The beaches of Morar and Arisaig, Lochaber

What better way to cheer up January than with some pictures of the fantastic Scottish beaches we visited on our summer holiday last year. I’ve already written posts covering the days we spent on the Isle of Eigg and in Fort William. Now it’s time to reminisce over the beaches we visited near Morar and Arisaig, two small villages on the west coast of Scotland.

 

The Silver Sands of Morar

After travelling to Fort William on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper we hired a car to drive to Mallaig. We broke our journey near here, staying for a couple of nights in a B&B overlooking the Silver Sands of Morar.

Silver Sands of Morar
Silver Sands of Morar

The Silver Sands are aptly named. Even in heavy rain (as we can testify) the beach looks more akin to a Caribbean island. Although, as you’ll notice from our jumpers and jackets in the photographs below, the temperature is certainly not Caribbean. I’m pretty sure there are no midges in Barbados either!

Silver Sands of Morar beach - and dark clouds!
Silver Sands of Morar beach – and dark clouds!

White sand beaches stretch from Morar to Arisaig and are easily accessible from the road that winds alongside them for most of the way. Although beware of the golf course near Arisaig; a low flying golf ball almost hit us whilst we were parking in a layby.

A tree swing with a view!
A tree swing with a view!

It was only a short walk from our accommodation to the beach. Whilst I checked out the views the kids were happy to find the tree swing in the photo above. Possibly the most scenic tree swing in Scotland?

Port na Murrach beach, near Arisaig

This beach takes a little getting to but you can near enough guarantee you’ll be the only visitors. At least that was our experience on a sunny August day.

From Arisaig we took the single track road around to Rhu and parked in the layby near the old pier. From there it was a straightforward out and back route, following the instructions on the excellent Walk Highlands website. It’s only a mile or so to the beach, along farm tracks and through a boggy field.

Rhu beach
Rhu beach

The beach offers plenty of shells to sort through, rocks to clamber over and scenery to admire. The kids found a dead jellyfish which kept them captivated for ages. The water was freezing though, or maybe we’re just soft southerners?

Port nam Murrach beach, near Rhu
Port nam Murrach beach, near Rhu

Our walk back was made more exciting by the presence of a huge black bull, standing next to the gate, in a field that we had to cross. Fortunately he turned out to be a docile beast but my heart was in my mouth for a few moments. I’m not sure where he was on our walk down but if he’d been in the same place I don’t think we’d have made it to the beach!

Walk back to Rhu
Walk back to Rhu

Camusdarach Beach, near Arisaig

Camusdarach regularly appears in lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a few miles south of Morar and forms part of the string of Silver Sands beaches. We parked in the public car park just north of Camusdarach campsite and then wound our way down to the beach through the dunes.

Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig
Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig

This beach was a little busier than the others we visited. It may look empty in the photos but when you’re used to seeing no-one it’s a shock to see other people. It’s popularity (ooh, there were at least 5 other people) is probably down to the nearby campsite.

Camusdarach Beach
Camusdarach Beach

We wandered along the beach from one cove to the next for a good hour, enjoying the views out to the Small Isles and exploring the rock pools. I definitely recommend a visit at low tide so that you get the full beach experience. There are also supposed to be otters but sadly we didn’t see any sign of them.

Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig
Camusdarach beach, near Arisaig

I hope these beach photos have cheered you up; it will be summer again before we know it so time to start planning holidays. Do you have a favourite UK beach that you’d recommend?

More info:

  • As you would expect these beaches have little in the way of facilities. They are best reached by car; Mallaig is about 10 minutes drive from Morar. Fort William is around an hour away. Alternatively you could walk from Morar railway station (infrequent trains) or cycle from Mallaig.
  • Arisaig village has an excellent small information centre and museum and a couple of places to eat. We had drinks at Cafe Rhu; the food looked good but the strong smell of chowder was rather offputting for a vegetarian.
  • In Morar I recommend the Thai Sunset takeaway. You’ll need to order early in the day as they cook to order and then pick up from the house at the pre-arranged time. We had great plans to eat our takeaway on the beach but rain and midges put paid to this idea!
Share this:

Three of the best views near Fort William, Lochaber


As regular readers may know I’m a sucker for mountain scenery. With a spare day in Fort William after our trip to Eigg I was keen to see what the proclaimed outdoor capital of the UK had to offer. Whilst the town isn’t particularly scenic there are plenty of great views just a short drive away. Here are my top three suggestions:

1. Steall waterfall

The walk to Steall waterfall is billed as one of the best short walks in Scotland. The drive in along Glen Nevis is impressive, with mountain views all the way to the car park at the end of the single track road. The midges greeted us when we stepped out of the car and were less welcome. Fortunately a few squirts of Smidge repellant soon stopped them.

