(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Fearnoch Chapel)
10.26 miles | 16.57 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Steep Hills
The route from Kilmodan, in Glendaruel, to Fearnoch Chapel, overlooking the Kyles of Bute, is a pleasant and involving hike taking in three of our pilgrim sites. Most of this walk takes place on Forestry roads, which are easy to make progress on. There are some sections, however, where the trail has become neglected and overgrown, or where there is no real trail at all, and the intrepid pilgrim must follow fire-breaks and waterways. So, whilst there are not many steep climbs involved on this route, there are two short sections that require steady footing and a good sense of direction. This means it’s not a suitable route for cycling. In contrast, road cyclists will find that the journey between these two sites is relatively straightforward; although it requires one to leave the bikes unattended while visiting St Modan’s Well or Fearnoch Chapel.
The pilgrimage starts at Kilmodan church, where there is ample parking, and follows St Modan’s Trail (in reverse) up to St Modan’s Well and Lephinkill Chambered Cairn. It’s clearly waymarked and signposted up to this point. Colintraive & Glendaruel Development Trust (CGDT) have plans to connect St Modan’s Trail to the network of Forestry paths in Stronafian Forest behind. For now, however, the path does not exist; so this guide provides two options of how to navigate the hillside to meet the nearest Forestry road. From then on the route is fairly easy to follow (although without waymarkers) until just before one reaches Fearnoch, where the forestry road dead-ends. It’s then a case of picking one’s way along the valley floor, following a burn until a track materializes, and allowing that to guide you back to the road.
Stage 1: Kilmodan to St Modan's Well
Make sure to spend some time exploring the church and grounds, including a small lapidarium of ancient carved stones in the southwest corner. When you’re ready to set off, leave the church via the main gate and head up the lane at ///flip.moss.affirming. This leads you out to the roadway; turn right at ///shirt.flirts.difficult, and head uphill to the first junction. At this junction turn left, passing the red telephone box near ///kicks.manicured.spillage, then left again at the junction near ///washroom.different.ordering (signposted for Modan’s Walk and Home Farm Cottages as seen from ///incurs.taskbar.kilts). The road continues on to a picturesque humped bridge, but our route takes a sharp right, heading north, near ///crusaders.croutons.stitching, following the signs for Modan’s Well/Chambered Cairn.
The path continues in this direction for a short distance and then a sign, near ///emerald.botanists.club, directs you to the right, through a field heading uphill towards the road. Take the steps up to the roadside, near ///mango.unionists.jots, and cross the road toward Auchategan parking area near ///salon.slept.include. (This latter section of the path was still under construction at the time of photographing but should be finished by the end of summer 2020). Keep the car park on your right and go through the pedestrian gate near ///thin.goes.eternally to stay on St Modan’s Trail.
This stone path leads southwards, through another gate and to the foot of some steps near ///perfumed.flesh.robot. Turn left up these steps and follow the trail uphill (heading east now). There’s a junction at ///nowadays.divisible.swinging; head straight on and up. The option branching left simply takes a more circuitous route, eventually re-joining our path near ///handwriting.relate.releasing. Pressing on uphill and eastwards, there’s another junction, near ///fork.rated.playfully. Follow the waymarkers straight ahead and this path eventually bends to the right, bearing again south now. A tributary intersects the path near ///unrated.banana.handicaps and on the other side, the waymarker encourages you to press on ahead. However, we want to take the path to the left, heading uphill and upstream via ///green.estimates.owes to St Modan’s Well at ///various.ritual.exhaling. If you’re concerned that the wooden wishing well (recently added to the site) is a little too kitsch for a holy well, fear not; the actual wellspring is behind this, to the left of the path (which continues uphill) near ///gross.rewriting.clearly and is, as it has always been, a humble hole in the ground!
