Around Argyll’s Secret Coast
Part 1 | Day 1 – 4
A road trip to Scotland to the Argyll Coast! We finally made it! Tartan, whisky, highland coos (cows to the rest of us), castles and lochs…what could be more Scottish? This is the Argyll Coast, Scotland’s secret coast, and it’s full of everything Scottish. To cut a long story short, we had planned to visit the Argyll Coast in 2020. Because life was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we didn’t.
Then, we considered a road trip to Scotland along the North Coast 500, AKA the NC500. Because it received so much media attention due to staycations, we decided to head to the lesser-known Argyll Coast instead. Given we’d planned a road trip to Scotland a year previously, there was only a little bit of tinkering required to properly nail the plan.
Day 1 | Sycamore Gap
The first stop on our road trip to Scotland was not actually in Scotland. It was in England and was Sycamore Gap, Northumberland. Do you recognise the tree? If not, you may remember the 1991 hit film ‘Robin Hood and the Prince of Thieves’. The film featured Kevin Costner and this sycamore tree. It’s now one of the most photographed trees in the United Kingdom.
We left home in Shropshire at rush hour, which led to a journey lasting almost six hours. It should have taken us about four! We camped overnight in a little spot called Lambley Viaduct South Tyne Trail Car Park. Parking overnight can be a bit of a nightmare in the van, especially when it’s getting late. The app we use to find places is very hit or miss. We use Park4 Night and Wild Camping apps. Do you have any you recommend with better odds? When we arrived at the car park we were relieved to see another couple of campers parked for the night.
The nearest parking for Sycamore Gap is Steel Rigg Car Park and parking is £3 for three hours, which should be plenty. Sycamore Gap is about a mile or so from the car park, but be under no illusion… The walk is fairly ninja if you take the path along Hadrian’s Wall and aren’t a mountain goat. The path goes up and down some steep hills, so be prepared! Sycamore Gap was a bit of a detour from the M6 en route to Scotland, but totally worth the extra mileage.
Day 2 | Three Lochs Forest Drive
The second stop on our road trip to Scotland was actually in Scotland! It was in Three Lochs Forest Drive, which is part of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. If you’re planning to camp on your visit, be aware you need a permit to stay overnight. Permits are super cheap – £3.00 per night across the Camping Management Zones in the National Park. If you choose to stay in Three Lochs Forest Drive, you will have to pay a £2.00 vehicle access charge. This is because Three Lochs Forest Drive is owned by Forestry & Land Scotland and the fee goes towards the upkeep of the road.
You can stay for up to 3 nights and can only book up to 4 weeks in advance. We booked exactly 4 weeks in advance and it had already started to book up. So, you might want to get on as early as you can to secure a place. There are loads of places to stay on the Three Lochs Forest Drive and in Loch Lomond. After doing a bit of research about the sites which were left, we chose to stay at Three Lochs Forest Drive Permit Area ‘E’. For more information and to book your permit, click HERE.
You know the American films you’ve seen set in an idyllic location by a lake? Where people are wild swimming, canoeing and sitting around the campfire? Well, Three Lochs Forest Drive is the UK equivalent and is every bit as magical as you would want it to be.
Day 3 | Loch Lomond
During our road trip to Scotland, we’d allocated two nights at Three Lochs Forest Drive. Partly because we had a fairly long journey from Sycamore Gap and partly to explore a bit more of Loch Lomond. Our first stop was Balloch, which is at the southern point of Loch Lomond. It was a bit commercial for us, but if you like boat rides, aquariums and gift shops, you’ll probably like it. It was nice enough but a little busy for us, although the angel cake was delicious! We left Balloch and headed for Balmaha…and then Bumper’s gearbox started to stick!
Back in January we had a problem with the gearbox linkage cables and found the solution in a £10 part from eBay and some WD40! But we made it to Balmaha where the parking was absolutely insane! If you choose to visit Balmaha on a sunny summer’s day, we suggest you get there early to avoid doing circles of the car park for 20 minutes! Ha!
Anyway, we walked up to Milarrochy Bay along a beautiful part of the West Highland Way, which skirted the east side of Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is the largest lake by surface area in Great Britain and stunningly beautiful. We visited on a day with such fantastic weather you would be forgiven for thinking we were in the Mediterranean.
Back to Bumper and after an enjoyable walk along the West Highland Way, we went in search of some WD40, which we found at a fuel station with the world’s smallest forecourt, but it seemed to do the trick! Bumper was running OK again…for the time being. We still had seven nights ahead of us so needed Bumper to keep us moving. I suppose that’s the problem on a road trip – you require the vehicle to keep you moving and a breakdown puts a spanner in the works, so to speak.