Walk to Steall waterfall
Walk to Steall waterfall

As we left the car park I was a little disconcerted to see a sign warning visitors of ‘Danger of death’. If you’re properly equipped for the weather and familiar with walking in rocky landscapes you’ll have no problems at all. That said, I’d think twice about walking the path during icy conditions.

The path leads walkers through lush woodland, up and down rocky steps. Down in the gorge you can hear, and at times see, the river. Keep your eyes on the path though!

Walk to Steall waterfall
Walk to Steall waterfall

The track was busy; some visitors looked better prepared than others. Going by the number of camper vans and foreign plate vehicles in the car park I’m guessing this walk appears in most tourist guidebooks.

Steall Bridge, near Fort William
Steall Bridge, near Fort William

At the top of the gorge the view opens up across a meadow and out towards Steall Falls. Before you reach the waterfall there is one further diversion; the famous wire bridge across the river. There’s no need to cross it to see the falls but my other half wasn’t going to pass up a chance to do so. The kids were eager too but I only let them walk across as far as the start of the river section. My daughter would have been fine but my son wasn’t tall enough to reach both of the wires. And I didn’t fancy a dip in the river to rescue him!

Steall waterfall, Fort William
Steall waterfall, Fort William

Dropping from a height of almost 400ft Steall waterfall is an impressive sight. We visited after a relatively dry period so I’d imagine it’s even more exciting after rain. From the waterfall I also took the valley picture below, almost a classic geography textbook photograph.

View along valley from Steall waterfall
View along valley from Steall waterfall

Heading back to the car park I wondered why my son and other half took so long to reach the car. It turns out they were clearing up rubbish left by campers. I really don’t understand why people believe it is OK to leave bags of rubbish and used portable barbecues behind.

2. Viewpoints via the Glen Nevis gondola

In the afternoon we drove out to Glen Nevis for a ride up the Nevis Range gondola system. During the winter this is a popular ski destination but in the summer it’s busy with tourists, walkers and mountain bikers.

Nevis Range gondola, Fort William
Nevis Range gondola, Fort William

The gondola takes about 10 minutes to transport visitors 650m up Aonach Mor. As you’re swaying gently above the treetops you can watch mountain bikers whizzing down the boardwalk tracks beneath you. Whilst it looked fun I know I’d have been squeezing my brakes hard for the entire route!

Nevis Range gondola station
Nevis Range gondola station

At the top are two signposted walks to viewpoints, each in different directions. They’re relatively short (20-30 minutes each way) so it’s easy to complete both. Follow the blue rope and you won’t get lost!

Sgurr Finnisg-aig viewpoint walk, Aonach Mor
Sgurr Finnisg-aig viewpoint walk, Aonach Mor

My favourite viewpoint was Meall Beag. We sat for a while on the chair, looking out over Loch Eil and Loch Linnhe. Although I felt a little guilty for enjoying such great views with so little effort.

View no 2: Meall beag viewpoint
Meall beag viewpoint

Walking back towards the gondola it’s hard to ignore the visual impact it has on the area. It’s primarily a functional ski area and I’m sure looks much better when everything is covered in snow. On the plus side there’s a restaurant, bar and toilets and it would have been amiss of us not to check out these facilities.

Snowgoose Bar, Glen Nevis gondola station - a cafe with a view!
Snowgoose Bar, Glen Nevis gondola station – a cafe with a view!

3. Ben Nevis Inn

This last suggestion requires minimal effort. Unless, like us, you decide to walk to the pub from town.

I’ve climbed Ben Nevis in summer when the summit was knee deep in snow and the views obscured by mist. This time we contented ourselves with a seat in the Ben Nevis Inn. There are not many pubs where you can look out the window and see a view as incredible as this!

View from the Ben Nevis Inn, near Fort William
View from the Ben Nevis Inn, near Fort William

The Ben Nevis Inn certainly deserves its number 1 Trip Advisor rating. Between us we ate some great food although I made the wrong food choice; I know now that I don’t like vegetarian haggis!

