Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: Ardrishaig. December 2021



As we are still in the grip of the Covid 19 Pandemic, exotic travel is not possible and most of my blogs have been fairly local, however, The Glasgow Ramblers arranged a weekend trip to Ardrishaig . They are an excellent walking club and very welcoming to new members. Also, I like that The Ramblers Association is a charity, celebrating the pleasures of walking and protecting the places people love to walk. Every area in the UK has a local branch.

Ardrishaig is a coastal village on Loch Gilp, at the southern entrance to the Crinan Canal in Argyllshire in the west of Scotland. It lies immediately to the south of Lochgilphead with the nearest larger town being Oban. We stayed in the Argyll Backpackers Hostel . I particularly liked the sculpture of Jack named after,  the owners’ Dad who was a keen hosteller, looking out to the loch at the front of the hostel. Jack came from the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival. We were very comfortable in the hostel, where most of us stayed and we bought carry out meals from Lochgilphead to eat in the lounge area.

39 Steps Walk


We arrived on Friday afternoon (about a three hour drive from Glasgow) and set off on the afternoon walk on the 39 steps from Ardrishaig. It was on the hill and forest backdrop to Ardrishaig but it was more than 200 steps and about 4 miles to walk! The weather was not kind to us and we had light rain all the way but still great to have all that fresh air.

As we had several people in the group knowledgeable on flora, we could identify many of the wild plants. It had been a warm dry summer and the rowan trees were heavy with berries. This is seen as a sign of a long very cold winter. We will just have to wait and see how accurate the rowan tree is!

Crinan Trail

The next day there were two walks on offer and I chose the Crinan Trail as we had been promised magnificent views. The walk starts from Crinan by the canal mouth where we saw the Para Handy boat moored. The Vital Spark is a fictional Clyde Puffer created by Scottish writer Neil Munro. As its captain, the redoubtable Para Handy, often says: “the smertest boat in the coastin’ tred”.

At the start of the canal there is the smallest lighthouse I have ever seen. The Canal crosses the Kintyre Peninsula to the sea from Loch Fyne. We set off uphill through the forest in warm humid weather but thankfully no rain and came to a perfect stop for refreshments looking over to the islands of Jura and Scarba where there is the Corryvrekin Whirlpool. Strong tidal currents cause the whirlpool in the narrow straits.

We continued upwards and onwards for our lunch beside the cairn with stunning open views. The hill is just short of 700 feet in height and has the remains of ‘Castle Dounie’, an Iron Age dun or hillfort with clear sections of outer wall remaining. It was a relaxing lunch with good views but we had to leave reluctantly to complete the walk.

Dunadd Fort

On Sunday morning we drove to Dunadd Fort which was originally an Iron Age fort but then a centre of the Gaelic kings of Dal Riata between 500 and 800 AD. It’s a surprisingly steep (and on this occasion rather slippery underfoot) ascent to the 200 feet high summit with huge panoramas all around. It is a long time since I scrambled so it took some effort but it was well worth it for the history and the views.

There were also the remains of a broch near the top. A broch is an Iron Age drystone hollow-walled structure. Lower down there is a footprint carved into the rock thought to be associated with coronation rituals. One of the group actually fitted in to the footprint!  Certainly, a Cinderella moment.

Carnasserie Castle 

After visiting Dunadd Fort, we drove on to Kilmartin Village for a walk to Carnasserie Castle. It was very wet by now so we moved at a pace through the countryside and up to the Castle. Carnasserie Castle (also spelled Carnassarie) is a ruined 16th-century tower house noted for its unusual plan and renaissance detailing. The castle was built by reforming (Protestant) churchman John Carswell who was Rector of Kilmartin, Chancellor of the Chapel Royal at Stirling, and later titular Bishop of the Isles. Carswell published the first book to be printed in Scottish Gaelic, a translation of John Knox’s Book of Common Order. Construction began in 1565 using masons brought from Stirling. Although notionally built for Carswell’s patron, the Earl of Argyll, he intended it as a personal residence for himself. In 1690, the castle was burned down in a feud.  Although the outer walls remain largely undamaged, Carnasserie was never rebuilt. It is open to the public to climb on to the top but was closed on our visit so we missed the views over the countryside.

Kilmartin Glen

We returned to Kilmartin village for lunch at the Kilmartin Hotel and to dry out before the journey home. The surrounding area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. There are more than 350 ancient monuments within a six mile radius of the village with 150 of them being prehistoric. Monuments include standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns. Several of these, as well as many natural rocks, are decorated with cup and ring marks. I have visited the Kilmartin Stones on a previous trip to the area. We intend to return in the future to see all of these important monuments.

This was a very enjoyable trip despite the rainy days and well worth the journey to Ardrishaig. Many thanks to Ian and Bobby for arranging it and organising the walks.




Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: New Lanark and Falls of Clyde.
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: Glen Affric

This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary

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