(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Kilfinan Church)
15.4 miles | 24.8 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Some Hills
The route from Fearnoch Chapel to Kilfinan Church takes place mostly on tarmac roads or Forestry tracks, with two short sections where some battling through undergrowth may be involved (depending on the time of year). Making up the second leg of the South West Loop, it’s a relatively easy pilgrim route to walk and offers spectacular views over Loch Riddon, into Glendaruel valley, and over towards the Kintyre Peninsula at various different points of the walk. These are some of the best views in Scotland, so it’s ideal if you’re a fan of landscape photography. Walking poles are recommended due to the length of the journey and some steep hills in the middle section. This route can be also cycled, with some easy amendments to avoid the unpaved sections.
The trail starts by heading downhill from Fearnoch Chapel toward the farm below. The track down to the road is faded and can be muddy or slippy in parts. It’s not suitable for cyclists, so if you’re on wheels or prefer surer footing, then the solution is to head up to the main road (A886) and follow that northwest. Whichever way you choose, once you hit tarmac it’s plain sailing most of the rest of the way. There’s a small section of the Old Stone Bridge road near Auchenbreck, which is overgrown with gorse bush, so cyclists are instructed to stick to the main road. Walkers may wish to do the same if they’re more put off by brambles and bracken (and the prospect of ticks) than by traffic!
Stage 1: Fearnoch Well to Old Road
Fearnoch Well is tucked in amongst a stand of trees just downhill from the chapel. Our pilgrim trail continues downhill from the south east corner of the well pool at ///dunk.reason.dive, following a wee stream that flows from the well there. Pass through the trees near ///fillers.grand.relieves and then bear right into the clearing at ///quail.prance.shuttle. There’s an old stone wall to the south, and we’re following a deer trail that leads to a break in the wall. Head southeast through ///peroxide.tech.interlude until you see the break (the wall is sadly obscured by bracken in our photographs), then cross the wall and orient yourself south/southwest from ///mining.showdown.winemaker, aiming first for the solitary tree at the foot of the hill ahead, then turning right (west) near ///crowned.weeds.invoices and back into into the trees near ///creatures.bronze.revival. The trail is very faint throughout this section, and in summer months it can be difficult to find, but as you head into the trees it becomes a little more obvious.
The trail continues heading southwest into the trees becoming more visible from ///immediate.unfounded.snuck, and then winding past a huge old tree at ///clinking.dice.gift. From here you can hear a stream burbling away to your right, and the trail we’re following will intersect with this at some point. Follow the muddy track through the braken near ///reshaping.cubes.chairing and under the tree canopy near ///nuptials.modern.sprouted. It winds past another old tree with low boughs, near ///printout.ranged.pacifist, heads downhill, and presents you with a fork by another such tree at ///locating.riverbank.snapped. Take the right hand prong and follow the trail over a muddy precipice near ///sake.mouths.fully and down a steep and slippery bank (walking poles recommended) toward a crossing with the stream at ///portfolio.retract.salmon.
The incline of the hill is less steep from now on, but we’re not out of the woods yet! Cross the stream and follow the track west and downstream, keeping the water to your left for now. There’s a faintly visible muddy fork near the tree at ///elect.towel.decreased but just maintain your current bearing; following the bank of the stream. The track bends left and crosses back over the stream near ///angry.irritable.squirted. You’re now heading south and if you look to your right, as you head through ///prongs.mooring.unfilled and towards ///glider.represent.blast, then you should see Fearnoch Farmhouse. The old road we’re aiming for is nearby, simply follow the fenceline south/southwest until you reach a dense patch of fern, near ///comb.racks.loaning, and the fence line changes direction (peeling in westwards toward the farm a little).
Outside of the summer months this bracken dies back and the trail is clear but, if you find yourself needing a machete to fight through the undergrowth, take comfort in the fact that you’re only going as far as the trees you see beyond the bracken. Head slightly to the left, away from the farm and lightly uphill, toward ///afford.tucked.cheeses. Here the ferns part and you’re deposited back amongst the beech trees. Bear southwest toward a large oak tree near ///king.decency.geek. The track disappears at the base of this tree but if you stand by the trunk, then turn to face the same direction that the low branches are pointing in (heading west from ///spindles.clouds.mirroring), then you should see the road ahead of you. It’s easier to spot from ///apricot.parading.pencil. Find a safe place to drop down to the road (perhaps near ///polite.operation.outlast, just be careful of the roadside ditch) and head right (northwest) following the old road from ///oxidation.stew.asking past Fearnoch Farm and all the way until it joins the A886 main road.
Stage 2: Fearnoch Farm to Stronafian
We’re now on the old road to Colintraive, although we’re heading away from there. If you have the time, while visiting Cowal, then Caol Ruadh sculpture park is nearby and well worth visiting; or head into Colintraive itself and catch the ferry over to Bute. Our pilgrimage, however, swings down to the shore of Loch Riddon, passing by Kinlochruel Boathouse (near ///blazers.transit.incensed), from where you can enjoy pleasant views both up to the north and south down the loch.
There’s not a lot of traffic on this road and so the appearance of a road sign near ///mopped.lawfully.escalated might take you by surprise. The road bends to the right and joins the A886 at ///skewing.maple.coasting. Head left toward Strachur, keeping to the grass verge. There’s a fair stretch of roadside walking here (and not the last for this route) but the verge is wide and the junction we’re looking for will not take long to reach. It appears at ///rips.flatten.professed; a four-way junction, and will be familiar to those who have walked the first leg of the South West Loop, from Kilmodan to Fearnoch.
