6 Reasons to Sail to Campbeltown
Author: Robin McKelvie
Campbeltown may once have been the richest per capita town in Scotland, but getting there these days can be a pain. The tortuous drive from Glasgow is over 100 miles long and the flight can be expensive, even then only getting you to the other side of the Kintyre peninsula at Machrinhanish. Mercifully CalMac have now brought ferries back to this deeply historic hub.
The service from Ardrossan is seriously handy, not to mention very scenic. It allows you to relax as you cruise over planning what you will do when you get there, enjoying a meal in the onboard café en route or a retail session in the well-stocked shop.
Once in Campbeltown there are myriad things to see and do. Campbeltown used to be a real fulcrum; a staging post for the busy Clyde ferries and onwards travel around the Mull of Kintyre to the island of Ireland. After years of decline I'm pleased to report that the town is on the way back so hop aboard with me now as I reveal 6 Reasons You Should Sail to Campbeltown.
1. Getting There - The journey itself is up there with the most scenic in Scotland. As you sail out of Ardrossan the modern world quickly slips away as Bute and the Cumbraes wave to starboard and the rugged hills of Arran loom ahead. There are stops in the timetable at Arran for those looking to break their journey and enjoy a twin centre break. The scenery does not end there as there are the uninhabited isles of Pladda, Holy Isle, Hamilton Island, Ailsa Craig and Davaar on the final approach into Campbeltown. You will do well to spot Hamilton off Arran as many people on Arran even don't know it exists! The sheer granite stack of Ailsa Craig and its bountiful seabirds are, though, unmissable. There are great views of the Kintyre Peninsula too as you sail down its length.
2. History - Take one look at the sweeping array of grand stone buildings that hug Campbeltown's Gulf Stream washed promenade ánd you can instantly imagine the glory days the town once enjoyed. I love the graceful old library on the waterfront. Perhaps the most impressive building in town - and that is saying something - is Campbeltown Picture House. This ornate dame is currently being reborn. You will struggle to find anywhere in Scotland more romantic to watch a movie. If you want to delve deeper into Campbeltown's bountiful heritage then the Campbeltown Museum is essential. The eclectic exhibits range from Viking relics through to an old Penny Farthing bike and on to archaeology, handy in this designated Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology Scotland 2017.
3. Whisky Galore - No other town in Scotland has its very own whisky denomination (normally they are given to whole regions or, in the case of Islay, an island). Once upon a time dozens of distilleries busied away in Campbeltown, but all too recently it looked like the local whisky trade might die out altogether. Thankfully it hasn't and the famous Springbank and Glen Scotia are booming. A third distillery, Glengyle, has also opened with rumours of more on the way as Scottish whisky booms around the world. The best way to learn more beyond the bottom of a dram is by taking a tour of one of this illustrious trio.
4. Retail Therapy - Campbeltown is home to a flurry of independent and interesting shops. Coastal Design sits right on the waterfront with a smorgasbord of arts and crafts for sale. Campbeltown Pottery meanwhile have been fashioning traditional hand-made pottery since 1997. Whisky lovers should make a beeline for Cadenhead's Whisky Shop, which is run by Scotland's oldest independent bottler. You can find a handy wee guide to Campbeltown's range of shops here.
5. Enjoy the Great Outdoors - If you want to head out on to the wildlife rich waters and round the famous Mull of Kintyre then Mull of Kintyre Seatours offer exhilarating RIB rides out of Campbeltown. You will likely see dolphins and porpoises and if you're lucky a whale, with killer whales even sometimes spotted on their trips. There are plenty of good local walks too. Last time I was here I tackled the slopes of 352m high Beinn Ghuilean, whose summit offers epic views of the town and out towards Ireland. Cyclists meanwhile can nip over to enjoy the sweeping sandy beach at Machrinhanish or cycle the Kintyre Way (which can be walked to), which stretches off around this fascinating peninsula
6. Hop on Another Ferry - You can, of course, sail back to Ardrossan, but there are other options if you want to continue your CalMac adventure, not to mention flexible tickets too. You can nip from Kintyre on the short crossing across to the gorgeous wee island of Gigha, famous for being clean and green. It's also got epic white sand beaches and a superb seafood restaurant. Further north up Kintyre the pier at Kennacraig opens up trips to Islay, Colonsay and Oban. On the east of the peninsula there is the option to sail across to Arran from Claonaig or to the little explored Cowal Peninsula, with its beaches, restaurants and world-class spa resort, from Tarbert. See my CalMac blog on Cowal here.