About Faith in Cowal
This website was created to support and inform people interested in faith tourism and pilgrim routes in Scotland, particularly in Cowal, Argyll. In 2015 a set of 15 sites was identified by Dr Gilbert Markus, each with ties to Celtic or Medieval Christianity. Visiting all of these sites will introduce the pilgrim to the whole of Cowal, and to a rich diversity of Scottish Highland landscapes and villages. 10 of these sites form a central, 80 mile driving loop that make an ideal basis for a weekend break or pilgrim retreat in the Scottish Highlands.
Kilmun Church, site number 10 on our trail, was selected as the ‘pilgrim hub’ for the Faith-in-Cowal experience, by virtue of it’s incredibly rich and continuous historical importance. From pre-Christian times, through the saints’ era of Columba and Munnu, a sought after prize in the Clan Campbell and Clan Lamont conflicts, to the present day, where it houses an ancient stone, a mausoleum of Campbell Dukes & Earls, and a delightful Visitor Centre.
We’re currently busy developing off-road walking routes connecting all of our sites, and thereby creating a network of pilgrim trails covering the whole of Cowal. Pilgrims come in all types, so we also intend to create cycling guides between some of our sacred sites, as well as sailing routes to those most conveniently reached by water (the motorways of our ancestors). Currently these Scottish pilgrim routes must be considered unofficial: the routes borrow existing thoroughfares, and do not bear any Faith in Cowal waymarks. Many of the routes involve small sections of improvised hikes between Forestry roads, without even any real path to follow, but our digital pilgrim guides are very comprehensive.
Going forward, we’re hoping to organize a selection of spiritual retreats and pilgrim events. Bookmark our blog, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram, so you can stay up to date. And if you’re interested in helping us achieve these stretch goals, then get in touch!
This project is funded by Church of Scotland, but the routes, the sites and the Churches are always open to all comers. Whether you come to Cowal to pray or to meditate, to practice faith or practice yoga, to walk, cycle sail or simply sit and enjoy Scotland’s landscape, you’ll always find a warm welcome, and a pilgrim trail to suit your needs.
The Cowal peninsula, in Argyll, is one of the most accessible parts of the Scottish Highlands. Yet, despite that, it’s one of the most peaceful places you could hope to holiday in the UK. We’re right next door to Glasgow; only an hour or so from Scotland’s central belt; and just down the road from Glen Coe valley. But if you’re looking to escape the urban jungle – without ending up in a tourist trap – there are few better places on the UK mainland you could do so.
Argyll is a landscape of rugged mountains, crystal clear inland lochs, and oak forests rolling down from weather beaten hillsides toward the Firth of Clyde and the Irish sea. Warmed by the gulf stream, the climate here is described as ‘subtropical’, or ‘temperate rain-forest’. This means it’s often humid and rainy, rarely very cold, and always dramatic. Cowal is one of the most rewarding landscapes to visit in Scotland; and not least because most people have never heard of it!
The south west corner of the Cowal peninsula is brazenly labelled ‘Argyll’s Secret Coast‘, which may seem like a strange thing to boast about, but we prefer to enjoy our ruggedly sublime surroundings free from litter louts and ticket touts. If you’re looking for an authentic Scottish experience, and aren’t afraid to lose yourself on a hillside, tame a tumultuous sea loch, or find yourself on a forestry trail, then you are most welcome to come and join us!
Cowal is more than luscious landscapes and lonely loch-sides though; being just a stone’s throw from Ireland and so well connected by loch, lane and river to the heart of Scotland, it’s no surprise that the Cowal peninsula is an area where some of the earliest signs of Christianity in the Gaelic world are to be found. Some of the sites we uncovered in developing this pilgrim route probably pre-date St Columba and his 6th Century monastery on the Isle of Iona.
In the era we refer to (somewhat problematically) as Celtic Christianity, monks such as Columba and Munnu traveled by boat from Ireland, and on foot throughout the Highlands to spread the ‘Good News’ of Jesus’ message to the warring clans of pagan Scots. Their faith was something vibrant and living, which they used to galvanize early Christian movements; convert down-trodden hill farmers and mighty clan chiefs; construct chapels; consecrate wells; and in time have churches named in their honour.
Today, many people are returning to the idea that faith isn’t something to be practiced only on a Sunday, or celebrated only in a church. The natural world has always offered a way of celebrating faith in something greater than ourselves, and every day it offers something different. These places, where the heavens come so close to the land, are special in so many ways, but the rich heritage of faith and pilgrimage associated with the sites on our faith trails are what this website is all about.