Argyll Coastal Route
|Argyll Coastal Route|
|To:||North Ballachulish (NN051603)|
|Via:||Lochgilphead, Oban, Kinlochleven|
|Distance:||149 miles (239.8 km)|
|Meets:||A82, A83, A85, A82|
|Old route now:||A83, A816, A85, A828, A82, B863|
The Argyll Coastal Route is a tourist alternative to the A82 which runs along Loch Lomond, over Rannoch Moor and through Glen Coe. Instead, the trail takes you from Tarbet on the shores of Loch Lomond along the A83 to Lochgilphead, then turning north on the A816 to Oban, followed by the A85 and A828 to Ballachulish Roundabout. For those still eager for more, it then takes the B863 via Glencoe Village and Kinlochleven to end at North Ballachulish, just a mile from the roundabout via the A82, but 20 miles round Loch Leven! At the southern end, the route can also be extended by taking in the Clyde Sea Lochs Trail, which starts in Dumbarton and follows the A814 up to Arrochar (near Tarbet), taking in a circuit of the Rosneath Peninsula via the B833 along the way.
Tarbet to Lochgilphead
The first section of this tourist route exclusively follows the A83, and in places it seems a very long way from the coast. Indeed, it starts on the freshwater Loch Lomond, perhaps one of Scotland's most famous and so most visited Lochs. The lochside visitor centre offers boat trips which includes a ferry service up and down the loch, connecting with some of the islands as well. From Tarbet, it is just a couple of miles west to the sea at Arrochar, although the head of this long fjord-like sea inlet doesn't feel very coastal. Looming above the village are the Arrochar Alps, a group of Munros and lesser hills which are some of the most climbed of Scotland's many summits due to their proximity to and easy access from Glasgow.
After a short blast down the opposite shore of Loch Long, the road turns inland at the forestry centre of Ardgartan, where walks and cycle rides are waymarked, with some other activities available from the holiday park. Climbing up Glen Croe, the sad tail behind Honeymoon Bridge is worth reading as the road ascends the famous Rest and be Thankful Pass. The original line of this road was built in the 1750s by Major William Caulfeild as one of the military roads started by General Wade 30 years earlier. A stone remembering the soldiers who worked on repairs to the road is located in the summit car park.
The B828 heads south from the Rest to Lochgoilhead, and is a worthwhile diversion for those with time to spare as it finds the picturesque head of one of the many long sea lochs in this part of Argyll. Meanwhile, the coastal trail keeps to the A83, heading north to Butter Bridge, and then turning west once more down the scenic Glen Kinglass to Loch Fyne. Along the way, the A815 turns south for those wishing to pause a little and explore the Cowal Peninsula, where age old scenery is mixed with bustling harbours and the busy resort town of Dunoon. Ferries also cross to the Isle of Bute and Kintyre.
Loch Fyne is perhaps the longest of the sea lochs in Argyll, stretching for over 40 miles from the Sound of Bute to its head near Cairndow. As the A83 and Coastal Trail drop past Cairndow Village to the loch shores, the road drops out of the trees with a vista of mountains across the water ahead. The road is, of course, heading inland at this point, and has to turn around the head of the loch to start the long journey south west.
A dozen miles later, and after passing a series of interesting old bridges along the loch shores, the road reaches Inveraray, for centuries the de-facto county town of Argyll due to the presence of the Duke of Argyll's residence at Inveraray Castle. The castle still stands, set in parkland where the village once stood before being moved to improve the dukes view. Whilst this may have been harsh at the time, it has left future generations with the beautiful lochside port to explore, the grand shoreside terraces with arches and elegant Georgian Architecture, and the towns church at the heart of the place, now unfortunately the centre of a roundabout. The visitor is spoilt for places to while away an afternoon, aside from the Castle, the town's historic Jail is a worthwhile stop and there are a range of gift shops and cafes should the occasional shower interrupt the day.
A couple of miles south of Inveraray, the A83 turns inland through forestry and passes an open air museum before returning to the coast at Furnace. From here to Lochgilphead, the road rarely strays far from the shore, although the thick forestry often makes this difficult to believe. The villages of Minard and Lochgair are passed through, and there are frequent laybys, picnic sites and forest walks signed for those wishing to explore a little more, but such is the topography of this area, there are no side roads to explore or hidden corners to find.
Lochgilphead to Oban
Lochgilphead is now the administrative centre of Argyll, and despite its small size it has a business like feel about it, with little obvious for the tourist. However, pause a while and you will find some fine old architecture, shops, cafes and a little to the south is the sea lock for the Crinan Canal at Ardrishaig. The Canal was built to quicken traffic from Glasgow to the Isles by cutting out the long and often dangerous voyage around the Mull of Kintyre. However, shortly after opening it was rendered obsolete by the rapid progress made with steam power creating ships too large for the canal which could, anyway, go round the Mull quicker than pass through the canal. The canal, which is open to do primarily for leisure craft, can be followed through to Crinan by returning up the A83 and then taking the A816 / Coastal Trail to Cairnbaan and then the B841 to Crinan itself, which is a fabulous spot for a lazy summer evening.
