Cara Island Bay

13 Things to do in Kintyre – Scotland’s only Mainland Island

When it comes to remote places in Scotland, you might think of the secluded Knoydart peninsula or the isolated mountains of the Cairngorms national park. But there is another remote region that I want to put on your Scotland map: the Kintyre peninsula! This is a blog post about why you should visit and how to fill your trip with things to do in Kintyre. 

This post is part of the West Coast Waters campaign and focuses on Wild About Argyll. Regions all along the west coast of Scotland have joined forces to promote the country’s beautiful west coast from Argyll to Wester Ross. 2020 is the Year of Coast and Waters – the perfect excuse to plan a trip and immerse yourself in the sounds, views, aromas and textures of Scotland’s west coast!
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Kintyre is a long finger-shaped peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, just across the water of the Firth of Clyde. On the map it looks super close to Glasgow – only 60 km between Glasgow and Campbeltown, the peninsulas main hub, as the crow flies. But by car, the journey to Kintyre resembles a small odyssey, as it’s nearly 140 miles and close to 4 hours on small country and coastal roads. So close, and yet so far.  

Kintyre is linked to the mainland of Argyll, the greater region it is a part of, by a 2-mile stretch of land. Imagine, how close that is to being an island! In fact, in 1093, Kintyre was the subject of a dispute between the Norwegian king Magnus Barefoot, who was ruling the islands off Scotland’s west coast at the time, and the Scottish king Malcolm III. Thinking he could outsmart the Viking king, Malcolm promised Magnus he could rule over all land that he could encircle by boat – and thus expecting to regain control over all of Scotland’s mainland. But he didn’t reckon with the nifty Viking king. He simply ordered his crew to drag his ships across the land for those 2 miles, thus encircling the peninsula after all. And so, Kintyre became the last mainland stronghold of the Norwegians in Scotland. 

The peace did not last long, however, and the next Scottish king invaded Kintyre and defeated king Magnus, seizing control over the peninsula once again. 

Now that you know a bit more about the area, its location and its history, let’s dive into what there is to do in Kintyre and which practical things to keep in mind for your holiday!

13 Things to do in Kintyre

1. Carradale Bay + Walk

Kintyre has a series of beautiful beaches and bays. Some are sandy and stretch for miles, while others are split into a series of bays with sand, pebbles and rocks. There is so much to discover.

Carradale Bay is a gorgeous stretch of sand on the east coast of Kintyre, approx. 30 minutes north of Campbeltown. The walk to the bay begins near the holiday park. It first follows the Carradale Water, then runs along the beach and continues along the coast all the way to the harbour of Carradale village. There are also stunning smaller beaches directly north of the harbour. 

From the shore, you can enjoy fantastic views over to the Isle of Arran. Above the harbour, stop for refreshments at Drumfearne Tearoom before heading back to your starting point.

Public Transport | West Coast Motors operates a regular bus service between Campbeltown and Carradale – no 300/445. This also runs past Saddell Bay and Torrisdale Bay/Estate, so you might be able to request stops (see points 2,3 and 4 below).

The harbour at Carradale Bay

2. Torrisdale Bay

The next bay south of Carradale is Torrisdale Bay which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Kintyre. To the right, there is a sandy beach, but I highly recommend climbing across the rocks to the left until you get to the next little bay. From here you can watch the waves crash against the rocks and splash high up into the air. 

 

3. Beinn an Turc Distillery: Kintyre Gin

Up the road from Torrisdale Bay lies Torrisdale Estate, a huge piece of land with woodlands, rivers and a castle – the home of the estate’s owners. After building a hydroelectric plant on their land, Niall and Emma Macalister Hall decided to use some of the power produced to run a gin distillery.

Today, Beinn an Turc Distillery produces Kintyre gin and offers both tours and tastings on site. Find out more here. All the gins are made on-site using 12 botanicals and also bottled by the small team. All excess power produced by the hydroelectric plant is fed back into the local grid. A completely sustainable distillery.

Range of Kintyre Gin

4. Saddell Bay + Antony Gormley sculpture

A beach in Kintyre might not be the place where you’d expect to find public art, but that is exactly what awaits you at Saddell Bay. In 2015, British artist Antony Gormley made five iron-cast sculptures to celebrate 50 years of the Landmark Trust. One of them found a permanent home in Kintyre overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran.

The sculpture looks like a person looking out at sea. Sometimes it’s exposed on the rocks, but at high tide, waves batter its feet. It is an eerie, but beautiful sight. A must-see in Kintyre.

Parking is available at the gate or Saddell Estate and from there it is a 20-minute walk to the bay with the statue. Cross through the right gate of the castle to get there.

