Explore Scotland’s coastal nature at its finest! The newly launched Above & Below Trails through Argyll highlight the perfect spots for a swim, to snorkel, to watch a sunset, explore some rock pools on a beach or observe the dark night skies. Let’s take a journey to the coast!

This article was commissioned by Wild About Argyll to highlight the Above & Below Trails.
This innovative green recovery initiative was fully funded by NatureScot.

This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here. All opinions are my own.

Argyll is a paradise for coastal adventure. Well over 2,000 miles of coastline offer countless sheltered bays, scenic sea lochs, rapid-moving sounds and picturesque sea views – all of which form the perfect environment for visitors to enjoy different coastal landscapes, but also plenty of habitat for marine species below the surface.

And that’s what Above & Below is all about!

Above & Below is a green recovery initiative by Nature Scot and has been piloted in Argyll. It is all about slowing down and immersing your senses in nature in order to better appreciate what lies above and below Scotland’s infamous terrestrial scenery. 

Above & Below consists of five nature-based trails across the coast of Argyll. They feature top locations for wild swimming, snorkelling, beach hunting (more on that below), sunset watching and dark sky observation.

Each of the trails is self-led, so it’s entirely up to you if you want to pick a theme and visit all those sites, or pick an area and explore a variety of activities.

In this article I’ll tell you a little more about each of the five trails and what makes them so special.

But first, let’s talk about Argyll – why is Argyll such a great place to visit to explore Scotland’s coastal nature at its finest?

snorkellers in scotland
image by Markus Stitz

Why Argyll?

Scotland is surrounded by internationally significant waters. They are important fisheries for migrating mammals and birds, and offer shelter and nesting spots to countless species throughout the seasons. And the coastline of Argyll plays a particularly important role in this.

The rugged coast of Argyll is covered by multiple international designations, from marine protected areas to sites of special conservation. Because of its many islands and sea lochs, it offers a great variety of habitats above and below the surface on a relatively small footprint. This translates to an exceptional biodiversity of species and an abundance of potential nature encounters for visitors.

The waters of Argyll and the Isles have also been declared a Mission Blue Hope Spot, the first in Scotland and on the UK mainland. If you’re not familiar with Hope Spots, turn on Netflix and watch the documentary Mission Blue. It’s a film about the iconic oceanographer Sylvia Earle and her efforts to raise awareness for the status of the world’s oceans.

Hope Spots are locations of global significance; places with an exceptional marine environment that need our continued protection. But Hope Spots also show what’s possible when the oceans are given the chance to restore themselves and local communities take a lead. Other Hope Spots are the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands.

The fact that the waters of Argyll and the Isles are on the same level of biodiversity and importance for our oceans is mind-boggling.

The Above & Below Trails give you the chance to see some of these beautiful landscapes for yourself, whether you immerse yourself in the water, or stick to exploring from dry ground.

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Responsible Tourism

A brief word on nature tourism, responsible travel and my role as a content creator.

There’s no doubt that people think of Scotland in terms of its stunning scenery – the mountains of the Highlands, the dramatic coastline, the sprawling isles. Scotland wouldn’t be the same without them.

At the same time, it can be difficult to promote pristine natural places out of fear that they will be overrun, or visitors don’t properly take care of them. More than once have I been asked not to disclose a certain location too publicly…

The Above & Below Trails encourage responsible nature-based tourism. It’s about enjoying the natural landscapes to the fullest, without having any negative impact on the fragile environments you travel through.

The trails have been developed in partnership with NatureScot and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, two leading conservation organisations in Scotland. An open consultation with local communities ensured that the locations chosen for the trails were already used by locals and have sufficient infrastructure, such as parking and public toilets, to welcome more visitors.

In fact, some great sites were consciously not included because they lack the necessary infrastructure or have a potential to cause local tensions.

This makes the Above & Below trails a green tourism initiative I’m super proud to support. It means by highlighting these beautiful places I can rest assured that I’m not unintentionally contributing to their destruction.

You might also like: 14 ways to travel Scotland responsibly

snorkellers in scotland
image by Markus Stitz

Above & Below Trails

The sites on the Above & Below Trails feature over 30 locations on the Sound of Jura, the Firth of Lorne and Loch Linnhe. They are mostly on the mainland, but also a handful of islands.

The trails are for everyone – beginners and experienced adventurers, families and seasoned travellers. The goal is to give everyone a chance to encounter the natural beauty of Argyll.

Equipment, such as wetsuits, gloves and boots, can be hired from the Adventure Library in Oban.

Above & Below Wild Swimming Trail

Wild swimming is here to stay. More and more people are realising the benefits of swimming in open waters, but it’s important to know where it’s safe to do so. The Above & Below Wild Swimming Trail highlights some of Argyll’s best swimming spots that are used and rated by local swimmers and experts alike.

