Leave the car behind, catch the ferry and have an adventure in Dunoon

Dunoon is the jewel in the Firth of Clyde, very close to Scotland’s biggest city Glasgow. Situated on the Cowal Peninsula, the seaside resort is a gateway to the great outdoors, with an abundance of walking and cycling adventures accessible easily by public transport from the ferry pier.

Local businesses are embracing the opportunities the great outdoors offer, like Jon Smith from the St Ives Guesthouse explains: ‘Ìf you love the great outdoors, if you love friendly people, this is a place to come. We have got everything: Forests, mountain bike trails, boating, fishing, botanical gardens; nature at its finest.’

The Rail and Sail Ticket, a joint offer from CalMac Ferries and Scotrail, makes travelling on public transport simple and encourages people to leave their car at home. With a combined ticket for train and ferry travel, which can be bought at staffed stations, online or on the train, it is the perfect opportunity for a spontaneous escape to Scotland’s Adventure Coast and the opportunity to get #wildaboutargyll without a car.

Jenny Tough, an Edinburgh-based adventure traveller and endurance challenger, who has recently taken part in the Dunoon Dirt Dash, is excited about the potential of Rail and Sail:

‘I am very passionate about human-powered endurance challenges and encouraging others to explore this beautiful planet. At the same time I feel strongly about protecting our wild places. Offering people good alternatives to ditch the car and spontaneously have an adventure to explore their own limits is a great idea.’

Steve Bate MBE, adventurer and double Paralympic Champion, has been to Argyll twice in a year and loves the opportunities Dunoon offers for cycling: 

‘Argyll is a fantastic part of Scotland to be explored. I have enjoyed cycling the Dunoon Dirt Dash recently after finishing this year’s road race season, which allows me a week or two of downtime. I love going on adventures when most pro riders put their bikes down. It’s great to encourage people to have an adventure close or far away from home. Dunoon’s setting and the easy access by ferry and train makes it even more tempting to return soon.’

The campaign features a short film showcasing the area and the opportunities Dunoon offers. Joanne Craven, an Edinburgh-based game designer, enjoyed working with FoSho Video from Glasgow on the film to promote the Rail and Sail offering: 

‘The best thing about Dunoon is the ferry. Because even though you're not going very far, it's actually very easy. You feel like you've properly gone on holiday.’ 

After a short or long day in the outdoors, Dunoon has plenty on offer to relax and great choices to stay overnight. A stroll down the promenade and the Victorian pier is highly recommended, or a visit to the historic Castle Mound and the museum. Browsing the local shops and galleries can be great fun, and local cafes and restaurants offer plenty of opportunities for lunch and dinner. 

Six walking and cycling adventures are currently featured on the Wild About Argyll website. They Include a walk through Puck’s Glen, from Dunoon to Bishop’s Glen reservoir and up Beinn Mhor. The cycling routes include the Dunoon Dirt Dash bikepacking route, a road bike loop around the Cowal Peninsula and a mountain bike ride around Loch Eck.

More information about the walking and cycling routes and the GPX files to download can be found at www.wildaboutargyll.com/railandsail. More information about Dunoon can also be found at www.dunoonpresents.com. More details about the Rail and Sail tickets, also available to Arran, Bute, Cumbrae and Mull can be found at calmac.co.uk/railandsail.

Detailed Route Descriptions: 

For a straightforward walk the beautiful Benmore Forest, which is home to Puck’s Glen, is hard to beat. Deservedly the most popular walk in Argyll, it follows a magical trail that winds along a Victorian walkway up the dramatic rocky gorge that is said to be home to mischievous spirits. Passing several waterfalls beneath the towering Douglas firs, this 5.8km walk is perfect to experience the rugged beauty of the Argyll Forest Park. Benmore Botanic Garden and the Benmore Cafe are the perfect start and finishing point. West Coast Motors operates a regular bus service to from Dunoon, and on Sunday a shuttle service runs between Dunoon and Benmore Botanic Garden (from March to October).

Starting directly from Dunoon Pier another walk combines an urban stroll through the town with its Victorian Pier and the beautiful natural setting of Bishop’s Glen Reservoir. Aimed at intermediate walkers, the 7.3km long route features good surfaced paths with some steps and short steep sections. It finishes with a visit to Dunoon’s Castle Gardens and a viewpoint in that provides stunning views over the Firth of Clyde on a good day.

For more experienced hill walkers and fell runners the third walk features the highest hill in the area, Beinn Mhor. After the first section on a small road from Benmore Gardens to Stoneyfield in Glen Massan, passing the famous Golden Gates, this is a straightforward out-and-back route, although navigation skills are required for the final climb. With 23.4km and 710m of climbing this is a tough route, but the effort is well rewarded with extensive views. The route is a great adventure for fell runners too. West Coast Motors operates a regular bus service to from Dunoon, and on Sunday a shuttle service runs between Dunoon and Benmore Botanic Garden (from March to October).

Dunoon has plenty on offer for cyclists as well. Bikepackers and gravel cyclists can follow the route for the annual Dunoon Dirt Dash, a self-supported adventure cycling event. Good fitness and even better bike handling and carrying skills are essential for this route, but the effort is amply rewarded with extensive views over Loch Striven, fast singletrails, castles, great cafes and many kilometres of fine gravel tracks. The 133km route, designed by Bikepacking Scotland founder and round the world cyclist Markus Stitz, packs in more than 2000m of climbing and is best ridden in two or three days. It starts and finishes at the Victorian Pier in Dunoon.

For road cyclists a 108km loop across the Cowal Peninsula offers a great day out. It follows Sustrans NCN 75 for the first 25km, passing Loch Tarsan and Loch Striven, before climbing steeply into the mountains on the Otter Hill Road. After cruising along the coast with views across Loch Fyne, the route climbs over more hills to Strachur and follows the beautiful shores of Loch Eck for a short while. A final climb takes riders to the hamlet of Ardentinny and then along the shores of Loch Long and Holy Loch back to Dunoon. If needed, the route can be shortened by 25km by taking the road to Clachan of Glendaruel and along the eastern shore of Loch Eck instead.

A loop around Loch Eck provides a great day out for mountain bikers of all abilities. Starting and finishing at Benmore Botanic Garden and the Benmore Cafe, the 35km route is accessible by bus from Dunoon, except on Sundays. Alternatively a 13km cycle (one way) on quiet roads and paths leads from the Dunoon ferry terminal to the start. Almost entirely traffic-free, this is a great day out on the bike for families, with magnificent views of Loch Eck, Beinn Mhor and the west coast islands of Jura and Islay. The loop includes a section of the Wild About Argyll Bikepacking Trail on the eastern shore of Loch Eck.