2013 was a year of superb entertainment of all kinds provided by a wide range of major events throughout Argyll and the Isles. There will be others beyond those we are singling out for attention – because we couldn’t get to them all.
These major events – all unique and all different – not only provide the best possible entertainment and excitement for those of us who live here. They are a frontline force in Argyll’s promise to its visitors. They are serious contributors to our local and regional economies.
Whether these are keystones in the annual calendar or one off spectaculars, they showcase Argyll’s resources of all kinds from locations and facilities for high level sporting challenges, to bands to food and drink – with this part of the world recognised world wide as a force in specialist in single malt whiskies, now too in craft ales.
2013 MOKrun Half Marathon and 10k run
MOKrun 2013 saw Campbeltown’s annual weekend of running, dancing and family fun is worth every syllable of the publicity it generates. The places in the two races sell out fast and they have had to increase the numbers to respond to demand.
The organisation is superb, from the planning, to the marshalling, to the route that takes the runners around some of the spectrum of delights of the Mull of Kintyre, to the finish line team and the commentary.
The sense of community – with every new runner immediately a member of it – pervades the entire event. The sight of the superbly fit athletes who feature in the top ranks of each race is inspirational, as is the sight if those determined to finish at all costs, making the observers [speaking personally] go away and resolve to be less of a wimp.
This event makes all comers want to belong to a place like Campbeltown – and anoints them honoraray members.
2013 Cowal Gathering
If ever there was a Lazaraus event, the Cowal Gathering of 2013 was it. Faced with a series of disappointments in the run up to the event this year – including losing its hosting of the fifth major annual pipe band championship – the organisers rose to the challenge and upped their game. The sponsors gave their support. This event matters far too much to the economy of Dunoon and Cowal to be allowed to fade by default.
The stalls were numerous and attractive, with a wide range of types of hot foods on offer alongside crafts and gifts. The competition was fierce with the Highland Dancing, as usual, a major magnet; the heavy athletes objects of wonderment; and the pipe bands simply majestic.
The new event – a short but muscle burning run up and down the hills of Dunoon, tracing its graceful precincts, its architectural high points and its commanding view from the heights over the upper Firth of Clyde – made a mark to be matched next year.
The recovery of the event from potential disaster signalled the sort of will to stand Dunoon in good stead.
2013 Fife Regatta
A one-off spectacular, the 2013 Fife Regatta spent much of its time in Argyll waters, with the spectacular land and seascapes of the Isle of Bute, the Kyles of Bute and Loch Fyne the backdrop to these matchlessly graceful classic yachts of all sizes and types.
It was a unique privilege to watch them swell up the Kyles of Bute after coming our of Rothesay – from the decks of the Calmac ferry across the narrows at Colintraive; to chase them round the coast by car, catching teasing glimpses in life threatening moments; and, from the heights above the Burnt Islands, to see them tack into the West Kyle and down the approaches to the achingly lovely little Tighnabruaich, en fete for two days in welcome.
Tighnabruaich and the Argyll’s Secret Coast marketing group literally pushed the boat out for their reception for the Fifes. There were specialist food producers, horse and cart rides along the waterfront, ceilidhs – and a coastal rowing skiff race – won in some style in its first race by Tighnabruaich’s own skiff, against three competing boats.
Portavadie marina on the east shores of Loch Fyne was the next stop for the Fifes – another of Argyll’s combined resources of first class water and shore-based facilities. This event pulled together so much that is intrinsically Argyll – fabulous sailing grounds, watersports, breathtaking coastal scenery, great food, drink, entertainment and hospitality. It laid down a bright marker for what Argyll can do. [And the lovely Latifa won the regatta].
2013 Bute Cycling Festival
If the Fife Regatta showcased Argyll’s offering on the water, the 2013 Bute Cycling Festival did the same for land-based sporting challenges. The races over the weekend took the competitors – from all parts oif the UK – around the island and into several of its testing, if beautiful, nooks and crannies.
The wheelers saw and felt the variety of this historic Clyde island, from its modestly urban central east coast to its remote south, west and north, its flatlands, its hills and its woods, racing wheel to wheel and burning muscle on the climbs.
