(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Kilbride)
One of the most delightful short walks for the Scottish pilgrim in Cowal, is that from the ruins of Kilmorie Church in Strathlachlan following the shore, past Old Castle Lachlan, then hiking into the hillside to the location of the old chapel of Kilbride. It should take around 90 minutes each way, at an easy pace, and this 3hr round trip can be shortened – or indeed lengthened – by looping over the hillside past Tobar an Longairt (‘well of the shieling’), which once supplied the vanished township of Portindrain with water.
You can shave 30 – 50mins from the walking time by looping past the well and down to the grounds of New Castle Lachlan, or alternatively add 40mins – 1hr to the journey by heading east after the well, around the back of Kilbride, and taking in the current Strathlachlan Church, which was built in 1792. Below, you’ll find a detailed description of the route out, and some suggestions for your return
There are number of different options for parking depending on how you want to approach this pilgrimage. You could, for instance park at Strathlachlan Church, which sits at the junction between the B8000 and an unnamed road, which forms part of the longer return route, at ///tickling.oldest.outlined, then head on foot down to Kilmorie and the path to Kilbride; or do the walk in reverse.
Alternatively there’s a lay-by, large enough for three cars, right next to Kilmorie (///digests.tempting.divisions); a car park on the right further down the road (///figure.intersect.drive), which is suitable for larger vehicles such as a minibus or camper-van; and parking near Inver restaurant (///motorist.ramble.trading), which is where the photograph above was taken from.
The route out from Kilmorie to Kilbride
If you’ve parked in either of the latter two bays (pictured above) then you may want to head straight off past Old Castle Lachlan, and save Kilmorie for the end of your walk. Otherwise, start in Kilmorie churchyard, and have a look around there. Then walk south-west along the riverside path down towards the loch. From here a rather elegant wooden footbridge will take you across the Strathlachlan River, affording great views of both the new and old castles. Continue along the shore using the boardwalk and the path; you’ll see New Castle Lachlan on your right across the fields. Then, bear left where three paths meet, and you’ll pass the ancestral fortress of Clan Lachlan on your left.
Keeping the old castle to your left, continue along the shore of the loch. The path has been cleared during rhododendron removal but is still a bit wet and muddy underfoot sometimes. It routes you around the headland, eventually heading north before it turns sharply west, leading onto the shore of a little bay at ///twinkling.nickname.cooking. This bay is a nice spot to watch the sunset, especially as it’s not far from the car park.
Follow the bay to it’s very western end and you’ll see a track leading off to the right (north) uphill. It gets very muddy here and the track is very overgrown. It’s a sharp ascent, and the higher you climb the more the track fragments into barely visible sheep trails. You want to be heading due north, keeping Loch Fyne and the Kintyre peninsula to your left, and the lighthouse on “Paddy’s Rock” (Sigrir an Eirionnaich) at your back. Eventually another bay appears downhill to your left (west). It pays to stay as close to the coast as possible while maintaining your altitude – avoid descending toward this bay.
As you circumnavigate that bay, and are working your way over the next set of hills, you’ll see a dry-stone wall ahead of you in the distance. Continue north toward this wall, using whichever sheep trail you prefer; the ground becomes very uneven and boggy in places, so even though the sharp climb is over, the going is still rough. There’s a burn in a deep gully which will need to be traversed just before reaching the wall. After crossing the burn and the wall, you’re now ascending another hill. As you crest this hill, the views up to the head of Loch Fyne open up, and you can also see Crarae quarry (on the east bank of Kintyre peninsula bearing north-west from your position). When you reach the chapel, that quarry will be directly to your west, so keep an eye on it as you continue to push north through a thick growth of rhododendrons.
With the rhododendrons in front of you, you can see Beinn Dearg Mor over the loch in the distance. Dial your gaze back to the very next hill in front of you (peering just over the rhodies in the picture above) and you’ll see the distinctive discolourations that mark the footings of where Kilbride Chapel once stood. You’re almost there; first though, you must descend the hill you’re atop of, and then ascend the one you can see. It’s easy enough to pick a path downhill through the rhodies, after which you’ll see another dry-stone wall. Head toward this, descending over treacherously uneven and boggy ground.
