(scroll to bottom for map links to Inverchaolain Church)
8.05 miles | 12.95 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Steep Hills
The route from Ardnadam Chapel to Inverchaolain Church starts off on Forestry roads and then picks up the Inverchaolain coffin trail. This takes you part way up to the top of Bealach na Sreine (‘pass of the bridle’, or ‘of the stripe’) but then peters out; leaving you to find your own way down to the Forestry roads you can see stretching the length of Inverchaolain Glen below you. Aside from this midsection, it’s a fairly straightforward walk on wide, hard-core tracks and will take around 5hrs at an easy pace. Hiking poles are recommended for the midsection as the terrain is uneven and boggy in places. The only way to cycle between these two locations is to follow the A885 and A815 around the southern tip of the peninsula, past Castle Toward and Knockdow Estates, to Glenstriven Road. This is a relatively flat, 30 mile journey (one-way).
If you’re walking the Cowal Pilgrimage South East Loop, then you’ll have arrived at Ardnadam Chapel from Kilmun Church. In order to avoid having to retrace too many of your steps, you might consider following the Ardnadam Heritage Trail to its intended conclusion. The viewpoint at ///soggy.lined.relief is worth the short climb, and there’s a track leading down the western flank of the hill, pointing you through the trees to a radio tower at ///golf.cork.darkens whereupon you can pick up the forestry tracks leading you back to the Glenkin junction. Doing so adds an extra 1.5 miles to your journey, and you’ll still have to retrace some of the path circumnavigating Strone Saul hill. You can piece together the details of this section by reading through the Dunoon – Ardnadam Loop walking guide, and there’s an alternative OS map for this route here.
Stage 1: Ardnadam to Glenkin
After enjoying the sights and sounds of Ardnadam Chapel, and taking in the interpretation boards there, head north along the track. It crosses a few wooden footbridges such as that at ///housework.mini.bins, and after 20 mins or so reaches the beginning of the trail. There’s a signpost at ///years.apart.regarding directing you uphill towards Glenkin. This path ascends at a steady rate as it switches around to point south for a while. Take the left fork at the junction near ///synthetic.truckload.comically and maintain the same southerly bearing. The path guides you uphill towards a junction at ///unframed.stand.snowstorm. Here, take the right hand fork, which leads off in a northwesterly direction.
Follow this track northwest for about 2 miles. You’ll pass a junction with a raised, wooden bird hide at ///possibly.splinters.opposites. Keep to the left, maintaining your northwesterly bearing. As the path begins to bear west, there’s another junction, near ///hairpin.promotion.storeroom, with another signpost directing you uphill – up the left fork – towards Glenkin. The sign is unhelpfully hidden by a bush, so it might be easier to keep an eye out for a wooden structure, which looks like a wee bus shelter, in the middle of the junction. Take the left hand option, keeping said structure on your right, and follow the path uphill. This route climbs to a height of approximately 130m then levels out as it turns to head southwest.
Eventually you’ll pass another junction at ///patio.beakers.released. Ignore the path to your right, which would lead you down into Glenkin proper, and maintain your southwesterly bearing. In a short while you’ll see that the main path switches sharply north, and there’s a sign, at ///short.shame.desire pointing southwest for The Coffin Trail.
Stage 2: The Coffin Trail
The sign directs you onto what looks like an old, overgrown quad path. It climbs and levels in short spurts until you reach a fence line with a stile at ///alley.throw.wrist. The stile invites you to cross the fence, but there is also a track running uphill along the right-hand side of the fence. This is a very steep climb and most people prefer to cross the stile so they can zig zag up the hill at their own pace. Doing so means that when you reach the top of the saddle, you’re hemmed in by fences (albeit easy enough to step over). If you stick to the track on the right and allow the fenceline to march you uphill, you’ll arrive at the top in a field with a gate, making the exit much easier. The traditional route is over the stile, however. The ground underfoot is extremely tussocky and uneven but there are sheep-trails you can follow if you look carefully. Just make sure not to stray too far from the fenceline on your right.
