In this blog, I’ll be whisking you off to the heart of Argyll for a virtual tour of some of Scotland’s most incredible historic sites.
The itinerary is from a weekend we spent in Argyll in March 2019. We booked the trip on a whim, to celebrate the boy receiving the all clear after a cancer scare. He’d developed a limp which led to x-rays, the discovery of a lump and an agonising wait for a diagnosis.
It turned out to be a ligament problem that a course of anti-inflammatories and restricted exercise would heal. We’d been on an emotional roller-coaster, so after the vet called with the good news we packed our bags and hit the road.
Our destination was Arduaine, a village located 20 miles south of Oban, by the shore of Loch Melfort.
Day 1 – a celebratory trip to the heart of Argyll
Our accommodation – Loch Melfort Hotel
Before my blog took off and the majority of our trips became blog related, Mr G and I were fans of a last minute, out of season break. We found some great bargains over the years.
For this trip I booked a ground floor room at the four star Loch Melfort Hotel.
The country house hotel was charming and our room was comfortable and clean. It had patio doors leading to the hotel grounds – great for guests travelling with four-legged friends. Best of all though, was the gorgeous view from our window (complete with resident heilan’ coos).
And all for under £70 per night.
Once we’d unpacked, we headed to the guest lounge for pre-dinner drinks and canapés. As we sat there sipping champagne and gazing out to sea, the memory of a worry-filled fortnight drifted away.
For dinner, we worked our way through three delicious courses, packed with flavour and lovingly prepared using fresh local ingredients.
Later, back at our room, we opened the patio doors and stared up at the sky. The aurora forecast was good, but heavy cloud cover thwarted our efforts to watch the mirrie dancers.
Day 2 – exploring the historic Heart of Argyll
We woke the next morning, excited at the prospect of spending a carefree day outdoors, exploring the historic heart of Argyll.
But first – breakfast with a braw view to set us up for the day.
With the boy on restricted exercise, we’d be swapping our usual combination of history and hiking, for history alone on this trip.
As a history geek, I was looking forward to a Scottish history extravaganza.
Leaving the hotel, we headed south towards Kilmartin Glen.
Our first stop of the day was at Kintraw, a few miles north of the glen. I spotted a standing stone in a field by the roadside and couldn’t pass without stopping.
Folklore says the stone (known as the Danish King’s Grave) marks the grave of a Norse prince. Beside the stone are a number of burial cairns.
The boy seemed glad to be back on his travels.
Baluachraig Rock Art, Kilmartin Glen
We’ve visited Kilmartin Glen countless times over the years, but I can never resist the lure of the fascinating historic sites there.
I always wear one of two silver pendant necklaces from Orcadian jeweller Sheila Fleet. Both were gifts from Mr G. One depicts a standing stone and the other a cup mark.
I was wearing the cup mark pendant, so it felt apt that we should view some ancient rock art. Thankfully, it’s plentiful in and around Kilmartin Glen.
Baluachraig rock art takes little effort to reach, as it’s located just off the road that cuts through the glen. A path leads from a large Bronze Age burial cairn (Dunchraigaig) to the stone carvings.
The cup and ring designs at Baluachraig were pecked out of a slab of natural rock around 5,000 years ago, without the use of metal tools.
Achnabreck Rock Art, near Cairnbaan
Back in the car, we drove a short distance to Achnabreck, to visit the largest and most incredible collection of rock art in Scotland.
A pleasant woodland walk leads to the carvings.
As soon as we left the car the boy shot along the path like a whippet, dragging me behind.
He was clearly making the most of his two short walks per day allowance.
There are three panels of carved rock at Achnabreck. The 5,000-year-old designs depict complex cup and ring patterns, some measuring a metre across. No one knows what they mean, but there are many theories, ranging from ritual site to giant game board.
With the boy banned from climbing, he had to make do with viewing the lower level designs.
I wasn’t subject to a climbing ban though, so I left the boys on the path and went to view a large panel of carvings at the top of a grassy slope.
The ground was boggy underfoot, but I paid no heed to my squelchy feet.
Waving to the boys below, I trod round the edge of the rock, inspecting the designs. Then, wham – I was flat on my back looking up at the sky. I must’ve looked like an upturned turtle, struggling to flip myself upright wearing a full rucksack.
I arrived back at ground level, dry at the front and soaked head to foot at the back.
Mr G asked where I’d vanished to all of a sudden. Apparently, he’d seen me waving one minute, then I’d disappeared the next.
We had a good laugh about my new magic trick as we walked back to the car.
We’d had fun exploring in the historic heart of Argyll, now it was time for coffee.
