Tower Digital Arts Centre is also worth a visit to catch a movie or performance.
The next stop is Dumbarton where you could alight and visit Dumbarton Rock – a dramatic volcanic plug, which is Dumbarton Rock and Dumbarton Castle which is nestled within this famous geological feature. The views over the Clyde, Loch Lomond and Argyll are simply breathtaking.
Garelochhead, Tarbet & Arrochar & Ardlui
Garelochhead lies north of Dumbarton and here the scenery really starts to change as the Highlands begin to open up before you. As the line snakes along the side of you really do get a sense that you are entering a special part of the world. For walkers the station at Arrochar & Tarbet is a jumping off point for the famous Arrochar Alps, whichoffer some of the best walking and climbing in Argyll. This rugged mountain range includes the famous Cobbler, one of Scotland’s most iconic – and best loved – peaks. Alternatively walk down to nearby Loch Lomond for boat trips on the loch.
The line now switches from skirting a sea water to a fresh water loch as it hugs the western shore of Loch Lomond north of Tarbet before arriving at Ardlui, another jumping off point for walkers particularly those tackling Ben Vorlich.
Dalmally, Loch Awe & Oban
After briefly leaving Argyll the line splits at Crianlarich – where some of the train also split – and the route strikes out west. Arriving at Dalamlly, if you time it right you could enjoy the annual Dalmally Agricultural Show, a fabulous celebration of rural life and local produce.
Loch Awe is next up where, among other attractions, is the Scottish baronial-style St Conan’s Chapel which was built in 1883. On to the Falls of Cruachan and you’re just 200m from one of Scotland’s most amazing engineering projects. Hidden deep within the mountain of Ben Cruachan on the shores of Loch Awe is Cruachan Power Station and you can take a tour inside the “Hollow Mountain” as it’s known to witness this marvel of modern engineering with your own eyes.
Next up is Taynuilt, home to the Bonawe Iron Furnace, the most complete charcoal fuelled ironworks in Britain as well as the nine-hole Taynuilt Golf Club, which boasts beautiful views of Loch Etive. Connel Ferry station serves the villages of Connel and North Connel, which are connected by the magnificent Grade B listed Connel bridge, originally built to service a branch line of the Callander and Oban Railway. When constructed the only rail bridge with a longer span was the Forth Bridge. Since the 1960s when the branch line was closed it is used exclusively by cars.
Finally it’s on to the bustling fishing port of Oban, unofficial capital of the West Highlands and gateway to the Western Isles. This lovely Victorian resort is full of life, with ferries to the Hebrides coming and going, convivial bars and streets packed with individual shops and cafés. Known as ‘Scotland’s Seafood Capital’, it’s the place to sample fresh seafood. Walk up to McCaig’s Tower, a prominent landmark in Oban, visit Oban Distillery and discover the Scottish Sealife Sanctuary. There are a number of operators offering wildlife boat trips from Oban.