Wild About Argyll’s forests
View of Argyll Forest Park, Credit: Robin McKelvie
The forests of Argyll stay with you. I mean that not in an emotional or spiritual way – though that works too – but literally as I have a large painting on my living room wall of them. It is of towering trees illuminated in a rainbow of colours, reflecting the shimmering sheens of Argyll and Bute’s bountiful forests, whose beauty shines through all the seasons.
When I think of Argyll, I do think of big skies, sweeping waters and towering mountains, but also forest, swathes of it. I think of the vaulting trees of Benmore, of sailing into Holy Loch in Autumn when Argyll blows New England out of the water for seasonal colour. I think of hiking around tree-shrouded Loch Awe catching sight of Ben Cruachan through the branches and of the thick, fairy-tale forests of the north of Bute.
I’ve been really impressed in recent years with Argyll’s determination to preserve woodland, but also to open it up to the community. I’m thinking of initiatives like the Kilfinan Community Woodland – more on that later – and Saving Argyll’s Rainforest. Did you know Argyll is home to more than half of Scotland’s remaining rainforest habitat? Then there is the Northwoods Rewilding Network. Argyll partners include Auchgoyle Farm, Ardnackaig Farm, Cnocan a Chorra, Feochaig Wood, Glenan Wood, Carry Farm, Ardura Community Forest and Evanachan Farm.
Let me share with you now some great places where you can get right in amongst all that life-affirming forest in glorious Argyll and Bute.
- Community Oasis - I mentioned the Kilfinan Community Woodland in Tighnabruaich already and I love what they do. We all love what they do – I came here with my wife and two wee daughters and they loved learning about the initiative as much as playing; it really tied into the eco-friendly themes they’ve been getting excited about at school. Here a 1,300-acre wooded oasis has been created with land that was once just lost to Sitka spruce industrial forestry. Any revenue from the forestry is ploughed back into conservation and also recreational facilities, with the creation of both jobs and affordable housing. There are attempts to recreate smallholding, traditional croft-style living. There is a web of walking trails to explore across the hillside. We followed the Allt Mor burn, checking out artwork created by the village’s primary school kids on the way. We found bird and squirrel boxes and a wildlife pond here in a life-affirming forest oasis.
- Magical Forests – The magical oasis of Puck’s Glen on the Cowal Peninsula is the stuff of Brothers Grimm. This dreamy escape has been a popular Argyll walk since Victorian times with good reason. It snakes along under vaulting Douglas firs, through a rugged, rocky gorge that is alive with folk legends and – surely – fairies, making it a firm family favourite. You follow the Eas Mor burn deeper into the world of nature, a world of waterfalls and tumbling rapids. You can link up with the nearby Benmore Gardens, where trees from all over the world await. Buses can drop off at Puck’s Glen and also serve Benmore Botanic Gardens if you want to make a clean, green day of it.
- Bute-iful Woodlands – It’s over to the gorgeous Isle of Bute now. The northern portion of the island is a rugged wilderness that lies north of the Highland Boundary Fault. Bute Forest is a community-owned hideaway that stretches off inland through Rhubodach Forest near the wee ferry slipway. It boasts a series of wonders. The Balnakailly Loop ekes you off to an old cleared village and also to the ruins of a control bunker for a WW2 decoy village that was built in an attempt to divert German bombers from Clydeside targets. There is also a Poetry Trail and another couple of trails forged during Lockdown - The Stag’s Trod and The Back o’ Beyond. There are various viewpoints in a landscape full of both rich flora and fauna here on the deeply scenic Kyles of Bute. If you want a longer walk then link up with the cross-island West Island Way. For my blog on that world-class walk click here.
- Ancient Oak – Few visitors to picture-postcard Crinan, realise that in the woods just up from the canal there is a gorgeous stretch of oak forest. I only stumbled on it on a small ship cruise when I had a couple of hours here and I was trying to stay away from the gorgeous cakes in the café. Crinan Wood is just a stone’s throw from the Crinan Canal basin, but feels very much a world away – it’s certainly a world away from homogenous, planted forestry. The dampness of the west coast climate is a real boon here as it has helped magic up a temperate rainforest that is alive with all manner of flora and fauna, from ferns, moss, and lichen, through to stately oak and birch, and on to red squirrels and deer. Birdsong also fills the sweet oxygen-rich air. There is the waymarked trail to follow, with the views out to Orwell’s Isle of Jura a serious bonus.
- Woods Fit for a Duchess – Head to Helensburgh and immerse yourself in the sheer joy and diverse beauty of Duchess Wood. The locals call it ‘Bluebell Wood’ and that’s an apposite moniker as it really is spectacular in spring when the life-affirming bluebells explode all around. This Local Nature Reserve to the west of Helensburgh is easy to access with parking and a network of trails to explore – you can take the train to Helensburgh too. The work of the Friends of Duchess helps preserve and allow easy access to this charming community woodland. You won’t be lonely here, not with waving locals and woodland birds to look out for, including the willow warbler, blackcap, mistle thrush and both blue and coal tit to look out for.
- Argyll Forest Park – Ok, I’m cheating here slightly by including this green lung as it’s not strictly speaking one forest, more a network of wonderful woodland woven together as the protected Argyll Forest Park, the UK’s oldest forest park. This bucolic oasis stretches its tentacles across the Cowal Peninsula, from the Holy Loch at Dunoon, to the gnarly peaks of the Arrochar Alps. My point here is it has so much you can just keep dipping back into and never get bored – that’s Argyll in a nutshell. I’ll pick out two highlights for you. First up is Glenbranter near Strachur, I love its versatility, as there are trails, from short strolls through the moody oak woodland, on to adrenaline-pumping all-day bike adventures. Look out too for the red squirrel viewing camera, where you can learn much more about the cutest of animals. Ardgartan is another star. Again there is superb walking and cycling – just amble by the Croe Water or bring your wheels and hook up with the forest tracks for an epic along Loch Long bashing through the mixed woodlands. As with all Argyll and Bute forest day outs, you’ll end the day full of endorphins, spirits soaring, mind already planning a return.