A guide to Tighnabruaich, Kames, Portvadie, Polpahil, the Kyles of Bute and surrounding areas of the Cowal Peninsula.

The Kyles of Bute, sometimes knows as Argyll's Secret Coast, is the passage between the charming Scottish villages of Tighnabruaich and Kames on the the mainland of Argyll, and the north end of the Isle of Bute in the Firth of Clyde. Dubbed "Secret Coast", because unless you are specifically heading this way, you are unlikely to run into this remarkably beautiful part of the world. At their widest less than two miles across, the Kyles narrow to just a few hundred yards at Rubha Ban (pronounced roo-baan).

Tighnabruaich is a Gaelic name, an adaption of "Taigh na Bruaich" meaning "the house on the hill". Aptly named, as the steep hills rising above the shoreline have many "houses on the hill". Whether you are approaching by road, driving along the narrow and twisty A8003 road chiseled and blasted out of the hillside in the late 1960s, or sailing up the Kyles, you are met with spectacular views. There are several lay-bys with viewpoints along the road, and on a clear day there are great views of Bute, Arran and the Ayrshire coast. You might also encounter the occasional sheep lying on the road! An article in the Scotsman sums it up...

"THE 10 miles drive to Tighnabruaich from Glendaruel, on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll is not just a passage from one sublime spot to another but is a destination in itself. It helps that to get to it by road from Glasgow, you take in Loch Lomond, Loch Fyne and the Rest and Be Thankful Pass, all beautiful in their own right. But the gob smacking highlight is the A8003, running down the western Kyle of Bute." read more
View from AuchenlochanApproximately 80 miles from Glasgow by road, Tighnabruaich and the neighboring village of Kames offer a tranquil getaway for sailors, fishermen and folks who just want to enjoy the view. There are several small hotels with restaurants, B&Bs, several pubs, several shops, a Post Office, petrol station (closed weekends), several cafes, a bustling boatyard, a primary school, a hilly 9 hole golf course with sheep wandering across it, and a fish farm or two, and a marina just a few miles away on Loch Fyne.

Getting there: If you are driving to the Kyles of Bute from Glasgow, the A82 up scenic Loch Lomond and past Arrochar at the head of Loch Long is about 2 hours and 85 miles from Glasgow. However, with the Rest and Be Thankful plagued by landslides and road construction, alternative ways to get to Tighnabruaich from the Glasgow area by car include taking Western Ferries from Gourock to Hunter's Quay by Dunoon, taking the B836 and then A8003. Or if you are coming from the south coast, take the CalMac car ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, drive north 20 minutes and take the short crossing on the Rhubodach ferry to Colintraive, and take the A886 to A8003.

If you are driving down the west side of Loch Fyne, or from Oban or the Mull of Kintyre, or coming over from Arran via the Lochranza to Claonaig ferry (summer only), you can take the CalMac ferry from Tarbert to Portavadie. Do check the ferry status as weather can cause cancellations. In the event of problems you can drive around the north end of Loch Fyne through the lovely town of Inverary, and past Strachur to get to Tighnabruaich.

A 2023 article by Chris Haslam in the Sunday Times Travel section recently mentioned Kilbride Bay (also known as Ostel Bay), a few mintes drive from Tighnabruaich, in their 2023 50 Best Beaches article.

"It's a lovely walk down to the beach along a narrow lane, over a stream and into the sandy heath, arriving at the beach over several low sand dunes," writes Margaret Avery from West Yorkshire. "You arrive at a fabulous white sand beach overlooking the Isle of Arran and the Sound of Kintyre. When the tide is out you can paddle in the clear, warm waters over the ridged sand with long pools of safe water. When the tide rises you can swim or walk the length of the beach to the river flowing into the bay. The beach is remote enough to be quiet with room for everyone to enjoy." I've been, and I've checked, and I can confirm that Avery's description of this half-mile of south-facing sand - with its tide line of sea shells, and Arran like a postcard nine miles across the Sound of Bute - is spot-on. And check out the Bothy at Kilbride Farm - a cafe a mile inland that was closed when I visited just after sunrise, but is highly spoken of in these parts. Cafe, dog-friendly.

Where to stay?

The villages of Tighnabruaich and Kames offer a number of hotels and B&B acomodations. Hotels including the Royal Hotel (currently closed as of October 8th 2023), Kames Hotel and Tighnabruaich Hotel, along with various B&Bs and other accomodations in the area are listed on this page.

