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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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.
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