Ardnamurchan - journey to the wild west of Scotland
The Ardnamurchan peninsula feels more like an island, way out west on Scotland’s seaboard. Rugged with a remote air, it’s quite a Highland adventure.
This is a little piece I once wrote after a visit to Ardnamurchan, where we went all the way to the end of the peninsula, to the lighthouse.
The picture below of Ardnamurchan Lighthouse was taken from the ferry to Lochboisdale, South Uist. And, as we have been on the island of Mull from time to time, on this page there are also some views with the Ardnamurchan peninsula as a backdrop.
This peninsula is always described in guidebooks as ending at the most westerly point in the UK mainland, marked on the Ordnance Survey maps as Point of Ardnamurchan, roughly translated as 'point of storms' in the Gaelic.
Say it out loud and roll it around your mouth and it even sounds grumbly and stormy: ‘Arrrid-na-murrri-chan’ . (Work with me here, will ya? The 'ch' is the same as in Scots/Gaelic - like 'loch', of course.)
Anyway, strictly speaking, the most westerly chunk is called Corrachaidh Mor and lies just to the south of Ardnamurchan Point. Though it is a peninsula, it might as well be an island.
That’s my overall impression – it has that sense of being a long way out west. The driving route from the east, is probably most commonly done via the Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe (non bookable, frequent).
Ardnamurchan - get to the point
After Salen, this route narrows – winkling its way through the mossy woods west from Salen, along the shores of Loch Sunart. It’s quite a slow progress, up and down and round the rhododendron-shrouded blind bends. With the car pitching and rolling you might even think you are at sea. It feels a long way – but it really is worth the journey. Just allow enough time.
(Pictured here) The quintessential Hebridean view – Rum (left) and Eigg (right) from the north shore of Ardnamurchan. Smell the salt air!
And compare this late summer pic to the snowy early spring shots - see below - taken from nearby.
Exploring the peninsula is a worthwhile option if you are on a freelance ‘see-how-the-Highland-weather-goes’ trip and find yourself in that great route-centre of the Highlands: Fort William.
Or, you might take it into your head to visit as you look across Loch Linnhe to the inviting gap between the big hills of Ardgour which leads on to Glen Tarbert, Strontian, then Salen, as described above.
Tobermory on Mull is easily included on a trip along the Ardnamurchan Peninsula (or vice-versa) There is a ferry link from Kilchoan on the peninsula. Ardnamurchan itself has the feel of an island – a place apart.
Visiting the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan
Yes, the lighthouse at the end of the road can be visited. In fact, between April and October you can climb to the very top.
The tower was built in 1849, to a design by Alan Stevenson, uncle of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson.
The lighthouse is 118ft (36m) high - from sea level even higher, as it is standing on a rocky headland.
Another fact often related is that it is built in ‘Egyptian’ style - this architectural fashion periodically broke out in the 19th century, not just in Scotland.
Anyway, there is a visitor centre, cafe etc nearby as well - useful for refreshments if you’ve found the drive a bit wearisome.
A few pictures supplied by friends on a separate trip show the headland in early spring, with sunshine but a biting wind. In fact, the wind speed can be judged by noting the angle of the labrador’s ears.
The views from the headland are pretty sensational. The Skye Cuillins are distant, while the Small Isles can be fairly easily disentangled - distinctive tops of the Rum Cuillin, plus the prominent landmark of the Sgurr of Eigg. That only leaves the wee island of Muck, with a comparatively low profile.
The Long Road West...
Anyway, make that trip west, for a whole variety of reasons. Take your time. Stop often on the way. Enjoy the birdsong in the oakwoods of Sunart. On the way west, you’ll find a natural history and visitor centre in Glenmore.They are so integrated with the local wildlife that last time I was there, they had a pine marten using the place as its den.
There it was, sound asleep – you could look at it through a special window. The owners tell me the beasties are still around.
High hopes of a family party of pine martens taking up residence in the spring. And it’s about as close as you’ll ever get to a real wild pine marten unless you’re very lucky. Discover more on Scottish wildlife.
The view here is actually from an island – Mull – looking across from Tobermory towards the peninsula in the far left background.
(Pictured here) Actually, the whole area is big on the unspoilt environment. As well as being a National Nature Reserve, the Ariundle oakwoods are so green, mossy and other-worldly that you half-expect to meet a hobbit on an elf-guided walk.
While Sanna at the western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula is the best known stretch of unspoilt sands, it’s worth exploring the other ‘hidden gems’ in the area. This view looks north towards the Small Isles.
It seems to be a fact not often mentioned in guidebooks that this Atlantic woodland is actually older than the Caledonian pinewood which is usually exemplified as the great natural woodland of Scotland.
However, all this greenery and wild nature in the west of Scotland has a price – and that’s the rainfall – obviously why it’s so green in the first place.
Finally, if you really find the road to Ardnamurchan too much to face on your return journey, then - just to repeat - combine it with a trip to Mull, using the ferry from Kilchoan, on the peninsula, to Tobermory on Mull. That way you ‘escape’ the peninsula’s return journey eastwards – though escape is a term used loosely here. You may not want to leave this especially atmospheric – if out on a limb – part of Scotland.
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