Everyone knows of Scotland’s West Highland Way but here JO HARVIE tackles the lesser known but just as stunning Kintyre Way
While the West Highland Way is Scotland’s oldest and best known long distance path, in the years since it was established in 1980 a wealth of other walks have been marked out across Scotland.
Winding through the beautiful, varied scenery of the Kintyre Peninsula is the Kintyre Way – 89 miles of beaches, hills, idyllic countryside, and peaceful quiet.
The West Highland Way’s well-deserved reputation means 50,000 people tramp it every year, with up to 15,000 completing the full distance. In spring and summer it can resemble a pleasant version of Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street rather than the blissful isolation of Scotland’s remote hills and glens.
But walking the Kintyre Way in May, my friends and I rarely encountered another soul outside the villages where we camped.
Kintyre has an island feel, attached to Scotland’s west coast by a small stretch of land at the bustling port of Tarbert, where the path begins.
The first two sections of the walk take you over hills and moorland, through forestry plantations and woods. First is the tiny fishing village of Skipness on the east coast of the peninsula, where my Grampa took us as children to collect perfectly round, white pebbles to line his garden path, then the path crosses back over to the west side and the village of Clachan.
With a four day weekend to fill and a group of walkers of mixed experience – I was the novice, my friends all seasoned hill clamberers – we started our walk at Clachan, where the Glasgow to Campletown bus stops five times a day.
I’d had to be persuaded not to tackle the walk in trainers, and our first stage left me feeling my friends had exaggerated a little. We started off on a pavement following the main road, then branched off to a gentle path through woodland.
But the next stretch, following the way’s clear and regular sign posts along a shingle beach, was hard going. Beautiful views across the sea to the island of Gigha more than compensated.
We camped at Tayinloan, where the ferry leaves for Gigha, and in the morning the good folk at the village shop helped me strap up blistered feet (new boots nightmare) and sold me a fine pair of proper walking socks.
More properly attired, we set off to cross the peninsula on our way to Carradale, with its fishing port and glorious beach.
This stage starts with a substantial climb, but forestry track makes it easier work and the views, when you stop and turn to see how far you’ve come, are spectacular.
Tiny Gigha, which had looked so big the day before as we walked its length on our corresponding shore, now stood dwarfed by the mountains of Islay and Jura behind it.
The track winds through forest and gives a whole new perspective on windfarms as you pass almost under the turbines.
The descent back down through glens isn’t the end of the hard work for this stage though – there’s a furiously steep climb up Cnoc nan Gabhar (the aptly named hill of goats) but the view at the top, this time across to Arran, shows just how breathtaking this part of Scotland is.
The next day we set off from Carradale, through ancient woods then scrambling over rocks on the shoreline, only slightly hampered by our giant rucksacks.
For those who fear for their balance, the Kintyre Way does run a luggage service which ferries your gear by taxi, from stage to stage.
As we picnicked on a stretch of grass in the village of Saddell – and by this point I’ll admit I was eyeing up the local bus timetable – a kindly lady popped out of her house to ask if we’d like to use her facilities.
As we trooped muddily through her home, she had biscuits and juice on the table for us, providing enough comfort and cheer to see us through to our rough camping spot on the banks of Lussa Loch.
Here was our first encounter with this area’s most formidable predator – the midge.
It was the first night of the year they’d been out, another benevolent lady told us the next day as she filled our water bottles at her sink, so we’d been unlucky.
But they were fierce, so if you’re walking the way in spring or summer, remember at night you’ll want to keep all your limbs covered and a face net is not as ridiculous as it may sound.
From Lussa Loch (it sounds the wrong way round, but that’s its name) it’s mostly downhill on quiet roads into Campbeltown, through rolling hills and past the vast McCartney estate, about which you might know a song. These are views for which the Beatle paid millions, and it’s clear why.
We finished our trip with a dip in Campbeltown swimming pool and fabulous, well-earned fish and chips, before catching the bus back to Glasgow.
But for those with more time, and less easily blistered feet, the Kintyre Way stretches on, first to the wide, white sands of Machrihanish, where Atlantic breakers make for brilliant surfing conditions, then across the remote and rugged tip of the peninsula to Dunaverty bay.
Our spring walk encountered all weathers. From sun sparkling on the sea on both sides of Kintyre, to brief spells of battering rain.
I sacrificed a wee toe nail along the way, and got bitten to death on one night of midge horror. But to experience such splendid quiet and magnificent views, there’s nowhere I’d more sincerely recommend than Kintyre.
Getting there and away
West Coast Motors run a bus service from Glasgow with stops along the Kintyre Way.