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This article is about the Scottish Region. For other uses, see Cowal (disambiguation).
Cowal shown within Argyll
Cowal shown within Argyll and Bute
Population 15,560 (2013 Est)[1][2][3][4]
OS grid reference NS 09111 85254
Council area
Lieutenancy area
  • Argyll and Bute
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°01′19″N 5°03′52″W / 56.022059°N 5.0644789°W / 56.022059; -5.0644789Coordinates: 56°01′19″N 5°03′52″W / 56.022059°N 5.0644789°W / 56.022059; -5.0644789

Cowal; (Scottish Gaelic: Còmhghall) is a peninsula in Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland that extends into the Firth of Clyde.

The northern part of the peninsula is covered by the Argyll Forest Park managed by Forestry Commission Scotland.[5] The Arrochar Alps[6] and Ardgoil peninsula in the north fringe the edges of the sea lochs whilst the forest park spreads out across the hillsides and mountain passes, making Cowal one of the remotest areas in the west of Scotland. The Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park extends into Cowal.[7] The peninsula is separated from Kintyre by Loch Fyne, and from Inverclyde and North Ayrshire to the east by the Firth of Clyde.[8] Loch Long and its arm, Loch Goil are to the north-east. The south of the peninsula is split into three forks by Loch Striven and Loch Riddon (Loch Ruel). The Isle of Bute lies to the south separated by the narrow Kyles of Bute which connect the Firth of Clyde to Loch Riddon.

Cowal's only burgh is Dunoon in the south-east,[9] from which ferries sail to Gourock in Inverclyde. Other ferries run from Portavadie in the west to Tarbert in Kintyre, and from Colintraive in the south to Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute.

Much of Cowal was once held by the Lamonts.[10] Later, the Campbells[11] came to be one of the most powerful families in Cowal.

Geography and geology[edit]

The Cowal peninsula is bounded by Loch Fyne on the west and Loch Long and the Firth of Clyde and Holy Loch on the east. It is separated from the Isle of Bute by the deep narrow straits of the Kyles of Bute. The coastline is incised by deep sea lochs such as Loch Riddon and Loch Striven. Its underlying geology is made up largely of resistant metamorphic rocks, but south of the Highland Boundary Fault part of the Toward peninsula is composed of sedimentary rocks. The landscape is mountainous, the high ground dominated by moorland, peat mosses and the forest that often extends down the sides of the sea lochs to the water's edge. The acreage of improved farmland is small. Most land is owned by estates or the Forestry Commission Scotland except in the more settled areas.[12]

The coast is mostly rocky and the few beaches are mostly shingle and gravel except on Loch Fyne[12] : the longest sandy beach is at Ardentinny on Loch Long.[13] The only lowland areas are around the coast where most of the settlement is found, particularly around Dunoon Cowal's largest settlement on the Firth of Clyde.[12] Other settlements include Innellan, Sandbank, Kilmun, Strone, Arrochar, Lochgoilhead, Tighnabruaich, Kames and Strachur.


Military road leading to Rest and be Thankful

The A83 trunk road crosses the northern end of the peninsular passing Arrochar at the head of Loch Long and Cairndow near the head of Loch Fyne. It partly follows or runs parallel to William Caulfield's historic military road that takes its name, Rest and Be Thankful from the stone seat erected at the summit at the head of Glen Croe. As the A83 has been subject to landslips, the old route has been used as a diversionary route.[14] The other A roads are the A815 which links the A83 with Dunoon via Strachur where the A886 leaves it and heads south via Glendaruel to Colintraive where the ferry connects it to the Isle of Bute and the A8003 which links Tighnabruaich to the A886. Other roads are secondary B roads, narrow roads or tracks.

