Outdoors

Outdoor Heritage Trails in East Cowal

Heritage Hotspots

During the consultation for the ECHO project we identified hundreds of potential heritage sites in East Cowal. You can see on the map that many of them can only be found on or under the water! 

From sunken ships to ruined forts, from stately homes to community churches, having such a rich collection of potential heritage sites is a real boon! Using the history and beauty of these sites as a lens through which to explore the area is what we’re all about.

However, we also felt that having so many options can be confusing or overwhelming for people who wish to explore the heritage of Cowal. So we decided to focus – at least initially – on a much smaller selection of ‘heritage hotspots’. We’ve identified 15 interesting and accessible heritage sites in east Cowal to get you started.

If you like you can simply choose the ones you’re interested in, click the map link to get directions, and spend an afternoon exploring. But to make the most of heritage outdoors, we advise getting your boots on the ground!

To help you out, we’ve devised a number of different trails that visit at least one of our top 15 heritage hotspots. Some of them also visit other, minor sites. Keep scrolling for more information.

Incidentally, if you enjoy these trails and get an appetite for more walking in Cowal, we highly recommend the Faith in Cowal website for longer walks visiting ancient Christian sites across Cowal. And if the thought of sunken ships whets your appetite, then do consider booking a dive-tour with Wreckspeditions.

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The Old Schoolhouse at Ardentinny
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Puck's Glen by Stephen Mackenzie

The Holy Loch Hop

This is a 12 mile circular walk starting from Puck’s Glen car park and passing through Kilmun Arboretum to visit Historic Kilmun. From here it climbs the hill behind Blairmore & Strone Golf Club and brings you down to the shore near Blairmore Pier. The final leg runs along the shore and passes Strone Pier, Napier’s Tea Caddies and Younger Hall before retracing your steps through Kilmun Arboretum and Puck’s Glen.

The Holy Loch Hop is a full days outing (approximately 5hrs walking, plus you’ll want to spend some time at Historic Kilmun Visitor Centre), and much of the time is spent on woodland tracks and forestry paths

There’s (paid) parking available at Puck’s Glen, free parking outside Historic Kilmun, and there are public toilets in the graveyard by Kilmun church. There are also two cafés (The Blairmore and The Shore Café) and a great pub (The Strone Inn) on the route between Blairmore Pier and Kilmun car park.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Kilmun - Blairmore

If the Holy Loch Hop is too much for one day, then you can split it in two for a great weekend adventure (ideal if you have small children or slow walkers in your party).

The loop between Historic Kilmun and Blairmore Pier is 6 miles in length with good surfaces underfoot. The first half of the loop takes you uphill using Forestry paths. It climbs up behind Blairmore & Strone Golf Club, offering fantastic views over the Firth of Clyde, then comes down through the woods to Blairmore Pier.

After perhaps enjoying a picnic in the beautiful surroundings of Blairmore Village Green, or a delicious meal at The Blairmore café, you have the choice of following the footpath along the shore back to Kilmun, or taking the High Road past Dunselma Castle.

Your choice may be swayed by the knowledge that The Shore Café and The Strone Inn can only be accessed by following the shoreline. However, it is slightly shorter to return via the High Road; and the private grounds of Dunselma Castle are worth a look as you pass.

Free parking is available outside Historic Kilmun, and there are public toilets in the nearby graveyard too.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

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Historic Kilmun in winter.
Credit: subtle sensor
Blairmore Pier in autumn
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Puck's Glen by Bill Higham

Kilmun - Puck's Glen

The second loop from Historic Kilmun (this time headed towards Puck’s Glen) is also 6 miles long. This one passes through through Kilmun Arboretum and makes use of woodland trails and forestry tracks, which can be muddy or slippery underfoot. Many of the waterfall routes in Puck’s Glen have handrails but that is not the case in all places, so you may wish to take hiking poles with you.

The gorge walk into (and back out of) Pucks Glen is steep in places but is absolutely magical and well worth the effort. You’ll no doubt stop many times to take photos, so allow 3hrs for the walk, plus maybe another 30mins or more to spend at Historic Kilmun visitor centre.

This is a great route for the whole family as, aside from the wonder of Puck’s Glen, there’s much to learn about different trees and habitats in Kilmun Arboretum. If you choose to pay the small fee to enter Historic Kilmun, you’ll also get to see the historical artefacts and incredible stained glass windows inside the church building.

You can ask for a tour, at no extra cost, that will teach you about the history of the church, mausoleum and graveyard. There’s even a gigantic modern touchscreen device packed with information about ECHO and Faith in Cowal as well as Historic Kilmun.

