Meandering a mesmeric 100 miles around the narrow peninsula, the Kintyre Way offers unforgettable experiences by the bucketload. Here, Dominic Ryan, in the company of his faithful collie Star, provides a personal guide to one of Scotland’s less travelled long-distance trails

I find myself conflicted writing about the Kintyre Way. I’ve been lucky enough to have stopped off in the village of Carradale, on the east coast of the long-distance walking trail, for some years now. So I’m able to join it almost every day with my constant companion, the wonder collie Star. 

And, while I’m keen to share its many attractions, there’s also a selfish part of me that wants to keep it our cherished, secret stroll. But that would be churlish, so here goes …

Sauntering south from the pretty and popular fishing port of Tarbert, the Way dilly-dallies 100 miles down the Kintyre peninsula to Southend, before a final, soft U-turn to golfing mecca Machrihanish on the west coast. In all, there are seven waymarked sections, each offering incredible experiences of Scottish wildlife and panoramic vistas – feeling breathtaken isn’t only from the boot-stomping. Each offers its own unique topography, views and special magic.
Of course, all the Way’s sections together are simply too expansive to record in a single story but the beauty of this route is you can easily dip in and out – like some of the select number who’ve already discovered the Way, Star and I opt for short and manageable portions – and so that’s what we’ll do here too.

Throughout the year, the Way’s wild areas are an immense and rumpled patchwork quilt of changing colours and contours. In the scrubby, often rocky uplands of the north we can watch hen harriers glide and swoop, sit silently on a rock as red deer wander across our path oblivious of us and gaze up into the blue as a white-tailed eagle shrugs off the attention of golden cousins and even smaller buzzards with a single, imperious beat of his enormous wings.

(Image: Kintyre Way)

The first section, 11 miles from Tarbert to Claonaig, is where Star and I start as many mean to go on – breathless but with unfounded optimism – one steep stone step at a time to Tarbert Castle.
These semi-tumbled ruins sit bowed yet still bold above the natural harbour of the village and narrow isthmus they guard. There’s many a legend that tells of boats dragged by sailors across that strip of land. The most infamous portage was made in the Eleventh Century by Vikings who served Norwegian King Magnus Barelegs. 

Malcolm of Scotland had offered possession of all isles off the west coast, so long as they were circumnavigated. Magnus’s savvy sailors hauled their longboat across the ground, claiming their “island”. Thankfully, there’s no boat carrying involved in our walks and, unencumbered, we cross sun-baked clearings guarded by bold, black faced sheep – only Star’s short leash not long years inhibits her herding instincts – we slosh through cold streams, wander through cool woodland and finally descend to the tiny village of Skipness on the east coast, halted more than once by the cinematic backdrop of Arran’s jagged mountains rising from the waves of Kilbrannan Sound.
This is also the first of the Way’s many delightful detours (the village of Tayinloan, for example, is ideal for hopping onto the ferry to the isle of Gigha). 

(Image: Dominic Ryan)

Past the humble stone church of St Brendan, we come to Skipness Castle and the nearby Kilbrannan Chapel. Built in the early Thirteenth Century, today the Castle is preserved by Historic Environment Scotland and is open all year round, with a magnificent vantage point from its tower.
Skipping fast-forward, at the southern end of the Way, mile upon mile of heath, heather and knee-high grasses border sheer-faced sea cliffs, where the cries of wheeling birds mix with the westerly wind and Atlantic waves crashing below.

You quickly appreciate why a large part of this wonderland, Largiebaan Wildlife Reserve, is renowned for its embarrassing wealth of wildlife, from red-billed choughs to docile deer and feral yet friendly goats. Its’ always tempting to take more time out to explore its web of trails and footpaths and linger awhile in one of the hides, perhaps to catch a lucky glimpse of a Scottish wild cat. Of course, the south has its human history, too. In Southend, the road past the large art deco former Keil Hotel, leads to a cemetery of ancient grave slabs and the ivy-cloaked remains of St Columba’s church. 

Close by are two carved human footprints. One is a whimsical work of art created by a local stonemason in 1856. The other is reassuringly ancient – said to have been made by the Celtic saint’s sole in AD563, although some argue it was installed for the coronations of the Kings of Dalriada. 
Just beyond is St Columba’s Well, a bowl carved into rock where natural spring water is reputed to have divine healing powers: its contents certainly have a refreshing effect on Star. St Columba is said to have been a guest in the nearby Keil Caves. As the ancient equivalent of an Air B n B, these natural boltholes were used by many, from daytripping Roman soldiers to, according to an 1881 Census report, a local family that numbered seven.

(Image: Getty Images)

Among the rocky rooms once used for staycations are the Great Cave and Hermit’s Retreat.
The Piper’s Cave may have been less popular: it’s said you can still hear the ghost of a bagpiper playing lonely tunes late into the night. Star doesn’t appreciate bagpiping so we never venture inside. For Way walkers, journey’s end is a sun-bleached sign (soon to be renewed) in Machrihanish, a small village best known for its sweeping scimitar of sandy beach, which curves north to Westport, a mecca for serious and not so serious surfers. It also has a classic links golf course designed by none other than Old Tom Morris himself, while a second, newer course nearby goes by the name Machrihanish Dunes. 

