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 (mostly by road) 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 loop that make an ideal basis for a walking holiday or religious retreat in Cowal.
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.
Going forward, we intend to develop off-road walking routes between some of the sites, a sailing route to those most conveniently reached by water (the motorways of our ancestors), and organize a selection of retreats and pilgrim walks. Bookmark our blog so you can check back for updates. Or if you’re interested in helping us achieve these stretch goals, then get in touch!
The 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, you will always find a welcome.
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.