10 ideas for active adventure holidays in Argyll
As we ease out of lockdown in Scotland it has got me excited about going on adventures. I am itching to climb a mountain, wild camp, go on a long cycle ride, visit the islands and more. I feel fitter than ever, having managed to get exercise every day for the past few months, and I can feel the excitement building for when we can finally go further into the wilderness of Argyll. It made me think about how lucky we are as locals to have the mountains and beaches on our doorstep and that many of you who live further afield will be wondering how to make the most of a staycation this year. It gave me the idea of writing this blog about 10 ideas for an active adventure holiday in Argyll.
‘extreme sea kayaking, wonderful wild camps, amazing mountain biking’
So I started thinking back over the (almost) 20 years I have lived in Argyll and all the adventures I have had, trying to pick out the best and most wonderful experiences to share with you. It took me back to extreme sea kayaking, wonderful wild camps, amazing mountain biking and edge of the world mountain ridges. It makes me feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my skin, the exhilaration of reaching the top, the sheer joy of seeing wildlife and the peacefulness of feeling at one with nature and the sheer delight of a fire in a remote island spot. So I am hoping that this blog will inspire you to come and visit Argyll again soon and here are my top 10 ideas for an active adventure holiday in Argyll.
‘epic sea crossing by kayak’
I am going to take you with me to the islands of Staffa and Treshnish where we had an epic sea crossing by kayak racing against an inbound storm to get back. Then we are climbing Ben Cruachan straight up from sea level, out of the forest and on to the wide open flanks and along the rocky ridge with amazing views out to the wilderness of the far reaches of Loch Etive. Next, we head south to the mountain bike routes in the forest near Tayvallich and the Crinan Canal with native Atlantic oak woodlands and the glimpse of otters and red squirrels. Over onto Jura and a walk to the very northern tip to watch the Corryvreckan Whirlpool.
‘remote wild camping on island beaches’
Onto the islands again and to the Ross of Mull and Iona with stunning sandy beaches and perfect campsites. Taking a dip in the cool crystal clear sea from our stunning west coast beaches. If you want even more excitement then there is the Craggy Island Triathlon which starts on the mainland and begins with a swim to the Isle of Kerrera, an off road mountain bike section and a hill run with sea views all the way. You could cycle the Sustrans Route 78 from Oban to Fort William on coastal cycle pathways and minor roads hopping on and off the ferries along the way. Lastly there is remote wild camping on island beaches on islands such as Luing, Ulva and Erraid and a camp fire while you watch the sun go down.
‘one of the most special places in the world’
Sometimes living in Argyll can make you a little complacent about what you have on your doorstep. This year the lockdown has served to remind me how lucky we are to live here and not to take it for granted. We live in one of the most special places in the world, and although we do get rain and midges, when the sun is shining it really is the best place to be. So are you still excited about going on an adventure holiday this year? Come with me and start making your plans for a trip to Argyll.
10 ideas for an adventure holiday in Argyll
Here is my list of the top 10 ideas for an adventure holiday in Argyll:
- Sea kayaking to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles to see the Puffins
- Climbing Ben Cruachan, one of Scotland’s highest peaks, with it rocky ridge and double peak
- Mountain biking from Crinan to Tayvallach with glimpses of otters and red squirrels
- Cycling and walking walk to the north end of Jura to see the spectacular Corrywreckan Whirlpool
- Swimming in crystal clear seas and encountering with basking sharks
- Cycling the Sustrans route 78 from Oban to Fort William
- Camping at Fidden Farm on the Ross of Mull and visiting Iona’s beautiful beaches.
- Swimming, cycling and running in the Craggy Island Triathlon on the Isle of Kerrera
- Bike-packing from Port Appin to Helensburgh, crossing Argyll from north to south
- Wild camping on remote beaches watching the sunset round a campfire
Sea Kayaking to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles
It seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity to sea kayak out to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles. A few years ago now we joined a friend who was going on a sea kayak trip basing ourselves on the island of Ulva, just off the west coast of Mull. We stayed in a private hostel in a wonderfully remote and wild spot on the south coast and spent the week kayaking to all kinds of special places including Inch Kenneth and a circum-navigation of Gometra and Ulva. But the best two days were the bigger paddles, big adventurous sea crossings where you really felt like you were out in the ocean. Minke whales breaching and huge shoals of fish rushing under the kayaks. With the forecast good we made it out to Staffa and it was so calm we could paddle right to the back of Fingal’s cave. The next day we did an even more amazing trip out to the Treshnish Isles, landing on Lunga and watching the puffins feed their young. We had to hurry back with a storm coming in sooner than forecast which was slightly scary but once safely back made for a memorable trip.