At Colintraive the Caledonian MacBrayne vehicle ferry takes five minutes to cross the 400-yard strait to Rhubodach on Bute.[15] The ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert on Kintyre across Loch Fyne takes 25 minutes.[16] Frequent services operated by Argyll Ferries connect Dunoon to Gourock where they connect with trains to Glasgow Central railway station.[17]


Evidence of early occupation of the area is in the form of cairns or burial mounds. One example is a Bronze Age cairn from between about 2000 BC and 800 BC is situated close to the summit of Creag Evanachan, 195 metres above sea level overlooking Loch Fyne. It is a mound of stones about 20 metres in diameter and up to 2 metres high.[18] Another is the cairn at Dunchraigaig which is 100 feet in diameter and was first excavated in 1864. At the south end a cist contained the deposits of burnt bones from 8 or 10 bodies. A smaller cist in the centre contained a bowl, burnt bone, charcoal and flint chips, and in the clay below them, the remains of a burial. A third even smaller cist also contained a food bowl, burnt bones and flint chips. A whetstone, flint knife, fragments of pottery and a greenstone axe were also found.[19]


The history of the Cowal is tied into the clans who inhabited it. Excavations carried out at Castle MacEwen on the coast of Loch Fyne showed the site had several stages of development, a palisaded enclosure, a promontory fort with a timber rampart and the defenced medieval homestead belonging to Clan Ewen of Otter.[20] Clan Lamont's stronghold was Toward Castle until 1646 when it was overrun by the Campbells who captured it and hanged many members of the clan in what became known as the Dunoon massacre.[21] The remote Carrick Castle was built by the Campbells in the 14th century. James IV used itwhen he was hunting as Cowal was the last part of Britain to have wild boar. The castle was fortified in 1681.[22] Dunoon Castle was built in the 14th century. At different times it was held by Edward II, Robert the Bruce, Edward Balliol and Robert II. James III made the Campbells, the Earls of Argyll its Honorary Keepers.[21]

Military road[edit]

After the Jacobite rising of 1745 when James Francis Edward Stuart attempted to regain the throne, the lack of roads in the Highlands prevented the British army from advancing to quell areas of unrest. General Wade was tasked with implementing a programme to build military roads from north-central Scotland through the Highlands to the forts in the Great Glen. They were constructed by officers and soldiers. William Caulfeild succeeded Wade in 1740 and constructed the road from Dumbarton via Tarbet to Inveraray through the Cowal where it is known as the "Rest and Be Thankful".[23]


In Victorian times tourism began to take hold on the Clyde coast. Steam propulsion started in 1812 and by the end of the 19th century, paddle steamers ferried thousands of Glaswegians doon the watter from Broomielaw in the city centre to holiday resorts including Dunoon on the Cowal.[24]

Sport and culture[edit]

The Cowal Way stretches for over 57 miles through Cowal, from Portavadie on the southeastern shore of Loch Fyne leading to Inveruglas on Loch Lomond, in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.[25]

The Cowal Highland Gathering, the annual highland games, are held annually in Dunoon in August.[26]

Castles on Cowal[edit]

Old Castle Lachlan

Not a full list.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ " - Cowal North". 
  2. ^ " - Cowal South". 
  3. ^ " - Dunoon". 
  4. ^ " - Hunter's Quay". 
  5. ^ "Argyll Forest Park". Forestry Commission Scotland. Retrieved 11 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "Arrochar  » Hillwalking". 
  7. ^
  8. ^, Scottish Government, St. Andrew's House, Regent Road, Edinburgh EH1 3DG Tel:0131 556 8400 (19 June 2012). "Scottish Marine and Freshwater Science Volume 3 Number 3: Clyde Ecosystem Review". 
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  10. ^ "Clan Lamont Society". 
  11. ^ "The Great Scottish Clans - Featured Clans". 
  12. ^ a b c Ritchie 2001, p. 17.
  13. ^ "Ardentinny". Forestry Commission Scotland. Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  14. ^ "A83 Tarbet – Lochgilphead – Kennacraig Trunk Road Study into Potential Emergency Diversion Routes at the Rest and Be Thankful" (pdf). Transport Scotland. p. 27. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  15. ^ "Colintraive - Rhubodach". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  16. ^ "Cowal and Kintyre". Caledonian MacBrayne. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  17. ^ "Gourock - Dunoon". Caledonian MacBrayne. Retrieved 7 March 2017. 
  18. ^ "Creag Evanachan, cairn". Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  19. ^ "Dunchraigaig". Canmore. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  20. ^ "McEwan's Castle". Canmore. Retrieved 15 March 2017. 
  21. ^ a b Miers 2006, p. 82.
  22. ^ Miers 2006, p. 81.
  23. ^ "Military Highland Roads". Engineering Timelines. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  24. ^ Gray 1989, p. 20.
  25. ^ "Scotland's best walking trail". The Cowal Way. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  26. ^ "History of the games 1894". Archived from the original on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 


External links[edit]