(scroll to the bottom of the page for map links to Kilmorie Ruins)
11.79 miles | 18.94 kilometers | Mixed Surface | Steep Hills
The route from Kilmodan Church to Kilmorie Chapel involves a mix of different surface types. It starts on the roads from Kilmodan to Ardacheranmore, then picks up a woodland walk and a steep trail to Lochan Chuilceachan. After reaching the lochan, we continue to climb, revealing incredible, panoramic views over Loch Fyne, then pick our way through uneven and boggy terrain to reach a Forestry road. This is well surfaced and thoroughly enjoyable as it snakes across the hillside, occasionally offering up different perspectives over the loch. It leads all the way to Garbhallt, where you drop down to the B8000 road to Kilmorie.
The nature of this pilgrimage means that it can only be done on foot. Cyclists could choose to use the A886, travelling northeast though Dunans and then then over toward Leanach and south again on the B8000 to Kilmorie; or alternatively, head west from Kilmodan, over Otter Hill Road, then north from Otter Ferry on the B8000. It’s a similar distance either way (but the Otter Hill road is a steep and challenging pass). This pilgimage is technically a link between the South West and the North West pilgrim routes. However, it works just as well as a first leg for the North West Cowal Pilgrimage too.
Stage 1: Kilmodan to Chuilceachan
Leave Kilmodan via the main gate, and turn left to head up the lane, from ///flip.moss.affirming to ///shirt.flirts.difficult. From here, turn right, heading up to a T-junction at the top end of the road. Turn left at the junction, through ///kicks.manicured.spillage and ///washroom.different.ordering, then left again, near ///incurs.taskbar.kilts (following signs for Home Farm Cottages). There’s a fork near ///crusaders.croutons.stitching. Keep left here, ignoring the signs for the neolithic cairn.
Instead follow the route of The Cowal Way down towards a humped stone bridge in the distance. Cross this bridge and follow the road north, keeping to the left of an old stone archway near ///fewest.pythons.crisis. Shortly afterwards you’ll reach Home Farm Cottages (on the right). On your left, near ///married.hang.stirs, is a wooden gate, which marks the start of the woodland trail up towards Lochan Chuilceachan.
Pass through the gate and the path starts off uphill, following the north bank of a burn. The early stages of the path are well maintained (although they can still be muddy). There are steps leading away from the burn, near ///jars.acclaimed.candles and, at the top is the option to turn left or right. In general, choose the option that takes you further uphill; in this case turn right, through ///central.implore.heartened. A similar scenario plays out further up the trail: turn right near ///presenter.ruffling.tent to maintain an uphill bearing.
Eventually you break free of the tree cover, near ///jacuzzi.undivided.bronzed, and follow a rapidly fading trail in a northwesterly direction, uphill, at the steepest gradient encountered on this pilgrimage. The trail bends to face north and is made harder to follow by various intersecting sheep trails, but as long as you aim for the highest hills ahead, then you shan’t go too wrong. At ///supporter.kettles.beads, it seems to disappear entirely, or wants to lead you back downhill through the bracken. But if you look northwest, up to the brow of the nearest hill, you should see a gate. Aim for this by whichever route seems easiest.
The gate is found near ///straddled.shocked.pack, and bears a waymarker directing you to head northwest once more; aiming for the brow of the hill to your left, rather than the two higher hills we’ve been aiming at til now. Follow the trail over an old stone gutter, seen from the gate, and up towards the next waymarker, at the top of the hill, near ///generals.scrubber.breeze. From here the gradient becomes a little easier but the ground underfoot is uneven and often boggy.
The trail isn’t always easy to discern (but you can use the ViewRanger app or website to follow our GPS track). It continues northwest, through ///tutorial.grounding.hinted, and crosses a muddy ditch, near ///mimic.enveloped.head; aiming roughly for the point where the treeline in the distance merges with the hills ahead. You can perhaps see in the photograph taken from further up the route, near ///tempting.gymnasium.mailbox, that there are (at least) two faint trails; the lower one modelled by our mascot, Dougie McHugh; and the higher one indicated by another walker in the top right quadrant of the image.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you may spot other waymarkers, such as that at ///decisive.unit.sidelined, but to be honest, they don’t really stand out, so don’t get too attached to the idea! Another ditch is encountered near ///exhale.casino.awestruck. The trail appears to continue northwest, towards where the treeline disappears behind the hilltops, but you may prefer to follow the bank of the ditch uphill in order to find an easier place to cross. In our picture, you can see Dougie has done this and is aiming for what looks like another waymarker at the top of the hill.
Whichever you choose, both options seem to come together near ///surface.slicer.laminated as the path begins to direct you to the easiest place to cross a burn. The burn appears near ///hems.dancer.loving, and requires a large stride or a little leap to cross. On the other side is a waymarker encouraging you to follow a faint trail around the brow of the hill ahead (although you can also choose your own path, as Dougie is doing, and head over the brow of the hill – after all, the original pilgrims were not following routes but creating them!).
The further up the hill you get, the harder it is to see the trail. If worst comes to worst, just keep heading west/northwest until you find the fence, then follow that north until you find the lochan. The actual route merely shadows this fence line anyway, passing through ///texts.tadpoles.pairings, then ///unloaded.panics.bridges. There are various drainage channels cut into the hillside and obscured by long grass, so be careful as you go. Eventually, whether you choose to follow the fence or the route, you’ll come upon a boggy, flooded plain that must be passed on the right (keeping it to your left/west) near ///thread.cross.overruns.
