Scotland: Argyll and Bute
Ferry from Gourock to Dunoon
Just getting to the small village of Kames, Argyll and Bute, Scotland felt like an authentic experience in itself. After landing at Glasgow airport and taking a local bus to the central station, I hopped on a train heading for the Gourock ferry terminal. After shuffling on to the ferry with my pink suitcase, I stood on the top deck and realized I was the only one on board besides a backpacker and her very hairy dog. The dog and I made eye contact, both of us with our hair blowing in the breeze and taking in the cold, wet air, sharing in this adventure.
I looked out over the rocky coastline and beaches with white houses that looked as if they were floating on the water. The second you arrive in Scotland, you really, and truly feel like you’re in Scotland. The atmosphere is an overwhelming culture trip, with pubs and Scottish accents around every corner, and ominous clouds coming in dangerously close.
I soon arrived to Dunoon; a good size town that was quiet enough to hear the boats hitting the dock but bustling enough to be interesting. Dunoon is the perfect place to take a slow stroll while you peek inside the windows of charity shops or to sit on a bench in front of the water and watch the seagulls fight for the last french fry. Directly in front of the ferry terminal is Rock Cafe, a small diner style restaurant where you can get a quick and tasty breakfast. Also in front of the ferry terminal is The Castle House Museum that looks down on the town from a hill rising above everything.
A cinema as well as an entertainment complex are still around today, after being built due to the increase in Americans living ashore from 1961 to 1992. During this period, Holy Loch was used as a U.S. Navy submarine repair and refit base; when they left after The Cold War it was quite a blow to the economy.
I ate lunch at an “American” restaurant called the 51st State. A shabby, little restaurant that had blue velvet booths and license plates from all 50 states. I felt a sense of nostalgia at all the American paraphernalia, yet the atmosphere still felt distinctly Scottish. School children stopped in on their way home from school and a family sat in the corner, all chatting animatedly. It reminded me of the pizza place I used to hang out at when I was younger; small town and easy going.
From Dunoon it was a 2 hour bus ride to Kames that was adventurous enough to feel like you were risking your life but not so scary you couldn’t enjoy the scenery (although my knuckles were white while holding on to the seat in front of me for dear life.) The road this bus took was single lane yet had cars coming from both sides and went along the edges of cliffs quite frequently. Little spaces on the side of the road every few meters were meant for cars to stop if they needed to pass each other.
The view on the ride was absolutely stunning; rolling mountains in all different shades of green with fields of tall grass that moved liked waves in the ocean and purple wild flowers that made everything look like a vintage painting. Before you travel, you hear various stereotypes about the places you will visit. I was hoping the beautiful Scottish scenery would live up to my high expectations, and it did just that.
Once in Kames, Scotland I stayed at an Airbnb apartment that had a view of a water front with little red and blue sailboats idling on the water. From the apartment I walked down a small hill towards a rocky beach and a pier. It was the perfect setting for an introvert looking for a bench to sit on for reading and writing. The air was fresh, and the sounds of the waves slapping against the rocks was the perfect soundtrack. Sitting on this beach, I felt as if I was in some sort of retreat, and that I might pen the next big book after Harry Potter.
Kyles of Bute
Kames is a small village with a few houses, a church, a village store, and a popular hotel that also has a pub. In the evening I walked down to the pub where Scottish tourists sat outside at picnic tables drinking their beers and basking in the rare sunny day. The Kyles of Bute are known as “Argyll’s Secret Coast,” and it was easy to see why. I felt like I was being let in on an undisclosed location, knowing I was the only foreigner there, and that I had the privilege to witness the view that not many tourists get to see.
The Cowal Way
On another rare, sunny day I took a walk on part of The Cowal Way. This is a 90 kilometer hike that runs along the Cowal Peninsula, and is known as one of the most beautiful long distance walking routes in Scotland. After quite a strenuous hike to the top of a mountain, and a good amount of cursing and bitching on the way up, I was rewarded with a remarkable view of the beach and mountains down below.
The best part of this view is that I saw only one fishing boat in the water. No tour boats, or big ships charging unsuspecting tourists an arm and a leg for a circle around the water. In fact, I didn’t see another soul; it was just me and the butterflies playing in the wild flowers.
Benmore Botanic Gardens
From Kames I was willing to take some short bus rides to enjoy activities and sights around the area. Close by were the Benmore Botanic Gardens, and don’t let the name fool you. I was expecting rows of greenhouses and maybe a man-made pond with a bridge. Surprisingly, I was greeted with hiking paths, incredible mountain views, and even a Bhutanese Pavilion.
The entrance to the gardens is lined with 50 Sierra Redwoods and is called “Redwood Avenue.” These were planted by Piers Patrick, an American who bought the estate in 1862. I spent all day in the gardens hiking up hills and constantly finding new peaks where I could see entirely different views from every angle. I saw mountains in greens and purples, and once again enjoyed that ever present Scottish wind blowing in my hair.
Still on a high from my amazing experience at the Benmore Botanic Gardens, I took a bus to Inveraray the next day. Inveraray is a cute little town with quite a few more tourists than the places I had been on my trip so far.
Not wanting to be around the crowds at lunch time, I went to the biggest draw in the town, Inveraray Castle. It is owned by the Clan Campbell and its biggest claim to fame was being used for the Downton Abbey Christmas episode in 2012.
Does this mean I’m one step closer to becoming a celebrity? Probably not, but I did see a picture of the owner of the castle with Prince William, which in my mind means I’m one step closer to stealing him from Kate. The castle features an Armoury Hall, various rooms with ornate furniture, and even a ghost. Outside you can walk the gardens that offer the perfect view of the castle if you want to take a photo.
On the rainiest day of my trip I went to the Bute Highland games in Rothesay. The rain was coming down in a spectacular fashion, so unfortunately the famed highland games did not live up to what I was expecting (especially considering the expensive price of the entry ticket.)
I was considering leaving when I realized the highland dancing would not go on due to the rain, however when I heard the bag pipe bands starting I decided to stay. Groups from various towns in the area marched around the field in their kilts playing their instruments. The playing of the bag pipes was closer to what I had in mind when I thought of the highland games and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Who knows what they wear under the kilts? Trophies were handed out at the end (for the playing of bag pipes, not what was under the outfits.)
I stopped for a quick brunch at Liz’s Diner and ordered a full English breakfast. Styled as a 1950’s American diner, there was the stereotypical red and white booths and Marilyn Monroe posters decorating the walls. It was a nice place for a quick meal, and I was grateful to get out of the rain.
To end a very busy and action packed week I spent my last day at the Portavadie Spa at Lock Fyne. For 55 pounds (non-residents) you can spend a full day relaxing on chairs in front of a view of Lock Fyne, swim in the outdoor, heated infinity pool, or relax in the hydro-pool and steam room/sauna. I even received one of those really fluffy, white hotel robes (I swear I didn’t steal it.)
Leaving Argyll and Bute, Scotland, I took the ferry back from Dunoon to Gourock, sitting below deck this time watching rain spattering the window and the wind rocking the boat side to side. I looked out at the water, contemplating the trip I had. I always feel so adventurous in these moments and grateful at the ability to travel so often to such beautiful places. Scotland is one of those places that gives me the sense of freedom I so crave, and what my love of travel was built on.
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