Sailing The Kyles

The Kyles of Bute are synonymous with sailing in Scotland. Tighnabruiach and Kames are popular weekend crusing destinations, and as stop overs on the way north to the West Highlands via the Crinan Canal. Sailors have many sheltered anchorages to choose from, both on the Bute side and along the mainland. Among my favorites is Caladh Harbor at the top of the Narrows, where you can nestle in a tranquil spot behind a small island. Closer to civilization, there are free moorings and boat ramps at Tighnabruaich village, and at the Royal Hotel by the now dismantled Auchenlochan Pier, where the petrol station is located. You will also find moorings by Kames Pier, just below the Kames Hotel. The Kyles of Bute Sailing Club (KoBSC) is a small but active sailing club, organizing racing and childrens activities. And Tignabruaich Sailing School (now located at Carry Farm, a few miles south of Kames village) offers an outstanding environment where you can learn dinghy sailing and wind surfing. They also have a camping area and accommodation and a coffee shop and art gallery. My first experience of sailing was at the sailing school, learning in such craft as the Loch Long, Wayfarer, Enterprise and GP14. Today's fleet is much more modern, with Laser Picos and other dinghies, though the Wayfarer still has a place, 30+ years on! A recent addition to ways to get on the water is the Kyles Coastal Rowing Club, which offers a tranquil way to enjoy the Kyles in their rowing skiffs.

Portavadie Marina

In 2010 Portavadie Marina opened, giving sailors a fabulous new option. Over the hill from Tighnabruaich on Loch Fyne, across the loch from Tarbert. Built on the site of a 1970s oil-rig construction yard which never opened, the giant "hole in the ground" built with a £14 million government subsidy, has finally been turned into something useful! In addition to being a full service marina, Portavadie has a camping area, an upscale spa with indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs with spectacular views, a restaurant and hotel, making it a great destination for sailors and landlubbers. The "ghost-village" turned graffiti haven at Polphail by Portavadie, which was to have housed the oil rig workers was finally demolished in 2016, with plans for development of a distillery and other ventures.

Photo courtesy Catherine McEwan
While road is the normal way to get to Tighnabruaich, the Waverley paddle steamer stops at Tighnabruaich pier. Tighnabruaich has been featured in Para Handy's Vital Spark. The TV series is available on Amazon Prime. With a CalMac car ferry connection from Portavadie to Tarbert on the Mull of Kintyre, Tighnabruaich is no longer a "dead end". You can hop over on the ferry to the Mull of Kintyre, to Crinan, Inverary, Tarbert, Carradale and Campbeltown.

Rainbow over Kyles
Rainbow over the Kyles, May 2016 Photo courtesy Jane Taylor

Vicky Wilkinson BW Kyles
Photo courtesy Vicky Wilkinson on Flickr

Some photos from RNLI Lifeboat Day at Tighnabruaich, July 2015

My connection to the Kyles

I first came to Tighnabruaich in the early 70s with my parents to visit my step-father's partner who had retired there. Around that time they started blasting the "New Road" out of the hillside; before then, the only way to get to Tighnabruaich by road was the long way - down from Strachur, along Loch Fyne, across Ardlamont to Kames. It was virtually all single track with passing places. The sheep that wander or sleep in the middle of the road add additional excitement. And then there is the occasional deer ... Dad fell in love with the place, and a few years later acquired shorefront property near Auchenlochan Pier and built a bungalow. He named the house "Dumbiedykes" as he was a big fan of Sir Walter Scott's writing. An enthusiastic gardener, he worked hard to make his garden interesting. The original bungalow was torn down when it was 18 years old — defects during the original construction were discovered which caused extensive dampness and wood rot in the floor. After a lot of legal wrangling with the builder, a new bungalow, an almost exact replica, was constructed in 1992, and today commands wonderful views over to Bute and the hills above Colintraive. My sister now owns the house and is lucky enough to live there full-time.

On a recent visit to Tighnabruaich, we visited the Isle of Arran, the Crinan Canal and other favorite haunts and had a wonderful holiday. We had a great dinner at the Portavadie Marina restaurant, I had a swim in the indoor and outdoor pools, and took a boat trip over to Tarbert. It was great to be home.

March 2023 - The Sunday Times just ranked Tighnabruaich as one of the best places to live in Scotland.

This is a place for those who want to commune with nature but not live in complete isolation...