Take the left fork, downhill and west towards the loch; another section of the old road. This runs through Ardachuple Farm and back up to the main road again. There’s a stone bridge over a burn and a farmhouse on the point of land after this burn. Currently (summer 2020), the farmhouse is in ruins due to a bad storm, but there’s been a building on this site since the 14th century. Ardachuple (from the Gaelic ard-a chapuille) means ‘the Point of the Pavilion’ and refers to a pavilion built by sir Colin “Iongatach” Campbell. This was built specifically in order to host the chief of the O’Neill clan from Ireland, as a ruse. It’s actually a funny story, kind of a long-con whereby Colin had a messenger tell the visiting party that his magnificent castle had just been sacked and burned to the ground; all to avoid the O’Neill chieftain finding out that Campbell actually lived in a paltry tower.
Tangents aside, this road rejoins the A886 in no time at all, near ///dumpy.basically.sweeten. Turn left through ///lifeboats.giggles.pigtails and stick to the grass verge once again. This time it’s only a very short distance before a sign for Old Stonebridge appears on the opposite (right) side of the road at ///appraised.procures.speeches. Turn in here, then head left at ///choppers.built.trickle, maintaining your same bearing. This old road starts off grassy and overgrown, then gets thicker with bramble and gorse bushes the further one goes. Cyclists are advised to follow the A886 all the way around the head of the Loch, taking the turning for Tighnabruaich and joining the Forestry road at Ormidale. Walkers may wish to follow this advice also, but the route recommended by this guide keeps you away from traffic and offers great views down the loch, so bear with us!
As you pass through the gate posts near ///spouting.backswing.eyelash, the road narrows and turns into more of a track. At ///rooms.passing.rebel you can see that the path is still paved but very overgrown. By the time you reach ///bake.wash.simulations you’re pushing through gorse bush, and at ///contacts.picturing.coffee the gorse takes over the path completely and it becomes prudent instead to cross the muddy ditch to your right, and navigate around the heavy growth. After crossing the ditch, there’s a faint trail picking it’s way through the heather from ///consonant.regime.sporting, through ///adverbs.bucked.punctuate and ///wound.daylight.afterglow, toward the birch trees near ///slope.skewed.circus.
There’s not far to go before we’re back on a proper path. Follow the track between the two birch trees, cross the small stream at ///lawn.implanted.kingdom, and push through the last of the gorse bush at ///lonely.diamond.laces. You’ll now see a gate a little further down, near ///ladders.botanists.predict. Cross this gate and follow the path northwards, keeping to the right near ///tutorial.waddled.engineers, and crossing over another gate at ///assurance.custard.glows, to join the road. This road crosses a stone bridge near ///honest.cobbled.nutty, passes Stronafian House, and joins the B836 near ///squirts.grow.parent. Turn left here and there’s a very short stint spent on the roadside. You can see the turn-off just further down on the right, near ///crackles.fuzz.hippy.
Turn right (signposted Stronafian) and follow the road through ///regal.portable.spends, into the village near ///lifestyle.chained.duke (from here you get a really good view down Loch Riddon). This path crosses a concrete bridge with metal railings, near ///share.guess.clockwork, then passes the last of the houses and crosses an old, rusted gate (cross this carefully) at ///moon.rejoined.talker. Continue over a stone bridge and then the path runs through an avenue of trees, seen from ///voltages.airliners.crew. However, there’s an overgrown quad-track running left (west) from here down toward the road. Follow this through ///triangles.ruler.situated to the gate at ///stays.apricot.hoped. Pass through this gate, rejoining the A886 near ///convinced.tedious.skyrocket.
Stage 3: Stronafian to Kilfinan
Turn right and head north up the A886 for a short distance until you see the turn-off for Tighnabruaich near ///furniture.steams.employ. Turn left down here, heading into Argyll’s Secret Coast territory at ///forehand.portable.outbursts. Follow this road for a short distance until you see a turn to the right, near ///crinkled.cookers.frames, which is signposted as Ormidale. This turn switches back sharply, passing through a gate onto a Forestry road at ///tickling.breakaway.fidget. From here the route is fairly uncomplicated; although the trail ascends to 350m at its highest, it does so relatively gently, with fantastic views of the Scottish landscape, and there are only a few junctions to concern yourself with.
The Forestry road heads north and uphill at first, then it bends round to the left, offering incredible, panoramic views over the glen, toward Kilmodan Church, until it eventually directs you southeast and up into the hills. There are two junctions in quick succession at this point; one at ///muted.scramble.deferring, and one at ///broadcast.extend.discount. In both cases take the left fork, heading uphill at a steady incline. By the time you reach ///albatross.peanut.homeward the climb levels out and – if the trees have been felled – there are expansive views across west cowal and over Loch Fyne toward the Kintyre Peninsula.
There’s a long time now before the next junction. Our pilgrim trail heads due south and then slowly starts to bend left (east), heading into the hillside away from the view. It then bends back around to the right (south west), whereupon a junction is found near ///leans.acids.colonies. Take the right fork, heading north briefly through ///immunity.fractions.action, then northwest, keeping right at the turn-off near ///corrupted.extensive.gather. The gravel surface gradually gives way to an overgrown but clearly visible track, and the ground underfoot becomes muddy around ///drummers.array.stay. The surface seems most waterlogged at ///vouch.trending.forge (but the views, at least, are reliably good) after which, conditions improve. The route winds gradually downhill and southwestwards, eventually passing through a gate in a stone wall near ///developed.passions.latitudes.
Soon after this gate there’s a T-junction (near ///mutual.readjust.flash); take the right fork, heading west, through ///fence.octopus.mows all the way down to where it meets the B8000 road near ///scrapped.imported.lobby. Turn right onto the road, heading northeast now, from ///dynamic.papers.twinkled toward Kilfinan. You enter Kilfinan village near ///inflating.speakers.timidly, and Kilfinan Church – with it’s impressive lapidarium – is just a little further down the road on the left at ///horses.hoot.somewhere.