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Outdoor things to do in and around Dunoon, Cowal Peninsula

Written by Fiona

July 04 2019

A short break near Dunoon, on the Cowal Peninsula, offered the opportunity to explore the area on foot. I have visited this part of Argyll & Bute, in west Scotland before, and I have enjoyed cycling and mountain biking as well. There are also plenty more outdoor activities to try, whatever your age and experience.

Here is my round up of some of the best things to do in the great outdoors in and around Dunoon (a real gem of a destination).

Take a walk

There are plenty of walking routes from short, easy graded trails with waymarkers to more challenging mountain hikes.

A good place to start a search for the ideal walk is Walk Highlands. During a short break at self-catered Bernice Farmhouse, owned by Experience Outdoors, I enjoyed several walks.

A windy summit!
Summit trig on Beinn Mhor.
Summit trig on Beinn Mhor.

Beinn Mhor hill hike

The first was a five-hour 8-mile hike to the summit of Beinn Mhor. It is the highest point in the area at more than 700m and affords super vies on a fine day.

Read my blog: Walking Beinn Mhor (Cowal).

Atmospheric Puck's Glen.
Atmospheric Puck’s Glen.
A wonderful walk of Puck's Glen with friends.
A wonderful walk of Puck’s Glen with friends.

Puck’s Glen

1.5 mile Puck’s Glen stroll. Puck’s Glen is a wonderfully atmospheric glen that is home to a tumbling stream.

The trail follows the route of a fast-flowing burn as it plunges down a cascade of waterfalls. The Glen is named after Puck, a mischievous spirit who haunts many legends and appears in William Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

James Duncan, a former laird of Benmore, had the gorge enhanced at considerable expense in the 1870s. It’s said he wanted to evoke a wild and mystical realm to charm his visitors.

The walk takes you along the bottom of the gorge, close to the water and crosses at various intervals over wooden bridges. The rock walls of the damp gorge are covered in mosses and ferns. Looking upwards you can see the roots of trees and their lofty branches towering high above your head.

It’s a must-see if you are in the region.

A staircase over a felled tree.
A staircase over a felled tree.
Who knew?!

Big Tree Walk

A Big Tree Walk starts from the opposite side of the road to Benmore Botanic Gardens. Simply follow coloured waymarkers on a chosen route. The shorter 1.25-mile route is a good option and follows a path (steep in places) though huge trees including Californian Redwoods and Douglas fir.

Walk through Benmore Botanic Garden

The 120-acre mountainside botanic garden of Benmore, a few miles north of Dunoon, is home to a stunning collection of plants from as far afield as the Himalaya and North and South America.  Other attractions include a 150-year-old Redwood trees avenue; splendid rhododendrons; a Victorian fernery; and fabulous views.

There is a viewpoint at 137m that gives views of Holy Loch and the neighbouring mountains.  Keep an eye out for wildlife, too, including red squirrels, sparrowhawks and, sometimes, a golden eagle.

Alternatively, or as well, you might like to walk a section of the 57-mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way.

On your bike

Road cycling

There are some wonderfully quiet roads and smooth tarmac for road cycling close to Dunoon.

I enjoyed a 60-mile road bike ride starting from Hunter’s Quay in Dunoon, via the B836 Clachaig road (the timber road), around the top of Loch Striven, to Auchenbreck.

After this my route joined the A886, then south on the A8003 to Ormidale, Tighnabruaich and Kames.

A section north follows the B8000 through Kilfinan to Otter Ferry. (A good refuelling stop is The Oyster Catcher, which opens at noon.)

I then backtracked half a mile to take “the high road” east to the A866 and then to the A886 before returning to Dunoon.

Also read: My ride of the (former) Cowal Peninsula Sportive route.

2 more road cycling routes

  • Dunoon to Portavadie is 48 km with a total climb of 600m
  • Dunoon to Lochgoilhead is 42 km with a total climb of 350 m.

Mountain biking

A network of mountain bike routes have been developed – and are still being developed – around Dunoon. The area has some delightful forestry and I have enjoyed a number of off-road adventures here.

I always think this area is so close to the central mainland of Scotland yet so often forgotten. It’s easy to reach Dunoon and your bike travels free on the ferries.

Bishop’s Glen is located close to the west side of Dunoon. You’ll discover some great trails that have been developed by the Cowal Mountain Bike Club. The glen is wooded and hilly with lots of flowing, natural single-track and some tricky technical descents in places. (If in doubt, walk around them, like I do!)

Again, to the west of Dunoon, Corlarach Forest, accessed at Corlarach car park or Ardyne car park, has a mountain biking loop of around 20km. It’s a good family ride with no major challenges on an undulating forest track.

Loch Eck is a freshwater loch to the north of Dunoon. A 35km MTB route, starting and finishing at Glenbranter, heads through forestry on the shore of the loch.

The route heads clockwise, crossing the A815 and then climbing the forest track at Invernoaden. After a steep climb, you’ll see a lovely vista below over the loch, Dunoon, the Clyde and towards the mountain Beinn Mhor.

More mountain biking ideas from Wild About Argyll

Loch Eck. Credit: Gordon Brown
Loch Eck. Credit: Gordon Brown
Kayking. Credit: JB Johnson

Watersports

The coastline around Dunoon is a gem for water fans, with clear water and plenty of secret beaches and coves. The Benmore Outdoor Centre offers a range of different water-based adventures, including:

  • Learning to sail on the Firth of Clyde, from a sailing base just a 10-minute drive away beside the Holy Loch.
  • Inflatable “duckies” for fun on the local River Eachaig.
  • Canyoning, including cliff jumps, waterfall bathing, slides and caves, at Kilmun and Glen Masson.
  • Canoeing to suit all levels in locations such as Loch Eck, Holy Loch and the River Eachaig.
  • Open Canadian canoeing on a local loch at Benmore Centre.
  • Shore scrambles above the sea at Ardentinny.

Also check out Kayak Argyll and Bute for more sea kayaking options.

Rainy day activities

Dunoon cinema. Credit: Thomas Nugent
Dunoon cinema. Credit: Thomas Nugent

Even when it’s wet, there is plenty to do, unless you simply fancy chilling out at your self-catering accommodation.

Suggestions include The Studio cinema, Taylor’s Amusement Arcade, Riverside Swimming Pool, browsing the shops (there are many independents that are worth supporting) and Castle House Museum. Or why not pull on waterproof jackets and head to the beach at West Bay, Dunoon?

Also read: Dunoon adventure: Off-grid house, walking, talking and sunshine.

20% discount

Take advantage of a 20% discount at Bernice farmhouse and cottage with this special code: FIONAOUTDOORS20. Use it at the booking stage.

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