Our holiday explorations in and around Ardnamurchan, Lochaber

I almost don’t want to publish this blog post. After spending four amazing days in the Ardnamurchan area I am hesitant to recommend it for fear of it becoming too busy. But, as my favourite part of our Scotland holiday how can I not write about it?

Ardnamurchan Peninsula is a 50 mile square area of land, famous for its remoteness. We stayed in a neighbouring district, Sunart, and explored both the peninsula and surrounding areas. So what did we do?

Strontian, Sunart

This was the base for our stay. It’s about 12 miles from the Corran ferry, which itself is 6 miles from Fort William. The ferry, which runs every 20 minutes or so, only takes a few minutes to cross Loch Linnhe. But on the other side you feel like you’re a world away from the busy A82.

Corran ferry
Corran ferry

We found the village of Strontian an ideal holiday base. Located at the northern end of Loch Sunart, there’s a couple of shops, cafe, hotel and campsite. There’s even a police station but I cannot imagine they’re very busy!

View from Strontian
View from Strontian

We stayed in a wooden cabin at Sunart Camping. Although small it was cleverly designed and included a small kitchenette and toilet. It’s not luxurious but a definite step up from camping and the kids loved staying in a fairytale cabin.

Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping
Our wooden cabin at Sunart Camping

Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide, Ardery

A few miles from Strontian, and overlooking Loch Sunart, this hide is evidently one of the best places in the country to see otters. That said, we visited on four occasions and still didn’t see an otter. Gorgeous sunsets though.

View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide
View from Garbh Eilean Wildlife Hide

Aside from otters, you are near enough guaranteed to see seals and herons, both of whom live on the rocks opposite the hide. The seals can do a pretty good impersonation of an otter so they livened things up for us a couple of times. There’s a telescope but bring binoculars if you have them.

Drive to Ardnamurchan Point

Single track road on Ardnamurchan
Single track road on Ardnamurchan

A notice on the Strontian tourist office window states a driving time of 1 hour 30 minutes to cover the 35 miles from Strontian to Ardnamurchan Point. Hard to believe until you leave Strontian and discover it’s a single track road with passing places all the way to Ardnamurchan Point.

View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall
View of Ben Hiant and Camus Nan Geall

That said, it’s a fabulous drive. The road winds its way along the shore of Loch Sunart, curves around Ben Hiant and crosses an ancient volcanic landscape. It’s as spectacular as it sounds!

Ardnamurchan Point
Ardnamurchan Point

We stopped en route for morning coffee at the Ardnamurchan Natural History and Visitor Centre. Primarily a shop and cafe there’s also a small exhibition on the local wildlife. Golden eagle sightings appear to be common here. But I think they were off playing with the otters during our visit.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Accessed via the most westerly set of traffic lights in mainland Britain Ardnamurchan Lighthouse is one of a handful of tourist attractions in Ardnamurchan (aside from the amazing scenery of course) so near enough everyone ends up here. There must have been at least ten cars in the car park.

Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Most westerly traffic lights on mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan lighthouse

The lighthouse was automated in 1988 and is operated remotely but visitors can climb both the tower and visit the slightly dated exhibition centre (check opening times first). We had a short wait before our lighthouse tour so temporarily retreated to the cafe to hide from the rain showers.

We worked off our cafe excesses with a climb up the 140 spiral stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Followed by another ten steps up a ladder. At the top we were treated to views out to the Small Isles, including Eigg which we visited a couple of years ago.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan is one of the best places in the UK to see basking sharks and minke whales. The lighthouse guide pointed out a whale watching boat and we followed its course  in the hope of spotting whales, dolphins or porpoise. Anything really. Once again we were unlucky with our wildlife sightings. To add insult to injury our guide told us he’d recently watched an orca take a seal from the nearby colony, flip it in the air and eat it. Oh well, at least we saw the seals.

Walk from Portuairk to Sanna beaches

The weather had brightened by the time we left the lighthouse, which was fortunate as I had a walk planned.