Chuilceachan is just over the next hill, press on to ///jump.bond.swarm, whereupon it comes into view. Look to your right from this point and you’ll see a large telecoms tower atop a neighbouring hill. The road that we’re aiming to catch up with issues forth from that tower, so you may choose to strike off toward that now, but we’ll follow the official trail down to the lochside, at ///described.cassettes.hike, then follow the shore of the loch northeast, through ///tennis.deliver.collides, toward the fence.
Stage 2: Chuilceachan to Service Road
You can cross the fence easily enough near the water’s edge, at ///archduke.winning.slide. Again, you may prefer to follow the bank of the tributary that feeds the lochan as it strikes off (east), shortly before this point, towards the communications tower. This involves more hill climbing but is a shorter route to the road. Our guide takes a different approach; after crossing the fence, head away from the lochan bearing north. There’s an old antennae on the horizon, looking for all the world like the mast of a sunken ship, and that’s what we’re aiming for. You’ll find a drainage channel, near ///pardon.gums.backtrack, that’ll lead you most of the way there.
The antennae mast is located near ///blush.actor.cement. Looking to your right from here, you can see the comms tower on the other hill. This is your last chance to take a shorter route to the road. We’re going to press on in a northeasterly direction and pick up the road a little closer to the treeline. There’s a small hillock just beyond the mast, and the view from there (///frail.showering.thread) is the main reason we’re taking this route. Alas, the camera doesn’t do justice to the breathtaking panorama that opens up before you as you crest this hill! To think that most people who take the Chuilceachan walk will stop at the lochside and turn around – never to enjoy this view. Such a shame!
It’s now time to pay the opportunity cost for this view. Make your way down from that knoll, and strike out, from ///puzzle.roof.sprouting on a northeasterly bearing, across the vast open heather and marshland ahead of you. This way isn’t steep, but the ground is extremely uneven; it has hidden ditches and marshes; and it’ll take more time to reach the road. Still, original pilgrims tend not to start with a well-trodden path, so neither shall we. In the distance you can see a crop of fir trees and, just above them, some solitary looking firs dotted in a line running toward the main crop. These outliers are marking the edge of the service road for the communication tower, so set your bearing and forge ahead.
Watch out for surface drainage near ///tolerates.peachy.offer, cross a burn near ///downfield.restore.shampoos, then cross the fence ahead of you, near ///unusually.vies.fizzle. By the time you reach the craterous holes in the ground near ///oxidation.imparts.sulk, you’ll have a clearer view of the sentry trees marking the road. We’ve been consistently pointed at a hill looming above the forest, and there’s no reason to change track now; press on through ///flash.graph.organic, with the forest to your left now, and the sentry trees ahead. Pick your way through the sparse stand of firs near ///grand.scream.them, and drop down to the road at ///displays.sprinting.caressing.
Stage 3: Service Road to Garbhallt
Turn left onto the road (heading roughly northwards now) and relax in the knowledge that, although there’s more than half the distance of this pilgrimage still to cover, the hard part is now over. It’s well surfaced forestry roads from here all the way to Garbhallt. There aren’t even many junctions to distract you from fully focussing on the majesty of nature surrounding you. The first appears near ///sediment.annual.teaches, but the grassy left fork is barely worth a second thought, keep right along the main track. Stay left at the next junction, near ///squirts.searches.inch (the road to the right is tempting and, at first glance of a map it looks like it’s a shorter route to our destination, but alas, it dead-ends somewhere in the hillside).
Our road eventually starts to descend, from ///verdict.shuffles.fulfills, to a junction at ///doses.pampering.reshaping. Here, the left fork leads down to the B8000 road and you could, if you wished for a flat route, follow it northeast all the way up to Kilmorie. The official pilgrimage remains off-road however, taking the right fork through a metal gate and back up into the hills. Choosing the high road pays dividends on a clear day; rewarding you with views over Loch Fyne from various vantage points such as ///drag.lecturers.frog, or ///extremely.natively.engraving.
After a short distance, a fork opens up ahead of you near ///remission.carbon.plus. Take the right-hand path. There follows a much longer stretch with no junctions to speak of, just the sky above your head, the earth beneath your feet, and the trees (or the views) around you. Eventually, another fork presents itself, near ///clings.diplomas.apply. In our photo there’s a caravan there, because there was work being done to reinforce the path, but that is not a reliable landmark. Turn left at this fork, heading downhill and west, through ///mixing.dirt.skim. The road bends back on itself, heading southwest for a stretch.
Take the right-hand prong at the next fork, which appears near ///pitchers.pulps.bared, and follow this downhill. It switches back to face north/northwest and eventually leads you to a gate, near ///sting.workshops.smarting. Walk around the gate and join the road near ///proposals.slave.users. Turn left, heading southwest now, down the B8000 towards Kilmorie. The chapel ruins are a short distance down the road and on your right. Should you wish to extend your hike, you may wish to turn right out of Garbhallt instead, and complete the Kilmorie – Kilbride Loop in reverse.