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Islay - the short trip

1 day to 3 days
Many visitors to Argyll rush to their destination, but if you slow down and make the journey part of your holiday you’ll see so much more. This journey takes you to beautiful Islay via Bute, Argyll’s Secret Coast and Kintyre. It ends, of course, with a peaty dram.

Wemyss Bay - Rothesay - Colintraive - Tighnabruaich - Portavadie - Tarbert - Islay

4 ferry journeys and only 37 miles driving
A Bute trip
1. A Bute trip
Our journey starts in the Renfrewshire town of Wemyss Bay. From here, frequent ferries operated by CalMac take you on a 35-minute trip across the Firth of Clyde to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Before you hop on the ferry, take a look at the town’s atmospheric Victorian station. It’s part of the ferry terminal, so there’s no need to venture far.

Bute has much to offer, but the one place that makes this journey really memorable is Mount Stuart, the astounding Victorian gothic mansion. Built by what at the time was one of the world’s richest families, it’s believed to be the first home in the world to have had a heated indoor swimming pool and the first in Scotland to have electricity. It’s flamboyant and fascinating. Treat yourself! Once you’ve sampled the delights of Bute, you need to head to the north-east of the island to catch the Calmac ferry from Rhubodach to Colintraive on Argyll’s Secret Coast.

Local's tip: Spend a penny in the Victorian toilets on Rothesay pier. They’re a feast of marble, ceramics and brass and all in working order.
Secret Coast
2. Secret Coast
The ferry crossing is a short hop, but get out of your car and have a look around. This stretch of water is known as the Kyles of Bute. The islands to the north of the ferry are the Burnt Islands – also known as ‘The Narrows’. This is Scottish scenery at its best. You aren’t so far from Glasgow, yet it feels like a million miles away.

The Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne border Argyll’s Secret Coast, an unexplored part of Scotland that’s tucked away on the south-west tip of the Cowal Peninsula. Some lovely villages dot its shoreline, including Tighnabruaich, Kames and Colintraive where your ferry lands. The beautifully situated Colintraive Hotel is a great place to grab some food and a drink before heading on.

You now have an awesome drive to Tighnabruaich ahead of you. Jeremy Clarkson rates it as one of best ten roads in Scotland. Follow the A886 and just before Glendaruel take the A8003 towards Tighnabruaich. Stop off at what is perhaps one of the best viewing points in Scotland. Dropping down the hill into Tighnabruaich you’ll be treated to yet another stunning view. I know – they’re everywhere in Argyll. Tighnabruaich’s one of those places people fall in love with. I did and now I live there! There aren’t lots of tourist attractions, but it’s a beautiful location with a gaggle of great restaurants, hotels and an art gallery.

From Tighnabruaich it’s a short drive to Portavadie on Loch Fyne where the ferry crosses the loch to the Kintyre Peninsula. Pop into Portavadie Marina first. It’s a hidden gem with restaurants and bars, luxury and lodge-style accommodation, beauty and wellbeing facilities and more. There are even hair-straighteners in the men’s bathroom – that’s the standard of the place! The fairly frequent ferry is operated by Calmac and takes you on a 30-minute journey to the fishing village of Tarbert.

Local's tip: Visit Caol Ruadh, the Scottish Sculpture Park just outside Colintraive. You don’t need to be into art or sculpture to appreciate it. It’s truly amazing.
Oh Mull of Kintyre
3. Oh Mull of Kintyre
Tarbert is a pretty fishing village with lots of hotels, restaurants and an abundance of art studios nestled around the harbour. It hosts a number of festivals throughout the year that are worth being around for. From here it’s just a ten-minute drive to Kennacraig where you catch the ferry to Islay. But take the time to explore Kintyre first. There are distilleries in Campbeltown and the west coast has fantastic beaches that are popular with surfers. At Skipness on the east there’s a castle and some lovely walks. There’s also the Seafood Cabin where you can get delicious locally caught seafood expertly prepared.

Local's tip: Buy a seafood box or some fresh langoustines from Prentice Seafoods just next to the ferry slipway in Tarbert.
4. Islay
The ferry journey to Islay affords some wonderful views. As the ferry leaves Kennacraig it follows the unspoilt shores of West Loch Tarbert. Shortly after leaving the loch you’ll pass close by Gigha, a lovely island with the most stunning beaches. Before long you’ll arrive in Islay, home to some of the best whiskies in the world. To celebrate the end of a most enjoyable journey, why not have a dram? Mine’s a Kilchoman, I’ll leave the size up to you.
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