This week, I would like to continue our virtual travels around Scotland by recounting a fun daytrip we took a few months ago in February. Family was visiting who had lived in Scotland over 30 years ago, and we decided to take a road trip to their old home in Dunoon. Therefore, let’s set out on our journey which promises to be a fantastic Scottish adventure. Afterall, it includes an adventurous boat ride, a wee visit to a lovely seaside town, and stunning vistas throughout.
We didn’t really have a set itinerary for the day. We just knew that we wanted to get to Dunoon and explore a bit, but the important part was that we wanted to enjoy ourselves- it was going to be a true Wee Walking Tours ‘explore and discover’ mission. With that in mind, we loaded up the vehicle and headed out on our adventure.
Of course our Wee Walking Tours canine team came along for the ride; Finn- for his constant human resources support and Sawyer- using his best tour guide instincts (he also wasn’t going to pass up the chance to have his photo taken in the picturesque Scottish countryside).
Getting to Dunoon
Dunoon is located west of Glasgow on the Cowal Peninsula on the south of Argyll and Bute. It takes about 2 1/2 hours to get there from our Edinburgh home, but that does not factor in traffic and stops along the way (both of which we anticipated). Also, as Dunoon is on the western shore of the upper Firth of Clyde, we had to take a ferry to reach our destination (much quicker than driving around).
As we headed west, we encountered a bit of morning commuter traffic on the Edinburgh Bypass (of course, there is often traffic on the Bypass). However, we were still fresh into the trip and didn’t mind the slow pace. It gave us a chance to admire the fresh dusting of snow on the Pentland Hills. We didn’t encounter much traffic for the rest of the way to Dunoon, and, the trip went rather smoothly. Before we knew it, we found ourselves approaching the ferry at McInroy’s Point in Gourock.
As I alluded to above, you can certainly drive the long way around to get to Dunoon. However, we didn’t have that much time as we were only doing a daytrip. Therefore, taking a ferry with our vehicle on the Western Ferries service saved us a great deal of time. As we approached the terminal, a ferry was just approaching- perfect timing! We boarded rather quickly thanks to the efficient crew members, and to make the trip even more exciting, we were able to secure a spot at the front of the ferry.
Once we left the dock, we decided to get out to take some pictures and enjoy the scenery. It was a beautiful, sunny day…at least at that point. The crossing only takes 20 minutes, but halfway through the conditions started to change. The wind picked up and, in true Scottish fashion, it started to rain. The wind was so strong it almost blew our phones out of our hands while we tried to take pictures; we quickly ran back to our vehicle to take refuge from the stormy weather. Safe inside, we watched as the ferry started to rock a bit. The water started to lap over the bow of the boat and splashed onto our vehicle. By this point, Sawyer and Finn were quite entranced with the tempestuous conditions outside and watched carefully as we made our way across the Firth of Clyde.
Thankfully, as we reached the Hunter’s Quay terminal, the rain was easing up and the sky was starting to lighten. Apparently, the weather gods decided to grant us a reprieve upon our arrival into Dunoon.
We disembarked the ferry and headed toward the centre of town. We quickly found a place to park so that we could set out on foot to explore. Not too long after we started walking, my stomach protested with a few low growls, and I realised I hadn’t had anything since early that morning. So, we made our way to Argyll Street to look for Black of Dunoon Bakers for brunch (based on a recommendation from our family member). When we entered the bakery, we were not disappointed as were immediately greeted by large glass cases filled with a variety of freshly made treats. I settled on a muffin and cappuccino and both were excellent. We highly recommend Black of Dunoon Bakers for a tasty meal or snack.
Our hunger satisfied, we left the bakery and headed out for further discoveries. As we explored the town, we were delighted to find that there are many fantastic sites to take in. In fact, tourism has played an important role in Dunoon since the early 1800s. It was a Victorian resort town, and up until the 1960s, Dunoon was a popular stop for day trippers visiting from Glasgow.
