The Heart of Argyll is brimming with natural wonders. Nature lovers are drawn to the area, which encompasses Inveraray, Knapdale, Kilmartin & Crinan, for the stunning scenery and wonderful wildlife. It’s also known for its wonderful woodlands and exquisite gardens, both of which are bursting into bloom at this time of year. Whether you want to picnic, take a short stroll or look out for flora and fauna, these woodlands and gardens of the Heart of Argyll are the place to be!
Wood you believe it? There are hundreds of acres of forest and woodland to explore in the Heart of Argyll. If you’re a woodland wanderer then you’re spoilt for choice around Inveraray, Knapdale, Kilmartin & Crinan.
Crinan Wood is just a few minutes’ walk from the Crinan Canal basin. This ancient Atlantic oakwood is a magical place. The west coast climate has created a temperate rainforest, full of fern, moss, lichen and gnarled oak and birch. Follow the way-marked trail and enjoy sweeping views of Jura and Mull. You might spot a red squirrel or two!
The oak woodlands of Taynish National Nature Reserve are interspersed with grassland, heath, saltmarsh and shoreline to give a truly amazing variety of wildlife. Admire the spring-time carpet of wildflowers or search out evidence of otter activity. There are several way-marked trails to follow. Explore the woodlands on the Woodland Trail, a mostly level and well-surfaced route. If you are feeling more energetic, the Barr Mor Trail is more strenuous with some steep climbs, but it gives you a great view from the top.
Achnabreac, meanwhile, is an open woodland with trails and hides. A short forest walk will take you to the Achnabreck Cup and Ring Rocks, the most extensive prehistoric rock carvings in the UK. The forest is also home to the famous Firetower mountain bike trails. Watch out for red squirrels, red and roe deer, crossbills, tiny goldcrests and hunting sparrowhawks.
Knapdale Forest spreads from coast to coast and it’s here that beavers have been reintroduced into Scotland. The first beavers were released in May 2009 as part of the Scottish Beaver Trial and quickly settled into their new surroundings. At Barnluasgan you’ll find scenic trails which will allow you to see the work of this elusive creature. Time your visit right – dusk or dawn is best – and you might just spot one. If not, there’s plenty of evidence of beaver activity to look out for.
The wildlife and beaver visitor centre at Barrandaimh is an excellent place to catch up on wildlife gossip, what’s been sighted, where. The viewpoint, just a short walk from the visitor centre on a bluff above Bellanoch, offers panoramic views down to the Crinan Canal, of the Add Estuary, Moine Mhor and up Kilmartin Glen and on a clear day far beyond Loch Crinan towards the Dorus Mor over the Craignish peninsula to the islands of Jura, Scarba and even Mull.
Blairbuie woodland is a beautiful, inspiring and tranquil wooded area, forming part of Lochgilphead's Argyll and Bute Hospital grounds. Featuring all-abilities access, outdoor exercise facilities, sculptures and other artworks, the woodland is open to all and is planted with a mix of native and exotic trees. Users of the mental health services and volunteers from all walks of life carry out the woodland restoration and ongoing maintenance.
Arduaine Garden near Kilmartin is a secret paradise. Lying on the southern slope of a promontory that reaches out into Loch Melfort, it’s an oasis of green with a dazzling display of plants from across the globe. Warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, you’ll find many exotic species and hybrids. April and May are particularly good months to see the rhododendrons and azaleas, but there’s something in flower every day of the year. There are two way-marked paths and the views across the Sound of Jura to the Hebridean islands of Scarba, Luing and Jura are just stunning.
You’ll find Crarae Gardens 10 miles south of Inveraray on the A83 close to the banks of Loch Fyne. Tranquil yet spectacular in places, Crarae features a gorge, a tumbling burn, waterfalls and cliffs. An inspired combination of the naturalistic planting of carefully selected trees, shrubs and other plants together with the conifers towering above and the natural drama of the setting creates the feeling of a Himalayan valley. Right now, the garden is full of colour with rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias. Look out for wildlife too. You may spot deer with their fawns, birds including treecreepers, ravens, woodpeckers, dippers and birds of prey such as buzzards, sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons.
The grounds a Inveraray Castle, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, are simply stunning. They cover around sixteen acres. Two acres are formal lawns and flowerbeds, the remainder being park and woodland. Extending to 180 hectares they form one of the most important designed landscapes in Scotland. In spring you’ll be treated to a riot of vibrant reds, pinks and whites as the rhododendrons and azaleas bloom. There are also a few lovely walks in the grounds. The 1.5-mile Dun na Cuaiche Woodland Walk is a fabulous stroll. The views from the top of the hill across Inveraray and Loch Fyne are stunning.
And finally, it’s not a woodland or a garden, but if you love nature you’re sure to love the mossy magic of Moine Mhor. This National Nature Reserve at the heart of Kilmartin Glen is a surviving remnant of a once much more extensive raised bog. This ancient wetland habitat is bursting with flora and fauna, from orchids to curlews. Mosses and lichen abound, as do flowers, including the bog insect-catching sundew, orchids and rare species such as small cranberry. It's a stronghold of the marsh fritillary butterfly and is home to 11 species of dragonfly.