Experience The Cowal Pilgrimage
A long distance pilgrim circuit covering much of the Cowal peninsula
The Cowal Pilgrimage follows forestry tracks, heritage paths, and ancient trails to connect 15 sites of great importance to the growth of Christianity in Celtic Cowal.
If you enjoy long-distance pilgrim journeys, then there are many walking options in Cowal. You can pick any one of our routes and complete it alone. Most routes will take between half a day and a full day walking, with some requiring camping gear and a two-day pilgrimage.
Alternatively, you can spend the weekend completing one of the pilgrim loops named after locally celebrated saints (as depicted on the map). For more information on any of these options, click through to our Pilgrim Route Guides section. We also have a section with local accommodation listings for those of you planning to stay a while in Argyll.
If you’re not up to walking or camping, then the section of our site dedicated to the pilgrim sites, Places for Pilgrims, will introduce you to the central driving loop and help with parking.
But what if you fancy a real challenge? What if you want to stay in Cowal for a fortnight and visit all of our unique pilgrim sites on foot? Then this section is for you! We’re going to suggest the most effective ways to daisy-chain our routes depending on whether you start your pilgrimage in Cairndow, Dunoon or Portavadie.
The Cowal Pilgrimage | Faith in Cowal
This short video gives a taster of the dynamic beauty of Cowal and the tapestry of natural, cultural, historic and religious heritage that pilgrims visiting Cowal can expect to find. Follow in in the footsteps of ancient Christians and Saints on modern pathways and wild hiking trails. Or bring your motorhome and drive between our 15 holy sites – all pilgrims are welcome!
Starting from Cairndow
This journey circumscribes the whole of Cowal and can be started from any of our sites.
If you’re coming to Cowal from the North, or if you’re driving over the Rest & Be Thankful pass from Loch Lomond to get here, then you may want to start the circuit with Kilmorich Graveyard and Kilmorich Church in Cairndow. Otherwise, it might be best to leave this stretch between Cairndow and Strachur out, as that means you can start from any one of our sites and follow this daisy-chain of routes around the whole of Cowal.
This version of The Cowal Pilgrimage involves using ‘the missing link’ (the purple dotted line between Fearnoch & Ardtaraig chapels). There’s no route guide for this as it simply involves following the B836 road from the Ardtaraig Estate to the turn-off for Auchenbreck House near Stronafian Community Forest. However, this road is winding, single track, has a steep descent with hairpin bends and blind corners! So we can’t recommend walking it, it will be safer to use a bicycle of vehicle to traverse this link.
If you’d prefer to avoid the missing link entirely, the other two itinerary suggestions (below) don’t use this at all.
As this is a complete circuit, you can start from anywhere on the map. We’ve assumed you’re moving in a clockwise direction around Cowal, so some of the guides, which were written for the shorter loops, need to be followed in reverse. If you’re arriving in Cowal from the Isle of Bute, we suggest starting at Fearnoch Chapel.
22km / 13.5 miles. Start near Loch Fyne Oysters, walk round the head of the loch to Cairndow Church, then along the shore and over the hills into Strachur.
34km / 21 miles. A truly stunning walk skirting three lochs. Fantastic views to be had despite not involving much hill climbing. This guide needs to be followed in reverse.
The Missing Link
15.3km / 9.5 miles. No guide for this. Simply follow the B836 from Ardtaraig until you reach a left-hand turnoff to Auchenbreck House. From here, follow Stage 3 & 4 of the Kilmodan to Fearnoch guide. The road is busy, single track in places and involves a steep climb and blind bends. Be careful!
24.8km / 15.4 miles. A straightforward route, mostly on good surfaces. It can be done in a day at a push, but you might be better to arrange accommodation in Glendaruel or find somewhere to wild camp. You could also skip the next three legs and follow the Kilmodan to Fearnoch guide in reverse to shorten this circuit.
18.9km / 11.8 miles. An enjoyable, challenging hike making use of a woodland trail and forestry roads. Starts with a steep climb, the rest is mostly downhill.