Legendary Scots naturalist John Muir wrote: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
Star and I would wholeheartedly agree. Going out for our walks on the Kintyre Way always feels like we’re really going in.


Due to the wide range of distances, the seven sections of the Kintyre Way can be enjoyed together, individually, or as much shorter journeys … and always, of course, at your own leisure and pace. 
The levels of effort required can vary from serious hiking to gentle rambles, with the terrain changing from short stretches of quiet public highway and woodland trails to hillside yomps and all-four scrambles over rocky foreshores.
As Star will avouch, dogs are welcome, although proper control is a must at all times – especially near livestock or the abundant wildlife that calls Kintyre home. Similarly, cyclists visit often but newbies should note not all sections are always suitable for two wheels, especially in the muddier winter months. For visitors who prefer to enjoy their travelling unencumbered, there is a forward baggage courier available courtesy of Broonie Bags,

(Image: Dominic Ryan)


Campbeltown Picture House 

As well as screening blockbusters, arthouse movies and everything in between, this is so much more than a cinema. Purpose-built in1913, remodelled in 1935 by original architect Albert V. Gardner and renovated in 2017, the Grade-A listed landmark features an exquisite art nouveau exterior and magically theatrical interior. With two screens and a café, it also hosts regular exhibitions and community activities. Don’t deny yourself one of its delectable cakes, cookies or confections, all created by employee Mhairi… forget deep fired Mars bars; thanks to going viral, her iconic Scotch Crème Eggs are a new national treasure.

Skipness Smokehouse 

The former estate workshop near Skipness Castle has been converted by owners Tim and Fran into a smokehouse where visitors can view the entire production process through observation windows. You can also purchase a wide range of products, such as award-winning salmon. Tim works closely with C.O.A.S.T. (Arran Community Sea Bed Trust) in and around the first marine conservation area, catching local shellfish in a sustainable manner.

Torrisdale Castle Estate

Boasting a castle apartment, cottages and eco-bothies, Torrisdale hosts wildlife walks and guided tours. It’s also home to Beinn an Tuirc Distillery, with its gin school, fully licensed café and new geodome, which hosts everything from yoga to sound baths. Named for the Hill of the Wild Boar, the highest point in Kintyre, it has been producing award-winning, sustainably distilled craft gin since 2017, and you can buy special cask bottles to bring home.

Glenscotia Distillery

“Freedom an’ whisky gang thegither!” opined Burns. Fresh from the freedom of walking the Way, Glenscotia Distillery is the place to sample uisce beatha or the ‘water of life’. Tours of the Campbeltown distillery reveal what really goes into creating its single malt scotch. If you still have a lilt in your step after 100 miles, why not take one of its guided walking tours through the ‘Victorian Whisky Capital of the World’?

(Image: Dominic Ryan)


Skipness Seafood Cabin

This is surely the perfect place to rest up and replenish after walking the first section of the Way. Starting out as a humble trailer next to the Castle, offering teas, coffees and crab rolls, this has been serving visitors since 1988 and become a veritable Kintyre institution. Today there’s a bespoke restaurant in which to enjoy fresh, well-prepared seafood – all of which is sourced from local suppliers.

Muneroy Tearoom

If your ordinary meringue is a humble bungalow, a typical creation on offer at this Southend stop-off is the Taj Mahal. So renowned is Muneroy for the quality of its home baking, booking is essential and its monumental treats are rich rewards for those who have made it this far on the Way. Available seven days a week, its menu also includes a range of light snacks and drinks.



This Victorian manse, at the mid-point of the Kintyre Way in Carradale, has enjoyed a renaissance to luxury guest house with fine dining. The attention to detail, culinary craft and warm hospitality of owners Steve and Maurice have made it Kintyre’s only 5 Star VisitScotland Guest House. Ideally positioned for much more than walking, it is popular all year-round with golfers, whisky fans and city folks seeking a lap of luxury in the wilds.

Ronachan House

Sitting on the pristine white sands of Ronachan Bay and looking out across to the beautiful islands of Islay, Jura and Gigha, Ronachan is available as separate accommodation options – The Main House, The Coach House and The Lookout – or can be booked in its entirety as an exclusive and super-luxury retreat for groups of up to 34 people.

Ifferdale Bunkhouse

What better way to experience life right on the Kintyre Way itself than staying in a working family farm? Ifferdale, located in the heart of Saddell Glen, near the idyllic beach famous for its Castle and Antony Gormley’s sea-gazing statue GRIP, offers beautifully renovated steadings as self-catering accommodation for guests numbering two to 14.

The Bunkhouse

If you’d like to enjoy some r ‘n’ r in the Wee Toon to celebrate completing the Way, Campbeltown Backpackers Bunkhouse provides quality accommodation in a B-listed building in the heart of town. Sixteen beds are available in two separate rooms, with four toilet and shower rooms, self-catering kitchen, dining room, lounge and secure, indoor storage facilities for cycles.