Campbeltown has been a destination for visitors for many centuries.  Some of these visitors have been welcomed, but not all. The town has a wonderful location with safe anchorage in its sheltered loch and is only twelve miles from Northern Ireland.  The first visitors arrived in Neolithic times to set up settlements around the coast, one of the earliest being the Scotti Tribe from where the Scottish Nation took its name.

A few centuries later, in 563 AD, St Columba visited to spread Christianity before he moved to the island of Iona.  Around 800 AD the Vikings arrived to claim Kintyre as their own.  Their arrival must have caused much distress in the existing population, but in time, they started to integrate and set up a base on Sanda Island off the southern tip of Kintyre at Southend.  The McDonalds were later granted the lands by the King, but were driven out by the Campbells in 1647.

Tourism as we know it today started when the Clyde Steamers began to visit the town around 1812.  These ships allowed much easier access to Campbeltown and Kintyre, bringing increasing number of visitors from Glasgow and surrounding areas, who could visit and return home in the day.  These ships also brought in goods to the town, which was quickly gaining a reputation as a major whisky-producing town with 34 distilleries.  The “Wee Train” which transported coal from Machrihanish coal mines was converted to carry passengers in 1906 and when the visitors arrived by steamer, they could then board the train to Machrihanish, spend a few hours on the beach, before returning in the late afternoon.  This reached its peak in the 1950’s with 56,000 passengers arriving in a 12 week period, before a slow decline with the advent of foreign holidays and cheap air travel.  The only steamer to visit Campbeltown now is the paddle steamer “Waverley” which visits a couple of times each spring and summer.

Today most visitors arrive by car, bus or on foot along the Kintyre Way.  Golf courses now attract visitors and walkers who enjoy the quiet hills and views out to the Islands both to the East and West of Kintyre. Models of the steamers and the “Wee Train” can be seen in The Heritage Centre, along with a few artefacts from HMS Davaar.  A new display is planned for 2011.

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