Nothing sounds like bikes racing – the soft low growl of rubber on tarmac. Nothing is so frustrating either, since, at the speeds they move, you get so little warning of their approach – and then they’re past. You expect cars to be hard to catch – but the Bute Cycling festival teaches you that anything on wheels will defeat capturing much detail.
This well organised event is a serious contributor to the Bute economy and is one of the flagship events that signal to the sporting communities just what variety of facilities and challenges Argyll has to offer.
2103 Oban Sea Kayak Race
Sea kayaking is a fast growing sport, with Argyll’s clubs, training and expedition businesses well to the fore in taking advantage of our spectrum of rewarding waters for the sport.
2013 saw the fourth Oban Sea Kayak Race – or ‘The Round Kerrera’ – a frontline shop window for what Argyll has to offer to the sport and its participants.
This year 82 sea kayakers came to the line in Oban Bay, with over 40 paddlers setting up camp for the night before at the host KIlbowie Centre on the southern fringe of Oban, on the shores of the Sonnd of Kerrera. The race starts and finishes in Oban bay and takes a course of some 20km around the island of Kerrera.
A last minute entry came from 5 times world marathon racing champion, Ivan Lawler, causing much excitement, underlining the status of this event. He won – a well organised and spectacular event, offering serious challenges to paddlers, particularly on the outside passage round Kerrera.
2013 BOWfest – Best of the West Festival
The 2013 Best of the West Festival at Inveraray Castle surpassed even the 2012 event – in spite of winds [yes, even in mid September] that threatened to see the marquees up around Dun na Cuaiche.
The experience of 2012 had led the organisers to make some useful tweaks in the layout of some of the marquees, particularly the music and bar tent. The array of Argyll foods on offer in the food tent was a mouthwatering shopwindow for specialist local producers as well as an aid to survival. The whisky tent left the hordes who came on each of the two days with no risk of forgetting just how many great whiskies come from the west coast.
The activities were in a class of their own, with adults wishing they could eat a quick Alice in Wonderland biscuit and make themselves shrink immediately; and with Artmap Argyll a stunning addition to the menu.
Two great strengths of this event are its deliberate timing on the shoulder of the season, seducing residents and visitors back to Argyll for a weekend of the best of the west, with music as spectacular as ever; and the collaboration of the festival with local businesses. The nightly handover of the festival to The George Hotel in Inveraray is a triumphant notion, seeing the smaller number of nighttime festivalgoers fills the space for the extended music programme, moves the action to the centre of the unique designed town and shares the trade in a communal initiative.
2013 Mull Rally
Having taken over the running of the Mull Rally a couple of years ago, the 2013 petrolhead-fest saw it go from strength to strength.
A unique event with its night stages creating a set of signature driving challenges while leaving the many visitors to Mull for the October event free to explore the island in daylight, this offers the thrills of rallying – unquestionably the most challenging motorsport and the most demanding of high level skills and response times.
Drivers, the vital back-up teams and the spectators all adore this event, with Mull producing teams that annually win or are up there in the mix.
It is also a family event, with even more families making the trip this year and already planning for 2014. The October date brings a swell of business to the island;s accommodation providers, with many choosing to take a longer break around the rally, which extends Argyll’s wide menu of sporting events. The rasp of the engines with the screams of deceleration and the squeals of hot rubber on sharp bends – all in the night – make this an addictive experience.
Oban Airport – stopover for 2013 Round Britain Air Race centenary tribute
Catalina G-PBYA, the oldest operational flying amphibian, marked the centenary of Harry Hawker’s and Harry Kauper’s epic attempt to fly around the British Isles in a Sopwith biplane floatplane – by taking on the same challenge in a plane 30 years younger than Hawker’s, also flown by an Aussie [Jeff Boyling].
Hawker was tripped up in the stage after landing at Oban, shortly before the next control point at Dublin [with both men surviving almost unscathed]. Boyling made it all the way round.
