In Columba’s Footsteps, Kintyre

Grade: Easy coastal walk

Distance: 2.8 miles/4.5km

Time: 2 hours

IT’S a long and winding road to the Mull of Kintyre. Paul McCartney thought so too, and just as he and his wife Linda were inspired by the mist rolling in from the sea and the sunsets on fire, many others are also discovering what this comparatively remote part of Scotland has to offer.


The village of Southend lies at the very foot of the Kintyre Peninsula and is definitely worth a visit, not only for its views across the sea to Ulster but for its historical attractions. It’s here that St Columba landed from Ireland to bring Christianity to Scotland, before journeying north to set up his monastery on the island of Iona, but first you’ll pass the Keil Caves, which offer a different kind of visitor attraction. Excavations suggest that humans lived here from prehistoric times. Sea-shell middens have been found nearby and the 1881 local census reveals that caves were home to a tinsmith called John McFee, his wife Margaret and their son Andrew. Next door, or next cave, lived his cousin Alex McCallum, wife Mary and daughter Bella.

One of the caves is called the Piper’s Cave and legend has it that a piper vanished here one night and his ghost can occasionally still be heard playing a sad pibroch.

A little further along the coast an ancient chapel and graveyard commemorates the spot where St Columba landed in Scotland. The graveyard is overlooked by a small knoll and a rocky outcrop. On a stone slab at the top of the knoll you’ll see a set of footprints, traditionally those of the saint. It’s not uncommon to find such prints set in stone, particularly in Celtic regions, and they are usually associated with crowning ceremonies. A major fortress of the ancient kingdom of Dalriada existed at nearby Dunaverty in the 6th century so it’s likely one of the footprints was associated with that. The history of the second footprint is more prosaic.

The National:

Apparently in 1856, a local stonemason, Daniel McIlreavie, carved out the second footprint, just to help the legend grow. He also carved a date between the two prints – 564, but he got that wrong. It’s generally believed Columba landed here in 563, at the beginning of his lifelong exile from Ireland. Below the knoll is St Columba’s Well, a rocky bowl that has been carved from the slope where water collects from a spring, most likely another Victorian attempt at furthering the local tourism opportunities.

If the tide is out you can follow the rocky foreshore, the route of the Kintyre Way, east to the sands of Dunaverty Bay. If the tide is in, just follow the road to the edge of the caravan site where steps give access to the beach. Follow the beach eastwards to an odd looking hill at the far end. This is Dunaverty Rock , once the site of a castle that legend claims was visited at various times by King Haakon of Norway, Robert the Bruce and King James IV.

In 1647 a stand-off between loyalist forces and a covenanting army under the command of General David Leslie led to the deaths of 300 loyalist soldiers, who had surrendered to Leslie’s siege. Today there is nothing left of the castle but take care if you elect to climb to the summit. It is very steep and the path is badly eroded.

From Dunaverty you can reach the main village from the golf course or simply return to the Keil car park along the road.

Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 68 (South Kintyre & Campbeltown) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 356 (Kintryre South)
Distance: 2.8 miles/4.5km
Time: 2 hours
Start/Finish: Keil Point car park (GR: NR 670078)
Transport: West Coast Motors service 444 runs from Campbeltown to Southend. Details from
Information: Campbeltown TIC, 01586 552056,
Refreshments: None on route. Good choice in Campbeltown.

The National:

Route: Leave the car park and head E along the road. The Keil caves are on your L. Once past the caves a gate gives access to St Columba’s footprints. Beyond, another gate gives access to the ruins of the chapel and the graveyard. If the tide is out you can follow the rocky foreshore (if not stick to the road) towards Dunaverty Bay. Follow the bay E and then S to climb up from the shore to reach a road and a sign for the Kintyre Way. Turn R, go through a gate and past the house and cross a concrete wall to reach a rough path that climbs steeply to the top of Dunaverty Rock. Return to the house and follow your outward route back to Keil car park.

Link to digital map: © Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 059/20.