Returning to the coastal trail, it now heads north up the west coast on the A816, passing some of Scotlands most important mainland historic and prehistoric sites. First up is Dunadd, reputedly where the early DalRiadan Kings of Scotland were crowned. A mile or so later, and the various monuments of Kilmartin Glen can be explored, including cairns, standing stones, stone circles and other ancient sites, with a visitor centre in Kilmartin Village. A mile to the north, Carnasserie Castle stands on the roadside, a more recent monument to Scotlands Past. Just by the castle, the B840 turns off, heading north east up the shore of Loch Awe, one of Scotlands great lochs with a fascinating history, both along its banks and for the loch itself.
Whilst the A816 does head north up the west coast of Argyll, it is difficult to portray it as a coastal route. It is simply the only through route in this varied terrain which offers surprises around almost every bend. The road climbs up from Kilmartin, then passes through the Bealach More to drop down to the head of Loch Craignish, with views of the yachts moored at Ardfern. The B8002 gives access to Ardfern and the long, rugged Craignish Peninsula, with the modern marina resort of Craobh Haven reached from another turning on the other side of the peninsula.
The longest coastal section of the A816 follows, running around Asknish Bay and then turning inland up the shores of Loch Melfort. The views to the west can be stunning, especially with a setting sun over the isles of Shuna and Luing, or even when a sea mist momentarily parts to reveal these islands on an otherwise grey day. Kilmelford is a growing settlement at the head of the loch, but then the road climbs again, twisting and turning through some spectacular scenery of woodland, forestry and lochs before dropping down to Kilninver. From here, the B844 heads south west to the Bridge over the Atlantic to Seil Island, giving access to the slate isles of Luing and Easdale. A detour here could easily consume a whole day especially those happy to explore a little slower on foot or by bike.
Another coastal run up the narrow Loch Feochan leads to Kilmore, and then a final hill climb takes the road into Oban, one of the busiest West Highland ports, from where ferries radiate out across the Hebrides, and islanders converge on the town for vital supplies and services. In the modern era, Oban has taken over from Glasgow as the most important town for many islanders, largely due to the change over from long distance steamers to short-hop inter island car ferries. For those Land-Lubbers not keen on a ferry voyage, Oban also has a variety of delights, from the Distillery and Chocolate Shop to Dunollie Castle along the coast and McCaigs Tower atop the hill which offers fantastic views to the west across Kerrera to Mull and beyond. There is also the beach at Gallanach to the north.
Oban to Loch Leven
The last leg of the coastal trail follows the A85 at first, climbing out of Oban and heading north. At Dunbeg, the Tower house of Dunstaffnage Castle can be visited, and a couple of miles north the majestic Connel Bridge spans the Falls of Lora on Loch Etive. Here the coastal route turns onto the A828 across the bridge, and slowly becomes a truly coastal route, passing behind Oban Airfield to the village of Benderloch and the magnificent sweep of Traigh Beach. A little to the north, Barcaldine is home to Castles (Private homes) and the forest walks on Ben Lora and Sutherlands Grove. The road then turns around the shore of Loch Creran, with a loop around the head of the loch on the old A828 a scenic alternative to crossing the Creagan Bridge. From the head of the glen, the first of the Glen Coe and Glen Etive Munros can be climbed.
North again and Appin is reached, with the pretty Port Appin offering a ferry service to Lismore, whilst the photogenic Castle Stalker on its little island in Loch Laich is a must see, even if you have to turn off to find the best vantage point. From Appin, the road hugs the shore to Duror, and Cuil Bay, a fantastic expanse of sand with views south down the Firth of Lorne to the islands. This is now the territory of Kidnapped and the Appin Murder. A bothy in Duror forest is where James of the Glens was born, whilst memorial cairns in the trees at Lettermore and South Ballachulish mark the sites of the murder, and where James was hung for it. The latter sits at the south end of the Ballachulish Bridge, which can be used as a short cut to the end of the trail, but why would you want to?A828 now heads west to the A82, and so into Ballachulish village with its slate quarries, arch and boatsheds to explore. Forest walks abound around here, with the Lochan in Glencoe Village popular with locals and tourists alike. Two more Munros loomed over the bridge, but the world famous landscape of Glen Coe with its rugged ridges and summits is just a couple of miles further up the A82, and well worth the detour. The coastal trail has, meanwhile, done as it should and stuck to the shores of Loch Leven by taking the B863 up to Kinlochleven. This road was built in World War One by prisoners of war to access the Aluminium Smelter at the head of the loch. There are some stunning views into the Mamores, another group of Munros accessed from Kinlochleven itself.
Kinloch is also a good place to stay for walkers of the West Highland Way. This follows another of Caulfeilds Military roads, like the one we found at the Rest and be Thankful near the start of the trail. Turning back along the north shore of the loch, the B863 offers fine views of the Pap of Glencoe, a well known local landmark. The B863, and indeed the coastal trail, then come to an end at North Ballachulish, just a mile across the bridge, but 20 miles round the loch. It is little wonder that whilst locals look back on the ferry with happy memories, they are glad that the bridge now stands across the narrows.