"Once a holiday home hotspot for wealthy merchants and shipping magnates from Glasgow, Tighnabruaich's natural appeal was clear to many long before the present crop of entrepreneurs. The Victorian period villas are now home to business owners, families and the retired who love that you can see the Kyles of Bute from their windows. ... said one resident "I can go to the theatre in Glasgow and be home by midnight but I can also get up and go and swim with the seals in the morning." ... As for community groups serving the 600-strong population, there are too many to mention. Country dancers meet on Wednesday nights, walkers meet on Thursdays, children are taught to sail on Fridays, those with allotments sell their produce in the summer, and there's also drama, art, Gaelic groups and a cinema group that meets at the nearby village of Colintraive, as well as a profusion of sports clubs (rowing, shinty, badminton). The two community halls are rarely empty...

Requires subscription to read full Times article.

Iain Banks has said the road from Sandbank to Tighnabruaich "is one of best wee roads in Scotland", and Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear presenter rates the route between Colintraive and Tighnabruaich as among his best driving experiences.

Kirsty McLuckie from the Scotsman described the views from the road as "gob smacking!


I took a trip to Scotland's secret coast - and found a quiet haven roaring back to life

February 2022, nice article about Argyll's Secret Coast published in the Guardian. Read more.

Safe Return The story of Jock Hamilton's Transatlantic attempt in his yacht Freya, subsequent dismasting and tenacious use of a jury rig to make it back to his home port of Tighnabruaich, is told in the February 2022 issue of Yachting Monthly.more

The Ark 2021 - An imposing wooden "ark" has been built as part of The Impossible Rebellion to protest the continued use of fossil fuels. more

New Dinghy Pontoon

A new dinghy and tender pontoon welcomes visiting sailors to the village. At almost 100m long, the new pontoon, situated next to the RNLI building, allows access to the centre of the village with all its amenities and shops at all states of the tide. (Free, donations welcomed).

Get on the water, enjoy the view from the sea with the Kyles Coastal Rowing Club. More info here .

Rare Phenomenon Over Tighnabruaich Quadruple rainbow photographed by Tighnabruaich resident


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It was at Tighnabruaich Sailing School that I learned to sail as a teenager. The school, run by the late Robin Stevens and his wife Kath and their team of enthusiatic instructors, operated using Wayfarer, Enterprise, GP14, and National 12 dinghies as well as the classic Loch Long. Nowadays, under new management and loacted a little south at Carry Farm on the shore, their fleet includes Laser Picos which are great for both young and old. I enjoyed crewing and racing on dinghies and yachts around the Kyles. There were always retired folks looking for young and more agile crewmembers to crew in the local races!

Whether waking up with the sun streaming across the morning calm, hearing the waves lapping at the shore, sitting out and admiring the boats passing through, or being out on the water kayaking, rowing or sailing, it's a very special and beautiful place. Though I now live several thousand miles away in Florida, home of the hurricanes, Tighnabruaich remains one of my favorite places and I come to visit as often as I can. (Believe me, midges are nothing compared to Florida mosquitoes and hurricanes!) This site is dedicated to the memory of my dear departed Dad, Dr. Matthew Hamilton, a "well kent GP of the King Street Surgery, Paisley." He always said "It never rains at Tighnabruaich". Which was his way of saying that there is never a bad day to be beside the Kyles.

Doug Noble
The Webmaster

Four Winds B&B
The spectacular view of Tighnabruaich village, the Kyles, Bute and Colintraive hills
from the Four Winds B&B, Kames  Courtesy, Catherine Irving

Bute on a still New Year's morning. With permission, courtesy Robert McTaggart on Flickr

View of the West Kyle looking south, from the road into Tighnabruaich.
On the left is Bute, and the mountains of Arran are visible in the distance.

View of the East Kyle looking south, from the road above Caladh Harbour.
On the left shore is Colintraive, on the right is Bute.

View of the Kyles and the former Auchenlochan Pier (now dismantled), looking over to Bute from the shore below Dumbiedykes.

A YouTube movie about Tighnabruaich and surrounds, created by Sean Montague
(You need to go to the top of the page (in the heather image under the button bar) and turn the music off first to listen to the video without disturbance.)

Google Earth view of the Kyles of Bute
A different perspective - view of the Kyles from Google Earth. Click image for a closer look.

Click Map above for more information and driving directions from Open Street Map

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Last updated May 23, 2023. All photos copyright KylesofBute.com unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.