Walking Dun na Cuaiche and the Aray, Inveraray

The panorama of Inveraray, its castle and Loch Fyne is one of the country's loveliest.

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By Ken MacTaggart, Friends of the Argyll Papers

With spring blooming across Argyll, this variant on a popular hill track walk is a great way to see the outburst of changing colours and bird life.

It has tranquil riverside paths, forest glades, a dramatic peak and surprise views at every turn.

A good path leads right to the summit of Dun na Cuaiche, the prehistoric Fort of the Cuckoo, whose descendants still call in the woods every spring.

The panorama of the Royal Burgh of Inveraray, its historic architecture and turreted castle, with the silver ribbon of Loch Fyne snaking towards the distant hills of Cowal, is surely one of Scotland’s best.

Route: from the war memorial on Inveraray’s front green with the classic view of your objective ahead, go through the gate by the porter’s lodge into the castle grounds.  The tourist hordes turn right for the 18th century chateau, but you keep left.

Inveraray’s front green and war memorial offer a handsome start to the walk.

Winterton Park, scene of many a famous shinty clash and the Inveraray Highland Games every July, is soon on your right, backed by various species of giant trees. A grey prehistoric standing stone, erected maybe 4,000 years ago, is in the far corner of the field.

Continue along the road, keeping wooded slopes on your left – a good area to spot fledgling birds in spring – thrushes, finches, linnets and siskins.

You soon pass a grey quadrangle on the right. This is the Cherry Park, former stables and coach house built in 1775.  Now it is home to the Argyll Estate offices and the charters, maps and historic documents of The Argyll Papers.

Next comes a modern building that houses a wood-chip boiler connected by an underground heating pipe to the castle, 400 metres away.

Just beyond, look for a black gate in the drystone wall on your right. Walk down through trees to the River Aray, where this corner is known as the Lady’s Linn, one of the easier fly-fishing pools. Its still waters often provide appealing reflections for a photograph.

Now turn left and follow the river upstream through serene woods, either on the main track or a narrower riverside path with better views.

The Malt Land appears ahead, a historic complex of farm buildings and cottages built as a small industrial centre by the fifth duke of Argyll.

Turn right to cross the bridge over the Aray, with the original ford just alongside. Grey wagtails can be seen on rocks in the river here – despite the name they have a yellow chest, quite different from the black-and-white pied wagtails often found snatching insects off Argyll roads.

A grey wagtail joins Ken to survey the view.

Continue straight on, away from the river, and notice the white doocot tower at Carloonan up the glen on your left, built in 1748.

The path bends right, then you take the left fork uphill through a gate. A track soon curves left across a sloping meadow, up to a gate and into the woods.

This is the old pinetum, a collection of foreign pines and giant sequoia redwoods. Keep right past a ruined lime kiln, where local limestone was burned for building mortar and as fertiliser for agriculture.

Carry on uphill, avoiding all turn-offs. This is the steepest part of the walk, and views soon open out where your path turns sharply back on itself to the right.

Now an easier gradient continues through shady woods to the grassy saddle between Dun na Cuaiche and its taller neighbour, Dun Corr-bhile.

A final zig-zag takes you quickly to the top where a breathtaking panorama unfolds.

Fellow-walker Alastair Gray takes a well-earned rest at the 18th century watchtower.

The square 18th century watchtower is a decorative folly, but the hump on the right is ancient – the collapsed walls of a Pictish fort or dun which once occupied the whole summit.

A faint ridge can be traced around much of the hill-top, leading some to think the hollow inside gave the hill its name from quaich, a shallow drinking bowl.

But the old Gaelic-speaking locals who explained it to the Victorian map-makers knew it was from the cuach, or cuckoo, which nests in the woods below.

Benches offer spectacular views of glens and lochs. Inveraray, the castle and its policies are spread out on the shores of Loch Fyne below you. Distant hills also catch the eye.

Inveraray’s local Munro, the twin-topped Ben Buidhe, is glimpsed to the right of Dun Corr-bhile, the bald hill behind Dun na Cuaiche.

Due east another Munro, Ben Ime, forms the knees of the ‘Sleeping Warrior’, whose tilted face is better known locally as The Old Man’s Head.

The head is actually Beinn an Lochain, whose steep crags overlook Loch Restil at the Rest-and-be-Thankful on the road from Loch Lomond.

Across Loch Fyne the prominent knob on the skyline above Inveraray is Sidhean Sluaigh, the Fairy Knowe. Conical hills like this were thought by the ancient Celts to be hollow and home to the supernatural race who lived below the earth.

To return, re-trace your route to the bottom of the hill and the pinetum, go back over the stile, cross the meadow, and look for a small gate in the stone wall ahead.

This offers a quick return through woodland which is a haze of bluebells in spring.

The foundations of a wartime camp for soldiers training for D-Day lie all around, with little pathways between the former huts.

You soon arrive at the ornate Frew’s Bridge over the River Aray, designed by John Adam in about 1761 and built by Edinburgh stone mason David Frew.

The soft schist stones of its balustrades and parapets are ‘decorated’ by interesting graffiti, some 200 years old.

Continue between beech hedgerows to the castle, whose fascinating interior and gardens are not to be missed.

However, if time is short, you don’t need to buy a tour ticket to enjoy refreshments in the Castle Tearoom, accessed from the moat. A further 10 minutes’ walk takes you back to town.

Useful information: Friends of the Argyll Papers supports the archives of the Argyll Estates and Clan Campbell. Its rich material can be accessed for historical and family history research, by appointment.  Visit: friendsoftheargyllpapers.org.uk

Practical Advice:  Start from the War Memorial on Inveraray’s Front Green. Total distance is about three miles (five kilometres). There are good paths all the way, some tarred, others gravel, and a stiff final ascent up the hill to 800 feet (250m) altitude.  Allow a little over two hours.