Take a walk on the wild side
Scotland's Ardnamurchan peninsula – not Cornwall's Land's End – is as far west as the roads in mainland Britain will take you. Angela Dewar enjoyed total seclusion in this unspoilt wilderness
If I'd been told a boat trip in the rain was on the itinerary for our weekend away, I’d probably have cancelled. Who wants to spend hours in the Scottish drizzle when the scenery can be viewed from the much cosier interior of your holiday cottage? But fortunately for me, bone idleness wasn’t on the agenda for our break in Ardnamurchan, the most westerly tip of mainland Britain ‐ otherwise I’d have missed the thrilling sail around Loch Sunart, rain and all.
Andy Jackson is one of the local boatmen with the skills to steer safely around the rocky shorelines of Carna Island and the wild mainland coast. With him at the wheel, we set off from Laga Bay, and five minutes later came to a stop. Porpoises had been spotted, and with a bit of patience, we managed to drift close enough to get a good look at them.
By the time the rain started to ease off, we’d squeezed around the side of Carna and were surrounded by scores of seals, their inquisitive faces popping out of the water. A little further along, a squadron of eider ducks flapped by at high speed, just inches above the waves, and herons stood knee-deep on the marshy shoreline, watching us watching them.
The next day the sun shone as we set off on a wildlife walk from Sanna Bay to Portuaick, with our expert guide Nick Peake. Some 59 million years ago, the Ardnamurchan peninsula was part of a chain of erupting lava fields, and as we moved inland I could see that I was in the middle of a natural, miles-wide amphitheatre ‐ the massive crater of a long extinct volcano. This is where forested hills give way to sparse moorland. Battered by salty winds, few trees grow in such a stunningly stark landscape.
There’s no escaping the harshness of life in this remote corner of the country, whatever the weather. Be prepared for changing conditions, even in the middle of summer. But that’s all part of the unique appeal of Ardnamurchan, a narrow, 50-square-mile peninsula on the dividing line between the northern and the southern Hebrides and surrounded by the islands of Mull, Coll, Muck and Eigg.
The light and the ever-changing shades of blue as the sky meets the sea are bewitching; generations of painters have tried to capture the scene and it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph. Today, Ardnamurchan meets the modern age at the Natural History Centre in Glenmore. Open from Easter to October, it’s an introduction to the natural environment of the area with CCTV providing live coverage of wild birds and river life, plus up-to-the-minute information about wildlife sightings.
To get a feel for Ardnamurchan’s past, we drove to Castle Tioram, a ruin atop a rocky cliff where the waters of Loch Moidart and the River Shiel meet. Once the seat of the MacDonald clan, it burnt down during the Jacobite Uprising, but the crumbling shell is still an awe-inspiring sight.
Only the very energetic trudge up to Castle Tioram, but the steps to the 19th Egyptian-style lighthouse tower at Ardnamurchan Point are well-trodden in the summer months. Most people come here for the views of the Hebridean islands, and to watch for whales. If the weather’s good, sit under the massive foghorn, look out to sea and keep your eyes peeled for the minke and killer whales that can sometimes be spotted from this point.
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These days, most locals make their money from tourism, providing accommodation ‐ the peninsula is dotted with holiday cottages ‐ transport and guided tours. There are no towns or villages ‐ just a string of tiny settlements along the single-track roads. But there’s a warm welcome and a wonderful sense of community.
Self-catering accommodation near settlements such as Salen, Glenborrodale, Kilchoan, Ockle and Shielfoot are plentiful. They’re pretty, traditional whitewashed cottages with all of the essentials for modern life.
real get-away-from-it-all escapism, the north and west coasts are the
most remote; for total seclusion, there’s nothing like the cottage
that can be rented on Carna Island, uninhabited since the Clearances.
The island’s caretakers take you there by private launch and drop
you off with your provisions. You also get the use of a boat, fishing
equipment and a radio to keep you in touch with civilisation.
• To contact Angela Dewar, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org