South-west Highlands & Islands
This hiking tour explores Argyll in the south-west Highlands, the heartland of ancient Scotland, along with the islands of the Inner Hebrides: Kerrera, the Garvellachs and Islay, the whisky island.
This walking trip will take us to Argyll in Western Scotland. Inland Argyll has evolved as a landscape of gentle farmland and wide peat bog surrounded by rugged hills, secret glens and hidden lochans. At the edge is a unique seascape, wild and rugged, dotted with islands large and small. The Isle of Islay, once home of the MacDonald 'Lords of the Isles', is famous for its malt whiskies and birdlife as well as for its farming, fishing and shooting. Hills, moors and machair* are edged by an infinitely varied coast, with rocks, beaches and dunes, salt marshes and cliffs. Good walking country.
* Machair is fertile ground on wind-blown shell-sand; well-drained and not acid, it can support a lovely short green turf with flowers.
A little history
The very name 'Scotland' derives from the Roman name for the Iron Age Celtic people who, by the 6th century, occupied both Ulster and Argyll (Irish and Scottish Dalriada), perhaps colonising one from the other. Islay would have been one of the richest parts of Scottish Dalriada, from whose ruling group came the first king of a united nation in the 9th century. Later, though, especially from the 13th to the 15th centuries, the centralising Scottish state was very effectively resisted by the MacDonald Lords of the Isles - by then practically an independent kingdom. Their power base was at Finlaggan on Islay, which thus has an historical significance that demands a visit. In between times the western seaboard underwent a series of Viking raids. Unlike most of the mainland, raids here were followed by extensive Norse settlement and a period (from 1098 to 1263) under the Norwegian crown. Evidence survives in numerous place names of Norse origin.
But Argyll also has far earlier links with Scotland’s past. Prehistoric remains are found in unusual concentrations throughout Kilmartin Glen, thirty miles south of Oban. The work of Bronze and Stone Age people, these remains take us back as far as 4000 BC and the time of our first settled farming communities.
Modern Islay is a land of farms and of beautiful and distinctive planned villages whose whitewashed houses are a particularly attractive feature. These characteristics, differentiating the island from others in the Hebrides, are partly the result of its geology, topography and relative fertility, but also partly of the management policies of a succession of landowners.
Geology and scenery
If you appreciate how intimately scenery can unite aesthetics and science, you can think of Argyll as a perfect artist’s studio and laboratory in one - a unique volume where the evolution of Scotland itself is written in the rocks and the living biosphere above. Glen Coe, in addition to offering one of the most stunning views in Scotland, is also one of the best-exposed and earliest-studied classic examples of volcanic cauldron subsidence, set where a volcano punched through ancient rocks about 400 million years ago. These ancient so-called ‘Dalradian rocks’ record a continental collision around 500 million years ago, and therefore symbolically unite early America and early Europe.
Islay has a complex geology, with major differences between the land west and east of a fault between Lochs Gruinart and Indaal. Westwards, in the Rhinns and Ardnave, the rocks are extremely old (their age being measured in thousands of millions of years - say nearly half the age of the earth). East of the fault, the slightly less ancient rocks (shall we say a mere 600 or so million years old) are also mainly metamorphosed sediments - part of structures that continue north-east through Jura and on into the Grampian highlands.
As well as being blessed with superb views, we will also have the opportunity to see wild flowers and to look for many of our native animals in their natural habitats. During our trip to the Garvellachs and on Islay we will have a good chance of seeing sea eagles, golden eagles, seals, puffins and possibly otters.
The programme will be subject to variables such as weather and the abilities of the group and changes may also be made to take account of lambing, deer stalking, etc. Any such alterations will always take into account the need to maintain the overall character of the holiday.
