Dunoon (/dʌˈnn/; Scottish Gaelic: Dùn Omhain) is the main town on the Cowal peninsula in the south of Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It is on the west shore of the upper Firth of Clyde, to the south of the Holy Loch and to the north of Innellan. The Gantocks rocks lie off the coast at Dunoon.

The history of Dunoon is dominated by two clans, Clan Lamont and Clan Campbell. During the height of "Doon the Watter", the travel by steamships around the Firth of Clyde, Dunoon was a popular destination. This ceased as roads improved and the popularity of overseas travel increased. The town then became a garrison town to the United States Navy (1961), during the height of the cold war. When the US Navy closed the base at Holy Loch in 1992, Dunoon suffered an economic downturn.[2]

The town and surrounding area are becoming recognised as a destination for outdoor pursuits, including walking, running, golfing, kayaking, sailing, fishing, climbing, triathlon and mountain biking.[3]

Local wildlife includes seals, sea otters, dolphins, basking sharks, roe deer, red deer, red squirrels, and many species of birds.[4]

The largest annual event held in the town is the Cowal Highland Gathering. The Royal National Mòd has been held in the town seven times and in 2018 will again be held at Dunoon.[5][6]


"East Bay, Dunoon, Scotland", ca. 1890 - 1900.
PS Waverley

Dunoon Castle was built on a small, partly artificial, conical hill beside the Firth of Clyde in the 12th century, from which low walls remain.[7] It eventually became a royal castle with the Earls of Argyll (Campbells) as hereditary keepers, paying a nominal rent of a single red rose to the sovereign. The castle was destroyed during Argyll's Rising, a rebellion in 1685 against James VII.[8] Mary, Queen of Scots visited Dunoon Castle on 26 July 1563 and granted several charters during her visit.[9][10]

In 1646 the Dunoon Massacre of members of Clan Lamont by members of Clan Campbell took place. There is a memorial to this event on Auchamore Road.

From 1812 to the late 1960s, fleets of Clyde steamers brought holiday-makers "doon the watter"[11] from Glasgow to Dunoon and to numerous other town piers on the Firth of Clyde. The PS Waverley is the last surviving seagoing paddle steamer. It berths at the breakwater when visiting Dunoon during the Waverley's summer season on The Firth of Clyde.[12]

During the Second World War, as the main part of the Firth of Clyde defenses, an anti-submarine boom was anchored to the shore at the site of the (current) Crazy Golf in Dunoon, over to The Gantocks Rocks then to the Cloch Point on the Inverclyde coast.[13][14] A Palmerston Fort and camp at Ardhallow in the south of the town, provided one of the coastal defense gun emplacements that covered the anti-submarine boom and Firth of Clyde waters, there also was a gun emplacement on top of Castle Hill.[15]

In 1961 as the Cold War intensified, the Holy Loch became internationally famous when the U.S. Navy submarine tender USS Proteus (AS-19) brought Polaris ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament[16][17] protesters to the Firth of Clyde at nearby Sandbank, Dunoon became a garrison town. Holy Loch was, for 30 years, the home port of US Navy Submarine Squadron 14 (SUBRON 14) . In 1991, the Holy Loch base was deemed unnecessary following the demise of the Soviet Union and subsequently withdrawn. The last submarine tender to be based there, the USS Simon Lake, left Holy Loch in March 1992, leading to a major and continuing downturn in the local economy. The US Navy base was the subject of the 1988 film Down Where The Buffalo Go starring Harvey Keitel; many of the scenes were shot around Dunoon and the navy base itself.[18]

In May 2012, Dunoon and Campbeltown were jointly named as the rural places in Scotland most vulnerable to a downturn in a report by the Scottish Agricultural College. The "vulnerability index" ranked 90 Scottish locations according to factors associated with economic and social change.[19][20]

The use of the Holy Loch during times of conflict has influenced the economy and social lives of the peoples of Dunoon, firstly with its use as a British Royal Navy submarine base during the Second World War and then as the American Navies Submarine Squadron 14 (SUBRON 14) home port/base during the Cold War.[19]


Dunoon is on the west coast of the Firth of Clyde,[21] and on the east coast of the Cowal peninsula.