12.5km / 7.7 miles. An easy journey following lochside roads. These don’t see a lot of traffic and there is a good grass verge most of the way, and pavement for the last stretch. With wonderful views over Loch Fyne.
17.7km / 11 miles. If you started at Cairndow, then this is a simple retracing of your original steps. Follow this guide in reverse. If you started elsewhere, following this out and back is an optional extra.
Starting from Dunoon
This Journey starts near Dunoon and finishes at Kilfinan near Portavadie.
Dunoon is the largest town on the Cowal Peninsula and a popular Argyll holiday destination. If you’re coming from England or the east of Scotland, you’ll likely end up coming through Glasgow and then getting the ferry into Dunoon. Similarly, if you’ve been following St Cuthbert’s Way, The Kentigern Way, or The Whithorn Way, then you’ll likely arrive via train into Gourock, then a passenger ferry over to Dunoon.
All of this makes Dunoon a perfect starting point for your pilgrimage in Cowal. We’re hoping that St Brigid’s Well at the Episcopal Church in Dunoon will be restored and accepting pilgrims soon, but for now the journey starts in Ardnadam, just a little to the north of Dunoon.
The intinerary first dips south to Inverchaolain, then follows the shore of Loch Striven to Ardtaraig and cuts through two valleys to Kilmun Church (our pilgrim hub). From there it describes an anti-clockwise route around Cowal to finish in Kilfinan.
As an optional extra, you could walk up from Strachur to Cairndow and back before continuing the journey south west.
This journey travels in an anti-clockwise direction around the perimeter of Cowal. The route guides were originally designed for the smaller loops dedicated to locally celebrated saints. As such, some of the guides must be followed in reverse. This will be noted below. We apologise for any inconvenience.
21km / 12.5 miles. An undemanding walk through two glens. Marred by one small section going blind in the woods. Alterations provided for wary walkers.
15.5km / 10 miles. A well waymarked and simple route, following The Cowal Way through the glens between the two churches.
18.9km / 11.8 miles. An enjoyable, gently ascending hike on Forestry roads. The final section is a sharp descent from a lochan, making use of a woodland trail. This guide must be followed in reverse.
16.6km / 10.3 miles. A relatively simple route, but with some tricky off-road hiking sections. Suitable for confident walkers. No good for cycles.
Starting from Portavadie
This journey starts at Kilfinan and travels clock-wise around Cowal finishing near Dunoon.
Portavadie sits at the most south-westerly tip of the Cowal peninsula. It houses a vast, modern marina and accommodation complex. You can reach Portavadie from Tarbert on the Kintyre Peninsula, meaning you can bring your car or travel as a passenger on the ferry. This makes it an especially useful way to enter Cowal if you’ve been walking the Kintyre Way or the Dalriada Way.
Naturally, Portavadie is also a great choice if you intend on sailing into Cowal. If this is the case, and you wish to return to your mooring, then we suggest you extend this route from Inverchaolain to Ardtaraig and Fearnoch. See the relevant sections in the Starting From Cairndow section above for those guides.
This version of the Cowal Pilgrimage fails to take in any of the Three Brethren Trail, and as such, misses out Cairndow and Lochgoilhead. You can include these should you wish to, however, by taking alternative routes out of Strachur.
This journey travels in a clockwise direction around the perimeter of Cowal. It can be extended by going out to Cairndow or/and Lochgoilhead from Strachur. If you’re arriving 0n Cowal from the Isle of Bute, we suggest starting at Fearnoch Chapel then heading to Kilfinan via this route.
18.9km / 11.8 miles. An enjoyable, challenging hike making use of a woodland trail and forestry roads. Starts with a steep climb, then gets easier.
12.5km / 7.7 miles. An easy journey following quiet, lochside roads. With wonderful views over Loch Fyne. Suitable for walking, cycling or driving.
15.5km / 10 miles. A pleasant walk taking in Kilmun Arboretum, Puck’s Glen & Ardnadam Heritage Trail. Perfect if you’re based in Dunoon. Walking or cycling.