A Tour of the Charming Towns and Villages of West Scotland
Travelling by hire car opens up West Scotland for the intrepid road tripper
Dotted throughout Scotland, far removed from its cities and often nestled in the stark beauty of the landscape, are dozens of picture-perfect towns and villages historically neglected or ignored by tourists and commentators. They make for hugely rewarding destinations.Back to destination page
Among these best-kept-seecret spots is tiny Plockton, a village of just 378 residents that’s known as “The Jewel of the Highlands”. Sitting on a sheltered bay overlooking Loch Carron, Plockton’s diminutive size belies what it has to offer. There are coral beaches, wild, sprawling scenery, varied marine life and delicious seafood. Hire a car in Glasgow and it’s a long drive, but one that takes you through Loch Lomond and along the famously scenic A82. It’s ideal for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Helensburgh is closer, and sits between the Clyde, Gare Loch and Loch Lomond. It owes its name to Sir James Colquhoun, or rather his wife, Lady Helen: Colquhoun bought the land and encouraged wealthy merchants to leave the smog of the city for the fresh air of his new town.
The legacy of the Victorian merchants who made Helensburgh their home is clear to see today in the tree-lined streets and handsome architecture, and it remains a dignified and well-heeled destination. Take a lengthy wander inside the 55 acre Duchess Woods, or take a trip out on a kayak: Helensburgh is the final stop on the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail, a 150km-route that begins in Oban and follows the river south.
South of Glasgow, the brightly coloured houses and cafés of Kirkcudbright give the town a Mediterranean feel. Pronounced kir-coo-bree, the town has a vibrant fishing port and is surrounded by outstanding natural beauty. Most of its buildings were built in the 18th century, and the homes behind the harbour have historically housed artists and creatives of all stripes. Its streets contain numberless independent shops, workshops and galleries. It is no surprise that Kirkcudbright is sometimes called “The Artist’s Town” – it still contains a thriving community of painters and craftworkers.
The hamlet of Durisdeer
It isn’t far from Kirkcudbright to Durisdeer, a hamlet found at the base of the Lowther Hills. It’s something of an undiscovered treasure, in part because two narrow roads which end in the village itself are the only points of access. A Roman road once passed through Durisdeer, and the small fort in the north-east is spectacularly well-preserved: both the defensive ditch and the rampart are still clearly visible. The hamlet is known primarily for its church, which has stood on the same sight since medieval times, but its charming cottages and farmhouses give visitors the sense that they have stumbled upon a place lost in time, muffled from the outside world by the gorgeous green hills and woodlands that surround it.
Killin is not much bigger than Durisdeer but it offers something quite different. Lying almost directly north of Glasgow at the western end of Loch Tay in Stirling, it is home to the famous white waters of the Falls of Dochart, which run directly through the village and can be crossed by a narrow, multi-arched stone bridge. Visitors are more common here, and there are numerous pubs and B&Bs. There is also a church that dates back to 1744, but the font that it houses is said to date back even further, to the early Christian era. Its close proximity to other picturesque villages including Kenmore and Fortingall, and its view of the Tarmachan Ridge towering over it, make Killin a special holiday destination.
Each to his own
The towns and villages of the western parts of Scotland show the country in a different light. Each has an identity of its own, in many cases one that has been forged in isolation over hundreds of years of history. When you feel like a change from the bustle of cosmopolitan Glasgow, hire a car, set off and explore these charming, friendly and highly original parts of Scotland.