Focus On: North #Argyll

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Mull from McCaig's Tower, Oban
Mull from McCaig’s Tower, Oban

Sitting with the boundaries of North Argyll is a spectacular portion of Scotland’s renowned west coast (including several beautiful and easily accessible islands), scenic countryside, wildlife rich woodland, forestry and gardens, several iconic hills and mountains, and a litany of beautiful lochs and rivers. The biggest conurbation is the bustling fishing port of Oban, where many of the iconic Caledonian MacBrayne ferries that service the islands sitting off the Argyll coast are caught. Oban is also a fine place for a wander.

Add to this the Crinan Canal, described as the most beautiful short cut in Scotland, a truly exceptional array of flora and fauna and some of the most important historical sites in Scotland and you have a beautiful and fascinating walking destination.

Argyll means ‘Coastland of the Gaels’, referring to the early Gaelic speaking Scots, who populated much of Scotland’s western seaboard. It was where Irish settlers, known as the Scotti, arrived in the 6th century AD, and these people eventually gave their name to Scotland.

300 years later and the Gaels of Dál Riata amalgamated with the Picts of eastern Scotland and established the kingdom of Alba, after which the control and influence of Dunadd rapidly weakened.

The Argyll landscape and its relationship with human beings were inextricably entwined even before the Scotti arrived. Kilmartin Glen, near Lochgilphead, contains several burial cairns and standing stones constructed around 4-5000 years while the rock carvings at nearby Achnabreac are believed to date from the same time.

Furthermore Castle Dounie, near Crinan, and Dun a Cuaiche, above Inveraray, hold the remains of Iron Age forts. More recently the landscape has been moulded by humans for the benefit of agriculture, fuel, timber and tourism.

The landscape of North Argyll has many facets; great muscular mountains like Ben Cruachan, low-lying agricultural plains along its centre and little islands cast adrift from the mainland yet only requiring a short ferry journey into a more peaceful, timeless backdrop.

The elongated sea lochs of Etive, Fyne and Linnhe bite into the coastline while their freshwater cousins, including Loch Awe and Loch Avich, puncture huge swathes of forest and woodland.

Loch Fyne, Inveraray
Loch Fyne, Inveraray

North Argyll is also home to some of the finest remnants of the renowned oak woods that used to cloak much of Europe’s Atlantic seaboard. Superb examples can be found at Crinan, Dalavich and Glen Nant. The history of these woods date back some 9000 years when oak, along with birch, elm and hazel, began to colonise this rough, rocky setting, aided in no small part by a warm, moist climate.

It is a landscape full of wildlife; dipper, kingfisher, pied flycatcher, redstart, woodpeckers, red squirrel, guillemot, tern, redshank, ringed plover, turnstone, golden and white-tailed sea eagle, lichens, mosses, bluebells and orchids just a tiny proportion of what may be seen.

Therefore, wherever you are in North Argyll you travel through history, making walking here an intriguing, enthralling and beautiful prospect.

Loch Etive from Ben Cruachan
Loch Etive from Ben Cruachan
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Beinn an Lochain – the finest #ArrocharAlp?

Beinn an Lochain rises sharply above the Rest and Be Thankful, a few miles west of Arrochar in Argyll & Bute, and grants a short, tough but rewarding out and back walk.

It is a Corbett, a Scottish mountain between 2500-2999 feet but of all the Arrochar Alps, with perhaps the exception of The Cobbler, Beinn an Lochain has the most mountain character, with great crags, an airy ridge and several steep ascents; magnificent views emanate from her slopes and summit.

A fine walk begins from either of the 2 lay-bys on each side of the A83, 1.5km north of the Rest and Be Thankful on the wonderfully named Bealach an Easian Dubh (the Pass of the Black Water).

The Rest and Be Thankful sits at 244-metres above sea level, at the junction of the A83 and the B828, and is overlooked by the steep crags of Beinn an Lochain. Its name refers to the inscribed stone that was placed by soldiers when they completed the original military road in the mid-1700’s. Ever since it has provided a welcome break for drovers, travellers and cyclists who have taken the steep climb from either Loch Long or Butterbridge; Thomas Pennant, Boswell and Johnson and Dorothy and William Wordsworth are just some of those who have enjoyed the spectacle.

As height is gained when ascending Beinn an Lochain there are superb views of Binnein an Fhidhleir’s spiky ridge, Ben Ime’s conical outline, and northeast along the length of Glen Kinglas. Below is the Kinglas Water at Butterbridge, spanned by the wonderful old stone bridge, built as part of General Wade’s 18th century military road network.

The higher you climb the outlook north to Ben More, Ben Lui and Ben Oss is remarkable while Loch Restil lies directly below. Beinn an Lochain’s sharp profile rises above and a real sense of its mountain character can now be appreciated – it is a marvellous sight.

The path then follows a line to the left of steep crags up its eastern face to arrive at the summit cairn – the panorama extends to the Arrochar Alps and Ben Lomond, the Cruachan Massif, Glen Etive Hills and, on a clear day, Mull.

Glen Kinglas from Beinn an Lochain
Glen Kinglas from Beinn an Lochain