Campbeltown To Tarbert, Loch Fyne With Islay And Jura
Route length: 63 miles
Leave Campbeltown on the minor road following the coast to the southeast. Follow it all the way round to Keil, then heading north up Conieglen Water on the B842 back to the outskirts of Campbeltown, there joining the A83 to go up the west side of Kintyre. Leave the main road for Glenbarr Abbey, Killean and Kilmory on your way back to Tarbert.
Leave Campbeltown on the minor road following the coast to the southeast. Follow it all the way round to Keil, then heading north up Glen Breackerie. Join the B842 as far as Stewarton. Turn left here, and then right, to go past the end of the airport. Join the A 83 for a little over a mile before turning right at Drum. This road brings you back on to the A83. Detour to Glenbarr Abbey, and then continue north. At Clachan there is an alternative to the main road for a short way. From Kennacraig you are back on the outward route on NCN78.
At only seven miles long by one and a half miles wide, Gigha’s relatively flat landscape makes it the ideal destination for keen walkers and cyclists. After returning to Tayinloan walkers can continue by the coast on the Kintyre Way to Clachan.
Leaving Campbeltown, we continue south on the coast round the bay, by the old church of Kilkerran. Davaar Island, another place of Celtic retreat, is in the bay. Traditionally Columba’s first landfall in Scotland was near the Mull of Kintyre, where Southend and St Columba’s Chapel at Keill are now located, looking out to Sanda.
It was no use though, since Ireland is still close and clearly visible. This was not sufficient as an exile, or perhaps Columba could not trust himself to stay away from his homeland in Donegal and his community in the oak grove by the Foyle, that we now call Derry/Londonderry.
So the weary voyagers put back to sea, and we resume our journey following them north, by Glenbarr and Killean. At Tayinloan you can take a ferry to Gigha- God’s Island- which is dedicated to Blane’s uncle, St Catan. The route then continues by Clachan to Tarbert. Tarbert is the departure point for Islay and Jura, if desired, and the gateway back into mid Argyll
The southern Hebrides are imbued with Columba’s spiritual influence. On Colonsay Columba founded a daughter community from Iona, having perhaps made another landing place at Oronsay at the southern end, from where Ireland was still visible. Mountainous Jura, with the Corryvreckan whirlpool at its northern end, is a likely location for Columba’s special retreat, while Islay’s spacious landscape was later home to successive Lords of the Isles, principal patrons of Iona and the medieval Church in western Scotland.
To understand these connections you need good sea legs as well as a map. The ferries from Tarbert go to Port Ellen in southern Islay and Port Askaig on the east. From Port Askaig you can make the short hop to Jura or continue to Colonsay. Both routes, in Columba’s time, could be searoads north to Iona. Columba’s principal settlement was not remote but a crossroads. This was its making as a centre of the Celtic world, and later its undoing when Norse raiders arrived on the same sea routes.
By land on Islay, you can circuit from Port Ellen by the Kildalton Cross. This classic work of Celtic art portrays David’s combat with a lion, the spilling of Abel’s blood, the offering of Isaac and at the centre Mary and the Christ child surrounded by angels, all encompassed by the circle of creation. Continue then by Bowmore, Portnahaven, Kilchiaran, Kilchoman, Kilnave, and Finlaggan to Port Askaig, These names with their associated churches, ruined chapels and carved crosses, breathe a rich Christian heritage.
On Jura there is just one principal road north. If Columba’s retreat was here it would have been at the rocky north end looking onto Corryvreckan, which is recognised to this day as a remarkable place of natural power and cosmic energy.