Coordinates: 56°01′19″N 5°03′52″W / 56.022059°N 5.0644789°W / 56.022059; -5.0644789
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cowal shown within Argyll
Location within Argyll and Bute
Population15,560 (2013 est.)[1][2][3][4]
OS grid referenceNS 09111 85254
Council area
Lieutenancy area
  • Argyll and Bute
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°01′19″N 5°03′52″W / 56.022059°N 5.0644789°W / 56.022059; -5.0644789

Cowal (Scottish Gaelic: Comhghall)[5] is a rugged peninsula in Argyll and Bute, on the west coast of Scotland. It is bounded on the west by Loch Fyne and on the east by Loch Long and the Firth of Clyde. The Kyles of Bute separate it from Bute to the south.

The northern part of the peninsula is covered by Argyll Forest Park[6] and also includes the Arrochar Alps. In the south, the peninsula is divided into three forks by Loch Striven and Loch Riddon.

Cowal's only burgh is Dunoon in the south-east,[7] 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 Bute.

Much of Cowal was once held by the Lamont clan.[8] Later, the Campbells came to be one of the most powerful families in Cowal.[9]

Geography and geology[edit]

View of northern Cowal from the far side of Loch Long, showing the mouth of Loch Goil

Cowal's 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 and Land Scotland except in the more settled areas.[10]

The coast is mostly rocky and the few beaches are mostly shingle and gravel except on Loch Fyne:[10] the longest sandy beach is at Ardentinny on Loch Long.[11] 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.[10] 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.[12] 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 (370-metre) strait to Rhubodach on Bute.[13] The ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert on Kintyre across Loch Fyne takes 25 minutes.[14] A passenger-only service operated by Caledonian MacBrayne connects Dunoon to Gourock in Inverclyde where there is easy access the ScotRail train service to Glasgow Central railway station.[15][16] Western Ferries operates a high-frequency vehicle carrying service between Hunters Quay, near Dunoon, and McInroy's Point, on the outskirts of Gourock in Inverclyde.[17]

National Cycle Route 75[edit]

The NCR75 links Dunoon and Portavadie on Cowal. The NRC75 route originates at Edinburgh and Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula.[18] The National Cycle Network is maintained by sustrans.[19]

Route across Cowal, traveling from east to west. After catching the ferry from Gourock to cross the upper Firth of Clyde to Dunoon. The route continues along the Cowal peninsula coast, passing the Holy Loch and Sandbank. Then travels through Glen Lean to the head of Loch Striven at Ardtaraig. Then passes the Kyles of Bute passing through Tighnabruaich, to Portavadie. From where another ferry crosses Loch Fyne, connecting the route onto the Kintyre peninsula at Tarbert. On the Kintyre peninsula you can join the National Cycle Route 78 (The Caledonia Way).[20]

Dunoon | Sandbank | Loch Striven | Kyles of Bute | Tighnabruaich | Kames | Millhouse | Portavadie


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 (640 ft) above sea level overlooking Loch Fyne. It is a mound of stones about 20 metres (66 ft) in diameter and up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) high.[21] Another is the cairn at Dunchraigaig which is 195 feet (59 m) in diameter and was first excavated in 1864. At the south end a cist contained the deposits of burnt bones from eight or ten 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.[22]

Argyle (Argyll)[edit]

When the Irish invaded the region, it became part of their kingdom of Dal Riata. The Cenél Comgaill, a kin group within Dal Riata, controlled the Cowal peninsula, which consequently took their name (evolving over time from Comgaill to Cowal). Prior to this, little is known, except as revealed archaeologically, though the region may have been part of the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu.

Following a subsequent invasion by Norsemen, the Hebridean islands of Dal Riata became the Kingdom of the Isles, which following Norwegian unification became part of Norway, as Suðreyjar (historically anglicised as Sodor). The remaining parts of Dal Riata attracted the name Argyle (later Argyll), in reference to their ethnicity. In an unclear manner, the kingdom of Alba was founded elsewhere by groups originating from Argyll, and expanded to include Argyll itself.

However, an 11th-century Norse military campaign led to the formal transfer of Lorn, Islay, Kintyre, Knapdale, Bute, and Arran, to Suðreyjar. This left Alba with no part of Argyll except Cowal, and the land between Loch Awe and Loch Fyne. After Alba united with Moray, over the course of the century, it became Scotland. In 1326, a sheriff was appointed for the Scottish parts of Argyll.

Although, following the Treaty of Perth, Suðreyjar's successor state, the Lordship of the Isles, fell under the nominal authority of the Scottish king, it was not until 1475 that it was merged with Scotland (the occasion being the punishment of its ruler for an anti-Scottish conspiracy). The sheriffdom of Argyll was expanded to include the adjacent mainland areas from the Lordship. Following local government reforms in the 19th century, the traditional provinces were formally abolished, in favour of counties aligned with sheriffdoms, so Cowal became merely a part of the county of Argyll.