St Modan's Well:
Stage 2: St Modan's Well to Auchenbreck
The next stretch of the route is still in the planning stages, so for now, one must use natural features (and this guide) to help navigate between St Modan’s Trail and the forestry roads leading from Stronafian to Auchenbreck. Below are two options: Option B follows the trail past Lephinkill neolithic chambered cairn and then follows the proposed route beside a burn and through a fire-break in the woodland. Option A follows a drainage channel upstream into the hillside, then involves a little improvisation before finding an old quad-track that guides you to the Forestry roads. The interactive route on the View Ranger app uses option B, which will hopefully become a reality sooner rather than later. Option A is merely the first one we arrive at geographically. Both routes begin from the signposted junction near ///essays.apparatus.jumbo.
At first glance, the junction at top of this trail looks to offer two options; turn right to head downhill through a clearway in the trees, or continue straight ahead toward the cairn. However, the remnants of a trail heading uphill and to the east (on your left as you arrive at this junction) make for a third option, and this is the one we’re going to follow. At time of writing (summer 2020), the trees are in their infancy here; allowing the undergrowth to thrive, which makes the going a little more difficult. As the trees grow taller it should actually get easier to find and follow a drainage channel on a straight, easterly bearing uphill through ///encodes.dozens.keen, via ///bared.trembles.handle and ///tedious.bitter.cheesy, emerging into a marshy clearing at ///below.airbase.grit.
For now, though, it’s a case of pushing ahead through the foliage until you reach the clearing. From the clearing you can see a small hillock directly in front of you, and behind it some fully grown trees (this, of course, will all change with each harvest). If you were to stay true to the easterly bearing the drainage channel set you upon, and persist until you meet those trees in the distance, then you’d find the Forestry road we’re aiming for. The terrain underfoot makes that harder than it sounds however. For now, press on over the clearing and uphill via ///lizards.eyepieces.aims and you’ll soon reach a deep drainage channel passing left-to-right in front of you, near ///track.clear.musically.
Follow this drainage channel to the left (north/northeast) and you’ll come upon a large, triangular rock (near ///spun.appendix.bulbs) rising from the earth like a shark’s fin from the ocean. This rock should be just as visible (if not more so) when this land is repopulated with trees. When you’ve drawn level with Shark-Fin Rock, turn to your right and start heading east, up and and over the hill towards the mature trees peeking above it. There’s still no track or trail at this stage; just scramble up the hill and, when you’re level with ///list.metro.renewals, you should be able to see the Forestry Road in the distance (or at least see the difference between the stages of tree growth either side of said road.
Push ahead a little further and when you reach ///abode.pebbles.covertly, you’ll find an overgrown quad-track running off to your left (north). The road we’re aiming for is directly ahead of you in the east. Should you wish, you could just push on in a straight line, being mindful of the rough surface. However, this may be unclear if a new crop of trees has been planted, so to be safe, we’ll follow the quad path. It’s harder to see the track in the pictures than in the real world, but it runs in a vaguely northeast direction towards a raised mound, via ///weeks.sugar.sweetened. When you reach ///salutes.circulate.lows you should find a more definite track heading off to your right now, in a south easterly direction. Follow this through ///broached.daytime.among to the start of the Forestry road at ///permit.like.excellent.
This is the recommended option as it follows the route of the proposed path (and so is likely to become much easier to follow over time). From the junction at the top of the hill, continue straight on; heading in a southerly direction and remaining at the same elevation. The trail follows a fire break through the trees from ///producing.stews.falls for a short distance. You emerge near ///tips.valid.disbelief, with a clear view of Lephinkill chambered cairn and the hills beyond. The cairn is marked, at ///crank.harshest.bedrock by a carved wooden sign and a throne-like seat. Walk around the cairn and follow the trail downhill from ///procured.sketching.locked until you see the back of a carved figure (to your right) and a footbridge beyond, near ///frostbite.project.efficient. The new path will branch off to your left (eastward) and uphill from here. Turning to your left will reveal a stretch of land covered in low gorse bush. Strike out across this tussocky and uneven ground and up toward ///grins.stag.massing. Alternatively, head down to the footbridge and follow the north bank of the burn it bridges uphill. Whichever you choose, aim to find the burn near ///exactly.glimmers.napped, and follow it upstream, sticking to the gorse bush.
