In the Spotlight: Always Argyll Tour
ISLES OF MULL & IONA EXCURSION
Iona Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe.
This is one of our first days out in the western highlands. After departure we journey through the glorious scenery of North Argyll, passing the shores of Loch Awe and the grandeur of Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – also known as the ‘Hollow Mountain’ as it was hollowed out for a gigantic Hydro Electric station which supplies electricity at peak periods through the day. Apart from a few small administrative offices you would hardly know it existed. Some of our tours visit this extraordinary place.
This part of Loch Awe is extremely deep and is known as the Pass of Brander – a haven for huge brown trout who exist in its depths and feed on Arctic Char who are a remnant of past ice ages. This is what happens – the brown trout goes down further than normal for his lunch, finds the Char and enjoys it so much that he becomes larger and larger - needless to say he doesn’t tell his friends! Specimens up to 40lbs have been caught, and I have a 30lb one on display in my office.
At the end of the Pass of Brander we pass the Awe Barrage which supplies water to more Hydro schemes and also controls the height of the loch. Just to the west of the Hydro station is the site of a battle between the forces of King Robert the Bruce and the McDougals of Lorne. Bruce won and the McDougals now lie under large stone cairns on the banks of the River Awe!
We pass Inverawe Smokehouse where the most delicious smoked salmon comes from, and then come upon Taynuilt which is a quiet little village where you can find the ancient Bonawe Iron Furnace. It mainly produced cannon balls for the old empire.
We now journey along the side of Loch Etive which runs north from here all the way to Glen Etive and Glencoe. There are views of Ardchattan Priory and across to Benderloch. There is also a huge stone quarry across the loch at Bonawe. It still supplies stone for Argyll’s roads.
Next we arrive at Connel village with its amazing bridge across the Falls of Lora – one of nature’s great spectacles. Here the water from Loch Etive comes boiling through the narrow loch entrance and is particularly stunning at high spring tides. There is a well-placed pub called the Glue Pot here, then we pass on to Dunstaffnage Castle with Dunstaffnage Marina in front and the Marine Laboratory to the side. We are now approaching Oban and we descend quickly down to the beautiful Oban Bay passing Kings Knoll and then on to the Oban Ferry Terminal for embarkation onto the Mull Ferry.
The Falls of Lora is a spectacular tidal rapid located 6 miles to the north east of Oban, at the seaward end of Loch Etive.
The Ferry is extremely large, stabilised and has every comfort for the discerning traveller including full restaurant and café service. We depart Oban and travel across Oban Bay with superb views of Muthu Alexandra Hotel, Oban Cathedral and also McCaig’s Tower which dominates the bay. We have the Island of Kerrera to port and yet another MacDougal stronghold, Dunollie Castle, to starboard. We then set out across the Firth of Lorne to Lismore Lighthouse and Duart Castle, home of the Chief of the Clan McLean. Sir Lachlan MacLean’s father was Lord McLean – for many years the Chief Scout of The Scouting Association. I think Sir Lachlan has the best views in Argyll!!!
The Ferry leaving the beautiful Oban Bay
Having passed Duart Castle we arrive at the Craignure Ferry Terminal where we disembark for our crossing of the Isle of Mull. We drive through the spectacular scenery of Glen More to the Ross of Mull where the Fionnphort Ferry takes us across the Sound of Iona to the beautiful island of Iona and its famous Abbey. Here you can wander round the medieval buildings and the old village, and enjoy excellent refreshment facilities and fabulous photo opportunities of the Abbey itself, the Sound and the glorious white sands which surround the island.
We retrace our steps and wonder at the exploits of the fishermen who brave the western seas to bring us food and make a living. Their gaily coloured boats can be seen round all the shores and remote piers. You cannot help but admire these brave men. From the ferry terminal you can view Staffa and the Treshnish Islands – home to many thousands of seabirds, including puffins, which you can see fly over the Island and shores. A wonderful place to be – I never tire of visiting Iona!
LOCHABER, GLENFINNAN & FORT WILLIAM EXCURSION
Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Monument seen from the hill behind the NTS visitor centre
From Tyndrum we proceed northwards across the Argyll/Perthshire border and are immediately struck by the sight of Ben Doran filling the Glen in front of us. As we approach Auch Glen we take in spectacular views of Ben Challum, Ben Odhar, the great horseshoe railway viaducts and Ben Doran itself with Black Mount in the background. This is a glorious place at any time of the year and is the ancient pathway to the north through Rannoch Moor and the land of the MacDonalds. Great herds of highland cattle used to pass this way heading to the Crieff market and Rob Roy MacGregor made this journey on many occasions.
We pass northwards down Auch Glen by the River Kinglas and the River Orchy, well known for salmon fishing, and arrive at Bridge of Orchy with its spectacular bridge and an hotel which is frequented by fishermen and walkers from around the world. Outstanding Highland scenery surrounds us! We then continue north towards Black Mount and leave Loch Tulla and its wonderful backdrop of mountains as we ascend to the most glorious viewpoint where we look back in wonder at Glen Orchy and Achallader. Always have a camera ready here – its beauty is beyond words!