Portuairk, Ardnamurchan
Portuairk, Ardnamurchan

Starting from the nearby crofting village of Portuairk we walked along the coast to the sandy beaches of Sanna.

Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan
Sanna beaches, Ardnamurchan

You know those photographs which look like the Caribbean but were actually taken in Scotland? Well, this is where you’ll find some of those amazing beaches. And there’s hardly another person to be seen.

Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula
Beach at Sanna, Ardnamurchan Peninsula

We walked as far as the car park at Sanna before returning to Portuairk via the same route. The beaches at Sanna are spectacular but be aware there are no facilities. No toilet, no cafe, no shop. Bring a picnic or stop off at the Ardnamurchan lighthouse cafe first.

Ariundle National Nature Reserve, near Strontian

The native oakwoods near Strontian offer a variety of easy walks. We followed the marked 3 mile Ariundle Trail which took us through the moss and lichen covered trees before we crossed the river and returned to Strontian.

Ariundle Trail, near Strontian
Ariundle Trail, near Strontian

In hindsight we should have walked the route anti-clockwise for the best views up the glen. But it was easy to turn round every few minutes to check out the mountain views behind.

Singing sands walk, near Kentra

This was an out and back walk of three distinct parts.

The first part of the walk follows a good track around the edge of a tidal mudflat.

Kentra Bay walk
Kentra Bay walk

The second stage took us though a rather eerie forestry plantation. We followed a large stony path through the middle, rather baffled at the seven foot wooden fence protecting one side. I later found out this was the location of a Channel 4 reality programme (Eden) where contestants spent a year living in the wilderness. Given the clouds of midges we encountered whenever we stopped to shelter from the rain I didn’t envy them in this location.

We finally reached the beach and the rain stopped sufficiently for a rainbow to form. There are, supposedly, otters on the beach but you can already guess we didn’t see any!

View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern
View from Singing Sands at Gortenfern

Castle Tioram, near Acharacle

Castle Tioram is a ruined castle on a tidal island. The castle itself is off limit to visitors as it’s awaiting restoration but we walked across the causeway for a closer look. We didn’t hang around as the weather was against us.

Castle Tioram
Castle Tioram

Fortunately we found a great tea room at nearby Acharacle. Perfect for drying off, eating cake and using Wi-Fi.

Despite the lack of wildlife (excluding midges) we loved our few days on Ardnamurchan. One of the highlights so far on my UK bucket list. And just for the record, we finally saw a golden eagle on our last afternoon!

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10 things our family enjoyed on the Isle of Anglesey

We recently completed another item on my UK bucket list and spent a week on Anglesey in North Wales.

Anglesey is the largest island in Wales and has plenty of tourist attractions for all ages. Read on to find out what we enjoyed most about the island.

1. Walking the Anglesey coastal path

This 200km path circles the coast and offers lots of walking opportunities. It’s a relatively gentle coastal path; whilst there are cliffs in the north we mainly walked beside heath, sand dunes and salt marshes.

Anglesey coastal path near Cemlyn
Anglesey coastal path near Cemlyn

Our favourite walks were along Aberffraw creek to the beach, a circuit around the northern end of Holy Island and an evening stroll to Llanddwyn along Newborough beach. Find out more about the stages and highlights on the Visit Anglesey website.

2. A behind the scenes tour at Halen Môn (Anglesey sea salt)

We spent an entertaining hour or so at Anglesey Sea Salt. We discovered how salt is harvested from the Menai Straits, processed and packaged in the onsite production facility.

Halen Môn salt tasting
Halen Môn salt tasting

Afterwards there’s an opportunity to sample table, rock and sea salts. You’re even given a handy little tin to take away your favourite; the smoked sea salt was to die for!

The tour is aimed at older children. If you’re travelling with youngsters Anglesea Sea Zoo (which we didn’t visit) is next door and might be a better option.

