A Trip to Kintyre - Part One

I can go for a week at a time without going further than the bus stop at the end of our road. Working from home and being a general home body means that, other than the occasional trip out to a friend's for a coffee and the weekly veg market, my world doesn't really need to be bigger than the 4 acres the house sits upon. I spent so much of my late teens and early twenties travelling that I rarely get much wanderlust and if I did, the sheer effort of packing up 3 kids and leaving a farm for any length of time cures me of any lingering desire to travel.

And then one day in my inbox popped an offer from Caledonian MacBrayne ferries asking if I wanted to work with them on a piece of content. Though travel and sponsored content aren't my normal scene, I've had a soft spot for CalMac ferries since I arrived in Scotland and this landlubber was introduced to the joy of travel by boat. I'll never forget our first trip to Arran as I nervously drove my car onto a boat, certain that such a thing shouldn't be possible (I'm from land locked Iowa, remember and such a feat was beyond what my Mid Western brain could handle). I was hooked. 

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And so, after a fair bit of scrabble to find house, farm and child sitters, Kevin and I departed on our first trip in 10 years without children. We took the ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, boarding as the rain fell so hard it was bouncing off the deck.  I’ve only ever taken morning ferries before and swapped my usual bacon rolls and tea  (a firm requirement for all AM ferry crossings) to steak pie and local ale. It was all local and fresh, not the limp school cafeteria food that I was expecting (and worrying about how I'd write about it if it was awful) - the beef from Kintyre and the beer from just up the way at Loch Fyne.  

The ferry takes 2.5hours from Ardrossan to Campeltown, with another 1.5 hours before that from the house to the ferry terminal.  It is a bit longer for us to travel this way than just to drive, but the appeal of dinner and both being able to enjoy the trip really outweighed any extra travel time. I don’t like being inside when we travel by boat – its not travel sickness or anything, just a love for that feeling of being windswept and salty that only the top deck can give you – so the moment we finished I forced Kevin onto the deck. We watched for sea life and birds, and caught the sunset fading over Arran.

Arriving in Campbeltown just after 9, we checked into the Royal Hotel for our two nights there.  The hotel is beautiful with views over the harbour (which obviously meant I took roughly 1,000 photos out of the window trying to catch the perfect sunrise). After finally tearing myself away from the window for breakfast the next morning, we headed a few miles over the peninsula to Machrihanish. 

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The tiny village sits on the the Atlantic side of the peninsula with wide, sandy beaches and views to Northern Ireland. At the southern tip of the village, there is the Seabird Centre and Wildlife Observatory.  It’s a very small place, maintained by the local community, but with its resident seals (Kevin was sad he didn’t bring his mandolin to play to them) and bird life, we it was quite easy to lose track of time with so much to see.

The village boasts 2 golf clubs and another beautiful hotel and pub. Have I ever told you that I took golf lessons as a kid?  Oh yes.  My family was extremely into golf, so much so that at one time my brother wanted to study golf course management.  However hard the rest of them tried, that love did not pass on to me, but as we walked around the beautiful Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course, I suddenly understood the appeal. In contrast to the golf course of my youth with views over Highway 30 and my friend's house, I could see the appeal of wandering this amazing landscape, watching the Atlantic and her wildlife, even if it involved a level of hand eye coordination that I was not blessed with.

After exploring the dunes and the amazing beach just behind, we headed back into the village for lunch at The Old Clubhouse.  The Dunes hotels are all owned by an American and the menu was a glorious mix of locally sourced produce, meat, fish and dairy, with many American touches - which meant I got to eat the best beef brisket this side of the Mississippi.

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After lunch, we drove back to Campbeltown for the Springbank Distillery tour. Unlike the other distilleries we’ve visited Springbank does all of its own barley malting and smoking itself and by hand. I don’t drink whiskey, but it was so interesting to hear about working with local farmers – either to use local barley for special batches or to move on the spent grain for animal feed.  I love a family run business and Springbank really had that feel to it.

In fact, that was one thing that really came over strongly everywhere we went in Kintyre – from family run shops that haven’t been replaced by high street equivalents to the food on every menu being as local as possible. There was a strong sense of provenance – knowing where things came from and valuing the local.

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The absolute highlight of the trip for us for us was visiting my friend Emma in the afternoon at the Torrisdale Castle Estate.  The Estate has been in Emma’s husband’s family for generations and they moved back 4 years ago from Stirling, where Emma and I had met (over crochet of course). In that time, Emma and Niall have made some amazing improvements to the estate, including refurbishing their holiday cottages, to building a hydro electric scheme, and even starting a gin distillery! As Emma showed us around, we were just so inspired by the way the land and the residents work together – the hydro scheme powers the distillery, the forestry powers the wood fired hot tubs, Aunty Carol lives in the archway, Niall's mum runs an organic tannery that tans local sheep hides – all fitting together.

So as Emma and her family headed out to the local village hall for a celebration of the local fishing community and a haddock supper caught by those same fishermen, we headed back to the hotel for dinner in the Harbourview Grille and our own locally caught Haddock (well, Kevin had that, I had Chicken Parmigiana, because its my favourite and I’ve never seen it on another menu in the UK and it was exactly how I remembered it).

I'll be back next week with our trip onward to Gigha! 

Kat GoldinComment