Free parking is available outside Historic Kilmun, and there are public toilets in the nearby graveyard too.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Vikings, Commandos
and a Laird

This is a 3 mile loop with good surfaces underfoot, making it one of our easier trails. It starts by heading out the back of the car park in Ardentinny, toward Laird’s Grave. There’s then a short stretch spent on the (quiet, single track) road towards Fingal’s Well before turning off towards Glenfinart Walled Garden

The return journey passes by the remains of Glenfinart House, then leads around the beach to return you to Coronation Wood by the car park. You can shorten this loop by using the track between the road and the beach, in sight of the remaining tower of Glenfinart House. This works in whichever direction you follow the trail and cuts almost a mile (and three heritage hotspots) from the trip.

The full trail, however, is a fun, educational experience where you can teach your fellow walkers about the Vikings whose boats inspire the name of Loch Long, the Commandos who were housed at Glenfinart during the war, and Lord Archibald Douglas, whose grave enjoys fantastic views over Ardentinny (while the rest of his family are interred in the Douglas Mausoleum at Historic Kilmun).

Free parking is available just by Coronation Wood at the north end of the village, and there are public toilets in the same location.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

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© Copyright James T M Towill.
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Ardentinny shown on the 1861 ordnance survey.
Look at the arrangement of buildings.

Ardentinny - Knap

If you fancy a slightly more challenging loop whilst visiting Ardentinny, then you might try this trail from Shepherd’s Point, via Knap and Raven’s Rock, on Forestry tracks.

At 5 miles long, with good surfaces underfoot and some steep sections, this route doesn’t stop at any of our main heritage hotspots, but it will require more of your time and energy.

Getting out into the natural heritage of the area is a perfect way to balance all the historical learning of the Vikings, Commandos & a Laird trail.

Free parking is available at Ardentinny Beach, and there are public toilets just by Coronation Wood at the north end of the village.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Ardentinny shown on the 1861 ordnance survey.
Look at the arrangement of buildings.

Ardentinny - Blairmore

This is a challenging 7.5 mile trail on mixed surfaces. Allow for a full days walk if you wish to return via the same route (you can, however, get the 489 bus back to Ardentinny from Blairmore).

It offers fantastic views over Loch Long and a 3 mile section to a waterfall at the head of Stronchullin Burn. This latter section, that strikes inland is also used by Quadmania, a local quad bike adventure company, so keep your ears peeled for that. If you prefer, you can shorten this trail by dropping down to the shore road between Stronchullin and Gairletter.

The trail starts near Ardentinny Church and Coronation Wood, then follows Forestry tracks above Ardentinny, through Stronchullin estate and to the burn. After traversing the burn, the trail drops from the Forestry track, following an overgrown horse track through land that is currently being re-wilded.

You then come down through Blairmore Farm, passing Blairmore house, before finding another muddy woodland trail which leads into the back of Blairmore and over the village green to the pier. This may also be possible to complete on a mountain bike depending on your skill level.

Free parking is available just by Coronation Wood at the north end of the village, and there are public toilets in the same location. You can also park near Blairmore Pier if you wish to do this in reverse.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

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The Old Schoolhouse at Ardentinny
Blairmore Pier by Malcolm LeMay
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Ardentinny Church
Carrick Castle on Loch Goil
Credit: subtle sensor

Ardentinny - Carrick Castle

This is a relatively straightforward walk using Forestry tracks, a woodland trail and a quiet road to reach Carrick Castle. At 5 miles each way, you can walk (or cycle) there and back again in one day.

Climb the Forestry track behind Ardentinny beach and then bear right at the first major junction. After this it’s all one track with some steep sections but no major turn-offs for most of the route.

The trail sticks to the shore for most of the journey (albeit higher up and obscured for the most part by trees). As you round the headland and your direction starts to bear inland again, keep an eye out for a Forestry sign directing you from the track onto a trail toward Carrick Castle.

This trail then descends quite quickly to the shores of Loch Goil and you can see the castle ahead in the distance. There’s a large green in front of the castle, a perfect place to picnic before making the return journey.

Free parking is available at Ardentinny Beach, and there are public toilets just by Coronation Wood at the north end of the village, as well as by the shore road just before you reach Carrick Castle.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Carrick Castle - Cormonachan Woodlands

This trail has you heading up onto Forestry paths overlooking Lochgoilhead from Carrick Castle and linking with new trails being created by the community in Cuilmuich and Cormonachan woodlands.