As you approach the top of the saddle, the ground can be very marshy. It remains uneven and treacherous underfoot, and it’s difficult to tell the difference between desire paths created by people or animals, and rivulets created by surface runoff of water. As stated, if you kept to the right of the fence, there’s a gate you can use to cross to the Inverchaolain side of the pass. Otherwise, the easiest place to cross from the left side of the fence, is near where they join at ///length.elections.sobbed. The ground doesn’t improve once you’ve crossed the fence, if anything it becomes more marshy and boggy.
With the fence you’ve just crossed at your back, if you look off to your right (north-west), you should see a taller, more sturdy looking fence in the distance. Strike out toward that fence. You’re looking for a large, wooden gate, which can be found near ///attracts.unclaimed.recap. Pass through the gate (making sure to secure it behind you) and the views toward Loch Striven begin to open up. There’s a faintly distinguishable track leading vaguely southwest towards a cairn at ///solicitor.pavement.area. This cairn is thought to mark the traditional resting point for weary pilgrims who have just hefted a fully laden coffin up the hill.
From the cairn you’ll be able to see two Forestry roads hemming the banks of Inverchaolain Burn as all three stretch away toward Loch Striven. Ultimately, we want to find ourselves on the far path; with the burn on our left. There are plenty of opportunities to cross from the south bank to the north though, so feel free to choose your own route down into the valley. If you continue southwest from the cairn, then the track crosses the top of Allt nan Dearcag, from where you can gravitate downhill to the start of the forestry road. Alternatively, you can strike down in a northwesterly direction, where there are many places to ford the burn, visible from the hillside.
This guide, however, chooses a middle route, heading roughly west from the cairn, and following the north bank of Allt nan Dearcag to a point where it forms a natural pool. A perfect place to refill your canteen with sweet, crisp spring water. It’s impossible to give accurate directions, given that there are no easily discernible tracks to follow, but if you pick your way carefully down to ///roost.exclusive.coconut, and then ///goose.marching.rhino, you’ll see a more definite track on the opposite bank leading steeply up to where the forestry road begins. Descend a little more toward ///quilting.onions.plan, and you’ll see a similar track on this side of the ravine, leading in to join the other. They meet at ///start.appointed.flips, where the stream has momentarily collected itself in a clear, shallow pool.
Stage 3: Inverchaolain Glen
Take the steep path up to the start of the Forestry road on the opposite side of the ravine (which then follows the south side of Inverchaolain Burn). Follow this road southwest through the glen. If you spot an opportunity to head down to the valley floor and ford the burn, feel free to do so. The tracks marked on our OS map no longer reflect reality, so it’s not always safe to rely on them.
There’s an opportunity at ///tastes.candles.vase: what at first looked like scree-fall turns out to be a disused quad track. Follow this as it zig-zags downhill and you’ll see a much more defined path bending up the opposite bank, promising an ideal place to cross the burn. Our track is overgrown and strewn with loose stone, but it winds down the bank at not too harsh an angle, eventually depositing the faithful pilgrim at ///kept.decent.tailwind, where it should be possible to ford Inverchaolain Burn. If the water is too high for your tastes, fear not; there’s a sturdy wooden footbridge just a little further downstream near ///putter.detail.conjured.
However you choose to cross, the path leads you steeply upwards toward a junction at ///yours.coconut.geologist, where the right fork continues to climb very steeply until you reach the junction with the Forestry road at ///kebabs.unrated.boggles. Turn left here, heading southwest once more, towards Loch Striven (if you crossed Inverchaolain Burn at an earlier point, then it’s a simple matter to maintain your course and ignore this junction).
On a clear day you’re granted views over toward the Isle of Bute and, beyond that, Arran from here. Follow this road all the way to Stronyaraig Farmhouse, with the distinctive shape of Sròn Dhearg (‘red nose or promontory’) looming proudly behind it at ///itself.reputable.tint. From here it’s a short walk down to the junction with Glenstriven Road (///usages.carbon.villager), where a left turn will bring you smartly to the gate at the rear of Inverchaolain Church (found on your right at ///tangling.simmer.flick).