As with the rest of the British Isles, Dunoon has a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. It is an exceptionally wet part of the country, particularly so for a place near sea-level, with annual average rainfall totals nearing 2,400 mm (94 in).

Recorded temperature extremes since 1960 range from 29.6 °C (85.3 °F) during July 1983[22] to as low as −13.9 °C (7.0 °F) during January 1982.[23]

Climate data for Benmore Botanic Gardens 12m asl, 1971-2000, extremes 1960- (Weather station 7 miles (11 km) to the North of Dunoon)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 14.4
Average high °C (°F) 6.5
Average low °C (°F) 1.0
Record low °C (°F) −13.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 298.76
Source: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KNMI[24]

Annual events

Pipe band at Cowal Highland Games

The Cowal Highland Gathering[25] attracts contestants and spectators from all over the world. It is held annually over the final weekend in August at Dunoon Stadium.[26] Cowal Open Studios, held over a fortnight in September, gives the opportunity to visit the studios of artists around Dunoon and Cowal. Cowalfest, celebrates the outdoors activities especially walking/rambling and scenery around Dunoon for ten days in October.

In 2013, the first Dunoon Film Festival was held over three days and opened with first public screening of Your Cheatin' Heart, a series made by the BBC that had last been shown on television in 1990.[27]

Tourist attractions

Trails (walks, running and mountain biking) thread through the hills surrounding Dunoon.[28] Corlarach Hill has way-marked routes for walkers, mountain biking and horse riders.[29][30] These trails are located next to the Bishop's Glen.

Puck's Glen is a popular short walk set in the hills close to Benmore Botanic Gardens. A tumbling burn, criss-crossed by bridges, is enclosed by rocky walls heavily hung with mosses and overshadowed by dense trees. The walk has clear, waymarked paths. The glen is named after Puck, Oberon's servant from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.[31]

Morag's Fairy Glen is a short gorge walk, with trails alongside the Berry Burn, located on the hill behind the West Bay area of Dunoon.[32][33][34]

Bishops Glen trail follows the shore of the remaining one of three reservoirs in the glen, that used to supply fresh water to Dunoon. The reservoir is damming the Balgaidgh Burn (Balgie) and is now a fresh water rod fly fishing location.[35] Access to the hills behind Dunoon is not available, including Corlarach Hill, from the Bishop's Glen Reservoir trails.[36]

The arboretum at Benmore Botanic Garden, part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, is 7 miles (11 km) north of the town, just before Loch Eck. The garden, formerly a private garden for the Younger family,[37] is now open to the public. It comprises 60 hectares (150 acres) and features some of the tallest trees in Britain, including the avenue of Giant Redwoods (Sequoia), some of which are over 37 metres (120 ft) high.[38] There is also the Grade 2 listed Victorian fernery which was reopened in 2009 after an 18-month restoration.[39]

The Castle House Museum opens during the summer season. It holds historical information and displays for Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula.[40]


Since the 1930s Dunoon has hosted the Royal National Mòd a number of times - 1930, 1950, 1968, 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2012.[41] The MOD is scheduled to be held in Dunoon in 2018.[42]

In the late 1960s, it was the subject of a song entitled "Why Don't They Come Back to Dunoon?" by The Humblebums. This was a less-than-flattering ditty, mourning the town's declining tourist trade. "There was a competition in a Glasgow newspaper," Billy Connolly once said, in a short interjection during a 1969 performance of the song. "The first prize was a week in Dunoon, and the second prize was a fortnight in Dunoon."[43]

In April 1967 Peter Dorschel, who was born in East Germany, briefly rented a house in Dunoon. This provided him with a view of the activities in the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base that caused his imprisonment for espionage.[44]

The 1988 film Down Where The Buffalo Go, starring Harvey Keitel, featured many scenes shot in the Navy base and its surroundings.[18]