It is a 6 mile walk in one direction (12 mile return) and finishes on community managed tracks through the mature grounds of Cormonachan Community Woodland. Before turning back, you might like to enjoy a bite to eat and a refreshing drink at the Boat Shed Cafe, which is on the shore road just after the exit from the woodlands.

You can return via the same route, or drop down to the shore road to vary the journey a little. The road is single track with good visibility in both directions (weather permitting) and is usually very quiet in any case.

Free parking is available on the grounds just south of Carrick Castle, and there are public toilets just beyond that on the shore road.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

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Carrick Castle on Loch Goil
Credit: subtle sensor
Carrick Castle and paddle steamer 'Caledonia'.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library.
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Benmore - Ardentinny

This 10 mile hike starts at Benmore Botanic Gardens and uses Forestry tracks and paths around the foothills of Sligrachan Hill and Beinn Ruadh. It visits four heritage hotspots in the Glenfinart/Ardentinny area before finishing at the Ardentinny Centre Ice Cream Shack.

Initially the path is faint and muddy and climbs quite sharply uphill. Once you reach the solid surface of the Forestry tracks, it maintains a fairly even altitude; high enough to offer good views but not straying above the tree-line.

Free parking is available at Benmore Botanic Gardens as well as by Coronation Wood at the other end of the trail. There are customer toilets at Benmore, and public toilets in Ardentinny car park.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Benmore - Kilmun

The second route from Benmore Botanic Gardens uses the Black Gates Forestry track above Puck’s Glen and through Kilmun Arboretum to Historic Kilmun. This is a 6 mile walk (12 mile return). The trail is almost entirely on waymarked forestry tracks with good surfaces underfoot.

There’s much to learn about different trees and habitats in Kilmun Arboretum and if you choose to pay the small fee to enter Historic Kilmun, you’ll also get to see the historical artefacts and incredible stained glass windows inside the church building.

You can ask for a tour, at no extra cost, that will teach you about the history of the church, mausoleum and graveyard. There’s even a gigantic modern touchscreen device packed with information about ECHO and Faith in Cowal as well as Historic Kilmun.

Free parking is available at Benmore Gardens as well as outside Historic Kilmun. There are customer toilets at Benmore and public toilets at Kilmun graveyard too.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

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Puck's Glen by Stephen Mackenzie
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Documents were hidden in barrels like this to prevent them from being lost.

Benmore - Paper Caves

This is the longest trail on offer so far. It’s tucked over on the west side of Loch Eck where there are no roads, so this must be walked in both directions at a total of 24 miles. Most of this journey is carried out on level ground following good Forestry paths along the shore of the loch.

The trail starts from the car park at Benmore Botanic Gardens. Cross the footbridge at the west of the car park, then bear right and follow the road past the entrance to the gardens, round the back and through Benmore Farm. After a long stretch following the shoreline path, you pass the ruins of Coirantee Farmstead. Continue along the shore a little further north, then turn inland toward the Bernice Burial Ground. From here the trail bends south and starts to climb uphill.

Eventually you reach the Paper Caves. To explore them properly you would need ropes, helmets and climbing gear as there’s no easy way to access them. The documents that were hidden here, during the 17th century conflicts, included Charters and Titles that showed proof of ownership of land and property. They were stored in barrels to avoid water damage.

Free parking and customer toilets are available  at Benmore Botanic Gardens.

Printed maps of this trail can be collected from Bookpoint in Dunoon, or from Historic Kilmun.

Watch This Space!

The ECHO Trails project is only just beginning. We aim to have more short, family friendly trails and some longer, more challenging trails in place soon.

We already have a trail between Jubilee Point and the Lauder Monument underway. It’s a steep, challenging walk with rewarding views over Loch Eck; the jewel in Cowal’s crown. It passes right by The Whistlefield Inn too, so you can enjoy a hearty meal or a real ale when you’re done.

We’re also looking into a short, family friendly loop that runs between Ardentinny Church to a hidden bird hide, taking in the beach, the woodland and Glenfinart Walled Garden in the process.

But all that is still to come! In the meantime, if you have an appetite for long distance trails, we highly recommend the Faith in Cowal website for pilgrim walks visiting ancient Christian sites across Cowal.

Alternatively, consider booking a rib-tour or a dive with Wreckspeditions, a local company specialising in exploring the many shipwrecks and submarines in Holy Loch and beyond.

The ECHO Trails are a series of short to medium distance walking trails visiting heritage sites in east Cowal, Argyll. Suitable for a family afternoon out or a weekend exploring this wonderful region of Scotland. Only a stone’s throw from Glasgow. Part of Loch Lomond & The trossachs National Park.

East Cowal Heritage Outdoors (ECHO) Trails.

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