The Kintyre Way

by Robin McKelvie

There is something about the Kintyre Way. Well, there must be, as over the last couple of decades, I keep going back to hike another glorious stretch of this world-class walking trail. You should, too, as it not only offers breathtaking scenery, gouges deep into the peninsula’s history and opens up Scotland’s Big Five wildlife, but it is a trail inexorably bound into the communities en route. Walk the Kintyre Way, and you - as a SCOTO-style ‘temporary local’ - are walking, talking and spending money with the local communities en route.

The Isle of Arran may be eulogised as 'Scotland in Miniature', but everyone who has been to Kintyre knows that the scenic peninsula is home to the best views of those craggy Arran Hills. “We’re the real ‘Scotland in Miniature”, smiles Dominic Ryan, who helps out with marketing and communications at the Kintyre Way. "We’ve got the hills, beaches and the sea, then the castles, prehistoric remnants and attractions like St Columba’s Cave. And that does not even mention the great food and whisky. And there is gin, too. It’s not for nothing a stretch is jokingly known as the 'Gintyre Way'."

That 'Gintyre Way' refers to the section – there are seven sections totalling 100 miles – that runs through the Torrisdale Castle Estate. It is home to Beinn an Tuirc Distillers. When I visited, I chatted with the top man, Niall Macalister Hall. He was very passionate about his superb gins, but also about Kintyre and when we talked about the Kintyre 66 driving and cycling route he helped launch, Niall also said he was a fan of the Kintyre Way, describing it as "one of Scotland’s unsung walks, criminally underexplored."

I agree with Niall; the Kintyre Way—one of Scotland's Great Trails—is criminally underexplored. Dominic explains, in essence, what it constitutes: "The Kintyre Way is one of Scotland's Great Trails. Stretching from Tarbert in the North to Machrihanish in the South, its seven graded and way-marked sections offer a variety of walking terrain, from serious hiking to gentle rambles."

The Kintyre Way may not stay underexplored for long if people as passionate about it as Jackie Fulton, a co-ordinator for the Kintyre Way, have anything to do with it. Her eyes light up when we talk about its charms: "It’s remarkable really, as you can see both the west and the east coast on the Kintyre Way. On the same day, you can savour a burning sunrise and then hike on to savour a gorgeous sunset. It is unique in so many ways."

The Kintyre Way certainly stands out for joining the dots. Jackie is involved with Broonie Bags, a baggage-handling service for those not wanting to double back. If you want to bring your own car or a motorhome (they are welcome on Kintyre) then the bus network is on hand to help take you out or bring you back each day. There are also good links for further afield, and handily, you don’t need to rely on a ferry to get here and away. If you want an unusual way to get to Loch Lomond, how about walking the Kintyre Way and then hopping on the ferry to Portavadie to join the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way to the bonnie bonnie banks?

Jackie explains how it all came about: "The Kintyre Way was founded in 2006 and designed to be a key tourist attraction. Having attained Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) status, it continues to thrive thanks to the work of volunteers and trustees and the generosity of various Trusts. The Kintyre Way has a pivotal role in offering visitors a deeper understanding of Kintyre and its communities. Not only does it attract tourists from all over the world, it boosts the trade of businesses, such as shops, eateries and accommodation providers. Even the shops en route sell our t-shirts and other souvenirs."

The community – at the heart of all things SCOTO – is also at the heart of this walk with a soul. Dominic tells me he loves savouring sections of the Way with his dog. They keep the impressive company as he reports seeing myriad wildlife as they go. And that is the beauty of this ‘island that is not an island’. Unlike the vast majority of Scotland’s isles, you can actually see all of the Big Five on Kintyre – the golden eagle, otter, harbour seal, red squirrel and red deer. There are cetaceans, too. I was back in Campbeltown recently, and they were reporting a record year for whale sightings.

The informal contacts between temporary locals, the community and the Kintyre Way are given structure by the 'Friends of the Kintyre Way' and the 'Supporters of the Kintyre Way'. The former sees anyone chip in to do their bit to help, whether it is reporting back on route conditions or getting stuck in and helping root out invasive weeds. The 'Supporters' tend to be local businesses chipping in with much-needed finance, which is as important in keeping the Way up and running. The locals also are a mine of information for walkers. Dominic smiles as he calls them "an offline search engine for walkers on the Kintyre Way". 

Jackie talks with passion about how the community aspects work: "The Kintyre Way is a community asset involving local people who are engaged and use it. They are hooked in and get involved. They are in the best place for route reporting and practical cutting back and strimming. If lots of people help, then their wee bits will make a huge difference." And we’re not just talking about one community, as all the disparate small communities the Kintyre Way touches chip in too with a walk that connects hearts, minds and whole communities.

Even the parts of communities and places that the Kintyre Way does not directly reach can be woven into a trip on the Kintyre Way. I’m thinking of an all-but-essential detour to the island of Gigha on the ferry from Tayinloan. Or nipping into Glen Scotia, where distillery manager Iain McAlister steers an impressively reborn distillery producing some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.

The Kintyre Way may have a fixed route, but it is always looking to innovate and reach new people. Dominic and Jackie tell me about a new podcast called the 'Kintyre Way'. It involves the ever-dynamic Ellen Mainwood of Campbeltown Picture House.  Dominic explains, "There is one episode on each section of the Way in the first series, which is ideal for people who have never walked it before and just want to learn more. Series Two delves into the stories of people on the route, adding richness, depth and content. The whole aim is to spread the net wider." Next time you’re in Inverary or the Loch Fyne Oyster Bay why not nip down and try a section?

Spreading the net wider and maintaining the Kintyre Way is an ongoing task that Dominic, Jackie and the community engage in with real passion. Dominic says going forward, they want to be "Even better, not bigger. We want to keep that sense of wildness that attracts people here". Jackie adds, "People love how quiet the Kintyre Way is and that it is not a sanitised walk like some. We look after it with a light touch across very varied terrain and the people who hike it really enjoy and appreciate that. We look forward to welcoming in many more ‘temporary locals’ in the future."

* Everyone is welcome on the Kintyre Way, but as with all walking, veer on the side of caution. Make sure you have suitable gear, a map and compass (with someone in the group able to use both), and seek local advice on conditions and weather. Always let someone know when you are expecting to arrive, too. For respecting the land, avoiding stressing livestock and advice on wild camping, check out the Scottish Outdoor Access Code 




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