Climbing Ben Cruachan one of Scotland’s highest peaks with its rocky ridge and double peaks
Ben Cruachan is a classic Scottish peak, you can see it from miles around, standing out with its impressive double peak and jagged ridge. It was a hot day so, with a friend who was a keen Munro bagger, we set off early in the morning to void the heat of the day on the steepest section of the climb. The route took us up a forested path with a tumbling stream keeping us company and eventually lead us to Cruachan Dam and Reservoir, which sits in the curved bowl of the horse-shoe hills of this massive. It was a superb day with little wind and good visibility and climbing up the flanks on the south eastern side we had views across to Ben Lomond and the Trossachs. As we got higher and higher the views opened out and at the top of Stob Daimh, the first of two Munros, we could see the wild reaches of Loch Etive and Ben Starav and Ben Trilleachan. These are some of the most stunning views you can get on a Munro walk and it was truly delightful. We made it along the rocky ridge, where there is one tricky step, and then to the second Munro, Ben Cruachan itself, where the views open seawards towards Connel Bridge and the islands beyond. We felt like the world was at our feet and we lingered there a while to take it all in. Then it was back down, very steep to start with and eventually onto more open slopes towards the Dam. We reached the stream where we stopped to cool our feet before making it back down to the road.
Mountain biking from Crinan to Tayvallich with glimpses of otters and red squirrels
If you like mountain biking forest-trails then heading to Knapdale and the area around Loch Sween and the Crinan Canal in Mid-Argyll is pretty special. There is forestry plantation as well as temperature native oak rainforest and wildlife including beavers, otters, red squirrels as well as buzzards, herons and possibly an eagle if you get lucky! It is one of my favourite places to go for a day or two as there is so much to explore. I have ridden along the Crinan Canal and headed up to the forestry where I followed trails off road to the village of Tayvallich. Along the way I passed stunning coastal scenery with an impressive viewpoint on the hill directly over looking Crinan. Heading south from Tayvallich there are options to cycle to the end of the peninsula on the quiet single track road where at the end you will find the ruins of Keills Chapel and can listen for the roar of the Corryvreckan Whirlpool. One of my favourite places is Taynish National Nature Reserve at the end of a secret peninsula with oak woodlands, salt marsh and shoreline. I love the fact that trees have stood here for 6,000 years and you feel like you are stepping back in time and losing yourself in the tranquil setting. There are more bike trails further up Loch Sween to the Faery Isles another magical woodland setting as well as tracks around Loch Coille-Bharr where you might try your luck at spotting a beaver. The sheltered tidal inlets on this side of the peninsula are a great place to have a picnic and watch herons as you patiently wait for an otter to glide past. It really is a fantastic spot for nature lovers and cyclists alike.
Cycling and walking to the north end of Jura to see the spectacular Corrywreckan Whirlpool
It has been a while since I visited Jura but it is somewhere on my wish list to get back to. It is described as one of the most wild, rough and difficult places to get to in Scotland. It is magical and mystical and a place for adventure. To get to the Isle of Jura you need to take two ferries or alternatively you can take the direct fast boat from Tayvallich for a day trip. This is probably the largest tract of wilderness on the islands in Argyll, you will not find many people although you might want to watch out for adders with the UK’s only venomous snake more common here than anywhere else in Scotland. On our last visit with my husband, we cycled to the end of the road, then the end of the track and finally walked the last section to the very north tip to witness the spectacle of the Corryvreckan Whirlpool. I can guarantee that if there is a wind over tide forecast, and the tide is at the right state of flooding, you will no doubt hear it before you see it as the roar of the whirlpool can be heard from the mainland when the tide is racing. I have been through it when it was at full flood on a rib which was totally exhilarating and just a little bit scary! The geology of the sea floor creates a steep buttress of rock which forces the water from the deeper east up against the shallower western side creating the world’s third largest whirlpool.
