Dunoon is the ferry port and only town on the Cowal peninsula, in Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands. It's 30 miles (48 km) from Glasgow yet cut off by Loch Long to the east and Loch Fyne to the west. The peninsula is broken up by the inlets of Loch Goil, Holy Loch and Loch Striven, so the roads have to wind around. A narrow channel separates Cowal from the island of Bute. The area is hilly, containing the "Arrochar Alps" or Argyll Forest, the western portion of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
There are two ferry crossings to Dunoon. By public transport, use the foot-passenger ferry from Gourock, which has frequent trains from Glasgow Central via Paisley, Port Glasgow and Greenock. Calmac ferries sail every 30 min from Gourock to 1 Dunoon ferry pier, taking 25 min, adult single £4.90, return £9.80 (Dec 2019).
By car, follow M8 > A8 > A770 west through Gourock and continue west to McInroy's Point. Western Ferries sail every 20 min (07:00-23:40) to 2 Hunters Quay, at the north end of Dunoon by the mouth of Holy Loch. The crossing takes 20 min, car plus driver is £18 single and £35 return, plus £5 / £10 per adult passenger (Dec 2019). It's cheaper to buy online, but you have to pay £3 for them to post your tickets by snail mail to UK addresses only; they've yet to grasp the concept of internet sales.
Two other roundabout routes to Cowal and Dunoon are the ferry from Tarbert (Loch Fyne) to Portavadie, then follow B8000 / A8003 northeast; and to cross the Isle of Bute (ferries from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, then Rhubodach to Colintrave) and drive north.
The car ferry to Hunters Quay is the quickest way, see above. But you can do it all by road, to create a circular itinerary, or if the weather's rough and the ferry is likely to be cancelled. From Glasgow take M8 west to cross Erskine Bridge, then A82 north past Dumbarton and Loch Lomond to Tarbet, then A83 west over "Rest and Be Thankful" to the A815 turnoff. Follow this south past Strachur and Lock Eck to Dunoon; maybe two hours altogether.
You really need a vehicle or to be a keen cyclist. Buses are sporadic M-Sat and there's nothing on Sunday.
West Coast Bus 486 runs four times from Dunoon north along A815 to Sandhaven, Whistlefield Inn, Strachur, Cairndow and Inveraray. Bus 484 runs twice M-Sa along the same route to Strachur then turns south to Lochgoilhead and Carrick Castle.
Bus 478 runs three times from Dunoon west along the B-roads to Sandbank, Auchenbreck, Tighnabruaich and Kames and Portavadie, which has ferries to Tarbert (Loch Fyne) on Kintyre.
Bus 479 runs across the Isle of Bute from Rothesay to Port Bannatyne and Rhubodach, then onto the ferry for the 5 min crossing to Colintraive, and onward via Auchenbreck and Sandbank to Dunoon. Bus 477 heads west from Colintraive to Portavadie and doesn't serve Dunoon.
Bus 489 follows the coast from Toward to Innellan and Dunoon, and continues north round Holy Loch to Sandbank, Kilmun, Strone and Ardentinny, roughly every couple of hours.
Bus 480 loops hourly between Dunoon, Hunters Quay pier and the holiday village.
Bike hire: Argyll Bike Hire are based at Lochgoilhead but can deliver to Hunters Quay or accommodation in Cowal. They have tourers, off-road bikes and small children's tag-alongs.
- 1 Benmore Botanic Gardens, Uig, Dunoon PA23 8QU (On A815), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily Mar & Oct 10:00-17:00, Apr-Sept 10:00-18:00. 120-acre estate managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, you enter through a towering avenue of 150-year old redwoods. RBGE have placed many of their Chinese and Himalayan collections here, where the climate suits. Wear sturdy shoes. Adult £7.
- 2 Kilmun Arboretum is on the hillside north of Holy Loch: suddenly you're among sequoia, redwoods, Oregon maple and eucalyptus. Deliberately non-native: over 260 species were planted here in 1930 to see what would grow in Scottish conditions, and these are the survivors.
- Castle House Museum, near the ferry pier, is open M-Sa 10:00-16:00, adult £3.
- Castles around Cowal are mostly just scenic stumps, you come for the view. These are
- Dunoon Castle survives only as a hillock above the harbour, though it had artillery emplacements during World War II.
- Hafton Castle by Hunters Quay is a lodge with mock castellations, available for upscale self-catering at £7000 / week.