Buachaille Etive Mor is one of the best known and loved of all the Munro peaks. The epic view of the mountain from the main A82 road makes it appear quite unassailable and is one of the most photographed sights in Scotland.
Further on we arrive on Rannoch Moor, which holds Loch Ba and numerous other small ‘Lochans’. The whole area is strewn with gigantic boulders, remnants of bygone glaciers of past ice ages. Deer and wildlife abound here, and from the summit you can see right across Argyll and well into Perthshire before coming upon Buachaillie Etive Mhor and the Glencoe Ski Centre. Kingshouse Hotel is situated nearby on this vast, atmospheric moor, popular with walkers and climbers. Everything here is wild and spectacular, especially as we descend into Glencoe beside a mountain range called the Three Sisters and arrive at Glencoe village on the edge of Loch Leven. Heart-stopping scenery all the way!
We travel through Ballachullish – famous for really good, heavy slate – and pass across Loch Leven as we proceed to North Ballachulish and the Corran Ferry, then on to the old town of Fort William. Fort William is the outdoor capital of the UK, and has numerous exciting places to entertain you, especially the Nevis Range where the chair lift takes us to the ski slopes of Ben Nevis. From the chairlift you can appreciate stunning views of Lochaber for many, many miles and on reaching the top there is a great mountain restaurant to enjoy. Good slopes and Ben Nevis Distillery are the main attractions here and Muthu Highland Heritage Coach Tours do Ceilidh Concerts at the Nevis Centre in Fort William town centre. There is also the West Highland Museum and the Commando Memorial just to the north. Inverlochy Castle is on the outside of town and guarded the south end of the Great Glen – with Fort Augustus in the centre and Fort George at the north end near Inverness.
Ben Nevis (Scottish Gaelic: Beinn Nibheis) is the highest mountain in the British Isles.
We leave Fort William and proceed by Corpach across the Caledonian Canal and then on to Loch Eil and Glen Finnan where Charles Edward Stuart raised his standard. This is a spectacular place with a fine tea room and fabulous views down the Loch to the west and Harry Potter’s viaduct to the east – have your cameras ready!
Bonnie Prince Charlie led his men to Derby before taking cold feet and racing back to Culloden where he was defeated by the Duke of Cumberland. He then spent a year evading capture wandering round the West Coast of Scotland before escaping by boat to France disguised as a maid. It is a wonderful, romantic story but the poor people he left behind had a very hard time indeed. He was known as the Young Pretender and the rebellion was called the 1745 Rebellion. His father had been no luckier in 1715, but despite being extremely troublesome, the Stuarts were forgiven and now live at the magnificent Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute.
We return home via Fort William and enjoy yet another great evening of entertainment at the Hotel.
KYLES OF BUTE AND TIGHNABRUAICH EXCURSION
The Kyles of Bute, dubbed "Secret Coast", because unless you are specifically heading this way, you are unlikely to run into this remarkably beautiful part of the world.
This is a very fine and spectacular day out across South Argyll to the Clyde Estuary, with fabulous scenery of mountains, lochs and glens all the way. We drive through Glen Orchy and pass Kilchurn Castle at the north end of Loch Awe. Kilchurn Castle was the original Campbell stronghold built around 1432 and was originally an island before the loch was lowered to facilitate building a road to Oban. It is in the guardianship of Historic Scotland but the title is owned privately by Highland Heritage Limited. It protected the northern section of the clan Campbell lands from enemies like the MacGregors. Although Kilchurn fell into disrepair in the 1700s, it was an excellent piece of work considering it was built by wild mountain men from Glenorchy! Upon completion of new Castles, the clan seat moved to Inverary Castle in the west and Taymouth Castle in the east.
We then proceed across to Inverary and enjoy the shopping and walks round this pretty town. The Castle is extremely interesting and the piers are a magnet for all. We then journey around the head of Loch Fyne, passing Ardkinglas woodland garden and down the loch side to St Catherine’s and Strachur before arriving at Glendaruel and Loch Riddon. Then we take the high road above the Kyles of Bute to Tighnabruaich where we visit Suzy’s Café and enjoy a really beautiful old fishing town. The scenery here and the views across the Kyles of Bute to the Isle of Bute are always outstanding and a joy to everyone. Bute is the home of the Marquis of Bute who owns Mount Stuart House, easily the grandest house in the country.
Why not stay at our Alexandra Hotel, the views across Oban Bay to the island of Kerrera and beyond are a constant joy. Colourful sunsets, seabirds of all kinds and seals can be spotted most evenings.
This is an easy, relaxed day and we return again by Loch Fyne and Glen Airigh. Just perfect!
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