Swimming in crystal clear seas and having an encounter with basking sharks
Wild swimming is one of my passions and there are many fantastic places to have a dip in Argyll. My favourite local spot is Tralee Bay which is gently sloping with a lovely sandy bottom. The water is normally crystal clear and when you are swimming or floating you are surrounded by beautiful hills and forest. Another good spot near Oban is the beach at Ganavan which is a short walk or bike ride from the town. On the Isle of Mull there is Calgary with its sweeping sandy bay, on Colonsay there is the stunning Kiloran Bay with spectacular yellow sand and in Kintyre the remote and secluded Kilmory Bay. I have been swimming at all these amazing beaches, sometimes with seals to keep me company and in all weathers! If you want to make it more adventurous you could try swimming with Basking Sharks which is definitely on my bucket list. A local company Basking Shark Scotland offer adventure tours to remote beaches and the thrill of swimming with the sharks.
Cycling the Sustrans route 78 from Oban to Fortwilliam
With the completion of the Sustrans route 78, known as The Caledonian Way, in 2020, it will create a fantastic and stunning cycle pathway off road or on minor roads all the way from Oban to Inverness. The section through Argyll from Oban to Fortwilliam is the most scenic and there are many lovely places to stop off, cafes, nature reserves and quiet side roads and it is fairly flat all the way. Leaving Oban there are two options, one to Ganavan and the cycle pathway to Dunbeg but with a busy main road section to Connel or a safer second option is the back road from Oban to Connel, a lot hillier but without the heavy traffic. My favourite section starts from Connel but before you leave here do not fail to stop to watch the Falls of Lora, the only tidal waterfall in the UK. If you are lucky and the tide is right where you might see a surf kayaker or a fire brigade fast water rescue team practising their skills. As you push on you pass through Benderloch where you can pause at Ben Lora Cafe, which I recommend as my local coffee stop, and have a walk up Ben Lora. This is my local Friday afternoon, start of the weekend walk, I love the airy heights and numerous picnic tables with fantastic seaward views. Back to cycling you then head on to Barcaldine where the next café stop is at Just Desserts and you can walk next the rocky gorge at Sutherland’s Grove or stroll by the riverside. Then continuing on the cycle pathway you cross Cregan Bridge and and move inland for a short while through the trees until you reach the shore with Castle Stalker sitting on its island perch. Here I often sit by the shore to watch kayakers or horse riders enjoying the shallow waters around the castle. Continuing on it is mostly flat along the shore to Ballachulish, here there is an option to stop at the Highland Titles Nature Reserve where you can have a beautiful walk and hear about the wildlife conservation work going on. Then you cross the bridge and musn't fail to stop and look up Loch Leven to the iconic Pap of Glencoe before you following the pathway to the Corran Ferry. A short trip across on the ferry takes you onto Ardnamurchan where the quiet single track road winds its way up the west side of Loch Linnhe with stunning views of Ben Nevis. Then the last hop across on the Cambusnagaul passenger ferry and you arrive in Fort William. You can hire bikes from Oban Cycles.
Camping at Fidden Farm on the Ross of Mull and visiting Iona’s beautiful beaches.
One of my favourite places, a family favourite and somewhere we have camped every year for the past few years, is Fionnphort on the south western tip of Mull which is the departure/arrival point for the Iona ferry. You can’t take a vehicle onto Iona so you need to walk or cycle and the perfect place to camp is nearby Fidden Farm which has a vast expanse of green grass and a beautiful coast-line looking across to the island. Iona is a tiny island but is a jewel sparkling in a sea of blue. Known as the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland it gets many thousands of visitors a year, most of whom come to visit the Abbey in search of peace and restoration. Away from the Abbey you can cross to the other side of the island and explore miles of sandy beaches and Machair, the grasslands with abundant wild-flowers that are found on west facing Atlantic beaches in the Hebrides. The rocky south coast is another beautiful spot to visit where you can find the spot that St Columba landed. Last time I was there I climbed to the top of Dun Auchabhaich, at only 100metres high it is not too strenuous, and was rewarded with the most magical views to Staff, the Treshnish Isles and Coll and Tiree.