Antony Gormley statue on Saddell Bay in Scotland

5. Campbeltown Whisky Distilleries: Glen Scotia

There are five whisky regions in Scotland and the smallest one is without a doubt Campbeltown – the bustling main hub of Kintyre. Once there were over 30 distilleries in this town, but today only three are still operating. All of them are open for tours and tastings. 

I highly recommend a tour at Glen Scotia Distillery in the heart of Campbeltown. If your budget stretches to a tour with the distillery manager, Iain McAlister, he will personally guide you through the process and get out some of his favourite whisky expressions to try at the Dunnage warehouse. It’s a tour I will never forget! Regular tours are also available though, as well as different tastings. Find out more here.

 

a woman drinking Glen Scotia whisky at the distillery warehouse in Campbeltown

6. Machrihanish Bay + Dunes

Machrihanish is a village on the west coast of Kintyre. It is known for its stunning beach which stretches north for several miles, its wildlife – best seen from the seabird hide – and the dunes which are home to an iconic golf course. 

You could spend an entire day here, playing golf, going for a picnic at the beach and spending a few hours watching the wildlife. 

Public Transport | West Coast Motors bus 200/442 runs from Campbeltown to Machrihanish.

7. Surfing at West Port Beach

North of Machrihanish dunes lies West Port, a sandy beach with the best surf in Kintyre. Pete’s Surf School offers surf lessons for beginners and pros. Within a few attempts, I managed to stand up and ride a wave – it was exhilarating!

Surf lessons include all equipment as well as a wetsuit to keep you warm in the Atlantic ocean. 

Public Transport | There is no bus stop at West Port Beach, but most bus drivers will stop on request – i.e. on bus 926.

 

 

8. Glenbarr Cafe

There are many beloved tearooms and cafes around Kintyre, but few are lovelier than Glenbarr Cafe. Combining a local store with the post office, a garden centre and a cafe, this is literally a one-stop-shop for everything you might need in this remote village. 

The cafe has a wide selection of local produce and cakes, as well as several vegan options. Great for a snack on the west coast of Kintyre.

Public Transport | Scottish Citylink bus 926 between Glasgow and Campbeltown stops in Glenbarr.

Soup and toastie at Glenbarr Stores

9. Day Trip to the Isle of Gigha

The Isle of Gigha lies just off the west coast of Kintyre and can be reached within a 20-minute ferry ride from Tayinloan (operated by Calmac, timetable available here). Whether you bring your car across or hire a bike at the Activity Centre in Gigha, the island makes for a great day trip.

Visit the surprisingly exotic Achamore Gardens and walk out to the beautiful Twin beaches with views over to Islay and Jura. Climb up Creag Bhan, the highest point of the island (101m a.s.l.), and go for a walk along Leim Beach. If island hopping is your jam, hire local fisherman Stuart McNeill to take you to Cara Island, south of Gigha (phone to book: +44 78860 07090).

While you can easily visit Gigha in a day, you will soon realise that there is more to do & see than you can possibly manage in 24 hours. Time to plan a longer trip and visit again!

Public Transport | Scottish Citylink bus 926 between Glasgow and Campbeltown stops in Tayinloan.

Beach on Cara island near the Isle of Gigha, Scotland

10. Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse

You could not leave Kintyre without visiting the famous Mull of Kintyre – after all, even Paul McCartney thought this place was worthy of a song! 

PS: The scene from the music video with the piping band marching down a beach was actually shot at Saddell Bay!

Public Transport | There is no public transport to the lighthouse. The closest bus stop is in Southend.

11. Southend

On the way to or back from the Mull of Kintyre, make sure you stop in Southend, the southernmost village on the peninsula – what a name!

Check out the ruins of Dunaverty Castle on a rocky headland. It was once a stronghold of the Clan MacDonald – the Lord of the Isles. It is surrounded by the sea on three sides and was connected to the mainland by a drawbridge.

Nearby at St Columba’s Chapel you can see the legendary carved footprints of the Irish missionary St Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland and founded the abbey on Iona. 

If you are looking for a snack, head to Muneroy’s Tearoom in the village. 

Public Transport | West Coast Motors bus 444 runs from Campbeltown to Southend.

Beach at Southend, Kintyre, Scotland

12. Skipness Castle

Skipness Castle lies at the other end of Kintyre, the far north of the peninsula. It was built in the early 1200s by the MacSweens but later fell into the hands of the Clan MacDonald. It was re-built several times over the centuries and even though it lies in ruins today, these differences in style can still be seen.

The castle is free to visit, and if you are into seafood, you should definitely swing by the smokehouse and the seafood cabin!

PS: The ferry to and from Lochranza on the Isle of Arran leaves from Cloanaig, near Skipness Castle. Kintyre is therefore perfect to combine with a trip to Arran or island hopping for the day!

