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May 2018+

Argyll and Bute Coat of Arms

Dunnoo if you've ever been to Dunoon but if you have you'll likely remember. Just eight miles from Helensburgh[1] by flying crow, the geography of the  Cowal Peninsula makes it nearly eight times that by car because this is cock-bang right at the bottom.

That necessitates a near-three-hour round trip from anywhere else similarly sized and civilised so you might want to combine with a Botanical Garden but more on that in a minute. That still leaves half-a-day here, however, for a fix of an annual craving and some afternoon thoughts that are, with hindsight, a little ferry heavy.

[1] Which could be considered, just about, Glasgow.

There's parking right on the front and a tropical twist thanks to the Gulf Stream and the natural shelter provided by the hills from the westerlies.

That's the main reason for Dunoon booming in the 19th century, probably, with Victorian visitors from doon the watter in Glasgow arriving in numbers by paddle steamer.

Other reasons definitely don't include, sorry Dunoon, the beach that's best described as, erm, serviceable. West Bay, just south of town, is your best bet for a plodge, East Bay, just north of town, is slightly too rocky.

Saying that, there's always the  swimming pool over the road if the urge to get wet completely overwhelms.

Guffer P.I.'s previous investigations had led to the belief that the pier at Saltburn-by-the-Sea is the northernmost one in the UK so what's this doing here in Dunoon?

Seems that'll be Saltburn's 'pleasure' pier, this one built to unload the pleasure-seekers from the paddle steamers. Still, if the  National Piers Society can't clarify, here's a case that's now as cold as Dunoon in December.

The original waiting room was, and is, first-class and is where you'll still find yourself sharing with the shipmates.

Some kind of European Commission[1] regulations, or something, somehow mean that, since 2011, this service is passengers only with  Caledonian MacBrayne's 25-minute service to Gourock connecting with the national rail network from where it's another 45 to Glasgow.

That makes for a bit of an effort to get anywhere and, what with all the water, contributes to a noticeable sense of island life, probably.

[1] Thank goodness that will finally all be over on the morning of  1st January 2021 when there'll be a choice of 10 ferries from here, right kids?

Just behind, there's access up into the rather marvellous Castle Gardens although the castle's no more than a mound now. It does, however, provide a viewpoint, a viewpoint down to the ferry landing and beyond.

That's passengers only, remember, so they're either being picked up or picking the pickup back up making this Dunoon's best-kept secret for free parking.

The statue below is of Mary and no, not of 'Queen of Scots' fame rather Highland Mary, a local lass with a Gaelic twang with whom Robert Burns, no less, had a dalliance. She died tragically young to cement this here memorial and with his often twee, yet flowing, prose, you thought butter wouldn't melt, didn't you?

Castle House nicked the castle's bricks to build a holiday home for the then Lord Provost of Glasgow, whatever it was that he did. Following a stint as the public library, it's now a charity-run  museum for all things ancient in and around the surrounding area.

There's more inside on Burns and all of the Marys already mentioned but chuck in a Bonnie Prince Charlie and you've got yourself the holy trinity of historic, Scottish figures.

Just seven miles north of Dunoon,  Benmore Botanical Garden's rhododendrons are ridiculous and usually bloom mid-April. It's not all about the botanicals, there's a vast estate to explore but that's another story.

It's on the way up here that it's realised absolutely everybody here goes absolutely everywhere by ferry. You can sail with the car by heading to Hunters Quay where Western Ferries also run to Gourock and the rail and bus links that get you to Glasgow.

Oh! That's right, no need for those because you've got the car.

Alternatively, head further south towards what's left of a 15th-century  castle near the hamlet of Toward. You too might get yourselves lost and end up parking next to a primary school still, nice views over to the Isle of Bute and that's the ferry from Wemyss Bay, not too far from Gourock.

Will you give it a rest already! Nobody else is really that interested in ferries!

Meanwhile, back in Dunoon, Ferry Brae leads down to Argyll Street and a proper, old-skool  bookshop. It's not all about the 'Books, Scottish Gifts & More' but also a good line in maps, the maritime and mochas.

It's either here or a big hardware store if it's raining and three of these have been clocked on this watch. Here, however, is a confession... Dunoon's been done before when it rained, it rained a lot, and that's how it's known there are three.

I could spend hours in these places, it's thought to be the smell, which is that of grandad's shed, although there's often an obligation to buy a small bag of screws or some shoelaces. Today, it was some of those tiny AAAA batteries that you can't get anywhere and no, you can't get them in Dunoon, neither.

  Swallow Café (Argyll Street)

Old-skool caff with a newsagents in it. Fast and friendly and perfect for satisfying that annual craving for  Lorne sausage.

Argyll Street caters largely to local folk with the shops selling things that people actually need, a wide variety of hardware included.

Visual highlights along here include the former, Art Deco La Scala cinema and the neo-Gothic whopper of Dunoon High Kirk. The cinema closed in the '70s and now trades in discount fashions so the devil definitely doesn't wear Prada™ in Dunoon.

As with many UK resorts, of sorts, there was a dip when people started taking their holidays with  Thomson™s in Torremolinos. There's always been a loyal fanbase but to attract a different kind of visitor, some rejuvenation has been required.

  Studio Cinema (John Street)

With La Scala long gone, film fans needn't get into a flap with the Studio Cinema delivering date nights in Dunoon from a purpose-built shed. It's run by  West Coast Cinemas, a small operation who have another over the water in Greenock.

It's highly liked by the locals and it's seen that Robinson Crusoe is on today. Shame it's not Pirates of the Caribbean, it's heard they filmed some round here with, back on Argyll Street, Sinbads Bar providing the extras.

The rejuvenation includes the restoration of the historic Burgh Hall to provide 'a creative and cultural hub for Cowal.' There's still some work to be done elsewhere, however, and the Albany Hotel isn't returning any requests for a room.

There's a free exhibition on today, 'Paintings are for People - The Argyll Art Collection', some fantastic local  paintings and one of the volunteers is pleased to see me again...

'Sorry, have only been in the café.'
You must have a double to which the temptation to riposte was resisted.

A Brazilian with a hangover once said this one had a look of the Alec Baldwins but neither she nor a young Sinéad O'Connor sidekick could see it.

The hills aren't quite so high this far down but there's still an attempt to entice outdoor types to base themselves in Dunoon, the capital of  Cowal.

There's a walk to be done a mile or so west of town from the Forestry Commission's car park at  Corlarach and, on the nearby reservoir, a pair of obliging swans gracefully pose on the reflecting ripples.

It's mostly uphill along forest roads and tracks but you'll have to go off-piste to get to the top of Kilbride Hill. Once you're up there, set your camera to  diorama and enjoy the view down to Dunoon.

The Highland clearances are of a very different kind, these days, and it's unlikely those trees will have grown back just yet.