Swimming, running and cycling in the Craggy Island Triathlon on the Isle of Kerrera
Unique in the UK and possibly the World is the Craggy Island Triathlon. If you like to be active then I recommend this triathlon as it offers a unique take on the usual set up. To begin with you swim from the mainland across the Sound of Kerrera, 550m, hoping that the current doesn’t take you too far up stream. Then transition onto your mountain bike for a great 14km off-road loop of the island taking you right to the south tip and past Gylen Castle. Last, but not least, the 8km hill run takes you to the top of the island up to the Trig Point at 400m above sea level and then you finishing running back along the coast. It is a great sociable event with families coming over to picnic and watch the action and there are great home baked refreshments available at the end. The start time each year is different as it has to take account of the tidal state and yoru ticket includes the ferry transport for you and your kit (including bike). It is normally held in early October and entries haven’t opened yet this year. If you are not up for doing the whole event you can form a team and do it as a relay. As part of a team I challenged myself to do the swim, my first deep open water swim, I was slower than most but as they got swept up stream I realised and managed to adapt my angle to take advantage of the current, proving sometimes the tortoise can beat the hare!
Bike-packing from Port Appin to Helensburgh crossing Argyll from north to south
One of a series of new bike packing routes, this one takes you right across Argyll covering 224km along the way and with 4,443m of ascent. It is a multi-day adventure taking you through some of the most picturesque spots in Argyll starting at the pretty fishing village of Port Appin over looking Loch Linnhe and Castle Stalker. It traverses along the coast and through remote glens making the most of forestry gravel trails and quiet back roads past Loch Etive, Loch Avich and Loch Awe and over the hill down to Furnace on the Shore of Loch Fyne. Heading out of Inveraray there is one section of main road which would be best completed before it gets busy but soon you are heading into the hills and forestry again before making the most of the cycle pathway along the shores of Loch Lomond and the hill into Helensburgh to finish on the sea front. Whilst I have not ridden it all in one go my favourite parts of this route include the coastal section from Port Appin to Connel, the quiet back roads of Glen Lonan and the ride down to Kilchrenan where there is a lovely stop off at the National Nature Reserve at Glen Nant. There are stunning views as you head down the south western side of Loch Awe where you won’t meet much traffic and you might be lucky enough to spot an osprey. Last year I had the pleasure of spotting two osprey on their nest and watch them fishing over the loch. The forestry on the Cowal Penninsula is wild and remote taking you along an ancient drove road, past a peaceful lochan and on a rugged path to Lochgoilhead. This is one route I’m thinking of doing myself so I better get planning!
Wild camping on remote beaches watching the sunset round a campfire
There is something special about sitting round a campfire especially when you are in a remote spot watching the sun go down. I remember camping at a stunning location on the west coast of Luing watching the sun sink slowly in the sky, extraordinary vivid colours reflecting the colour of our camp-fire. As it gradually gets dark in mid-summer and you watch the last flames flicker it creates memories that last forever.
I hope I have inspired you to think about an active adventure holiday in Argyll. There are so many options available and I have put a few links in below to help you with planning. So whether you fancy something new, maybe bike packing or sea kayaking or somewhere different to cycle, hike or swim, there are endless possibilities in Argyll. Are you dreaming already of where to pitch your tent, where to stop for coffee, where to spot an otter or eagle and where you might have a campfire? I am trying to decide what bike packing route, which sandy beaches to swim and camp at and which hills to climb this summer. I will not need to go far to have a holiday this year as it seems lock down taught me that staying home is a holiday after all!
For your active holiday, our anti-chafing Sport Body Balm can be used to prevent chafing and blisters in many different sports, including cycling, running, swimming and kayaking. You can use it as an alternative to chamois cream for cycling. It is great used on toes and feet to prevent blisters when running or cycling. You can apply it under clothing or rucksack straps to stop them rubbing.
Useful website links:
https://www.nnr.scot/ (National Nature Reserves in Scotland)