3. Spotting puffins on Puffin Island

Puffin island from Penmon Point, Anglesey
Puffin island from Penmon Point, Anglesey

Our boat trip with Seacoast Safaris took us out past Penmon Point lighthouse and around Puffin Island. The trip lasts around 90 minutes but is flexible to accommodate wildlife sightings. Our skipper tried to ensure both sides of the boat had equal viewing opportunities and was a mine of information about the area and its wildlife. Visitors usually see puffins between April to July but there are always plenty of other seabirds and seals to spot. We were even lucky enough to see porpoise – after we’d got off the boat in Beaumaris!

4. Watching the jets at RAF Valley

Hawk jet at RAF Valley, Anglesey
Hawk jet at RAF Valley, Anglesey

My son’s choice of activity; not an official tourist destination but very popular. The RAF station is used to train crew to fly fast jets and is also the base for RAF Mountain Rescue. There’s a public car park from where you can watch the pilots, usually flying Hawks, practise their take-off and landing skills. We watched for about 30 minutes or so; during this time we saw one take-off, a landing and a fly past. The take-off was the most exciting and is unbelievably noisy!

5. Visiting LlanfairPG

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey

There’s not much see once you’re here but how could we resist stopping off to take a photo of the longest place name in Europe?

6. Following the boardwalk through The Dingles, Llangefni

Easily accessed from Llangefni (once you find the right car park) this is a wooded valley with a boardwalk running through much of it. Visit in spring and you’ll be rewarded with swathes of bluebells.

Dingle nature reserve boardwalk, Llangefni, Anglesey
Dingle nature reserve boardwalk, Llangefni, Anglesey

My partner was lucky enough to see a red squirrel so keep your eyes peeled!

7. Watching the sunset at Newborough Beach

Brent geese flying from Newborough beach
Brent geese flying from Newborough beach

If you’ve seen my previous post about Newborough Beach and Llanddwyn Island you’ll know why I’m including it here. This is, in my opinion, the best beach on Anglesey. Just go!

8. Exploring the copper mine on Parys mountain, Amlwch

Once the largest copper mine in the world this is a fascinating place to visit.

Copper mine at Parys mountain, near Amlwch, Anglesey
Copper mine at Parys mountain, near Amlwch, Anglesey

We followed the shorter waymarked walk around the huge open cast mine. The rock colours are amazingly vibrant and the whole area feels completely alien to its surroundings. There’s no entrance charge or visitor facilities aside from some information boards. Be aware it’s in an exposed location so prepare to get windswept!

9. Watching birds at RSPB South Stack and visiting the lighthouse on Holy Island

Two attractions in one. Watch seabirds on the cliffs and then, if you’re feeling fit, walk the 400 steps down to the lighthouse. Remembering that you’ll need to climb up 400 on the way back. Alternatively just sit in the RSPB cafe and enjoy the views.

South Stack lighthouse, nr Holyhead
South Stack lighthouse, nr Holyhead

The lighthouse was closed during our visit so check opening times before you go. You wouldn’t want those steps to be in vain.

10. Eating a massive scone at the Wavecrest Cafe, Church Bay

If you fancy a cream tea on Anglesey you really must treat yourself to a super size scone at Wavecrest Cafe. Just look at it!

Wavescrest cafe, Church Bay
Wavescrest cafe, Church Bay

Afterwards head to the beach at Church Bay to run around and attempt to burn off the calories.

Have you been to Anglesey? If so, what were you favourite things to do?

More info

  • This is not a sponsored post. Where specific attractions or trips are mentioned these were always paid for by ourselves.
  • Please check opening times and days direct with attraction providers.
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Sunset watching at Newborough beach and Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

When a beach is the number one Trip Advisor attraction on Anglesey you know it’s going to be special. You also expect it to be overrun with people. And perhaps, on a sunny summer day, Newborough beach and Llanddwyn Island are. But visit on a cool spring evening and you might well have the sweep of golden sand to yourself.

The car park at Newborough Forest is huge. Presumably testament to the number of day visitors who come to enjoy the beach, search for red squirrels and cycle the woodland tracks. There are toilets, marked trails and an ice-cream van in high season. But, aside from a couple of cars and campervans, it was almost empty at 8pm.