Elevenses in Tayvallich
The pretty fishing village of Tayvallich in the Knapdale region of Argyll, is one of our favourite wee villages in Scotland. On a sunny day we love to stop for coffee and cake at Tayvallich Cafe’s sitooterie on the shore of Loch Sween.
They always have a fab selection of cakes and this day was no different. We tucked into our elevenses, as we listening to sailing boats bobbing on the loch. It’s such a calming sound, like the soothing lull of Tibetan singing bowls.
After polishing off elevenses, we headed towards the eastern shore of Loch Sween to visit our next historic site of the day – the mighty Castle Sween.
Castle Sween was built in the 12th century and is the oldest castle on the Scottish Mainland that can be accurately dated. It was built by Suibhne ‘the Red’, a descendant of Clan MacSween. The castle later became a stronghold of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles.
The ruin sits on a low ridge overlooking Loch Sween. From the loch its thick curtain walls, must have looked impenetrable to any would be attackers arriving by sea.
The boy loves exploring castles, so he was in his element. No nook or cranny of Castle Sween was left unsniffed.
Kilmory Knap Chapel
A few miles south of Castle Sween we visited our penultimate historic site of the day.
Kilmory Knap Chapel is a tiny, 13th century chapel that sits on the site of a much older place of worship.
Inside the chapel are a remarkable collection of around forty early Christian and medieval carved stones.
A large key hanging on a chain attached to the door, allows visitors to access the building to view the stones.
The door is notorious for being a challenge to open. It took us around 15 minutes of jiggling, pushing, pulling and shoulder charging to get inside, but nothing was going to get between me and medieval knights. Not even a dislocated shoulder.
Inside, I was like a child on Christmas morning, nearly hyperventilating with excitement.
The walls were lined with medieval grave slabs, carved with my favourite knights, plus swords, Celtic knot work and the West Coast birlinn – a wooden ship propelled by sail and oar.
There were holy men too and early Christian crosses.
It was history geek heaven.
The pièce de résistance was the exquisitely carved MacMillan Cross, which was bathed in ethereal light.
The late 15th century cross depicting the crucifixion, was commissioned by Alexander MacMillan of Castle Sween.
After a day spent indulging my history obsession, it was time to enjoy a walk on one of Scotland’s finest beaches with my two favourite boys.
Kilmory Beach, is well off the tourist trail, but if people knew how stunning it was they’d definitely make the effort to visit it.
We chose the worst possible path to reach the beach. It was quite possibly the muddiest path in Scotland. Our shoes were caked in mud in no time at all and Mr G started to doubt my claim that he’d be blown away by the beach.
When we reached it, his muddy feet were immediately forgotten. He was totally wowed by the pristine white sand and view of the Isle of Jura – phew.
The boy was champing at the bit to run free, but settled for exploring rock pools and a gentle stroll on the sand.
Lunch – Rafters at Castle Sween Holiday Park
We’d had such fun exploring, that is was way past lunchtime. We were ravenous. With Mr G that leads to hanger – a hideous state, that turns him into a narky, disagreeable toddler.
We headed back towards Castle Sween to see if we could track down some food at Castle Sween Holiday Park. As luck would have it, we arrived just before their Rafters Bar stopped serving meals at 3pm.
It was a good find. The staff were lovely and the food was great. A hearty portion of mac n cheese with chips put a smile back on Mr G’s face. I had Thai chicken curry, which was hot, spicy and exactly how I like it.
We left Rafters Bar, hunger abated and vowing to return.
On our way back through Kilmartin Glen, Mr G shocked me to the core by asking if we could visit Carnasserie Castle. How could I refuse?
As we walked up the path towards the renaissance style tower, the sky turned an ominous shade of grey. It’d been a lovely day, but it looked like rain was on the way. It wasn’t, but hail was. We shrieked with laughter as we were battered by tiny balls of ice.
Carnasserie Castle was built in the 16th century for Bishop John Carswell, who was the first Protestant Bishop of the Isles.
It’s an amazing ruin, albeit a wee bit creepy. You can climb up to the battlements for a fab view of the glen and a dizzying one of the castle interior.
Mr G was keen to make the climb. I’d done it before, so decided to sit it out with the boy.
We enjoyed the tranquility of the spot, while waving at Mr G on the battlements.
Just what the doctor and vet ordered
Back at the hotel, we spent the evening relaxing in our room with another bottle of celebratory bubbly.
The aurora still didn’t make an appearance, but it didn’t matter. It’d been a weekend filled with so many highlights.
We’d stayed at a lovely hotel, eaten delicious food, enjoyed stunning scenery, blissful tranquillity and history galore.
And best of all, our wee boy was healthy – who could want for more.
If you enjoyed this virtual wander in Argyll, you may also like these other blogs about the region:
Until next time …