Isle of Kerrera, Argyll
With its high mountains, long, deep glens and an abundance of trees, Highland Perthshire is a very distinctive part of Scotland, contrasting perfectly with the seaboard of Argyll. Perthshire was never a crofting county. Instead, you will find rich estates and large farms, deer ‘forests’ and salmon rivers.
Generations of the so-called ‘Planting’ Dukes of Atholl shaped much of the landscape seen today. Between 1738 and 1830, the family planted around 27 million conifers. As a result Perthshire is now known as 'Big Tree Country'. Not only is it the home of many tall trees, but the Fortingall Yew, believed to be 3,000 years old, is Europe's oldest living thing.
Argyll in the west Highlands has a long and broken coastline. The hinterland contains a landscape of gentle farmland and wide peat bog surrounded by hills, secret glens and hidden lochans. At the edge, where crofts (a form of smallholding) may still be found and lobster fishermen ply their trade, is a unique seascape, wild and exposed, dotted with islands large and small.
The hills of Argyll are more rugged than those of Perthshire, and the glens steeper and shorter, with rapid rivers and many waterfalls. The closer you get to the Atlantic coasts of Argyll, the more stunted and wind-sculpted the trees and woods become.
Mull is one of the largest of the Hebridean islands but it is bitten into by so many sea lochs that the sight and sound of salt water is never far away. This makes for a long coastline and, with its high cliffs, sandy and rocky bays, caves and arches there is always something to draw you on around the next corner.
The island is divided into north and south by a narrow waist of land at Salen. The southern half has a core of dramatic hill country culminating at 3169 feet (966 metres) on the summit of Ben More. Northern Mull holds the island's tiny 'capital' of Tobermory (= Mary's Well). The scenery is a stepped landscape of lava flows from eruptions of around 50 million years ago. The vertical edges of these flows give numerous waterfalls, some falling straight to the sea where, to the west, lie the lava islands of Staffa, Lunga and Ulva.
Wildlife reflects these differences between Perthshire and Argyll in many ways. There are larger herds of red deer and more birds of the mountainous sub-arctic, such as ptarmigan and snow bunting, on the Perthshire hills, whereas Argyll has numerous coastal animals, such as seals, and very many sea birds, including puffins. Both areas have golden eagles and otters and much else besides.
The programme of hikes and visits will be tailored to your wishes and interests, but this is an example of how the holiday may look like.
We can change it to meet your interests, how much hiking you would like to do, the number of days you would like the adventure for and any specific places or islands you would like to visit. You can also choose the type of accommodation you would like to stay in: B&Bs/guest houses or (luxury) hotels.
Please send us an email with your requirements and we'll design a bespoke itinerary for you.
We will meet you in the city centre or at Glasgow International Airport in the afternoon. The journey will take us northwards via Stirling and through the Trossachs to Fortingall, near Aberfeldy.
Loch Tay from Kenmore Hill, Perthshire
We will spend today at the mouth of Loch Tay, where our first walk takes us deep into the gorge of the Acharn burn, with its spectacular falls. Popular with travellers since Victorian times, the Acharn falls are reached through the 'Hermit's Cave', an artificial, stone construction, planned in the 1760s by the 3rd Earl of Breadalbane to give the most dramatic approach possible. Judge for yourself whether or not he succeeded!
The afternoon is reserved for a circuit on Kenmore Hill with spectacular views across Loch Tay to the Ben Lawers range, the unmistakable cone of Schiehallion and towards the Cairngorms. Kenmore Hill has been planted with Scots pine and other native trees to allow the recovery and expansion of the remnant Caledonian Forest. The area is home to black grouse, but we will need to be lucky to see these elusive birds, whose numbers have long been in decline. Their recovery is one of the aims of encouraging native forest to re-establish itself.
5.5 miles/9 km, 1150ft/350m of ascent
Before heading northwards to Loch Rannoch, we will walk in Weem Wood and visit Castle Menzies, the seat of the Menzies Clan. Prince Charles Edward Stuart - 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' - stayed here for 2 nights in 1746 on his way to the north, where, not long afterwards, his army was defeated by the forces of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden.
We will spend the rest of the day near Blair Atholl in Glen Tilt. The River Tilt follows a geological fault through the hills for much of its length. This has created a steep gorge in places, but also makes an excellent route for travelling through the hills with little climbing. Glen Tilt was once a busy route linking Braemar and places north of the Cairngorms to markets further south. Our walk enjoys the variety of the glen, starting through the woods and then heading out to the open hillsides.
6 miles/9.5 km, 820ft/250m of ascent
Westwards, today, to Argyll, where we will stay for the rest of the week. Our route first takes us through Glen Lyon before crossing back to Loch Tay near to its mid-point. High above the loch, at the Ben Lawers car park, we’ll take time out for a walk along the nature trail, set among remarkable arctic and alpine flora.