If you’re thinking of travelling to Fort William you can read more about our journey on the Caledonian Sleeper train. After visiting Fort William you might like a trip to the fabulous white sand beaches at Morar and Arisaig or a drive through the highlands to Gairloch.

More info:

  • The Steall waterfall walk directions are on the Walk Highlands website.
  • The Nevis Range gondola is open year round except for a maintenance period from mid-November to mid-December and during strong winds. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £32.50; season tickets are also available.
  • The Ben Nevis Inn is open daily during the summer months but check the website for opening dates and times throughout the winter period.
Share this:

Walking on the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides

This is part two of our Isle of Eigg adventure covering our family walks on the island. Pop over and read part one for more information about Eigg, our accommodation and where to eat.

The most famous walk on Eigg is to the summit of An Sgurr, the dramatic lump of rock you can see in the photo below. I wasn’t sure how suitable it was for the kids to climb so we chose a couple of less strenuous options.

Laig Bay and Singing Sands beach

Our first walk was to the north of the island to spend a day exploring the fabulous beaches of Eigg.

An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg
Leaving the hostel, walking towards An Sgurr, Isle of Eigg

We set out from our accommodation, Glebe Barn Hostel, along the main road towards Cleadale. This took us past the village primary school and a small heritage centre which we stopped to have a look in. Next door my daughter nosed around the island swap shop; I had visions of her finding something large and bulky which we’d have to carry so I quickly retrieved her.

Banana ice cream on our Eigg walk
Banana ice cream on our Eigg walk

A better find was a sign outside a house which advertised home made ice cream. It was early in the day but it’s never too early for ice cream if you’re a kid! We sat outside, drinking coffee and enjoying the morning sunshine, whilst the kids ate some rather yummy banana ice cream.

Walk from Blar Dubh plantation towards Laig, Eigg
Walk from Blar Dubh plantation towards Laig, Eigg

Shortly after leaving our ice cream stop we veered away from the road and followed a track marked by dots up through the trees. The path continues across heather over some pretty boggy ground. It eventually led us to the gate shown above. Little did we know that after passing through the gap in the cliffs we would be treated to the stunning landscape below.

Walking towards Laig bay, Eigg
Walking towards Laig bay, Eigg

Looking across we could see the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe and below them the crofts which have opened up since the residents bought the island in 1997. Beside us was a kettle hole lochan formed by a retreating glacier, whilst in front was the Bay of Laig.

Walk down to Laig beach, Isle of Eigg
Walk down to Laig beach, Isle of Eigg

We walked down past a farmhouse onto Laig beach. As was usual in Scotland, we had the entire place to ourselves. A stream flowed down across the beach which proved slightly more difficult to cross with dry feet than you would imagine.

Crossing the stones on Laig beach, Eigg
Crossing the stones on Laig beach, Eigg

I was determined to eat an egg sandwich on Eigg so after finding the perfect picnic spot (the tree trunk in the top photo) we stopped for lunch. Sitting on Eigg, and looking across to the peaks of the Rum Cuillins I could think of nowhere else I’d rather be. I therefore declare this the best picnic spot in the UK but if you have any other contenders do let me know.

The path to Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
The path to Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

At low tide it is possible to walk along the beach from Laig to Singing Sands but the tide was too far in on our visit. Instead we detoured inland and crossed a field of cows (which my daughter hates). We passed a couple of bicycles in the field, temporarily left unlocked whilst the hirers visited the beach. The kids both remarked how you’d never be able to do this back home without them going walkabout.

View of Rum from Laig beach, Isle of Eigg
View of Rum from Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

Geologists would love Eigg. I didn’t really know what I was looking at but I could still pick out dykes, a rock arch and caves.

The beach at Singing Sands is so named because of the quartz sand grains which make a squeaky sound if you walk across them when dry. We managed to make some sounds by scuffing our boots along the sand but the term singing is rather fanciful!

Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

We loved the welly stile below, a creative use of old boots. There were also a couple of sculptures on the beach made from items washed ashore. I’ve no idea who made them but they’re a fun and thought provoking addition.

Welly stile, Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg
Welly stile, Singing Sands beach, Isle of Eigg

Dragging ourselves away from the beach, and the views, we took the direct route back to the hostel along the main road. We were passed a couple of times by cars which had seen better days. I read afterwards that cars on Eigg are MOT exempt which explains a lot!