Watching the sunset from Llanddwyn island
Watching the sunset from Llanddwyn island

We parked and climbed the dunes to the beach. A perfect crescent of sand greeted us. Oystercatchers calling out. And a huge dead fish down on the shoreline that had both kids poking it in excitement.

Our target was Llanddwyn island, a mile or so along the sand from the car park. The island is cut off at high tide so check tide tables before you visit. Unless you fancy being marooned.

Beach walk out to Llanddwyn island
Beach walk out to Llanddwyn island

As we reached the island the clouds parted and a few rays of sun broke through. We were treated to the magical golden glow you get just before the sun sets.

Walk out to Llanddwyn island, Anglesey
Walk out to Llanddwyn island, Anglesey

Tŵr Mawr lighthouse, Llanddwyn island

For such a small finger of land Llanddwyn Island, named after St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, has more than its fair share of things to see. Away from the beaches there are historic lighthouses, the remains of a church, crosses and a terrace of houses once used by pilots guiding ships into the Menai Straits.

Tŵr Mawr lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey
Tŵr Mawr lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey

I thought we were the only ones on Llanddwyn. Until I realised I was about to walk into a photo shoot. Several professional looking photographers had set up their tripods and cameras to record the perfect sunset shot. Feeling guilty about spoiling their photos I decided not to visit Tŵr Mawr lighthouse. Instead I joined them on the rocks to bag a shot of my own.

After the sunset, Llanddwyn
After the sunset, Llanddwyn

Leaving the island we raced the darkening skies back to our car. As we drove home through the woods we scared the kids with tales of mutant giant squirrels attacking the car. They’re old enough for a few scary stories. But it was funny how they both locked their passenger doors!

Newborough beach

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Our second sunset visit was unplanned. We’d set off on an after dinner walk to a different stretch of beach. All started well until I climbed a sand dune expecting to see the sea. The water was a good mile away, separated by rolling sand dunes. Realising we wouldn’t reach the beach for sunset we turned around and retreated to the car.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Undeterred we drove on to Newborough beach, arriving just as the sun dipped behind the trees. There was no time to walk far from the car park. Once again the tide was out. But this time so was the sun. It was stunning.

View over to the mainland from Newborough beach, Anglesey
View over to the mainland from Newborough beach, Anglesey

Over on the mainland the sky above the mountains of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula turned pink. Inspired by this view we headed there later in the week to climb Yr Eifl, the hill on the right in the picture above.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Returning my gaze to Anglesey I watched the most incredible sunset. As the sun sank below the horizon the clouds turned from yellow to orange to red. The colours reflecting in the pools left by the retreating tide.

Brent geese flying from Newborough beach
Brent geese flying from Newborough beach

With impeccable timing a flock of Brent geese flew up from the shoreline, silhouetted against the orange sky. I couldn’t have  imagined a more perfect ending to the day.

Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey
Newborough beach sunset, Anglesey

Another five minutes and the colours were gone. It was time for us to leave.

We didn’t return to Newborough beach again; there was no need. I’ll remember this sunset for the rest of my life. And if you’re looking for the best sunset in Anglesey, perhaps even Wales, you should visit too!

If you’d like to find out what else we enjoyed on the island more pop over to 10 things to do on the Isle of Anglesey.

More info:

  • Newborough Nature Reserve is on the southern tip of Anglesey. Car parking costs £4 during the day but the barrier is up and it appears to be free during the evenings.
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A family walk around Lepe Loop, Hampshire

“Are we near the sea yet?” my son asked as we drove into the beach car park at Lepe Country Park. “Er, yes, look in front of you”. To be fair, the drive down hadn’t provided any of the tantalising sea glimpses that normally precede arrival at a beach. But now the Solent sparkled just a few metres away from us.

Walking towards Watch House, Lepe
Walking towards Watch House, Lepe

The weather forecast was perfect for a weekend outing to the seaside; a day out to capture the remnants of summer. The busy car park informed us we weren’t the only ones with this idea. Although we were missing one essential item, a dog. You cannot take a dog onto Lepe family beach during the summer months. But from the start of October everyone brings their pooches for a paddle!