- 3 Dunans Castle on A886 above Ormidale is a 19th-century baronial "castle" ruined by fire in 2001 and unsafe to enter.
- 4 Old Castle Lachlan on B8000 at Cairndow - the nearby New Castle Lachlan is a baronial pile used for weddings and so on.
- 5 MacEwan Castle is by Kilfinnan, further south on B8000. You'll need to use your imagination with this medieval lump.
- The original Toward Castle 6 miles south of Dunoon is within the grounds of the 19th-century "castle" (serving 1942-46 as HMS Brontosaurus, making it Scotland's only castle to operate as a Royal Navy ship named after a dinosaur). The castle was sold in 2016 to private owners so you cannot visit.
- Carrick Castle below Lochgoilhead is a long way round by road, and it's closed for restoration.
- Walks: Walk Highlands describe routes for 18 good local walks. Easiest and closest to town is Pucks Glen, a short hike through an atmospheric ravine. Beinn Mhòr (741 m / 2431 ft) is the peak west of Lock Eck, a 5-hour hike via Glen Massan. Toughest of all is the 55-mile Loch Lomond & Cowal Way, which takes a week.
- Cycle: agreeable routes are along the coast north round Holy Loch to Strone and Ardentinny; and along Loch Eck and up Glen Massan. The Five Ferries, often done as a charity challenge, is a one day cycle itinerary from Ardrossan, across Arran to Tarbert, then to Portavadie and Colintraive, finally across Bute to Wemyss Bay.
- Treasure Trails: you buy a booklet online for £7, it sets you a murder mystery that takes you walking round Dunoon while solving clues.
- See "Sleep" entry for Hunters Quay Holiday Village.
- Riverside Leisure Centre is on Dunoon promenade 400 yards north of the ferry pier. It has a gym and swimming pool. It's open M-Th 06:30-20:30, F 06:30-19:30, Sa Su 08:00-16:30.
- Cowal Highland Gathering is held at the end of August in Dunoon, with pipe bands, caber-tossing and so on. The next event is 27-29 Aug 2020.
Morrison's on John St is open M-Sa 07:00-22:00, Su 08:00-20:00.
- 51st State & La Cantina is a bar, grill and pizzeria at 200 Argyll St, with occasional live music. It's open daily 10:00-22:30.
- Several fish & chips places, and New Bombay at 72 Argyll St is open daily 16:00-23:00.
- Inver Restaurant is on B8000 facing Old Castle Lachlan. It's open Apr-Oct W-Su 12:00-14:30 & 18:30-20:30; March Th-Su and Nov to mid-Dec F-Su same hours.
- See Inveraray for the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar on A83.
- MacClure's at Ferry Brae just off Argyll Street is a drouthy traditional pub, open M-F 11:00-00:00, Sa 11:00-02:00, Su 12:30-00:00. Hold your nose in the toilets.
- Other bars in Dunoon are The Clansman, Ingram's, the Victoria and the Lorne Dunoon.
- Out of town, The Whistlefield (see "Sleep") is the best for a traditional atmosphere. Or try The Coylet Inn on the same road, which also has rooms and a restaurant, or Strone Inn on the far shore of Holy Loch.
- There are no hostels, but lots of caravan parks allowing camping: the closest to Dunoon is Cot House at the head of Holy Loch, junction of A815 & A880. The Invereck site nearby has closed.
- Hotels are often block-booked for coach tours so you might have more chance with a Bed and Breakfast.
- 1 The Anchorage, Shore Road, Sandbank, Argyll PA23 8QG (On A815 one mile north of Hunter's Quay), ☏ . B&B with great views of Holy Loch and a family-run feel, welcoming & comfy. Open all year. B&B double £95.
- SGE Argyll Hotel, 54 Argyll St, Dunoon PA23 7NE, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Overlooking the pier, decent enough mid-range hotel with 33 rooms. Sometimes noisy from nearby pubs. B&B double £85.
- 2 Whistlefield Inn, Loch Eck PA23 8SG (on main road 15 miles north of Dunoon), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Traditional drovers' inn with rooms and restaurant. B&B double £90.
- Hunters Quay Holiday Village has self-catering lodges and leisure & entertainment facilities. Open all year, min stay 2 nights, dog-friendly. It's half a mile from the ferry pier.
- North to A83, then either west for Inveraray, Oban or Kintyre; or east to Tarbet on Loch Lomond thence Glasgow.
- Reach the Isle of Bute via Colintraive, or Tarbert (Loch Fyne) via Portavadie.