(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Kilmun Church)
12.38 miles | 20.92 kilometers | Good Surface | Light Hills
The fourth and final leg of the South East Cowal pilgrim loop is fairly undemanding. Almost all of the route between Ardtaraig Chapel and Kilmun Church is undemanding. It follows two valleys, so there are very few hills to worry about, and it’s almost all carried out on well used tracks, forestry roads or highways. However, early on in the walk there’s a section of about 1 mile where there’s no path at all, and you must pick a way through the forest – being mindful of bogs and hidden ravines. Hiking poles and good boots are essential for this section.
This short stretch also means that cyclists cannot complete the route as described. However, it may be possible to cycle on the B836 past the south shore of Loch Tarsan and through Glenlean, until you reach a Forestry track branching off to the left at ///shams.wound.teaspoons. This track (suitable for mountain bikes) doubles back toward the loch, runs up its east shore, then around the top of the loch, rejoining our route at the start of stage 2 (///gushes.monorail.decently, where you would turn right, heading north). This adds an extra 3 miles/5 km. There’s another diverted section at the start of Stage 3, which adds a further 3 miles, meaning the cyclist’s pilgrimage is approximately 18 miles/29 km in total.
Stage 1: Ardtaraig - Glen Massan
There are two possible exit routes from Ardtaraig Chapel. The shortest is to head up the driveway toward the manor house and, when you reach the top of this drive, take the track branching left at ///mocked.tailwind.bottled. This will eventually lead you out onto the road at ///fled.musician.bandaged, whereupon you would turn right and follow the road for a short distance. If you’re walking this leg as part of the South East Loop of the Cowal Pilgrimage, then you’ll have already come down the driveway as you arrive from Inverchaolain. You may therefore wish to continue in the same direction, following this to it’s natural exit at the roadside near ///steady.curtail.dating, and thus avoid retracing any steps (although doing so adds an extra half a mile).
Whichever route you choose, once you hit the B836 turn right, and follow the road up towards Tarsan Dam. As the dam comes into view, there’s an access road branching left, at ///approvals.satin.marathons. Take this and you’re soon presented with another fork at ///lifeboats.newlywed.meals, branch right this time. Yet another fork appears near ///apples.upward.exposing; this time branch left. This Forestry route leads up into the trees and eventually dead-ends, leaving you to find your own way through the forest for just less than a mile, before reaching another track. However, if the water level in the (man-made) loch is very low, you may be able to walk along the west shoreline instead. You should be able to see the loch from the route you’re on; if you wish to try the shore there’s a track near ///reduction.sediment.spaces, which allows you to drop down to the dam, then down to the shore. It’s rare, however, for the water level to be low enough.
Assuming you stick to the track, which is overgrown a little but wide and clearly discernible, it will climb gently and steadily toward ///hubcaps.scooters.soil at 220m, where it unceremoniously ends. There’s a clearing at ///husky.countries.paradise, which encourages you to press on into the trees. At ///barn.follow.shredding, this clearway suddenly drops to 200m and a faint track turns left at ///blatantly.spillage.reds, leading away to ///strapped.acids.trousers where it crosses the first of many deep ravines at an elevation of 190m. At this point you’re now well and truly off the beaten path, and in amongst the trees. As this is a commercial forestry plantation, it’s fairly simple to navigate through the trees: they’re planted in rows, and the lower branches are mostly dead, snapping off easily. However, it’s just as possible that this section of forest has been felled by the time you visit, which actually makes it much harder ground to cover (if this is the case, you may be forced to use the cycle route described above).
You may not wish – or be able – to follow this section of the guide to the letter. As a general rule, if you aim to maintain an elevation of between 200 and 250 meters, then you’ll avoid the worst of the deep (and often hidden) ravines. It’s wise to follow deer paths (marked not only in the ground but also by the absence of lower branches on the trees). These will guide you to safe places to cross streams and ravines. Also, if you suddenly find yourself obstructed by branches, this is a sign that the way ahead is unfavourable; perhaps boggy or blocked by fallen trees, or perhaps a stream is ahead, and unpassable at your current elevation. Be cautious and make use of hiking poles to test the ground ahead of you.
There’s a slightly perilous route away from this first ravine, and then you’re back in amongst the trees. Try to keep your elevation around 200m. There’s a steady trail running at the level of ///snapped.beeline.kilt and eventually you’ll run up against a double boundary fence. It’s a metal/wire fence on one side and a wooden fence on the other; both are much the worse for wear. Use this opportunity to strike uphill to the clearing where the fences end at ///raft.shred.stove, which should put you at an elevation of around 230m. Head along the treeline until you’re forced to climb higher or re-enter the forest. Choose the latter option as there’ll soon be a safe opportunity to drop to the shoreline for an easier time of things.
There’s another ravine shortly after you re-enter the trees. A good fording point can be found at ///covertly.nesting.certainly (220m elevation); crossing to ///waggled.fancied.sketches. Below that point it widens and deepens too much to cross, but there may be easier crossings higher up. After making the crossing, look for paths that begin to guide you downhill; perhaps via ///sung.achieving.daunted. You’re aiming for ///stag.pictures.impaired where a clearing opens up just behind some ancient stone structures by the shore of Loch Tarsan. The same advice about following deer trails and testing the ground with your hiking poles applies here.