The Catalina flew into Oban and spent an entire day on 23rd August as the centrepiece of a carnival in which the airport staff and its owners, Argyll and Bute Council, excelled themselves in creating. There was a display of historic motor cars, tucked under the wings of the Catalina like a brood of improbable chicks. There were trike tours, food stalls form the superb LORN producers. There was also a stall from Ardchattan Parish Archive – and reports came in of some very useful new contacts made with visitors bringing information on the history of the parish.
As a one-off, there are tweaks to be made for any future event, particularly in the transport arrangements to and from the airport – but this spectacular family event shouts for more air events at Oban, at what is a local council owned facility.
The Glowing Giants of Benmore
This was a series of four one-off nighttime events at the start of November, two each evening, bringing crowds of people tothe glorious botanical gardens at Bemore in Cowal – but at night and to see what were billed as ‘The Glowing Giants of Benmore‘ – the famous avenue of Sequoiadendrons, giant redwood trees or Wellingtonias, which were lit, creating a specialm agic to mark their 150th year.
The weather was unhelpful but nobody cared. Wellingtons for Wellingtonias seemed more than appropriate and there were some fabulously carnivalesque umbrellas around.
This was a sell out show, a once in a lifetime event for most, with only the many enchanted children present likely to see a bi-centenary celebration of these glorious and – believe it or not – still infant trees.
There were giant puppets, blazing braziers amongst the trees, a bluegrass band, an aerialist, food and drink – all admirably well organised, with a little truck carrying the disabled to the key points via a series of short cuts through the gardens. This event underlined the presence of this gem of a place in Cowal and also created out of season business for accommodation providers.
Four different notes
Three of these are not events as such, but add real entertainment of various kinds to the year and bring economic benefit to ther locations. The fourth – which will be an event next year – promises a lot for the development of the sporting spectrum in Argyll and for its local economy.
The ‘Wee Pictures’, now, after restoration, embarked on its major fund raising challege to bring the oldest working cinema in the UK into the digital age – is not only a glorious architectural smile on Campbeltown’s imposing merchant waterfront but keeps the cinema experience and access to contemporary film on the menu in this unforgettable part of Argyll.
Ardbeg Distillery, Islay
The Ardbeg single malt whisky distillery on Islay had a year of fabulously inventive marketing initiatives – that brought a grin every time. In May, as part of this very sussed island’s malt and music festival, Feis Ile, it supported Ardbog Day and launched a new whisky called Ardbog. This unprecious, light-hearted sense of fun soared even higher in July, when the International Spirits Competition has just recognised the stellar quality of both Ardbeg’s launch campaign and its PR campaign – both ‘Bests’ - for the release of Galileo. Billed as ‘the Ultimate Islay malt whisky’, Galileo is a limited edition whisky released in June 2012 – a dram literally out of this world – following a world first in its space maturation experiment.
Dunollie’s living willow sculpture
The even innovative Dunollie – the Castle and 1745 house guarding the approach to Oban Bay -brought a new grace note to Argyll in September 2013, opening to view the results of its commissioning of the world’s leading ‘living architecture’ expert, Germany-based Marcelle Kalberer, to design two living willow structures for its grounds. These are the first examples of his work to be shown in Britain; and are a 22ft tower and a dome – already spectacular and, as living artefacts, with the added interest of growing into the vision that inspired them, these will be a constant and unique attraction for the west coast waterside town.
The 2014 Scottish Tarmack Rally event at Machrihanish
The Machrihanish Airbase Community Company and Dunfermline Car Club are collaborating to bring one of the races in the 2014 Scottish Tarmack Rally to the former RAF airbase near Campbeltown in Kintyre, now community owned. This will be the first motorsport event on the site – a sport we remain convinced that, in some form, has a lot to bring to the economic development of south Kintyre. Drivers are already excited at the course – as we know from Paul Graham of the An Taigh Osda boutique hotel in Islay and a driving force in Argyll and the Isles Tourism. Paul is getting his own car up to speed for the event – and we’ll make sure you know which one is his, so that his progress can be followed at the time – 5th and 6th July 2014.