Family tradition dictates that we start our days out with a visit to a cafe. Fortunately Lepe had a beach cafe, albeit heaving with ramblers, families and day trippers all making the most of the autumn sun. We shared a couple of slices of cake, fuel for our morning walk.

Lepe Loop

Our route for the day was the 5 mile Lepe Loop. The circular trail runs west along the beachfront before heading inland along footpaths and gravel tracks. It’s an easy route to follow, both in terms of terrain and navigation. The walk is marked throughout with Lepe Loop signs.

Turnstone on Lepe beach
Turnstone on Lepe beach

As we set off along the seafront a small flock of turnstone ran back and forth, flying off whenever we got too close only to land again a few feet in front of us. They entertained us for quite some time and I even managed a couple of photos during one of their rare standing still(ish) interludes.

The Isle of Wight looked deceptively close. So close that if it wasn’t for the busy shipping channel you could almost imagine swimming over (well, not me, I’m a terrible swimmer). There were a couple of hardy swimmers taking a morning dip closer to shore. Evidently the sea is at its warmest tempersture in late summer but rather them than me.

Walking along Lepe beach
Walking along Lepe beach

Along the waterfront we found clumps of pampas grass. I hardly see them nowadays but I’m old enough to remember when every house in the 1970s had a clump in the front garden. Although in my naivety I’ve only just discovered that it was evidently a signal for couples who enjoyed other activities too!

Lepe Lighthouse

Our route took us past the small, but perfectly proportioned, lighthouse. It’s officially a Millenium River Beacon, and looks much older than it actually is. Only built in 2000 its job is to steer seafarers into the Beaulieu River fom the busy Solent.

Around Lepe lighthouse
Around Lepe lighthouse

We coincided our walk with high tide so followed the detour onto a country lane near Inchmery House. As we walked past we were intrigued by the extensive CCTV signs. Minutes later a police car cruised slowly by so we decided it was time to Google the owner. This turned out to be the historian and TV presenter Dan Snow. Just as interesting were its former owners, mercenary Simon Mann and the Mitford and de Rothschild families. If walls could talk!

Picnic site on the Lepe Loop
Picnic site on the Lepe Loop

Although high tide scuppered plans to eat our picnic on the beach we managed to find a spot on the edge of the salt marsh at the junction of the high and low tide routes. With the warm October sun shining on us and calm water lapping at our toes it was an idyllic place.

Living inland, the huge appeal of walking the Lepe Loop was the first mile or so along the waterfront. Whilst the remainder of the walk was pleasant enough I can trek through fields and along tracks almost any day. That’s my excuse for realising I’d taken lots of photographs of the beach, but none of the rest of the walk!

View from Lepe Country Park over the Solent
View from Lepe Country Park over the Solent

D-Day at Lepe

After the main walk we wandered east along the beach to look for the World War II remains. The beach was used for loading heavy equipment in preparation for the D-Day invasion, and some of the structures are still visible. There’s an information board that explains the various items; the rusty platforms below are known as dolphins and were used to help load the departing ships.

World War II ruins, off Lepe beach
World War II ruins, off Lepe beach

We also found chocolate bars. Don’t get too excited, they’re made of concrete and although they appear to be modelled on Dairy Milk they were actually used to stengthen the beach so the tanks could be loaded onto the departing ships.

Elsewhere in the park there is a Cold War underground monitoring bunker which is being restored. Strange to think that when I visited Lepe as a child this was probably in use.

Returning to the car park we stopped for a while to watch a huge container ship manoeuvre itself out into the Solent from Southampton. It dwarfed the Isle of Wight Red Jet ferry and reminded me just how busy this stretch of water is. Although perhaps quieter than our M3 journey home!

More info

  • We followed the route in the Lepe Loop walking leaflet. Available via the online link and as a printed copy (costs 50p) at the visitor centre in the car park.
  • It cost £6 for a day’s parking at Lepe Country Park. It’s cheaper out of season although Hampshire County Council still classify October as summer. There’s a cafe, small visitor centre and toilet facilities.
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