Set in the heart of Scotland is the historic region of Argyll where rich heritage and ancient tales have converged over centuries.
From its awe-inspiring castles perched along the rugged coastline to the tranquil lochs hidden amidst green landscapes, Argyll invites visitors to step back in time and discover its fascinating tapestry of stories and legends.
With so much richness to explore let’s embark on a journey through Historic Argyll and uncover its magnificent castles, serene lochs and captivating legends.
Argyll Castles: Timeless Witnesses to History
Argyll is home to a remarkable collection of castles, each with its own unique story to tell. These imposing fortifications bear witness to centuries of Scottish history and visiting them is like stepping into the pages of a mediaeval epic.
Our journey begins at Inveraray Castle nestled on the picturesque shores of Loch Fyne. An architectural gem, the Castle has a fairytale facade with turrets and spires. Home to the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, visitors can explore the opulent interiors and its contents that span many generations, reflecting the role of the Campbells in Scotland’s history.
The tearoom at Inveraray Castle is run personally by the Duchess and is the perfect setting to sample some delicious West-Highland foods, including Mull cheddars and Arran Ice creams. Downton Abbey enthusiasts will be thrilled to know Inveraray Castle was the chosen location for the 2012 Christmas episode under its stage name ‘Duneagle Castle’.
Dunstaffnage Castle by Oban is one of Scotland’s oldest castles dating back to the 13th century. Perched on a promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorn, it’s steeped in fascinating history and revered as the mighty stronghold of the ‘Kings of the Isles’. It’s believed Flora MacDonald the Jacobite heroine was once held prisoner here.
Built at the height of the battles between Scotland and Norway for control of the Hebrides, Dunstaffnage Castle was even besieged by Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Independence. Currently under the guardianship of Historic Environment Scotland, this fortified stronghold undeniably holds a significant role in Scotland’s turbulent history.
Keen historians might also add a few other strongholds to their Argyll travel plans including Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull – the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean, Dunollie Castle – seat of the Clan MacDougall for more than 1000 years and Castle Stalker, an iconic fortress jutting out dramatically into Loch Laich that featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Argyll Lochs: Pockets of Peace Amidst Nature’s Beauty
The region of Argyll is blessed with an abundance of lochs, the placid waters reflecting the surrounding hills and forests. These lochs are not just renowned for their amazing scenery, they are an invitation for visitors to explore their shores and the hidden history of their depths.
Loch Awe: the name says it all, is the longest freshwater loch in Scotland spanning 25 magnificent miles. It’s characterised by rocky shores, uninhabited islands and ruined castles, with a handful of charming villages dotted along its banks.
It’s a haven for anglers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can explore the loch by boat, kayak or canoe in the summer months, discovering crannogs, ancient burial sites and hidden woodlands. Keep an eye out for the local wildlife including ospreys, eagles, deer and otters, to name just a few.
Loch Fyne, famous for its sensational seafood, extends just over 40 miles inland from the Sound of Bute making it the longest of Scotland’s sea lochs. It’s most notable for its oyster fishery and association with Loch Fyne Restaurant, a pit-stop here on the north side of the loch is highly recommended.
Explore the expansive waters of Loch Fyne on a boat tour. Whatever the season, it’s a hotspot for wildlife so remember your camera. Wild swimming enthusiasts can enjoy a guided swim or snorkel experience with ‘Dan the Merman’, a professional wild swim coach. A refreshing adventure for sure.
Other well-known lochs worthy of a visit are Loch Etive, one of the most attractive lochs in Scotland and Loch Eck, cradled by the Argyll Forest Park it’s a haven for those seeking solitude in nature.
Scottish Legends: Tales of Yore
Argyll is steeped in Scottish folklore and legends, passed down through generations. These mystical figures and their stories add to the already enchanting landscapes.
The Legend of Fingal’s Cave, on the Isle of Staffa, is said to be the burial ground of the benevolent Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, better known as Fingal. A military general, he had a band of faithful warriors and is supposed to have been the father of Ossian, the traditional bard of the Gaels who migrated to Scotland from Ireland.
Fingals Cave, also known as ‘The Cave of Melody’ has always been linked to the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland. According to legend, the two places complete the opposite ends of an ancient bridge built by Fingal. Boat tours are available to explore this magnificent cave.
Witches are possibly the most renowned in local Argyll folklore, and it started with the ancient Celtic hag; the Cailleach. Associated with the harsh cold winters of the region The Cailleach was both ageless and immortal; as winter gave way to spring, she would take a drought that returned her to youth.
In Gaelic-speaking regions, she was the patron of wolves emboldened by winter hunger and she also served as a deer herder. Legend has it, that in the dark hours of Samhain, the Cailleach washes her great plaid in the Corryvreckan whirlpool. When it emerges from the tumultuous waters clean and shining white, the Cailleach uses it to cover Scotland in a blanket of snow.
Argyll Attractions and Sightseeing: A Glimpse into Scotland’s Heritage
A visit to Inveraray Jail is a step back in time. Discover the stories of real men, women and children who served their prison sentences here. Explore the historic cells and courtroom, hear tales from the convicts and witness gruesome punishment tools including the Whipping Table and Crank Wheel. You can even try out the actual thumbscrews used to inflict pain – if you dare!
Kilmartin Glen is a living testament to the region’s Neolithic and Bronze Age past. Often referred to as “Scotland’s Ancient Kingdom,” it’s a treasure trove of prehistoric monuments and standing stones. Iona Abbey located on the Isle of Iona is not only an architectural marvel but a centre for spirituality and pilgrimage, and the final resting place of many Scottish kings.
Argyll beckons visitors to explore its every nook and cranny, with adventures to suit everyone. Its castles, lochs, legends, and heritage sites offer a glimpse into Scotland’s past. The warmth and hospitality of the locals combined with its picturesque landscapes guarantee a visit nothing short of unforgettable. Come and experience the magic of Argyll for yourself.
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