Outdoors: Crinan Classic boat festival

To say that mid-Argyll, water-bound between Loch Fyne and the Sound of Jura, is where Para Handy meets The Wind in the Willows may sound improbable. Bear in mind, however, that the author creators of both – Neil Munro and Kenneth Grahame – spent childhood years there, and when it comes to messing about in boats, be they sleek sailing craft or stubby Clyde puffers, mid-Argyll is the place.

That's particularly true at the beginning of next month, when the Crinan Classic boat festival sees wooden sailing and motor vessels congregating for a weekend of offshore racing and onshore frolics.

The event, from 1- 4 July, is expected to attract 60 timber yachts, motor boats and other traditional vessels to the picturesque little village at the western basin of the Crinan Canal. It was started four years ago by artist Ross Ryan and his friend Mike Dalglish, both seasoned yachtsmen based at Crinan, where Ryan's father, Nick, runs the famous Crinan Hotel, the hub of the event. "We've kept the same format because people liked it," says Ryan of this fourth event, "but every year we bring in something new to keep it fresh."

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This year's innovations include a follow-on Crinan to Tobermory Classic wooden boat race on Saturday 10 July, while established fixtures include the Mid-Argyll Pipe Band piping into the canal basin on board the puffer VIC 32 to open the weekend. Onshore capers include a tug o' war and a Tunnock's teacake eating competition. If you're still up to it after that, there are whisky and wine tastings offered by the event's sponsors, Bruichladdich whisky and Inverarity Vaults.

"We've capped it at 60 boats, because we don't want the event to get too big. As it is, you've got 300 to 400 people in the village over the weekend," adds Ryan, whose own Truant, a sleek, eight-metre class yacht from the famous Fairlie yard of William Fife III, last month celebrated its centenary and will be in the racing.

But from century-old boats, walk along what has been called "the most beautiful shortcut in the world", the two-century old Crinan Canal, and you find yourself flanked on one side by lush woodlands and on the other by the Mine Mhr – the Great Moss – with its mud flats and meadows and wildfowl.

Progress further up Kilmartin Glen and traverse 5,000 years of human history, with its standing stones, burial cairns and hillside boulders whorled with cup and ring marks. At the heart of it all, you can visit the Kilmartin House Museum, where a new exhibition, Dalriada – Digs and Discoveries, has just opened, based around the astonishing 450 new sites discovered in the area over the past four years. Where else can you enjoy lunch or coffee in an oak-beamed conservatory overlooking a burial cairn dating from 3,000 BC?

Or drive back across the canal to the old Atlantic oak woods of Knapdale (where beavers have recently been re-introduced), where a glorious little ridge walk takes you along the spine of the Taynish peninsula, above the bird-loud woods, and where you can watch the ever-changing weather mustering above Jura before it hits you. Further south-west of Tayvallich, beyond the chapel of Keills with its historic crosses and grave slabs, lies the point of Rubha na Cille, a weird little lost world of dragon-tooth rock formations and wild flowers.

It can be enough, however, to simply stroll along the canal, with its lush banks and the susurrus of its locks, and understand perhaps why Kenneth Grahame suffused his classic work with such a love of water and of boats.

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For further details visit www.crinanclassic.com; www.kilmartin.org; www.argyllonline.co.uk

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on Saturday, June 26, 2010