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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
Starting from the nearby crofting village of Portuairk we walked along the coast to the sandy beaches of Sanna.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
- As with previous holidays to Scotland I found the Walk Highlands website invaluable for planning our walks.