Just before you reach the stone wall there’s another burn, this one less obvious but in just as deep a gully as the first; so be careful. There’s a relatively safe place to cross, near a natural break in the wall, marked by a large rock at ///ledge.merit.complies (pictured below). Crossing here and climbing the hill (keeping a stand of shrubby willows to your left) puts you on the hill just above the chapel footings. They’re difficult to discern at this close distance, it’s much easier to see the rectangular shape of the remains of farm buildings belonging to a modern (eighteenth – or nineteenth- century) settlement. If you wish to stand inside the chapel, as it were, then you’re aiming for ///freed.spearing.shirt. It’s recommended that you pull up a satellite view to make sure that you’re in the right place (Bing maps offer a more detailed image); you’re looking for a circular enclosure with a rectangular chapel in the centre and a larger, more defined, rectangular sturcture to the northeast.
Although there’s not much left of the chapel to see, the views from here are spectacular. You can watch the weather rolling in from the west, and witness the light changing as it dances over the surface of Loch Fyne and the landscape of Kintyre. Consider also that there was once a whole township here, and a ferry operating across Loch Fyne. This is the narrowest point in the loch; the ferryman used the sheltered water – just behind Kilbride Island below – as a harbour, and crossed over to Crarae; a distance of just over a mile (only 1.7km). Furthermore, local archaeologist Betty Rennie thought that the big circular enclosure, with its thicker walls, may have pre-dated the chapel. Might it have been a caiseal: the fortified enclosure of an Iron Age settlement?
The route back from Kilbride to Kilmorie
To return to where you started, you could simply retrace your steps and go back the way you came. This has the benefit of being familiar territory now, and perhaps you want to picnic on the bay before you head home. However, doing so would mean that you miss the chance to see an historical marvel hidden amongst these hills: Tobar an Longairt is an ancient, but still functioning stone well, complete with a removable ‘lid’. Unlike the chapel, this well is not believed to be dedicated to St Brigid; but it was constructed around the same time as the now ruined chapel, yet still remains intact to this day.
To find the well, return to the top of the hill above the willow shrubs, and then face due east. If you didn’t approach from this hill originally, it’s easily identified by a collection of large, moss covered stones (pictured above).
On the hillside opposite you (due east) there’s another dry-stone wall, and just before that are two rocks that look like they could be ‘gateposts’ for a small cairn. Before those, almost on the same sight-line, is a rock protruding above the rust coloured landscape and boasting a bright green mossy toupée. Tobar an Longairt is between those two rock formations at ///output.slang.guideline. It’s easier to strike out northeast, following the contour of the hill, then loop back towards the well, than it is to cross the boggy, uneven (typically Scottish) landscape ahead of you.
If you’re struggling to find the well, remember to use you ears as well as your eyes. It’s a stone chamber, with fast slowing water inside, amplified by the construction, so you may well hear it before you see it!
The well is fully functional. Remove the stone cover (shown open above) and plunge a flask into the fast-flowing water inside; you’ll no doubt need the refreshment by now!
To return, continue past the well, heading southeast toward the drystone wall. Cross over the wall, then follow it south (turn right) as it folows the contour of Barr an Longairt (Gaelic: Barr an Longphuirt – ‘hill of the summer pasture or shieling’). You’ll pass near an old tree, then be forced away from the wall by swampy mud at ///soils.sting.landlords, round the back of another tree. Continue due south passing between two hills at ///canoe.gasping.lobster, then follow the curve of Barr an Longairt to your left, as it gradually switches around til you’re facing north again.
As you round the hill and start bearing north at ///panthers.ants.gloom, you’ll see a lone tree standing proudly on the hillside to your left, near ///renews.rewarded.octagon. From here, if you look east, you should soon see the strip of flat land to the north of Castle Lachlan, and the white walls of Strathlachlan church peeping up through trees. Bear east, keeping the woodland to your right, and here you have a choice.
The shorter return is to drop down, roughly following the edge of the woodland, until you reach the farm buildings behind Castle Lachlan. At this point, pick up the straight, wide path to your right, which threads between the castle and the woodlands. This leads to the three-way junction you encountered after crossing the wooden bridge at the beginning of the walk. In fact you’ll see the bridge off to your left (south east) long before you reach this junction. From here, simply follow the path back to your preferred car parking spot.
Alternatively, should you wish to extend your walk, keep bearing northeast, aiming for a metal gate and a lane that runs behind Barandachoid Cottage, picking up an unnamed ‘road’ that eventually deposits you at the junction with the B8000 and Strathlachlan Church (///tickling.oldest.outlined). Where you go from here depends on where you left your car or bicycle. In most cases you’ll want to follow the road south toward Kilmorie ruins. Don’t forget there’s also another well, right at the roadside, within sight of the parking bay in front of Kilmorie churchyard. This is Tobar Cill Moire, ‘the well of Mary’s Church’ and was once known as a ‘holy’ or ‘wishing’ well, suggesting that it was used in popular devotions.