Sunday: Isle of Kerrera
A circuit of the south end of the Island of Kerrera via the dramatically situated Gylen Castle. Scenically beautiful, with new views constantly opening out as we follow successive turns of the coast clockwise from the ferry landing, there's a lot of historical and geological interest on this walk. The confined Sound of Kerrera gives way to more open views south towards the islands of Seil and Scarba, followed in turn by the sudden appearance of Gylen Castle, its prominent silhouette backed by the hills of Mull across the wide Firth of Lorn. Turning north reveals yet more new views towards Lismore and the hills beyond, lining the long, straight rift where Loch Linnhe leads towards the distant Great Glen.
6 miles/10km and 700ft/215m of ascent
Monday: The Garvellachs boat trip
We will go by hired boat for a day trip through the Gulf of Corryvreckan to the uninhabited Garvellachs, also romantically-named 'Isles of the Sea'. Formed in the Precambrian Age, the islands are approximately one billion years old. The isles have steeply angled sides when viewed from the north-east, and present vertical cliffs to the north-west. To the landward side, they appear as green islets, full of wildflowers among the pink quartz and limestone boulders.
Weather permitting, we will land on Eileach an Naoimh, Gaelic for Isle of the Saints, to explore the ruined remains of an ancient Celtic monastery believed to have been founded by St. Brendan in 542 AD. Due to its remoteness, the ruins are well preserved and the 'beehive' corbelled stone cells from the 9th century monastery are still there.
Short walk on the Garvellachs.
Tuesday: Loch Awe and Bonawe Furnace
Our walk for today takes us through the woodland between Loch Awe and Loch Avich with good views across both lochs. We walk through a range of woodland types, first into the Dalavich Oakwood that supplied charcoal for Bonawe Iron Furnace, through the conifers at the heart of Inverliever forest, past the flushed peat bog of the Dry Loch before dropping down to the birch woodland along the shore of the beautiful Loch Avich. On our way back to Loch Awe will walk past the spectacular waterfall in the river Avich.
We then visit Bonawe Iron Furnace, the most complete charcoal-fired ironworks in Britain. It was opened in 1753 and it operated and it closed in 1876, after 123 years of operation.
Up to 6 miles/10km and up to 650ft/200m of ascent
Wednesday: Kilmartin Glen - Kennacraig - Islay
Kilmartin House, our first stop, sets out the story of Kilmartin Glen down the ages with an inspired combination of imagination and clarity. Worth an hour of anyone's time and not to be missed.
Our walk takes us along a good cross-section of Kilmartin's prehistoric and early historic monuments - a stone circle, burial cairns and iron age forts and sculpted stones.
Dunadd was the capital hill fort of the Scots - Iron Age Celtic colonists from the Irish kingdom of Dalriada - from at least the 6th century to the 8th and probably longer. No visitor to this area with a feel for the history in a landscape should miss it, so we stop there before we continue our journey. A short walk and a little climb to the top of the hill rewards you with the opportunity to place your foot in the carved print where kings of Scots may well have placed theirs on being crowned.
Up to 5.5 miles/9km and little ascent
We then take the road to Kennacraig for the ferry to Islay. This is a very scenic trip down the shores of Loch Fyne to the charming village of Tarbert. Here there may be time for a wander about to admire what must be one of Scotland’s prettiest villages.
The ferry crossing to Islay takes 2.5 hours. We will have our evening meal on the ferry.
Accommodation for the remaining three nights is on Islay.
Thursday: Port Charlotte, Finlaggan and Ardnave
We will start exploring Islay gently with a visit to the museum of Islay life in Port Charlotte, followed by a drive north to Finlaggan. These ruins, on a now accessible island in Loch Finlaggan were once the home of the chiefs of clan MacDonald. The Macdonald 'Lords of the Isles' flourished in late medieval times, when the Gaelic lordship was, in effect, an independent kingdom sufficiently powerful to rival the kings of neighbouring mainland Scotland.
We will then drive to Ardnave, overlooking Loch Gruinart, for our walk around the coast via Ardnave Point. Easy walking over short, dry turf amongst sand dunes is followed by stretches of sandy beach interspersed with short stretches of (easy) rocky shore. This is spectacular open country, with wide views east across bird-rich Loch Gruinart and north to Oronsay and Colonsay. Plenty of seals and sea birds, and we may also see otters. It's also worth popping in to the medieval chapel of Kilnave, with its high cross; a peaceful place now, but once scene of a bloody clan massacre.
5 miles/8km and little ascent
Friday: Distillery, Kildalton and The Mull of Oa
The Old Church at Kildalton (often called the Kildalton Chapel) is the site of the Kildalton High Cross. This is the only surviving complete Celtic high cross in Scotland. It was carved about AD 800, probably by a sculptor from Iona. The biblical scene on the front include the Virgin and the Child, and David and the Lion, while on the back are animals and carved bosses.
After this must be as good a time as any to investigate the world-famous Islay whisky industry - if we haven't already been doing just that each evening through a glass or two. What better than a visit to one of the island's eight malt whisky distilleries.
In the afternoon, to round off our outdoor week, we will enjoy an airy cliff top walk around the Mull of Oa ('oa' pronounced simply 'o'). The stretch between spectacular Dun Athad, on its narrow headland, and the American Monument on the Mull itself is as grand a stretch of coast as any in the islands and should certainly blow the cobwebs away and allow us to walk off lunch. If visibility is particularly good we will be able to see both the Irish and mainland Scottish coasts to remind us of the close ancient links between Scotland, Islay and Ireland, perpetuated in Gaelic place names and the Gaelic speech of many Ilich.
4 miles/6.5km and 330ft/100m of ascent
Saturday: Islay - Kennacraig - Inveraray - Loch Lomond - Glasgow
Depart am for Kennacraig and via Inveraray to Glasgow.
Click on the picture to enlarge.
This walking tour is an excellent introduction to hiking in Scotland for people with good basic fitness. The holiday combines walking with visits to places of interest. Daily distances won't exceed 6 miles/10km plus varying amounts of ascent, and we don't expect to hike for longer than 4 hours (plus stops). Most of the hiking will be on paths, tracks or quiet roads, although the surfaces can be wet and rough. There will be some steep sections along the way, but no climbs greater than 1200 feet/365m, even in total.
If you're still not sure whether or not you can cope after you've read this along with the details of the week's programme, please get in touch to discuss it further.
You will need to bring boots with a good tread that provide adequate ankle support, warm clothing, waterproofs (top and over-trousers) and a rucksack big enough for your spare clothes, a packed lunch and whatever else you normally like to have with you (binoculars, a camera, etc.).
Boots are especially important. They don't have to be particularly heavy, but wearing ultra lightweight ones may mean your feet get wet and trainers definitely aren't adequate nor, on some of the rougher and steeper going, however short it may be, are they safe. Trekking poles can be very useful, especially for anyone with knee problems.
This is either in carefully selected Bed & Breakfast accommodation or Guest Houses. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the professionalism and welcoming nature of those who run it. The B&Bs and guest houses we use are more personal and the quality of the accommodation is as good or even better than of hotels in the same category. Double and twin rooms will have an en suite or private bathroom.
If you have particular requirements or prefer to stay in a 4-star hotel, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
Details of where you will be staying will be sent to you well in advance of your holiday.
Dinner is not included in the price, but your guide will take you out for supper every evening. We usually eat in a different place each evening, giving you the opportunity to try a range of Scottish dishes and ambiences.
|Description||8 days (Saturday to Saturday), accommodation in Oban (4 nights) and on Islay (3 nights) in carefully selected B&Bs or guest houses.|
|Walking||An attractive, well thought out walking programme; never more than 6 miles (10 km) in a day, and mostly on paths or tracks - though paths may be wet and/or rough in places. An equally attractive programme of visits to places of interest will complement the walks.|
|SW61||7-14 May 2016||£895||Single room: £70 extra|
|SW62||9-16 July 2016|
|Groups of 4 or more can book other dates, please ask.|
The price includes:
and most especially
For general information and booking, please click here.