Our journey continues along the side of Loch Tay to Killin, then through Glen Dochart, up across Rannoch Moor and ultimately into wild Glen Coe. Although everyone has heard of Glen Coe, and may suspect a ‘tourist trap’, the reality always has the power to inspire, no matter how many previous visits one has made. We will take a short walk to Signal Rock, at the heart of the lower glen, before a well-deserved pint (or whatever you prefer to drink) in the Clachaig Inn - a haunt of cattle drovers down the centuries until railways and steamers killed the trade. Our final stretch to Oban, our base for the rest of the week, takes us alongside, first, Loch Leven and then Loch Linnhe, passing close to the site of the killing of Campbell of Glenure, for which James Stewart was hanged near Ballachulish and around which Robert Louis Stevenson built the tension in his novel ‘Kidnapped’.
Gylen Castle, Isle of Kerrera
The Isle of Kerrera is set across the mouth of Oban Bay, acting as a natural breakwater for this important west coast harbour. Although it is close to the bustling tourist centre of Oban, Kerrera is a world apart. The island has only 40 residents and cars are banned except for those owned by the inhabitants.
A historically and geologically fascinating island, Kerrera gives a new and more interesting view as we round each successive turn of the coast. A highlight is the sudden appearance of Gylen Castle against the backdrop of the Firth of Lorn and the mountainous Isle of Mull.
We will finish the day with a tour of the Oban whisky distillery.
6 miles/10 km and 330ft/100m of ascent
Southwards today to Kilmartin Glen with its prehistoric and early historic monuments. Kilmartin House Museum, our first stop, sets out the story of the glen down the ages with an inspired combination of imagination and clarity. Our walk takes us along a good cross-section of Kilmartin’s prehistoric and early historic monuments - a stone circle, burial cairns and iron-age forts and sculpted stones.
Dunadd was the capital hill fort of the Scots – Iron Age Celtic colonists from the Irish kingdom of Dalriada - from at least the 6th century to the 8th, and probably longer. No visitor to this area with any feel for the history in a landscape should miss it. A short walk and a little climb to the top of the hill reward you with the opportunity to place your feet in the carved print where Kings of Scots may well have placed theirs on being crowned.
Up to 5 miles/8 km and little ascent
Dun Are, Isle of Mull
We will take the ferry from Oban to Craignure, on the Isle of Mull.
We have seen Duart Castle from the ferry and it will be our first stop on Mull. The castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean – for 400 years the base of their sea-borne power. The castle was abandoned from 1751 until 1910, when what was left of it was purchased by Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 26th Chief, who set about the enormous task of restoring the building to the impressive state we see it in today.
After our visit we continue our journey past Tobermory for a short walk to Dun Ara on the Glengorm Estate. Dun Ara Castle, now in ruins, is located on a prominent rocky platform. Almost nothing is known of the history of this castle. However it is probable that Dun Ara was a stronghold of the Mackinnons, who appear to have held lands in Mull at least as early as 1354. There is a harbour on the west side of Dun Ara and it is thought that access would have mainly been by sea.
4 miles/6.5 km, 300ft/92m of ascent
The isle of Ulva, ancient home of the Clan MacQuarrie, is privately owned, but the people living on the island intend to have a community buyout.
Formerly home to 600 people, many of whom made their living from the collection and exportation of kelp, Ulva was the scene of harsh clearances in the 19th century. Today there are only 16 residents, who share their island with golden eagles, buzzards, otters, seals and lots of other wildlife.
Mature mixed woodland and parkland, around the big house near the ferry, give way to the wilder west end of the island. The south shore leads to a tangle of little islands and bays lined with basalt columns.
The grandparents of the explorer and missionary David Livingstone once lived on Ulva and our walk will take us up to Livingstone’s Cave and Croft. In the cave, archaeologists found flint artefacts and fragments of human bone which can be dated back as far as 5650 BC.
5 miles/8 km and 500ft/150m of ascent
Isla of Staffa
We finish our holiday with a daytrip by boat to the Isles of Lunga and Staffa.
The Isle of Lunga is one of the Treshnish Isles west of Mull. It is an uninhated island, famous for its seabird colonies, especially puffins and wild flowers. There is also a seal colony.
Staffa is another uninhabited island, best known for its magnificent basalt columns. Their effect is most overwhelming at An Uamh Binn (musical cave) or, as it is more commonly known Fingal’s Cave, which has enthralled and inspired travellers for hundreds of years.
Short walks on Lunga and Staffa.
We will take the ferry back to Oban and we'll drive, via the Pass of Brander, back to Glasgow.