In 2014, Damon Albarn revealed that the inspiration for his 2013 song "The Selfish Giant" came from Blur's visit to Dunoon in 1995 and a view he had of the Holy Loch. "It was a beautiful misty evening," he remembers.[45] "There was a single submarine in the Loch – why it was there I don’t know. I had a very strong image of the loch and submarines and walking down the main drag in Dunoon after the gig, going to someone's house for a party, and a song came out of it." The song includes the line "walking down Argyll Street when the evening colours call".[45] Albarn also stated: "Now every time I sing "The Selfish Giant" I go back to that night in Dunoon, which was a really great night, a fantastic night." When asked if he would consider playing solo in Scotland, he replied: "I’d love to. Maybe Dunoon? Then I can walk down Argyll Street again."[45]

The 2015 Oscar winning actress Julianne Moore has connections to Dunoon, as her mother is originally from the town. Moore still has family in the area.[46][47][48]

Grant Morrison, the writer of Batman and Superman comic books, moved from his hometown of Glasgow to a renovated mansion just outside Dunoon, and spends part of the year in the town and part in Los Angeles.[49][50]


Dunoon Pier
Statue of Highland Mary
The Gantocks from Dunoon

Dunoon's Victorian pier was first built in 1835; it was extended to the current structure in 1895. The pier was shortened to allow the building of a breakwater in 2005. The breakwater was built just to the south of the pier. As well as protecting the Victorian pier and its architecture from storm surges, a new link span was installed alongside the breakwater. This was to allow the berthing and loading of ro-ro ferries instead of the side-loading ferries that used to serve the pier. A tender to serve the new link-span between two interested parties, Caledonian MacBrayne and local operator Western Ferries, failed when both parties withdrew from the tendering process. Prior to June 2011 the pier was used daily by Caledonian MacBrayne, who ran a regular foot passenger and car-ferry service to Gourock. However, after June 2011, a renewed tendering process produced a passenger-only ferry service (Argyll Ferries, owned by Caledonian MacBrayne) using the breakwater for berthing. During the construction of the breakwater, the cargo vessel Jackie Moon (82 metres in length), ran aground on the breakwater, with six people on board, on 1 September 2004. Since the breakwater became operational in June 2011, Argyll Ferries operate from this docking facility.The PS Waverley struck the breakwater on 26 June 2009, with some 700 people on board.The Victorian pier was partially refurbished by Argyll and Bute Council during 2015, now containing meeting rooms, the pier is purely a tourist attraction.[51][52][53][54][55][56][57][51]

Mary Campbell (1763–1786) also known as "Highland Mary" and "Bonny Mary O' Argyll", was born at Auchamore in Dunoon, to Archibald Campbell and Agnes Campbell in March 1763. She started a serious affair with the bard Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) a and was erected in 1896. The statue is prominently sited on Castle Hill, the remains of a 12th-century castle, overlooking the breakwater in Dunoon.[58][59] [60][61][62][63]

The war memorial of Dunoon is located in the Castle Gardens, overlooking the Victorian Pier.[64]

The Burgh Hall opened in 1874. It is a Scottish baronial style building that housed the municipal offices and had a hall accommodating 500 people. It is now a multifunction space.[65][66] It is Grade B listed.[67][68]

The navigation beacon on the Gantocks Rocks in the Firth of Clyde is close to the coast at Dunoon. It was built in 1886.[69]

The Clan Lamont Memorial, also known as the Dunoon Massacre Memorial, is on Auchaore Road close to Castle Hill. It was dedicated in 1906 and commemorates the Dunoon massacre of 1646, when the Campbell Clan attacked the Lamont Clan, killing over 200 people.[70][71]

Situated on Castle Hill, Castle Gardens has sweeping views of the Firth of Clyde and Dunoon.[72]