All being well, you’ll reach the shore near ///groom.betraying.comforted or ///bicker.ramps.pinging, where there are breaks in the stone wall of a ruined structure. Passing through these, there’s a slightly more intact structure further up the shore and beyond that (at ///signed.because.grouping) is the inlet pipe. How quickly you can make progress here depends largely upon the water level. If you’re lucky enough to visit during a dry spell, then you’ll be able to shoot up the shore and pass the gate at ///awards.helped.triathlon in good time. If not, you’ll have to stay near the treeline and work your way around the top of the inlet pipe. At this point either route is preferable to the forest, although you could still choose to stay in the forest, maintaining an elevation of around 170m in the hopes of finding the beginning of a Forestry track at ///circles.churn.wolves.
That’s the tricky part over. It’s all well-beaten paths from here. After you pass the gate you’re on more stony forestry roads. There’s a junction just up ahead at ///plan.feelers.committed, take the left fork up to another, larger gate by ///digested.scrum.cards. After this the path ascends gently to another gate at ///revolts.odds.crumples; pass through this gate and turn right (the left path is where you would come down from, had you chosen to exit the forest at the higher elevation). Very shortly after this you’re presented with a junction near ///gushes.monorail.decently. Turn left and head northwards uphill (this is where the cycle route merges from the opposite direction).
Stage 2: Glen Massan to Uig
Follow this path for some time, enjoying fantastic views into the glen (and over the loch behind you). The road starts to descend gently and there’s a wooden overpass, near ///deflation.chilling.prepared, followed shortly by a junction at ///cherry.thousands.televise. Here, take the right fork; heading downhill. A right turn appears at ///again.sketch.heaven, take it and follow the road straight into Glen Massan Estate (pressing straight through the junction at ///cornfield.baked.various and over the bridge).
The road you’re now on leads through Glen Massan Estate, you can see it stretching ahead of you and bending round to a southeasterly bearing, which it will maintain for about three miles. There are some offshoots but all obviously lead into the estate grounds and need not concern you. Follow the main track through a gate and cattle grid at ///tidal.engineers.apartment and you’ll reach a fork near ///sponge.spans.relations. Take the left fork, which very soon guides you out of the estate. Keep the Massan river to your right and follow this road all the way down to the tiny village of Deer Park. The surface improves the further you travel down the road, becoming more like tarmac as it routes around the back of Benmore Botanic Gardens. Just before you reach Deer Park, you’ll be able to view the splendid, Grade A listed, Golden Gates from ///feared.townhouse.private, which used to mark the main entry point into Benmore House.
After the gates, the road snakes around Deer Park village, bending right and then left. It bends right (southeast) again near ///outwit.scavenger.quiet. As it does so, you’ll see two tracks leading off to the east. If you’ve walked the first leg of the South East Loop; Kilmun – Ardnadam, then you’ll recognise this junction. Both tracks lead you back toward Uig Hall and Puck’s Glen. This time, take the option that leads straight ahead, over a stone and metal bridge at ///illogical.cure.outwards. After the bridge, turn left and cross a stile near ///assure.similar.acclaimed. This will put you in a sheep field adjacent to Uig Hall; skirt around the edges of this of this field, passing through a gate near the treeline, which deposits you in the car park at ///rocket.fattest.newlywed.
Stage 3: Uig Hall to Kilmun Church
Pilgrims walking the S.E. Loop should be on familiar territory by now. Take the path east, away from the village hall, and toward the A815. Cyclists must follow the main road north and then join a forestry path opposite the entrance to Benmore Botanic Gardens. This track doubles back and ascends towards ///allows.smothered.memory, where it picks up the walking route.
Otherwise, cross the road at ///penned.renewals.candle, still following the track east towards a corrugated metal farm building, then turn right at ///converged.brand.gobblers. Very shortly after this, near a wooden sign at ///noises.slyly.native, there’s a narrow path leading off uphill to the left. Take this path. It climbs quite steeply as it zig-zags up the hill, but it is kind enough to offer a few benches for weary walkers to rest at. Eventually it joins a forestry track at ///allows.smothered.memory; continue along this track in the direction you entered onto it (south east).
This wide, hard-core Forestry road will lead you all the way to Kilmun Arboretum. On the way you pass a viewpoint (on your right at ///intrigued.book.fight) and the entrance to the top of Puck’s Glen, near ///entitles.direction.shall. After this point, you’re retracing steps taken on the route out for the first leg of the South East Loop. The path eventually bends to face east and there’s a wooden gate at the entrance to the arboretum (///modes.liquids.adhesive). On the way out from Kilmun, we directed you to take the main path straight through the arboretum, so you may want to enjoy a more exploratory route back through. The narrow path leading off to your right near ///grant.rectangular.spellings, marked with a red ringed post, will ease you in to the lower paths, all of which re-emerge at the car-park.
From the car park, take the tamac road as it winds steeply downhill to join the A880 road to Ardentinny. Kilmun Church is just on your left. Depending on your timing, you may be able to enjoy an enlightening historical tour provided by volunteers from Historic Kilmun. If the church is open, you’ll be most welcome to sit and offer prayers.