By now you’ll be oriented in a northeasterly direction and steadily climbing toward ///basics.interlude.massive, where a larger, deeper watercourse flows on your left. Track this uphill and the gorse gives way to lush green reeds and wetter, marshy ground near ///bouncing.provoking.chatters. You’re now on a fire-break; keep the burn on your left and the trees to your right as you climb through ///foster.aviators.cherub and ///accented.agenda.gurgled to reach ///challenge.perky.resides, where the route bends right to head eastwards (and upwards) once more; picking up the start of the Forestry road near ///repaid.unique.riverboat.
From here it’s a very straightforward case of following the Forestry road through Stronafian Community Forest toward the B836 roadway. The route climbs quite steeply and bends around to the right, pointing you onto a southerly bearing, which you’ll maintain for most of the rest of this pilgrim journey. As the incline starts to lessen, you pass a junction near ///milky.bother.duos; ignore this and head straight on. The road soon begins to snake down the hill offering good views to the south. It dips, and then forks, near ///lodge.care.promoting; take the right hand fork. This then bends around to the left and brings you around to panoramic views over Loch Ridden.
From ///meanwhile.physics.power, you can see the River Ruel meandering toward the head of the loch. You can also see another path, peeling in from the right, joining the road we are on. Further along this road, near ///swatted.lamppost.dove, there’s a picnic bench with possibly the best view in Scotland (on a clear day, that is). After this perfect respite, the road winds quickly downhill to meet the B836 near ///rinses.norms.bundles. Turn right onto the road and walk a short distance down the grass verge until you see a left turn signposted for Auchenbreck House near ///tributes.starch.caveman.
Stage 3: Auchenbreck to Springfield
Auchenbreck House is a private residence, and nearby is a working farm. If you prefer not to pass through here you can simply keep following the B836 road down to the next junction and then turn left onto the A886 towards Colintraive. There is, however, an old bridleway that runs round the back of Auchenbreck, and crosses two old stone bridges, before rejoining the main A886 road just near Springfield. It’s very overgrown at this end, but still easy enough to follow, and Scotland’s Right to Roam means there’s no shame in making use of it.
Take the left turn near ///thread.picture.online. You’re now heading south, and will pass Stronafian House (on your right near ///waiters.atom.cyber). Shortly after this there’s an old stone bridge crossing the Auchenbreck Burn, at ///storming.cloud.study, and the road bends slightly right. It forks near ///submerged.revisits.latter: one fork bends sharply right, towards Auchenbreck House, and the other passes through a gate and heads straight on. It’s this latter we want. (Incidentally, history enthusiasts might be interested to know that the remains of Auchenbreck Castle can be found in the garden of Auchenbreck House). Pass through the gate and follow the path down toward a similar gate near ///hammocks.blushes.restore.
As an aside, when you pass through this second gate, there’s a grassy lane running off to your right (from ///onlookers.rainy.valid) through a series of gates near ///agreement.tucked.ditched, and onto a driveway near ///crumbles.hunk.isolating. Turning left onto the driveway, leads down to the A886 road from ///immune.streak.yards. If the way described below is too overgrown for your taste, then this will save you from backtracking too much. Simply follow the grass verge of the road southwards until you reach the exit from Old Stonebridge Road.
For now, pass by this grassy lane and continue straight ahead from the gate (///confining.tent.officer) and you’ll shortly reach another old stone bridge near ///decimals.flagged.pioneered. We believe this is the bridge after which the bridleway is named. Immediately after this bridge, at ///evoke.edge.major, there’s a third gate; one that seemingly leads to a dead end. This is not the case, however, it just so happens that the way has been allowed to become completely overgrown. Cross the gate and walk towards ///threaded.worry.reshape. The gorse bush is thick here, but if you aim for the ash trees towering above, and push through, you’ll soon find a muddy track, which crosses a wee burn just in front of the trees (near ///tram.alert.guessing). It then passes between the ash trees, coming out onto a heath near ///telephone.tinned.buffoon.
You emerge, from under the ash trees, facing south east but we want to be heading south west to pick up the old road, which runs alongside the new road (but has much less traffic). It may be hard to see in the photographs, but there is a muddy trail skirting the edge of the heath. It passes through ///paused.villager.lived and ///patching.levels.increases, before turning in toward the road (right) via another muddy crossing of the wee burn, near ///routs.presumes.mega. You may not realise it yet, but you’re now back on the old stonebridge road.
