Kintyre is a peninsula in south-west Scotland that extends for some 40 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in the south to Tarbert in the north. The peninsula is nowhere much more than ten miles wide. At Tarbert the isthmus preventing the rest of Kintyre becoming an island is just a mile across, where West Loch Kintyre bites deeply into the peninsula and only just fails to meet East Loch Tarbert, around which Tarbert's harbour is built.
There are a number of Tarberts in Scotland, and each is characterised by a narrow strip of land, usually where two lochs nearly meet. The name comes from the Gaelic Tairbeart. This is literally translated as "draw-boat" and more usually as "isthmus". The Gaelic name was demonstrated in practice in 1093. To prove that he could add Kintyre to his claim for all the western islands, the Viking King Magnus Barelegs rode in a longboat as it was dragged across the isthmus. An island was something you could travel round in a boat: therefore his journey made Kintyre an island. And therefore, he claimed, it was his.
Set at the head of a deep loch, sheltered by Davaar Island and surrounding hills, is Kintyre's main settlement, Campbeltown, one of the largest towns in Argyll. Its heyday was in the Victorian era with its thriving shipbuilding, fishing and whisky industries. Today only three distilleries are in production. The best known is Springbank Distillery, which provides a unique insight into a distillery which undertakes 100% of the process in-house.
Elsewhere in Campbeltown is the excellent Campbeltown Heritage Centre, while on the quayside is the Campbeltown Museum and Library and the nearby "Wee Picture House". Campbeltown also has some striking churches, including the Lorne and Lowland Church with its huge tower, built for the Scots-speaking residents of the town, and the Highland Parish Church, built for the Gaelic-speaking highland population.
A popular day trip from Campbeltown is to Davaar Island, accessible from the mainland only at low tide by means of a peculiar dog-leg stretch of shingle. The island is uninhabited, save for sheep, and its main attraction is a cave painting of the Crucifixion secretly produced by a local artist in the late 1800s.
Ten miles south of Campbeltown lies Southend and the very attractive Dunaverty Bay. Nearby is the spot where in AD563 St Columba first landed in Scotland after being exiled from Ireland, a journey that took him onwards to Iona. St Columba's Footprints carved in the rock at Keil Head are said to mark his visit, and the nearby St Columba's Chapel also commemorates him.
Carskey Bay and Macharioch Bay both have appealing beaches overlooking Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde. Beyond Keil, the road continues to the most southwesterly point of the peninsula, the Mull of Kintyre. From here, Ireland, only 12 miles away, is clearly visible.
Campbeltown lies at the eastern end of the only low lying part of Kintyre; the western end being occupied by Machrihanish, and its airfield, which boasts one of the longest runways in Europe, and provides air services to Glasgow. Meanwhile, Machrihanish, itself, five miles west of Campbeltown is increasingly making a name as an internationally important golfing destination.
Further north, you take your pick between roads running up the east coast or the west coast, for there are no cross-connections between Campbeltown in the south and Kennacraig, just south of Tarbert, in the north. This is the location of the main ferry terminus for Islay; and a rather lonely spot in which to find such an important transport link.
Of the two alternatives the west coast offers the main road, much of it laid along raised beaches standing back from wonderful rocky bays with white sand, complete with superb views of Jura and Islay. And if you want to visit the low-lying Isle of Gigha with its many attractions, then this is the side to take. Access to Gigha is via a frequent car ferry from Tayinloan on the Kintyre coast, which itself is roughly mid way between Tarbert and Campbeltown
The east coast of Kintyre offers a narrower and twistier road, which become single track north of the attractive fishing village of Carradale, which is the location of the Carradale Network Centre, a heritage centre.
This isn't the side for anyone in a hurry, but it does offer dramatic views of Arran, and a range of surprising little settlements, including Saddell, home to the ruins of Saddell Abbey. Nearer Campbeltown the road also passes the well preserved remains of Kildonan Dun. Further north is the slipway at Claonaig, from where you can catch the ferry to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.
Set at the northern end of Kintyre, Tarbert is a lovely fishing village backed by rocky hills. The distinctive church tower dominates its skyline. Tarbert was a centre for the herring industry as far back as 836 when it gained mention in the Annals of Ulster.
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