Christmas is a time for traditions and what could be more traditional than a festive walk? From a pre-Christmas lunchtime stroll to a big, post-dinner Boxing Day hike, walking in Argyll’s beautiful winter landscape is a great way to enjoy this special time of the year with family and friends. The cold, crisp days of winter are a magical time to get out and about, and you’ll often be treated to a spectacular early sunset. Plus, it’s the best way to work up an appetite - or walk off any excesses! This Christmas wrap up warm, take a big dose of fresh air and get walking.
The Crinan Canal
Walking the Crinan Canal towpath is a fantastic experience for all the family. The route is nice and flat, rising from sea level to just 65m over its entire length. And at nine miles (14km) long, it’s very do-able in a day. It’s also possible to tackle short sections of the way individually. There’s so much to see along its length, from wildlife to prehistoric sites. You’ll find places to refuel and refresh at Crinan, Cairnbaan, Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig. Another option is a lovely 6.5 km walk that starts at Crinan Harbour and climbs through the forest above Crinan to Castle Dounie, an Iron Age Fort on a high hilltop.
For a festive forest amble, you can’t beat this circular walk through Glenan Woodland. It has everything – caves, a remote beach and a lost village. The woodland is one of the few remaining native oak woodlands in the area. The route takes you to Glenan Bay via the forest path. Here, you can return via the bay and the shore. If you’re feeling fit, you can carry on up the forest path to an old deserted village. It can be very boggy in places, so do wear sturdy boots. The Cowal Way also starts near here. Afterwards, head to Portavadie’s Lodge for hot chocolate. They don’t mind muddy boots!
West Island Way
For a festive island adventure head to the beautiful island of Bute and walk the West Island Way. This fabulous route, one of Scotland’s Great Trails, is around 30 miles long. You can tackle it as a single epic day or in a series of shorter bite-sized chunks. It’s an unbeatable way to see Bute, which is an island of great contrasts and many faces, from its stunning beaches to its fascinating historical sites. There are plenty of lovely cafés to stop off at along the way.
The small Hebridean island of Gigha is great for a family walk. Pick up the ‘Walk Gigha’ booklet from Gigha Stores or Gigha Hotel. It describes in detail (with maps) the 12 designated off-road walks. The walks vary in length, from half a mile to three miles, and several can be linked to give a whole day's walking. If you have time don’t miss the Twin Beaches – they’re breathtaking even in the winter. The highest hill on the island is Creag Bhan in the northern part of the island.
If you’ve eaten too many chocolates and feel the need for a demanding hill walk, then it has to be the The Cobbler. One of Scotland’s best loved peaks, it makes for a fantastic Boxing Day adventure. Part of the Arrochar Alps at 884 metres (2,900ft) in height, The Cobbler is only a Corbett, but it still has an impressive summit where brave (and experienced) mountaineers can ‘thread the needle’. Another excellent hill walk is Ben More on the island of Mull.
A further hill walking option is Beinn Lora near Oban. For something not too strenuous, there are two way-marked trails, Coastal Climb (1.4 miles) and Eagle's Eyrie (3.1 miles), through the woods at the bottom of the hill. If you’re feeling energetic, these trails provide access to the hill path which leads to the steep, grassy summit of Beinn Lora. It’s not a big hill, but it’s a strenuous climb. The route is not signposted, and is only suitable for experienced hillwalkers. Your hard work will be rewarded with breath-taking views down Loch Etive to Ben Cruachan. And maybe a mince pie or two…