This tour with a starting and finishing point in Oban is designed to give a glimpse of some of what northern Argyll has to offer. Much of it is coastal in nature and it includes a journey through Kilmartin Glen, an incredibly rich prehistoric landscape. It also takes in the attractive towns of Lochgilphead and Inveraray.
The main route shown in dark blue on the map is 93 miles long, all on good quality main roads. We suggest it be followed anticlockwise, in other words starting out down the coast. This (arguably) tends to face you away from the sun more than towards it, but it also gives you the options of excursions relatively early in the day, when you are most likely to feel you have the time for them.
Two optional excursions are suggested. The first is 8 miles each way to Seil and Easdale; the second 5 miles each way to Crinan. Both involve some use of single track roads. It is also possible to explore the peninsula beyond Ardfern.
From the starting point of the tour in Oban, you should head down the A816 as it makes its way across country to the head of Loch Feochan then down the loch's southern shore. The first suggested excursion, of 8 miles each way, is upon you quite quickly: a road sign pointing right along the B8003 to Easdale; and the fascinatingly named Atlantic Bridge.
This road takes you onto the island of Seil, over the Clachan or Atlantic Bridge which was built in 1792/3 for the sum of £450 and which spans a narrow sea passage separating the island from the mainland. The itinerary doesn't allow time for a proper exploration of the Slate Islands, but you should make your way across Seil to Ellenabeich and at least consider the short passenger ferry crossing to Easdale Island.
South of its junction with the B8003 the A816 next strikes the coast at the head of Loch Melfort, near Kilmelford Church. The southern side of the mouth of the loch is guarded by Arduaine Garden. South again, you pass Craobh Haven and have the option of exploring the peninsula beyond Ardfern.
Further on you pass not far from the southern end of Loch Awe, before passing Carnasserie Castle and emerging in the village of Kilmartin. This is the gateway to Kilmartin Glen, home to an amazing collection of prehistoric monuments and remains. Perhaps most striking is the rocky hill that was home to Dunadd, capital of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada. The best way to get to grips with an area that is both fascinating and complex is by visiting the Kilmartin Museum.
At Cairnbaan you first encounter the Crinan Canal. A right turn here introduces the second suggested excursion, of 5 miles each way to Crinan: a road that involves some single track driving. Crinan is a fascinating and picturesque place and well worth the visit if you have time.
Back in Cairnbaan, it is only a short drive south east to Lochgilphead, the administrative headquarters of Argyll & Bute. Here you turn onto the A83 and your next 24 miles follows this well trafficked main road as it makes its way up the north west shore of Loch Fyne to Inveraray. Inveraray has a range of attractions on offer, ranging from its magnificent castle to its jail: something for everyone, you might say.
In Inveraray you (probably thankfully) leave the A83 and head north along the A819. This cuts across country to meet the head of Loch Awe near Cladich before following the loch to meet the A85 near Dalmally.
West of Dalmally is the strung out village of Lochawe. Kilchurn Castle, at the eastern end of Loch Awe is well worth a visit. And a unique experience is gained from stopping at St Conan's Kirk in the village. This was built as a collection of the best bits of church architecture and the end result is bizarre, fascinating, and beautiful.
Beyond Loch Awe you descend through the Pass of Brander to Taynuilt. Here you can take a cruise on Loch Etive: and in this unlikely setting you also find the Bonawe Iron Furnace, dating back to the 1700s. Beyond Taynuilt you return to Connel. While doing so it is worth looking out for the Falls of Lora, the spectacular effect that happens at certain points in the tidal cycle in the narrow mouth of Loch Etive under the bridge. From Connel return to Oban. En route it is worth looking out for the side turning to Dunstaffnage Castle, a remarkably well preserved castle clinging to the top of an outcrop of rock.