Some of my top picks are:

  • White Shore in Tarbert – a beautiful sheltered bay just a 20 minute walk from the village.
  • Ganavan Sands near Oban – a wide sandy bay popular among local swimmers
  • Port Appin – a great spot to swim with views of Lismore

If you’re new to ocean swimming, I recommend booking a session with Dan the Merman. He can teach you breathing techniques to deal with cold water, efficient swim strokes and self-rescue methods. For safety tips, check out the Above & Below page or the Outdoor Swimming Society.

You might also like: Great spots for wild swimming in Scotland

Dan the Merman swimming
image by Markus Stitz

Above & Below Snorkelling Trail

Snorkelling is like swimming on steroids. Put on a mask and snorkel, and you can suddenly see clearly what’s below the surface. And believe me, there’s a lot! The waters of Argyll and the Isles are bursting with life. Each site on the Above & Below Snorkel Trail has something different to offer, so I could understand if you wanted to see them all!

Here are some of my favourite places to check out and what you can see:

  • Ardfern Village Bay – the bay at Loch Craignish is part of Seawildling’s seagrass restoration project
  • Loch Creran – one of only two known sites globally where serpulid worms form reefs, creating habitats for many other species
  • Asknish Bay near Arduaine – a sheltered bay particularly suitable for beginners where you can see dazzling beadlet anemones

Also check out the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s snorkel leaflet for North Argyll – the Above & Below Snorkel Trail was developed in partnership between them.

Learn more about Scotland’s Snorkel Trails on the Wild for Scotland Podcast. I speak with Elouise Cartner from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Lyle Boyle from the Ecology Centre, who partnered to develop the South Fife Snorkel Trail

Check out my full guide for snorkelling in Scotland, following the Above & Below Snorkel Trail!

a woman snorkelling on the Isle of Jura

Above & Below Beach Hunt Trail

Beach hunting is all about exploring pebbly shores and sandy beaches with rockpools, and seeing what wildlife you can spot. It’s a great way to explore marine wildlife without actually getting in the water.

It is best done at low tide, when the water recedes and reveals who lives in the splash zone. This part of the shore is constantly in and out of the water, so the plants and animals have to adapt in special ways to survive.

The Above & Below Beach Hunt Trail features beautiful beaches all over Argyll. Here are some of my top picks:

  • Camas Rubha na Liathaig (SAMS beach) – this beach is near the Ocean Explorer Centre near Oban where you can learn even more about the ocean!
  • Garbh Beaches on the Isle of Gigha – the twin beaches on the top of Gigha have many rockpools
  • Camas Bàn (Wee Ganavan) – several small rocky bays between Oban and Ganavan Sands

The Heart of Argyll Wildlife Centre offers guided Seashore Safaris at Carsaig Beach during the lowest tides of the year. They will help you explore beaches and rockpools, and safely & temporarily capture animals in water tanks for a closer look.

Peter from Heart of Argyll Wildlife with beach tank
image by Markus Stitz

Above & Below Sunset Trail

West is best – at least when it comes to sunsets. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a spectacular west coast sunset (or were lucky enough to witness one for yourself), you know what I mean!

The Above & Below Sunset Trail takes you to locations that make watching a sunset even better – and allow you to take stunning pictures in beautiful locations with reflective waters and silhouetted islands and headlands, castles and ruins.

Some of my top spots on the Sunset Trail are:

  • Bellanoch Viewpoint near Crinan – offers stunning views of Crinan Canal & Basin and Mòine Mhór nature reserve
  • Taynish Piggery near Tayvallich – enjoy views of the beautiful Linne Mhuirich and New Ulva, you might even spot local otters
  • McCaig’s Tower in Oban – a west coast sunset doesn’t get any more iconic than that!
two people enjoying the sunset at mccaig's tower in oban
image by Kieran J Duncan

Above & Below Dark Sky Trail

True darkness is a rarity these days – especially if you like in a busy urban area. If you’d like to see stars in the night sky without any light pollution, follow the Above & Below Dark Sky Trail!

Many parts of Argyll are relatively sparsely populated, which means there is hardly any light pollution to hide stars or other celestial delights. In winter, you might even spot the Northern Lights!

Some of my top ticks on the trail are:

  • Port Mòr on the Isle of Gigha – the northern end of the island has recently been granted the status of Dark Sky Discovery Site by the UK Dark Sky Discovery Partnership
  • Taynish Mill near Tayvallich – the ruins of the old mill at Taynish Nature Reserve are far away from the village and any possible light pollution
  • Mòine Mhór near Crinan Canal – a secluded spot in a large nature reserve

Another great place for dark sky watching on the west coast is the Isle of Coll. It’s an internationally designated ‘Dark Sky Community’!

Dark sky photography of a starry sky on Coll.

You can download a map for all Above & Below locations here or pick up a paper copy at businesses local to the trail locations on mainland Argyll.

Which trail would you like to follow first?


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