Clans and castles[edit]

Castle Lachlan

The history of the Cowal is tied into the clans who inhabited it. Seemingly, in the 11th century, an unidentified heiress of the Cenel Comgaill married Anrothan, grandson of the king of the Cenél nEógain, from Ulster. Clan traditions argue that Anrothan's lands were passed down to a descendant named Aodha Alainn O'Neil, who had the following sons:

Excavations carried out at Castle MacEwen showed the site had several stages of development before it was the defended medieval homestead of the MacEwens; at first there was a palisaded enclosure, and then a promontory fort with a timber rampart.[23]

Carrick Castle

The remote areas in the north east of Cowal, which were theoretically under the dominion of Clan Lamont, were used by Scottish kings for hunting; indeed, Cowal was the last part of Britain to have wild boar. When King John Balliol was threatened by his rival, Robert de Bruys, Balliol's ally, the king of England, established Henry Percy at Carrick Castle, in the region; likewise Dunoon Castle further south. De Bruys expelled the English from Cowal, with the aid of the Campbells (who were based nearby at Loch Awe), and eventually defeated Balliol. De Bruy's son gave Carrick Castle to the Campbells, while, after spending some time as a direct Royal possession, Dunoon Castle was handed to them by James III, who made the Campbells its Honorary Keepers.[24]

The remains of Toward Castle

During the civil war between Royalists and Puritans, the Campbells had sided with the Puritans, so following their defeat at the Battle of Inverlochy, Clan Lamont took the opportunity to push back the borders of Campbell control. Predictably, in 1646, the Campbells took revenge, and overran Toward Castle; after being offered hospitability, the Campbells slaughtered the Lamont occupants in their beds. Despite the chief of the Lamonts surrendering, the Campbells hanged many members of Clan Lamont, in what became known as the Dunoon massacre.[24]

By contrast, the next chief of the Campbells, the son of the former chief, was a Royalist, so after the restoration of Royalist rule, the Campbells were not ultimately dispossessed of their gains. However, after James VII came to the Scottish throne, the Campbells revolted, and the chief was executed, but his son, the new chief, took part in the successful expulsion of James VII, so the Campbells once again ultimately retained their lands.

Military road[edit]

After the Jacobite rising of 1715 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".[25]


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.[26]

Sport and culture[edit]

The Loch Lomond and Cowal Way stretches for over 57 miles (92 kilometres) 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.[27]

The Cowal Highland Gathering, the annual highland games, are held annually in Dunoon stadium on the last Friday/Saturday of August.[28]


Old Castle Lachlan

Country estates[edit]

Benmore House

See also[edit]


  1. ^ " | Cowal North".
  2. ^ " | Cowal South".
  3. ^ " | Dunoon".
  4. ^ " | Hunter's Quay".
  5. ^ "Cowal". Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba: Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland. Retrieved 5 September 2023.
  6. ^ "Argyll Forest Park". Forestry Commission Scotland. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  7. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Clan Lamont Society".
  9. ^ "The Great Scottish Clans - Featured Clans".
  10. ^ a b c Ritchie 2001, p. 17.
  11. ^ "Ardentinny". Forestry Commission Scotland. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ "Colintraive - Rhubodach". CalMac Rhubodach.
  14. ^ "Cowal and Kintyre". CalMac Portavadie.
  15. ^ "Gourock - Dunoon". Caledonian MacBrayne.
  16. ^ "Scotrail Gourock". Scotrail Gourock.
  17. ^ "Western Ferries (Clyde) Ltd". Western Ferries. Retrieved 5 June 2023.
  18. ^ "National Cycle Network routes in Glasgow and the West". Sustrans.
  19. ^ "About us". Sustrans.
  20. ^ "National Cycle Network routes in Argyll & Bute and Highland". Sustrans.
  21. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Creag Evanachan, cairn (SM3408)". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  22. ^ "Dunchraigaig". Canmore. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  23. ^ "McEwan's Castle". Canmore. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  24. ^ a b Miers 2006, p. 82.
  25. ^ "Military Highland Roads". Engineering Timelines. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  26. ^ Gray 1989, p. 20.
  27. ^ "Scotland's best walking trail". The Cowal Way. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  28. ^ "History of the games 1894". Archived from the original on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  29. ^ "Castle Asgog, | Canmore".
  30. ^ "Auchenbreck Castle | Canmore".
  31. ^ "Carrick Castle | Canmore".
  32. ^ "DunansCastle.Scot – Help Restore a Highland Castle, One Red Box at a Time".
  33. ^ "Dunoon Castle | Canmore".
  34. ^ "Knockamillie Castle (SM4617)".
  35. ^ "Our Castle's Story". Old Castle Lachlan, Scotland.
  36. ^ "Kilfinan, Macewan's Castle | Canmore".
  37. ^ "Toward Castle | The Castles of Scotland, Coventry | Goblinshead".
  38. ^ "Ardkinglas House | Canmore".
  39. ^ "Benmore - Forestry and Land Scotland".
  40. ^ "Glendaruel House | ScotlandsPlaces".
  42. ^ "Secret Scotland - Glenfinart House".
  43. ^ "Knockdow House | Canmore".


External links[edit]