We’d planned to hire some kayaks on Loch Lomond but decided against that given time might not be on our side to sort the gearbox. Anyway, we needed our fix of the water so headed down for a little swim in Loch Drunkie. Loch Drunkie is the loch we overlooked from our spot in Three Lochs Forest Drive. The water was cold but incredibly refreshing and added to the experience of Three Lochs Forest Drive.
Day 4 |
Rest & Be Thankful Viewpoint
After leaving Three Loch Forest Drive, we headed to our next port of call – the Rest and Be Thankful Viewpoint. It sits atop the windiest valley in the world (not really, but it was SUPER windy!) and the views back down are simply awesome. What made it even better was the burger van which was there. We got ourselves some coffees and the most delicious millionaires shortbread.
What made it so good? The fact the chocolate wasn’t rock hard! Ha! You know what I’m talking about…when the chocolate is so hard it forces the caramel out and makes a mess of the whole thing. Well, this didn’t and it was a sensory overload of awesome caramel, biscuit and chocolate-ness. Next up after admiring the view was Benmore Botanic Gardens – a world-famous collection of plants in a mountain landscape.
Benmore Botanical Gardens
Although the gardens were a 44-mile roundtrip from the main road to Oban, the detour was worth it. The drive along Loch Eck is beautiful and the views within the gardens are simply breathtaking. It’s quite remarkable that there is such a diverse bit of landscape nestled on a hillside, near the sea.
We saw a deer, nearly killed a beetle (and then witnessed it throw itself off what was the equivalent of the White Cliffs of Dover to a human) and saw many of the wonderful colours, shapes, patterns and smells nature has to offer. There’s a £7.50 entrance fee for adults, but consider that you are helping to look after somewhere special. You can find out more about the gardens and their other entrance fees HERE.
The next stop on our road trip to Scotland was Kilchurn Castle…and it did not disappoint! The castle just appears out of nowhere. Almost immediately after seeing the castle, there’s a little lay-by you can stop in to head down to the water’s edge. If you have time and the weather is suitable, take a picnic down and admire the dramatic views over Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle before you head to the main car park. The views from the main car park and the path are not the same!
We’d spent about 115 miles on the road from Three Loch Forest Drive to Kilchurn Castle, via the Rest and Be Thankful Viewpoint and Benmore Botanic Gardens. We felt somewhat isolated on the road. We had driven for miles and miles and barely passed any villages, shops or pubs…we were in need of some human contact. We’d planned to stay at Kilchurn Castle but opted to head on to Oban instead. It was only another 23 miles and offered one of the most beautiful stretches of road we’d driven, right along Loch Awe. Loch Awe by name and nature! The drive from Kilchurn Castle to Oban was one of the most enjoyable of the entire road trip to Scotland.
Oban was the refreshing change we needed on our road trip to Scotland. The seafood capital of Scotland, Oban is also the unofficial capital of the West Highlands, the “Gateway to the Isles” and home to Oban Whisky, one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, but more on the distillery in a little while.
Oban is home to about 8500 people, but its geographical location lends itself to attract a vast array of tourist, leading to a bustling little town, with a lovely vibe. Overlooking the town sits McCaig’s Tower, a lasting monument to the McCaig family built in 1897 by John Stuart McCaig, which also had the intention to provide work for local stonemasons. The walk up the hill is definitely worth the effort – you won’t regret the views. You can even hear the buskers playing as the music travels up the hillside.
Would a trip to Scotland be complete without a visit to a whisky distillery? We opted for the Oban Cask Signature Experience. We are not fans of whisky, but wanted the experience of going to a whisky distillery, given we were in Scotland. Undoubtedly, the tour was enjoyable and gave us a new appreciation for whisky, but it did not change the taste of it on our tongues…so we headed to the pub for a nice pint of ale to wash the whisky flavour away! Sorry, whisky fans! And if you fancy a sweet treat during your jaunt around Oban, we recommend visiting Oban Chocolate Company. They do delicious waffles!
We stayed in the Roseview Caravan Park, which was about a 2-mile walk into Oban town centre. It cost £25 a night…we were meant to have accommodation in a guest house but they emailed while we were at Three Loch Forest Drive to tell us they had double booked and subsequently cancelled our booking! Ha! The beauty of travelling in the vehicle you can eat and sleep in means you don’t have to worry about finding alternative accommodation…we would camp in a lay-by, should we have to. Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2!
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