Argyll’s Secret Coast
Argyll’s Secret Coast is a hidden gem tucked away on the south-west tip of the Cowal Peninsula on Scotland’s west coast. It’s an area of stunning beauty, yet hardly anyone knows about it. You don’t find crowds of tourists. What you do find is wildlife, tranquillity and deserted beaches. Bordered by two beautiful stretches of water, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne, the landscape is wild, with hills, lochs and ancient forests. It feels remote, but it’s just under two hours from Glasgow.
One of the best ways to enjoy the scenery is on foot, and there are some lovely marked coastal and forest walks. The most famous is the long-distance Cowal Way, which begins at Portavadie in the south-west. There are lots of smaller routes too. Try the loop from Portavadie over the headland to Stillaig Bay. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Ayrshire, Arran and Inchmarnock Island.
The quiet country roads and forest tracks are great for cycling and mountain biking. A ten-mile trail starting at Kames and heading round Ardlamont Point is just one of the road routes that all the family can easily tackle. Or you could explore the islands and inlets by boat. With protective hills, relaxed tides and no crowds, these are perfect sailing waters. The Colintraive Hotel, Tighnabruaich, Royal an Lochan and Kames Hotels all have dedicated visitors’ moorings and there are endless secluded anchorages to choose from. It’s also a popular area with kayakers. Look out for seals, porpoises, otters and – if you’re lucky – basking sharks while you’re out on the loch.
The coastline itself is rugged and varied. It’s well worth making a special trip to Ostell Bay. This huge crescent-shaped sweep of sand is a twenty-minute walk from the road and a favourite with locals. It’s a fantastic place for a swim or game of rounders on a sunny day. Another glorious spot is Otter Bay, which must have one of the best sun-set views in the west. Here, the wonderful Oystercatcher pub sits right on the beach and is ideal for watching birdlife with a chilled beer.
Some of the finest remaining Atlantic oak woods in Scotland hug much of the coast. These ancient woodlands are magical places and rich in wildlife. Bluebells, wood anemone, primroses and other flowers form a colourful spring display, and deer, badgers, red squirrels and pine martens all make their homes here. Glenan Wood near Portavadie is an exquisite example, and easily accessible with a well-marked path running through it. It has a rare population of night jars, so listen out for their distinctive call in the twilight.
Argyll’s Secret Coast is as rich in culture as it is in nature. The landscape and light has inspired generations of artists and there’s a thriving artistic scene. One of the major events of the year is the Cowal Open Studios in September, when local artists throw open the doors of their studios to the public. Tighnabruaich Gallery, with its ever-changing exhibitions of Scottish art, is another ‘must see’ for art lovers, as is Caol Ruadh, a unique sculpture park near Colintraive. The area is steeped in history and dotted with fascinating ancient sites, ruined castles, chambered cairns and standing stones. Glenan deserted village sits deep in the woods and is well worth the walk. The Kilmodan Stones are another highlight for those with an interest in history.
If all this activity leaves you feeling a bit peckish, then you’re in luck. Argyll’s Secret Coast has some fabulous restaurants and cafes serving up delicious food. They’re all full of character, often family run and on a mission to provide you with first-class locally sourced food. With world-famous seafood from Loch Fyne, game from the hills and estates and a thriving community of producers creating everything from smoked delicacies to local ales, this really is foodie heaven. Try the Royal An Lochan in Tighnabruaich for mussels, langoustine and scallops plucked straight from the loch, cooked to perfection and served in a modern Scottish style. And for fine dining in truly stunning surroundings, head to the spanking new Portavadie Marina. It’s a fabulous setting and just the place to watch the sun slowly slip over the horizon to the west.
Argyll’s Secret Coast is just a whisper away … but don’t tell everyone.
Find out more about Argyll’s Secret Coast at www.argyllsecretcoast.co.uk. The article was written by Eve MacFarlane, a freelance writer living in Portavadie. Find out more about her work at www.westcoasting.co.uk.