The Cowal Peninsula & Argyll’s Secret Coast
10 July, 2019
1 hour off the beaten path of the A82 route through the Trossachs and Loch Lomond, the Cowal Peninsula is far enough from the tourist hotspots but still only a 2-hour drive from Glasgow by ferry across the Firth of Clyde. It’s an area unknown to most visitors to Scotland and the secluded shores along peaceful lochs are simply called Argyll’s Secret Coast.
The most direct way by car is on the Western Ferries route from McInroy’s Point to Hunter’s Quay. It makes for a pleasant 20minute crossing with lovely views across the firth. Cheap return tickets can be bought either in advance or from local newsagents and shops. You can buy at the Co-op in Eldon St, Gourock (PA16 7UG) or Pauls Food & Wine on Shore Street, Gourock (PA19 1RB). Most tourists buy the tickets on the ferry and will pay roughly the same amount for a single journey as a two-journey ticket paid for in advance.
After the ferry docks, you will find yourself near Dunoon which is the main town on the peninsula with the usual supermarkets to buy any supplies you may need for your journey. If you are in self-catering there is a great local butcher a few miles from Dunoon, on the A185 near Dalinlongart called the Wee Butcher. If not then carry on up the A185 to Rashfield (the gateway to the Argyll Forest) where you will find Puck’s Glen and a magical trail along small timber footbridges crisscrossing through the deep woodland gorge and enchanting waterfall cascades. Entrance is free.
Tighnabruaich near Portavadie
Loch Riddon near Colintraive
A mile further up the A185 from Puck's Glen is the Benmore Botanic Gardens. Home to over 300 species of rhododendrons, majestic redwood trees, and exotic plants from around the world. It takes around 2 hours to walk the gardens either by climbing the rugged hill paths to enjoy the stunning scenery or to take a stroll in the lower garden areas.
Following the A185 further into the peninsula, the road hugs the beautiful shores of Loch Eck, where every layby seems to have its own private beach, and onward towards Loch Fyne. Cowal has many things to offer including sailing, canoeing, walking, fishing, as well as great food and drink. Right on the head of Loch Fyne at Clachan, near Cairndow, freshly caught seafood from the loch is sold at the shop and restaurant at Loch Fyne Oysters. While you are there, head next door to Fyne Ales Brewery & Bar to sample the local craft beer in the brewery gardens nestled in the hills along the river Fyne. Alternatively, for the very best oysters, drive further down towards the mouth of the Loch to Otter Ferry where the Oystercatcher pub sits right on the beach with stunning views from the beer garden overlooking a small marina and serving trays of gorgeous fresh oysters.
From Otter Ferry, and as the name suggests, ferry crossings to other destinations are only just a stone’s throw away. Ferries depart from Portavadie for Tarbert or from Colintraive to the Isle of Bute. This area is popular with cyclists taking on the 5 Ferry Challenge where they aim to travel all the ferries serving Arran, Bute and Cowal in just one day! So, whatever your journey plans are from there, the world is your oyster.