Turn left, keeping the fence line on your right, and you’ll quickly run into another overgrown patch of gorse bush, near ///monorail.flushed.wool. Just push through, keeping the fence (and the new road) on your right, while maintaining your bearing. This happens a few times; at ///imitate.commuting.nobody, and ///river.users.enveloped but the path becomes clearer as you progress. By the time you reach ///runners.microfilm.waltz it’s become a clearly defined track, and then at ///glance.presides.weekday it’s a recognizable carriageway; leading down to a gate onto the A886 by ///loudness.knowledge.gems.
Pass through the gate and turn left onto the A886, heading south from ///wove.blend.elevates. Follow the grass verge for a short distance until the option to turn right appears near ///goodnight.allergy.blackouts. Turn down this lane and head via ///gravy.rehearsed.mango and ///ferrets.wades.freezers (ignoring the right turn toward the beach here – unless you have time to explore of course). This lane takes you through Ardchuple Farm, at ///rifled.throat.other, then back up to a junction with the main road near ///shaves.quote.dampen.
Cross straight over at this junction, heading east and uphill via ///roadways.nuzzled.paradise. The road bends left near ///quail.geology.hacksaw, and there are two lanes leading off to your right. Ignore those and follow the road as it climbs uphill, heading north, then doubles back on itself leading to a fork at ///clustered.helped.steered. Both forks are gated. It’s the gate on the right, near ///darling.baking.landscape, that we need to cross (this gate is padlocked, so climb over at the hinge end to avoid undue stress on the gate).
Stage 4: Springfield to Fearnoch
You’re now on a private Forestry road, which climbs in a zig-zag pattern up the hill, on an easterly bearing, before straightening out and guiding you around the north flank of A’Chruach. There are no turn-offs to distract you but as the road climbs there are wonderful views to be had behind you. At the peak of the climb, just as the road begins to straighten out and descend (near ///formation.snacking.mirror) there’s the chance to enjoy 180 degree, panoramic views over the landscape to the north. Of course, this is contingent upon where the trees are in their growth cycle!
From here the road gently declines toward what appears to be a T-junction (seen from ///many.defenders.broadens). Upon closer inspection, the left branch dead-ends at ///chapters.balanced.indulgent), so we’ll follow the right-hand path heading gently downhill in a southerly direction. The track becomes overgrown near ///windmill.rebounds.piglets, then unceremoniously ends at a large turning circle near ///reaction.battle.matchbox.
This is where describing the route gets a little bit tricky as, once again, there is no trail. We’ve used a lot of what3words locations in order to be as granular as possible (and a lot of photographs, because the GPS isn’t wholly accurate in a valley like this) but if you’re confident enough with rough directions, then just know that we’re following a tributary downhill to a large burn which flows southwards through the valley. We’ll be keeping the burn on our left as much as possible, following it’s west bank. Eventually this stream falls into a deep gorge and it’s not possible to keep following it. However, just before that point, a track peels of to the left, up into the trees, then follows the brow of a hill and cuts back down through the trees to meet a Forestry road.
It was difficult to get an accurate GPS signal during this stretch, so treat the w3w locations as rough guides, relying more on the images themselves. If you haven’t downloaded it already, the interactive route on the ViewRanger app may be your best guide here. Start by heading to the south west corner of the turning circle, near ///poetry.stub.formed. The drainage channel for the road cuts into the trees and downhill from here, toward a tributary near ///amuses.expansion.inches. Follow this watercourse downstream, in an easterly direction. Step over to it’s south bank near ///steadily.statement.means, and then part with it momentarily as you climb over a mound near ///retina.refrain.expectant and down a muddy bank from ///flops.puppy.happening. Meet the stream again near ///lectured.meatballs.schooling.