Argyll Flyer and Ali Cat in the new Argyll Ferries livery, at Gourock pierhead

Dunoon is accessible by direct land and sea routes and indirectly by rail at Gourock. Dunoon lies towards the southern end of the A815 road. At its northernmost point, near Cairndow, this road joins the A83 and provides access to the town by road from Loch Lomond / Glasgow in the east, from the Inverary / Oban in the north and from Campbeltown in the west. Two ferry operators provide services to Dunoon, Cowal peninsula from Gourock, Inverclyde. The Public Service route provided by the Scottish Government-owned Caledonian MacBrayne's subsidiary, Argyll Ferries Ltd, which is a foot passenger only service between Dunoon Breakwater and Gourock pier, giving easy access to the National Rail Network.[73][74][75] Local company Western Ferries (Clyde) LTD, carries motor vehicles and foot passengers between McInroy's Point, (A770, (Cloch Road)) and Hunters Quay near Dunoon.[76] At Gourock Pier, an Abellio ScotRail train service provides access to the National Rail network via the Inverclyde Line at Glasgow Central. Public transport within Dunoon and the surrounding area is provided under government subsidy by bus and coach operator [[West Coast Motors

West Coast Motors' route 486 provides a regular return journey from Dunoon town centre to Inveraray, where it connects with a Scottish Citylink service 926 and 976 onward to Campbeltown, Oban, Glasgow and points in-between. McGill's Bus Services operate route 907, a frequent coach service from Dunoon town centre to Glasgow Buchanan bus station. The service travels aboard the Western Ferries (Clyde) LTD river crossing and operates via Greenock and (Braehead Shopping Centre, weekends only).>

Community Facilities

The Queen's Hall[77] is the town's major multi-function hall complex. It is situated opposite the head of the Victorian pier and built in 1958. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11 August 1958.[78] The building houses four function suites and a large main hall. The main hall has a stage with professional sound and lighting equipment, and attracted popular acts such as Pink Floyd,[79] Blur, the Saw Doctors, David Gray. Morrissey, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Primal Scream and comedians Kevin Bridges, Bill Bailey and Roy Chubby Brown. In late 2015 the Queen's Hall was closed to enable a major refurbishment. In December 2016 it was announced that the refurbishment would not commence until January 2017.[80]

The town's sporting arena is Dunoon Stadium, which is located in the north of the town, near Dunoon Grammar School. When it hosted football matches, it had the largest capacity of any amateur ground in Scotland.[citation needed] It later became the focal point of the Cowal Highland Gathering. Motorcycle dirt track racing (or speedway) was staged at the stadium on 18 June 1932 as part of the annual Dunoon and Cowal Agricultural Show. A demonstration event had been staged in May 1932.

Riverside, swim and health centre, including an indoor pool (25m long) and associated facilities, located in the centre of Dunoon, next to the Firth of Clyde on Alexandra Parade. Facilities include a main pool, teaching pool, gym including a sauna and a water flume.[81]

Dunoon Library is situated on Argyll Street.[82]


Dunoon is served by three primary schools. Dunoon Primary School is on Hillfoot Street; this building was the original location of Dunoon Grammar School. St. Muns Primary School is on Pilot Street and Kirn Primary School is on Park Road.[83][84][85]

Dunoon Grammar School is located on Ardenslate Road in Kirn, Dunoon. The Grammar School was founded in 1641.[86]

University of the Highlands and Islands' Argyll College has a centre in Dunoon, located in the West Bay, near to the Breakwater.[87]


Fishing locations surround Dunoon, both fresh and sea water.[88][89][90][91][92][93]

Mountain Biking trails are available.[94]

Dunoon Camanachd was established in 2015. The team started competing in South Division 2, in 2016.

Cowal Golf Club is situated on the hillside above Kirn, Dunoon. It is an eighteen-hole 6251-yard course with a Par score of seventy.[95][96][97]

The two Bowling Clubs in Dunoon are Dunoon Argyll Bowling Club on Mary Street and Bogleha' Bowling Club on Argyll Street.

In 2006 and 2007, the town hosted a six-a-side swamp football tournament that attracted around 500 players and 1000 spectators.[98][99]

Cowal Rugby Club was formed in 1976. In 2008 it scored its first league victory in the Scottish Hydro Electric Western Regional League West Division 2.[100]

Dunoon Amateurs FC, founded in 1975, play matches at Dunoon Stadium and Dunoon Grammar School.