The Cleadale road, Eigg
The Cleadale road, Eigg

We’d underestimated how warm the day was going to be and hadn’t taken enough water to drink. It was with some relief when we found that the house selling ice cream and coffee was still open for business. Even better, the lady had just baked a rhubarb pie. It would have been rude not to sample it and it certainly helped power the final part of our walk home.

Cathedral and Massacre caves

Our second walk only took a couple of hours, although at low tide you could walk further. Starting out from the pier at Galmisdale this time we followed purple paint spots for about a mile until we reached the caves.

Walk to Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg
Walk to Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg

After our views of Rum the previous day this time we were facing the small island of Muck. We watched a couple of sea kayakers who were making the crossing over to Muck.

The path led down from the cliff onto the beach where we found our first cave of the day, Cathedral Cave. The cave was once used for Roman Catholic services hence its name. It has an impressively large entrance and can be explored at low tide as long as you remember to bring a torch.

Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg
Cathedral Cave, Isle of Eigg

The Massacre Cave looks less impressive from the front. It has however an incredibly sad history.

Back in 1577, as part of a long running feud with the Macleods of Skye everyone on the island hid in the cave to avoid detection. However footsteps were spotted in the snow leading to the cave and the Macleods lit a fire in the entrance. All 395 people who were hiding perished.

Massacre cave, Isle of Eigg
Massacre cave, Isle of Eigg

In the past visitors have been able to walk into the cave but a large lump of rock fell from the roof recently narrowly missing a couple. There are now signs at the entrance, and elsewhere on the island, warning not to enter. It was disappointing not to go in but I didn’t fancy a chunk of rock on my head!

To extend the walk there are several other caves and a couple of waterfalls further on along the beach but we were keen to visit the island produce and craft market back in Galmisdale so we simply retraced our route.

More info:

  • The gift shop in Galmisdale sells a pack of postcards with details of the popular walks on Eigg. There is also a map near the pier which outlines the approximate routes of the walks. Alternatively, further walks are available on the Walk Highlands website which we found an invaluable resource.
Share this:

Exploring the Isle of Eigg, Inner Hebrides

Have you ever visited somewhere that felt so perfect that you didn’t want to leave? That’s how we felt after our short break on the Isle of Eigg.

Reached by a 1.5 hour ferry ride from Mallaig, Eigg is one of the Small Isles south of Skye. I’d been a little worried our journey would be choppy but the sea was calm. Instead the excitement was provided by the dolphins following our boat and a minke whale spotted blowing nearby.

Welcome to Eigg
Welcome to Eigg

Our Calmac ferry docked at Galmisdale, the main port on the island. We’d booked a self-contained flat annex at Glebe Barn which also offers hostel accommodation to visitors. Stuart, the owner, found us wandering on the pier, picked up our luggage and pointed out the house on the skyline, aptly comparing it to Father Ted’s house on Craggy Island. He explained we could either walk along the road or take the adventurous route via the shoreline. We played it safe and walked the road route for our first trip but soon realised the shoreline route was much quicker.

Glebe hostel, Isle of Eigg
Glebe Barn hostel, Isle of Eigg

The flat annexe consisted of a main living area, kitchen and bathroom. It usually sleeps 2 people but can accommodate 2 extra children if you don’t mind a bit of a squeeze in the bedroom. Although we had a separate entrance we were also connected to the rest of the hostel by an internal door. This was handy for the kids as they could pop down to the common room to play table football, their main source of entertainment. Unless you count watching golden eagles from the kitchen window!

Shell collecting on Glamisdale beach, Isle of Eigg
Shell collecting on Galmisdale beach, Isle of Eigg

After unpacking our bags we headed out to find the alternative route between the hostel and Galmisdale. The path from the hostel heads down through the bracken to meet up with the shoreline. Using this route it was, in theory, possible to walk to Galmisdale in about 20 minutes. However, this does not take into account stoppage time to sift through the shells at Galmisdale Bay beach.

Shells on Galmisdale beach
Shells on Galmisdale beach

I have visited several places which promote themselves as shell beaches. But the understated nature of Galmisdale Bay beach, which must contain hundreds of thousands of shells, makes it one of my favourites. Added to which the peace and views of the mainland make it a place I’ll remember for a long time.

