“Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea”. Is it possible to visit the Kintyre Peninsula without that song popping into your head? Apparently not, as we found out when we spent a couple of days there recently.
Kintyre Peninsula highlights – day 1
When the day of our eagerly anticipated Kintyre trip arrived, we set off from Edinburgh early. By mid-morning we’d reached Tayinloan on the Kintyre Peninsula and were in need of caffeine.
Filling our faces with cake, and cappuccino in Big Jessie’s Tearoom, we laughed quietly when we heard a familiar tune. A diner at a nearby table was loudly humming ‘Mull of Kintyre’.
Saddell, Kintyre Peninsula
Caffeine levels topped up it was time to explore.
Saddell stones and abbey
Parking in Saddell village, we followed a sign pointing towards Saddell Abbey. A modern building stood inside the abbey grounds. I peered through the window. “MEDIEVAL KNIGHTS” I yelled, before rushing inside like a lunatic.
I came face to face with three knights, two holy men and a number of other carved stones – I was in awe. I discovered that my three favourite stones (all knights, quelle surprise) were carved on Iona.
The knight on the right below, has a small figure (probably his wife) above his shoulder. Women are rarely portrayed on these stones, unless they’re a wee shoulder wife like this one.
Outside, we wandered around what remains of Saddell Abbey. The abbey was founded by Somerled in 1160, and completed by his son Reginald after Somerled died in battle.
Legend says the abbey is haunted by a spectral hand. Thankfully, we didn’t see any levitating limbs during our visit.
Saddell Castle & that beach
After exploring the abbey we headed back towards the centre of the village. We passed through an ornate gatehouse and followed a tree-lined path towards Saddell Castle.
Saddell Castle is a well-preserved tower house which sits on the edge of Saddell Bay. It was built by the Bishop of Argyll between 1508 and 1512.
Saddell House stands nearby. The 18th century mansion was built when the castle’s owner decided to abandon old for new.
Saddell Bay is a pretty spot with views across to the Isle of Arran.
Does the beach look familiar? Picture a pipe band marching on the sand, and an ex-Beatle strumming a guitar! This is where Paul McCartney and Wings shot the music video for ‘Mull of Kintyre’.
Did we sing the song as we walked along the sand? Hell yeah.
The boy wasn’t remotely impressed by the beach’s Paul McCartney connection, but was happy to explore it all the same.
We left Saddell and headed to Amelia’s Cafe in Campbeltown for lunch. Lentil soup and cheese toasties hit the spot perfectly.
Our base – The Argyll Hotel, Bellochantuy
The Argyll Hotel at Bellochantuy was our base for the weekend. It sits on the beachfront at Bellochantuy Bay.
We were welcomed on arrival by owner Nick, and shown to our room. It had a sea view, and everything we needed for a comfortable stay.
Freshened up, we headed downstairs as the clock chimed wine. We met Nick’s other half Ian, and their gorgeous Dalmatians Struan and Talaidh. Ian immediately struck up a friendship with the boy, winning him over with treats. As the hotel’s Chef, he’d soon win us over with his cooking.
Dinner at The Argyll Hotel, Bellochantuy
I’d read glowing reviews about the Argyll’s food, so was looking forward to dinner.
I started with mozzarella haggis balls infused with Campbeltown Springbank Whisky, served with black pepper sauce. Mr G had white onion and gruyère soup. Both dishes were delicious.
For main I couldn’t resist the steak pie, made with local beef and Argyll Ale. Mr G had smoked haddock Scotch egg with leek mash.
My chips were cooked to perfection, and the beef inside my pie melted in the mouth.
I complimented Ian on his cooking, raving about the tender beef. What followed was like the scene from ‘Local Hero’ when the pet rabbit ends up in a casserole! Ian informed me that the beef was Heilan’ coo. I like to pretend that Heilan’ coos exist simply for awwwwww factor! So, imagine my horror when I discovered that I’d just tucked into Hamish and enjoyed it.
For dessert Mr G had a fruit crumble, and I finished with Affogato.
An all round superb meal. Sorry Hamish.
Kintyre Peninsula highlights Day 2
The next morning we sat down to breakfast at 7:30am. Our morning would be dictated by the tides, so there was no time to dawdle.
Coffee, porridge topped with cream and jam, and a toasted muffin with scrambled eggs set us up for the day ahead.
Hike to Crucifixion Cave on Davaar Island
Davaar Island sits just off the coast, at the mouth of Campbeltown Loch. It’s a tidal island which can be reached by crossing a shingle causeway at low tide. We arrived, allowing plenty of time to explore the island and return safely to the Mainland.
The walk to the island takes around 30 minutes, or longer if you keep stopping to take photos.
Arriving on Davaar Island we were met by grazing sheep. We turned right and followed the grassy shore towards some cliffs ahead.
We passed a herd of wild goats who scarpered uphill, out of our way.
They peered down at us, and we peered back up at them. Soaring above them was a large bird that looked very much like a sea eagle.
Our walk took us under the cliffs and along a rocky shoreline peppered with caves.
One, two, three we were looking for the seventh cave along. Hmm, was that a cave or a crevice? How deep did it have to be, to be deemed a cave? Who knew that counting caves could be so confusing?
As we continued the shoreline got rockier and harder to navigate. We tread carefully, as the rocks were slippery underfoot. Poor walking conditions upped the ante, making the odds of shattering an ankle seem more and more likely with each faltering step.
I may have uttered a string of profanities as our search for cave number seven dragged on.
Finally, with ankle bones intact (for now) we found it – Crucifixion Cave.
In 1887, local art teacher Archibald McKinnon secretly painted a mural of the crucifixion inside the cave. His mural was discovered shortly after he finished it, but the origin remained a mystery. McKinnon moved away from the area, but returned to Davaar Island to carry out restoration work on his painting.
It’d taken a bit of effort to reach Crucifixion Cave, but it was worth every treacherous step.
The boy tackled our hike with the agility of a mountain goat. He strained on his lead and scanned the cliffs looking for the goats we’d passed earlier. He clearly fancied himself as the new kid on the block. Kid, get it?
Back on the causeway a heavy bank of cloud was descending on the island. We’d timed our visit perfectly.
As we walked towards the Mainland the boy paddled in the sea to cool his feet.
Southend – seals and saintly footprints
As we drove towards the southern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula we were enveloped by a thick sea haar.
Fog swirled around the ruins of Keil House, like a scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles.
We parked the car, and got out. A small group of people were staring intently at the sea. Noses bothering us, we joined them. Seals were lolling around on the rocks. We watched them for a while, amazed at how well they blended in with their surroundings.
Next to the shore stood the ivy clad ruins of a medieval chapel. St Columba’s Chapel probably dates to the late 13th century. It’s dedicated to St Columba who landed in Kintyre in 563 after he was exiled from Ireland.
On an elevated spot overlooking the chapel is a rock carved with footprints, known as St Columba’s Footprints.
The best preserved of the footprints is ancient and resembles the one carved in stone at Dunadd. Although it’s come to be associated with St Columba, it may be linked to the kings of Dàl Riata, like the Dunadd footprint.
The boy stood there looking grand, but didn’t check to see if his foot was a fit.
A short distance from the footprints is a well, known as St Columba’s Well. St Columba is said to have established the holy well when he visited Kintyre, although there’s no evidence to back up this suggestion.
Keil Cave and several other smaller caves can be found just west of St Columba’s footprints, chapel and well. Excavations carried out in the caves established that they’d been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 1881 census, Keil Cave was recorded as the home address of 22-year-old tinsmith John McFee, his wife, child and members of his extended family.
After a quick pit stop in Campbeltown to eat a take-away lunch, we were ready to explore some more.
Hike to Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse
We twisted and turned along a single track road for seven miles, and finally arrived at the Mull of Kintyre.
We parked at the end of the road and continued on foot, through a barrier and along a long and winding road.
We’d escaped the fog too – hooray for small victories.
After a while the Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse came into view below us. A bank of mist sat above it, “oh mist rolling in from the sea” – easy to see what inspired those lyrics.
Despite the gradient of the road propelling us forward at a bracing pace, it seemed to take forever to reach the lighthouse.
When we did finally reach it, the sea around it took me by surprise. It was a beautiful shade of blue, just like the turquoise waters of the Hebrides.
We lingered a while enjoying the remote tranquility, and preparing ourselves for the relentless hike back to the car that lay ahead.
The boy and Mr G tried to hitch a ride back from the lighthouse’s helipad, but had no luck.
Despite the road’s incredibly steep incline, our return journey wasn’t half as torturous as I’d expected it to be.
After our strenuous hike it was still too early for dinner, so we took the boy to Machrihanish Bay for a run on the beach.
Despite the hairy wee trooper having walked an impressive distance that day, he still had bags of energy for fast running. Myself, and Mr G not so much.
Dinner – The Crew, Campbeltown
Ravenous after a day spent rambling, we decided to indulge in chip shop suppers for dinner.
We settled by Campbeltown Harbour to eat our white pudding and chips from The Crew. Travelling all over Scotland we’ve discovered some mighty fine chippies, but for me (an Edinburgher to the core) there’s always one vital ingredient missing – Edinburgh chippy sauce.
Not this time though. I’d arrived in Kintyre armed with a wee tub of amber nectar from my local chippy.
I poured it over my supper, and wow. It was the first perfect supper I’d eaten outside of Edinburgh. Honorary Edinburgher Mr G commended me on my marvellous idea.
We spent a lazy night back at the hotel, drinking local gin and listening to the sound of the sea through our open bedroom window.
The boy stretched out on the floor, finally puggled (Scots for tired) after his busy day.
Kintyre Peninsula highlights – day 3
With a name like Sam (I-am) there was one breakfast dish I had to try before leaving the Argyll Hotel. Green eggs and ham! I did not eat them in a box, or with a fox but they were delicious. A toasted muffin, smoked bacon, poached eggs and Ian’s own spinach and lemon sauce recipe. A fun and creative breakfast recipe inspired by Dr Seuss – genius.
We struck gold when we booked the Argyll Hotel. It’d been a fantastic stay from beginning to end.
Heading homewards, we took the east coast route out of Kintyre. There was one final place we wanted to visit before leaving.
Skipness Castle and Kilbrannan Chapel
Skipness Castle is an impressive Medieval fortress that dates to the early 13th century. It stands near the coast, just outside the village of Skipness. It began life as a MacSween stronghold, before passing into Stewart, MacDonald then Campbell hands.
Legend says it’s haunted by a green lady. She’s not a malevolent spirit though, and is said to protect the castle. I’d read somewhere that she didn’t like dogs, so I kept that wee nugget from the four-legged castle explorer. When we arrived, mist was swirling around the castle tower, and a green lady living there seemed highly probable.
The interior courtyard is intact, which makes it easy to imagine the castle bustling with life in its heyday.
We explored every nook and cranny without encountering any dog hating ghosts. The boy toddled around happily, and obviously didn’t receive any “get out of here” green lady vibes.
Kilbrannan Chapel stands by the sea a short distance from the castle. We followed a path towards it.
As we walked a flock of geese flew overhead. Their wings make a buzzing sound like the hum of electricity. It was incredible.
Although roofless, the chapel was well-preserved. It was also the perfect place to conclude our Kintyre weekend. Finishing as we’d begun – with me going loopy over medieval grave slabs.
Although we spent much of our weekend shrouded in mist, it didn’t dampen our spirits. With fascinating historical sites, stunning beaches, fab hotels and great food – what’s not to love about the Kintyre Peninsula?
Until next time …