Cowal, between Loch Fyne and Loch Long is gorgeous and great country for a hike and bike, particularly if the cycle tour is extended across to Kintyre. Cowal has pretty valleys, history, Corbetts which looked great once the rain had gone and sound forest roads where a cyclist can escape from traffic. Sadly, Cowal is not an ideal location for backpacking along an eponymous Way. Of the 57 miles between Portavadie and Inveruglass, half offer surfaces my feet found very hard. You might not guess this from the website, which distinguishes between roads, forest roads and farm tracks.
i’d be the first to admit that the short stretches between the road sections, one tidal, are first rate but the main and most valid reason for hiking the Cowal Way is that it links the Kintyre Way with the West Highland Way. So, if you are on Cameron McNeish’s Western Way from Galloway to Oban or attempting a line from Kintyre to Cape Wrath, as I am, the Cowal Way is very useful.
The first faded marker at Portavadie lets a through hiker know that this is going to be a very different experience from the Kintyre Way. The Kintyre Way has received significant investment. By contrast, the Cowal Way seems to have been marked out by one bloke doing his best. Its waymarking seems to have gone through three phases with plastic tied to bamboo canes being the most recent. I recommend printing out the website notes for at least the first two stages and bringing the notes along as, again, the OS misses major, well-established features, including a lochan. Walkers need to stay sharp, if only to avoid a skyte in the slop near Asgog Loch.
I was told that a warden has been appointed and £125,000 set aside for upgrades. That could all be spent between Derybruich and Cotts with nearly the same again being needed between Millhouse and Blair’s Ferry. I hope the warden never improves the section between Caladh Farm and Ormidale Lodge, which is rocky, rooty, muddy fun. Pelvetia canaliculata was underfoot at times so I would have been distinctly damp if passing through the boulder squeeze at high tide.
As with Kintyre, I found accommodation gems. The Tighnabruiach Hotel may look imposing from the outside but provides a great welcome. I had hiked the last leg of the Kintyre Way and the first of the Cowal Way when I arrived at 7.30pm so was very pleased to be put into a good room with en-suite for a reasonable price. The full Scottish breakfast was not small and may have been the reason why I managed only the short, second stage to Glendaruel campsite after leaving. This campsite was the second gem. Lovely lawns to camp on and pitches either in the sun or behind shelter, as required, but best of all was the welcome. Kintyre residents had been friendly and helpful. Cowal was just the same.
I chose not to finish at Inveruglass. All of the transport options are better at Tarbet. Walking straight on to the Inversnaid ferry after a lovely walk through woods with new leaves on the oaks and birches as well as a carpet of bluebells vindicated my decision.