Our planned destination was the cafe-bar near the pier in Galmisdale. Yet the shell beach wasn’t the only distraction. The light was perfect for photography and the boats in the harbour made for great subjects. Dragging ourselves away from the view we finally made it to the bar and rewarded ourselves with a drink.

Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg

Galmisdale Bay cafe, next to the pier, is a magnet for both tourists and residents. Open every day during the summer months it offers home baked food during the day, turning into a popular bar and restaurant most evenings.

Alongside the cafe we found the Isle of Eigg store and a small gift shop. We’d bought our own food with us as I wasn’t sure what was available on the island. I needn’t have bothered lugging bags of pasta as the store was well stocked although understandably more expensive than the mainland.

Galmisdale pier, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale pier, Isle of Eigg

Leaving the bar we took the road route home as the sun was setting and we hadn’t bought torches with us. The sky turned pink and purple and it was difficult to keep our eyes on the road. Visitors are not allowed to bring cars on to the island so we were quite relaxed about road rules. However we soon discovered most of the locals had cars and some drove pretty fast, presumably because they weren’t expecting much traffic or pedestrians!

Sunset on the Isle of Eigg
Sunset on the Isle of Eigg

Eigg is 5 miles by 3 miles with plenty of walking opportunities. The next day we explored the north of the island, visiting the stunning beaches at Laig and Singing Sands. You can read more about our walks here.

As we walked we saw plenty of evidence of how environmentally aware the islanders are. Eigg generates its own electricity through a combination of hydroelectric, solar and wind power. Waste has to be burned or taken to the mainland so there’s imaginative local re-use and recycling.  Even the small school has been awarded the Eco-Schools Green Flag award.

View of the mainland from Isle of Eigg
View of the mainland from Isle of Eigg

On a sunny summer day I could imagine giving up a hectic life on the mainland and taking up crofting on Eigg. Back home a quick look on Rightmove threw up a couple of building plots and a house we’d admired in Galmisdale Bay. But we visited in summer. I’m pretty sure reality would kick in around October when the weather and a bored teen would take the shine off the idyll.

Boats, Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg
Boats, Galmisdale, Isle of Eigg

Later that day we still had some energy left after our walk in the north so it was time to return to our favourite shell beach. The kids found a rope swing over a stream nearby and messed about on this before heading towards the pier. As it was Sunday evening the cafe-bar was closed so no refreshment stop but we still enjoyed our evening stroll.

Galmisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg
Galmisdale Bay, Isle of Eigg

We spent the morning of our departure exploring the area around the Cathedral and Massacre caves before heading back into Galmisdale. On Monday mornings during the summer there’s a craft and produce market in the Community Hall, along with a cafe run by Eiggy Bread. We’d seen hardly anyone else on our Eigg walks so it was a shock to see so many people, both tourists and locals, in the hall for coffee and a chat. We soon realised why when we ate the best food of our holiday, a delicious plum and almond tart.

Isle of Eigg community hall
Isle of Eigg community hall

We still had a couple of hours to fill before our return ferry departed so took a final stroll along the coast. I spotted a colony of seals out on a group of rocks and we sat and watched them.

Seal watching, Isle of Eigg
Seal watching, Isle of Eigg

The funniest moment occurred when a gull flew in low over the seals and almost every one of them launched into the sea. It was hilarious to watch. I wonder whether this happens every time a gull flies over?

Seals, Isle of Eigg
Seals, Isle of Eigg

It was a reluctant walk back to the ferry pier. We’d only stayed for 2 nights but all of us had fallen for the island. Our departure was accompanied by the island piper, playing her bagpipes at the end of the pier. I’m not sure we’ll ever return to Eigg but our short visit will remain in my memory for a long time.

Boarding MV Lochnevis, Eigg to Mallaig ferry
Boarding MV Lochnevis, Eigg to Mallaig ferry

Read part two of our Isle of Eigg adventure here.

More info:

  • We travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Fort William, then picked up a hire car for the final stretch to Mallaig. Read more about our journey here.
  • We used the Calmac ferry from Mallaig to Eigg. A return ticket costs £13 for adults, children aged 5-15 years are half price.
  • The self-catering annexe at Glebe Barn costs £52 per night for 2 people. There is an additional charge of £12 per person if additional beds are used.
Share this: