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The northern part of Cowal is mostly the mountainous Argyll Forest Park managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Cowal is separated from the Kintyre peninsula to the west by Loch Fyne, and from Inverclyde and North Ayrshire to the east by the Firth of Clyde. The sea lochs Loch Long and Loch Goil lie to the north-east, and the south of the peninsula is split into three forks by two further sea lochs, Loch Striven and to its west Loch Riddon. The Isle of Bute lies to the south of Cowal, separated from the peninsula by the narrow Kyles of Bute which connect the Clyde to Loch Riddon.
Much of Cowal appears to have been once held by the Lamonts. By the thirteenth century, the Stewarts were the most dominant rulers of the region. Later, the Campbells came to be one of the most powerful families in Cowal.
Cowal's only burgh is Dunoon in the south-east, 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.
The Arrochar Alps and Ardgoil peninsula in the north fringe the edges of the sea lochs whilst the Argyll Forest Park spreads out across the hillsides and mountain passes in the north part of Cowal, making this one of the remotest areas in the west of Scotland.
The towns and villages in Cowal are:
- in the south-east part facing the Lowlands at Inverclyde: Innellan, Toward, Castle Toward, Dunoon, Hunters Quay, Sandbank, Kilmun, Strone, Ardentinny, Blairmore
- in the north of Cowal in the Arrochar Alps: Carrick Castle, Lochgoilhead, Ardgartan, Arrochar, Rest and be thankful, Succoth, Tarbet, Inverglas, Ardlui, Cairndow, St Catherines
- on the eastern shore of Loch Fyne facing Mid-Argyll and Kintyre: Creggans, Strachur, Old Castle Lachlan, Otter Ferry, Kilfinan, Portavadie
- on the Kyles of Bute: Kames, Tighnabruaich, Colintraive; from the Kyles of Bute, Ormidale leads into Glendaruel
- leaving the Holy Loch westwards brings one to Clachaig, Glean Lean, and the Tarsan Dam leading down to Ardtaraig at Loch Striven
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