Shortly after this point, the stream bends right (southwards). Cross over to the other bank and into the trees. Turn right and follow the line of the trees southeastwards from ///jetliner.underway.timer down to where a drainage channel crosses your path near ///lower.beep.wiring. Don’t follow this one; instead, cross straight over and maintain the same bearing, coming out of the Forestry trees and into more mature woodland near ///following.unopposed.proposes. From here you can see a large burn, flowing south, in front of you. Head down to its west bank, near ///breeze.emptied.connector and follow it downstream. We’ll aim to follow the general direction of this waterway (south) and stick to the west bank, but a river’s natural tendency to wind means it’s often simpler to ford it and switch to the east bank on occasion.
Pretty quickly, the burn snakes away to your left (east), near ///successes.constants.wins, but there’s a faint trail continuing on ahead. Follow that into the trees again, heading south through ///nylon.pylons.excuse to a clearing at ///disbanded.tonic.modest. Off to your left from here is an old stone wall on the opposite side of the burn. We’ll be encountering that a few times on route but, for now, head in the opposite direction, uphill and into the trees to your right. There is actually a muddy trail (or it could just be surface drainage) leading up through ///amicably.cattle.reject, past a large anthill on the right (another common theme in this section), and through the trees at ///multiples.cubs.agreement.
The clearway through the trees becomes a little less clear from ///darker.frock.cookie, but if you maintain the same bearing you’ll soon happen upon another drainage channel heading downhill, and back toward the burn, near ///bunkers.relieves.degree. Follow this down and it brings you to a point where another tributary joins the main watercourse at ///sketching.darting.honest. Jump over that tributary, to pick up the west bank of the burn, and now there’s a discernible track to follow. It leads you round to an easy place to ford the burn (near ///reefs.massing.moment) so you’re now on the east bank of the burn. Turn right, so you’re still heading south, and keep the burn on your right. The old stone wall re-emerges near ///hoping.needed.typed, and a little further down, near ///unstable.timer.airstrip, there’s a break in the wall. Atop the wall are two bales of barbed wire, and beyond the break is another large anthill.
Head through the break in the wall, being mindful not to disturb the anthill, and you should be able to identify a deer trail following the east bank of the burn downstream, through ///enveloped.dates.coverings. Simply keep the stone wall on your left and the water on your right, and you won’t go wrong. We’re not staying on this side of the burn for very long. There’s another break in the wall, to allow for a tributary; after you’ve crossed that, look for a place to ford the main burn. Such an opportunity quickly presents itself near ///gilding.comply.safest. Once on the west bank, continue south, through ///earliest.bandage.sharpness, follow a faint trail slightly uphill near ///jumbo.bitter.shimmered, then back down towards the burn again from ///mammoths.shampoo.magically, pausing at a stand of trees near ///crumbles.attends.flitting.
At first glance, it appears as though the trail wants to lead between this stand of trees and the hillock they’re at the foot of. However, this is not the case. A keen eye will spot a muddy trail, where the grass has been flattened, heading up and over that hillock (to the right of the trees) from ///crumbles.attends.fitting. This trail leads up into the Forestry trees again, passing through their lower edge at ///financial.mystery.flows and then beginning to head downhill, toward the burn again, from ///cocoons.grounded.lawn. The trail is quite difficult to make out, even as it guides you toward a clearing near ///filed.runways.ditching, but it’s soon about to get better.
Follow the track down through the clearing. We’re still a little way above the burn, and we won’t be heading back down towards it. Instead, a track appears, near ///elite.sheets.scariest, that leads uphill away from the water. It skirts along the base of a treeless hillock, via ///tooth.airbrush.routine, then heads down through the trees from ///resolved.flown.notifying to find the start of a Forestry road near ///frames.grins.beams.
This road runs directly south, with no junctions, from ///built.dearest.flaunting, through stone blockades near ///pioneered.quite.improves, to the large parking area at ///sliding.leathers.level. The walk in to Fearnoch Chapel & Well starts on the other side of the road, following another faint, overgrown trail from near ///prices.tilts.into.
A word of warning for those wishing to continue on to the chapel: in the height of summer, the ferns around the chapel can grow to over 5ft and are a breeding ground for ticks. So, when you get to the part of the route where you’re looking down from the hilltop into the valley to where the chapel remains are (as shown in the header picture on this page); if you can’t clearly see the ruins, then think twice about going down there. The way into the chapel and well from here is described on the main page about Fearnoch Chapel.