The Dunoon Youth Football League (DYFL) is a voluntary organisation that teaches football skills to all interested children with ages between 4 and 17. The DYFL have their own clubhouse and changing facilities at Dunoon Stadium. All coaches are parents who have received coaching certification through the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA), and the club has a PGA officer and coaches with Sports Injuries First Aid Certification. As of January 2015 the club had a membership of over 125 children. In the summer of 2016 the DYFL celebrated its 35th anniversary.

Castle Tennis Club in Dunoon is situated in the town's Castle Garden], the club has 2 concrete and 2 all-weather courts, all lighted. The clubhouse plays host to social events such as quiz, pool and darts nights.[101]

Notable People

Dunoon Grammar School had a number of notable former pupils, including the Labour Party[102] politicians John Smith (13 September 1938 – 12 May 1994), George Robertson (later head of NATO),[103] Brian Wilson and the Reverend Donald Caskie,[104] also known as the Tartan Pimpernel (22 May 1902 – 27 December 1983).

Possibly Dunoon's most famous resident was Sir Harry Lauder (1870–1950), whose mansion, Laudervale, stood just south of Dunoon on Bullwood Road. After a fire, that burnt over half of it, it stood ruinous until c. 1980 when it and the stable blocks were demolished. Much of the grounds were subsequently sold for housing development. The development there today preserves the Laudervale name.

Pipe Major John McLellan DCM (1875 - 1949), was a piper and noted composer of pipe music. He was also a noted songwriter and poet. Among his greatest contributions are the retreat marches Lochanside, The Highland Brigade at Magersfontein, Heroes of Vittoria, The Bloody Fields of Flanders and The Dream Valley of Glendaruel, the competition marches The Taking of Beaumont Hamel, The Cowal Gathering, South Hall and Glen Caladh Castle, the slow air Mary Darroch, and the 2/4 slow march The Road to the Isles.[105][106][107]

Conservative Cabinet minister Virginia Bottomley (Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone[108]) was born in Dunoon, as were former Manchester United player and QPR manager Stewart Houston, actor Sylvester McCoy,[109][110] Tom Wisniewski of the punk band MxPx and Lyn-Z, artist and bass player for the rock group Mindless Self Indulgence.

Neil MacFarlane, a professional footballer who reached the 2008 Scottish Cup final with Queen of the South, was born in the town.

MT Carney, co-founder of British nail salon chain Nails inc. and former president of marketing for Walt Disney Studios Worldwide, was born in the town.


Dunoon's local weekly newspaper, is the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard. The online edition is at www.dunoon-observer.com

On 1 December 2009, Dunoon Community Radio was launched.[111] Dunoon Community Radio or often called "DCR" by presenters has a variety of programming to meet the needs of people living in around Dunoon. Broadcasting on 97.4 FM from the Dunoon Observer building, Dunoon Community Radio is an independent social business entirely staffed by volunteers.

Religious communities

  • St Munn's Parish Church.[112]
  • Cowal Baptist Church.[113]
  • Kirn Parish Church.[114]
  • Holy Trinity Epicostal Church.[115]
  • Strone & Ardentinny Church.[116]
  • Dunoon Baptist Church Centre.[117]
  • St. John's Church (Dunoon).[118]
  • High Kirk.[119]
  • Kingdom Hall Of Jehovah's Witnesses.
  • The Free Church.[120]

Health care

Dunoon Community Hospital

Three general practices provide primary health care and referral services to the people of Dunoon.

  • Church Street Surgery.[121]
  • Drs Taylor-Kavanagh & Mosley, Argyll Street Surgery.[122]
  • Dr Hall & Partners, Argyll Street Surgery.[123]

Dunoon is served by Cowal Community Hospital,[124] which is run by NHS Highland. The hospital provides a 24-hour accident and emergency department along with a maternity unit, palliative care hospice, dental surgery and one general healthcare ward providing 10 beds.

The two dental practices in Dunoon are Hollies dental surgery in Dunoon offers both private and NHS service.


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External links