As you near the end of Argyll Street, you enter the Pier Esplanade area. There, you can find many examples of lovely Victorian-era architecture. For example, the Argyll Hotel dates to the early 1800s. It overlooks the Victorian-era pier which was refurbished in 2015-2016. The pier is still a wonderful tourist attraction area and the famous Waverley paddle steamer still docks there. The Waverley (named after Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels) is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world. It is currently undergoing a new boiler refit and was due to return to service this year. Unfortunately, due to the current COVID-19 situation, they are not sure when they will set sail again. Please check their website for the most up-to-date information.
As we explored the area, we came upon a plaque for the landmark statue of ‘Highland Mary’. Mary was born in Dunoon in 1764. She was made famous by Robert Burns who wrote about her and was his love until she tragically died in 1786. We eagerly climbed up the stairs so that we could get a better look at the elegant statue. Mary’s location also affords her some excellent views looking out at the pier and the Firth of Clyde. However, we realised that even better views were in store if we continued our climb up Castle Hill.
Of historical note, the mound we were summitting was once the location of Dunoon Castle which was built in the 12th century but was abandoned in the 17th century. The hike up was worth it because the views at the top provided fantastic vistas of Dunoon and beyond. Best of all, the weather gods were continuing to take mercy on us as the skies were a bright winter blue and the sun made everything sparkle in its splendour.
As we looked out towards the north side, we could see the Castle House Museum. We needed to get a closer look at that grand building, so we started our descent and took the wee walk over to the Museum. Castle House was originally built in 1820 by Lord Provost Ewing of Glasgow but became a museum in 1998. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Castle House and could only admire its exterior and gardens. However, we will be sure to visit when we return to the area. Please note that Castle House Museum is currently closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Check their website for more information when travel resumes.
Alas, our time in the town was fleeting, and it was time to move on to the outskirts to look for our family’s old home.
Adventures on the Outskirts
Heading north of the town, we stopped at the picturesque Holy Loch. Photos don’t do justice to the stunning landscape that surrounds the Loch. Nevertheless, Sawyer happily posed for pictures as he enjoyed his surroundings. I swear the majestic setting encouraged him to stand just a wee bit taller in attempt to give his best regal stance. Here is some photographic evidence:
We were thoroughly enjoying the mountain views, but we knew that we had to continue before nightfall overtook us. As we drove along, the bucolic surroundings were quite peaceful, and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to quickly stop and take some photos of the sheep.
One fun fact we learned on this trip, was that our family member’s former home was in quite a remote location. And that is not an exaggeration. We eventually found our turn off- which ended up being a dirt road. To provide a little more context for the driving conditions, let’s just say that I’m pretty sure this back road must double as a training ground for rally car drivers. We carefully navigated the mountainside roads- mostly single traffic lanes- that took us further and further inland.
Eventually, our rally driving came to fruition as we came upon the wee crofter’s cottage that was our family’s home over 30 years ago. We were thrilled to find it still standing and to hear that not too much had changed. Allowing a bit of time to reminisce, we eventually got back on the road and geared ourselves up for the long journey back home to Edinburgh.
Trip Planning Info for Dunoon
There is much to see and do in Dunoon and we just barely skimmed the surface with our quick daytrip. In addition to the places we discussed above, there are many other attractions to explore. For example, located just 7 miles north of Dunoon, you will find the Benmore Botanic Garden. As outlined on their website, “Benmore's 120 acres feature a world-famous collection of plants from the Orient and the Himalaya to North and South America”. Benmore is part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and is on our to-do list when we return to the area. A great resource to utilise when planning a trip to Dunoon and the area, is the ‘Wild About Argyll’ website.
As of the writing of this article, the COVID-19 crisis means that travel to Scotland is not currently possible. However, as we have said before, Scotland will wait. Therefore, when travel resumes, please be sure to check out the different websites listed throughout this article to help you plan your trip to Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula.
And when you travel to Edinburgh, please be sure to book a Wee Golden Walk with Sami (our human tour guide) and Sawyer (our Golden Retriever tour guide).
Until next time- Explore & Discover!