The Ardnamurchan Peninsular

A journey to Scotland, by Sheila Scraton:

It all began with one of ‘those conversations’. “If you could have a holiday this April anywhere in the world where would you go?”  Well, having thought of Cuba, Costa Rica and other destinations that have always been on my wish list, I suddenly said “ Well, taking all things into consideration, what I’ve always wanted to do is rent a van and go to Scotland!” So, with partner in agreement the planning began and just before Easter we set off to pick up our rented vehicle in a little village called Saline, near Dunfermline, Scotland. Early April is always a weather risk in the UK but we were given great confidence by the unseasonable heat wave that hit Britain in March. However, as we packed to move north, snow was forecast with weather warnings reverberating around our ears.  I’m sure all who know us were saying, “A camper van in April in Scotland – you must be mad!”

We had decided to focus on the Ardnamurchan peninsular containing the most westerly point of the British mainland.  Ardnamurchan (Áird nam Murchan, headland of the great seas) is one of the most stunning and remote parts of the Scottish coast.  I have always loved the west coast of Scotland, walking and climbing in the Cairngorms, Torridons, Glencoe, Skye, Kintail. It just feels so special with dramatic, rugged mountains rising up straight from lochs and the sea, inspiring feelings of remoteness and majesty.

Arnamurchan is an area that I have never before visited. Either I have stopped in Glencoe or driven past in anticipation of passing Ben Nevis and onwards to the mountains of Skye or the Torridons. You either reach it by the Corran ferry, just past Ballachulish, by ferry from the Isle of Mull or by driving north past Fort William to Mallaig which is the northern most point of the peninsular. Having stopped for our first night just outside Glencoe, on the shores of Loch Leven, we took the Corran ferry and began our drive along a road that eventually takes you as far as you can go west to the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point. We were glad the van wasn’t too big as the roads began as single track and, if anything, got narrower the more we headed along this remote, beautiful peninsular.

The next 10 days delivered all our expectations…..the mountains had fresh snow falls creating a black and white spectacular scene, the weather was perfect April weather (cold but sunny with showers), the van became our ‘home on our back’, cosy, tranquil and efficient. Too many memories to recount but here are just a few:

  • Wild, remote, dramatic scenery where history surrounds you. Standing at Sanna Bay by white sands with the evidence of the 19th century clearances, when crofters were driven from their homes, abandoned ruined crofts standing isolated as a reminder of townships destroyed and people’s lives changed forever. Walking along the coast to the remains of the once important Mingarry castle built in the 13th century and now lying in ruins.
  • A wildlife paradise – ancient oak woodlands at Sunart covered with lichens and mosses that is one of the most significant woodland sites in Europe; a herd of red deer on the skyline as we return from an evening walk; a pair of golden eagles soaring above Loch Mudle; watching a colony of seals on the rocks as the tide went out, from our bed in the van (!); great northern loons enjoying the bay in front of us.
  • Stunning seascapes of white sand, rocky shores and turquoise sea with a backdrop of the Isles of Eigg and Rhum and the Cullins on Skye in the distance. Beaches made famous by the film ‘Local Hero’ with Dire Straits a fitting musical backdrop. Watching the sun set over the islands – total peace and tranquillity.
  • Total remoteness, barren moorland stretching for mile after mile on tiny single track roads with hardly a car ever passing. A harsh environment that reminds you that our holiday pleasure is also extremely hard living for those who for generations have lived on and worked the land.

Ardnamurchan is a place that in the past I missed because it doesn’t contain dramatic Munros (mountains over 3000 feet). But it is beautiful and offers something far beyond many normal tourist experiences. As Alasdair Maclean (a poet and writer brought up in Sanna Bay on the Ardnamurchan peninsular) writes: “I have always looked on the ferry that crosses the narrows of the Linnhe Loch at Corran as a kind of decompression chamber where various kinds of pollution were drained from the blood and I was fitted to breathe pure air again”.

Further reading: MacLean, Alastair (reprinted 2001) Night Falls on Ardnamurchan: The Twilight of a Crofting Family Edinburgh, Birlinn Press

Words: Sheila Scraton
Pictures: George McKinney

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