Public Transport | West Coast Motors bus 448 runs from Tarbert to Skipness Castle. Coming from Campbeltown you’d have to change from the 926 to the 448 near Kennacraig.

13. Tarbert + Tarbert Castle

At the very top of Kintyre and at the western end of that 2-mile stretch of land that connects the peninsula to the mainland, lies Tarbert. This bustling harbour town has a lot to offer – from the colourful waterfront to the ruins of Tarbert Castle high above the town. 

From up there you get great view of the natural harbour as well as the surrounding bay and islands. The castle is free to visit.

Public Transport | Scottish Citylink bus 926 between Glasgow and Campbeltown stops in Tarbert.

View of Tarbert Castle

Kintyre Travel Guide

How to get to Kintyre

There are four main ways to get to Kintyre: by car, by ferry, by public transport and by plane.

Kintyre by car | The drive from Glasgow to Campbeltown in the south of Kintyre is approx. 140 miles and takes roughly 4 hours. Google Maps might say it’s faster, but consider that many of the roads are narrow and winding mountain or coastal roads, so plan some extra time for the drive. The route takes you northwest from Glasgow towards Loch Lomond, east from Tarbet to Inveraray and then south along the shore of Loch Fyne and the west coast on Kintyre.

Kintyre by ferry | Alternatively, you can drive southwest from Glasgow to Ardrossan and take the Calmac ferry crossing to Campbeltown. While you don’t save any time overall, you save yourself a potentially stressful beginning of your holiday on small roads. Plus, you get to arrive in Kintyre as if it really was an island! 

The Ardrossan to Campbeltown ferry runs only in summer (May to September) and frequents six times a week on four different days. Check the timetable here.

Kintyre by public transport | There is a direct bus connection from Glasgow to Campbeltown on Scottish Citylink route 926. The journey takes approximately 4 hours and if public transport is your jam, you could consider getting a multi-day pass for the region. See more below.

Kintyre by plane | Loganair operates a direct flight connection from Glasgow to Campbeltown. Once you are there, you can either hire a car, utilise public transport or ask your hotel to arrange transfers.

Ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown.

Getting around Kintyre

The easiest way to navigate Kintyre is by car. You might pick up a hire car in Edinburgh or Glasgow and drive to Kintyre yourself, or if you flew into Campbeltown, you could hire locally with Kintyre Hire or Campbeltown Motor Company

Alternatively, there are several bus routes connecting some of the major places of interest in Kintyre. If you plan to travel Kintyre by public transport, I highly recommend you check out this blog post for advice and invest in a multi-day Explorer Pass from Scottish Citylink. I will highlight which bus routes you can take to visit the places I mention below!

Kintyre on your Scotland itinerary

If you visit Scotland from overseas or plan a longer trip to explore the country, chances are that Kintyre is not the only region on your itinerary! Check out my 2-week west coast itinerary for an inspiring route that takes in Kintyre and Gigha, the heart of Argyll and the isles of Islay, Jura and Colonsay.

If you opt for the ferry connection from Ardrossan, a trip to Kintyre can also link up seamlessly with my one-week itinerary for South Scotland. Of course, opportunities are endless, and who says you can’t drive a detour to visit the peninsula if you follow my classic Scotland itinerary?

Two cars standing on line at a ferry jetty by the sea

Where to stay in Kintyre

I tried two very different accommodations in Kintyre during my trip – a B&B in Carradale and a hotel in Campbeltown, which would both make for great home bases for a trip to Kintyre.

Carrasdales Guest House, Carradale

Carradales Guest House is a five-star bed & breakfast in Carradale, a stretched-out village on the east coast of the peninsula. The guest house lies on a winding road, approx. 30-minutes drive from Campbeltown, but the views and beaches along the way are worth the effort. One of the owners is a professional chef and can accommodate dietary requirements with ease, as long as he knows in advance.

This is the perfect place to stay for a relaxing retreat – I imagine particularly when travelling with your partner or by yourself. 

 

Seafield Hotel, Campbeltown

I also spent two nights at the Seafield Annex of Ardshiel Hotel in Campbeltown. The rooms in the annex are only a 2-minute walk from the main hotel, comfortable and quiet. I had no issue with vegan food here and had several choices for dinner each night.

Being based in Campbeltown meant I had easy access to a variety of restaurants, shops and things to do that did not require driving. It’s a great base particularly if you decide to travel by public transport.

 

Now that you have all the information you need for a trip to Kintyre, are you ready to hit the road?

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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

The West Coast Waters 2020 Campaign is a partnership initiative and has received funding from the Visit Scotland Growth Fund – more information at https://www.westcoastwaters.co.uk/about.

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