This series on Scotland follows my steps on a recent trip to the magical land up north. Part I of these articles features Gretna Green, and Part II features the lovely area around Glencoe and Ballachulish, and Part III features the town of Fort William and the fabulous "Road to the Isles."
I'm now in the final day of my wonderful trip to Scotland. The sun is still shining, which in itself, is a miracle in Scotland, the road is winding but free of traffic, and the views are drop dead gorgeous. If you are looking for solitude and sheer, indescrible beauty, the Ardnamurchan Peninsula will never disappoint.
On this sunny day, we approached the peninsula from the north, heading south from the "Road to the Isles," on the A861. As I drove the gracious curves around the mountains, to my right, the sun was making the Sound of Arisaig a lovely, shimmering mirror. It's hard to keep your eyes on the road (but very advisable around here!), but now and then I would sneak peeks over the water, getting an eyeful of the nearby islands of Muck, Eigg, Rum, and Skye. Visibility was so good, I could actually make out land formations, rather than the usual grey blobs that islands look like on a Scottish grey, rainy day.
Enough With the Charlie Sights Already!
To approach the Ardnamurchan Peninsula from the north, the road takes you through and area known as Moidart, named after its beautiful counterpart, Loch Moidart. After you pass the tiny, but pretty town of Glenuig, the road narrows and the drive gets even better. Before you reach the next town, Kinlochmoidart, on the right, you'll see the "Seven Men of Moidart," seven beech trees planted in the early years of the 19th century, which pay tribute to the seven men who landed at this point in Scotland with Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. By this time, I was getting sick of Charlie sights, and stuck my tongue out as we rolled by.
Upon leaving Kinlochmoidart, the road begins to climb...and climb. This area is not for the nervous driver, but easy enough to navigate as you needn't worry about other cars. Shortly after you leave town, on the right side of the road, there is a massive group of cairns sitting by the roadside. The four cairns sit on an ancient "coffin route," and mark where coffins were placed on the way to the local churchyard, while their bearers rested and probably were near heart attacks from carrying dead weight over this mountainous region. Mind you, the ones that got roped in to coffin carrying duty were probably pretty fit after the second or third time they trotted a dead man over that terrain!
When you finally reach the top of the climb, the view that awaits you is well worth the trip. There are plenty of scenic outlook spots, but be sure and stop at the top to take everything in. Breathe in the fresh air, and pat yourself on the back for not having a nervous breakdown while driving thus far!
The road heads down now, and when you near the bottom, a town and a pub is close at hand. If you fancy a diversion, before you reach Acharacle, a tiny road on the right leads to Kentra Bay, which is known for its pretty sandy beaches, and the ruins of Castle Tioram. To look at Castle Tioram, you would suspect that this 14th century ruin was destroyed in a fierce battle. In actual fact, however, the castle was a victim of arson, by its own owner, the chief of Clanranald, who torched his own place rather than it fall into the hands of his enemies during the 1715 Jacobite skirmishes.
A Date With A Rock
Having flown through Acharacle (more on that later), we paused to take in the tiny town of Salen. This is a pretty little village and a good place to stop for the evening. We intended to return and rest for the night, excited by the even more remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula which lay before us.
The peninsula heads down the B8007, and in case you're unaware of British roadmarkings, a "B road" is a minor road, and the next step before you get to what are called "unclassified roads," which means, the government acknowledge their existence, but so few people use them, that they don't bother numbering or naming them. The bottom line here is that you are heading to Remoteville, Population: You.
Having said that, it was a lovely drive down a single track road...only spoiled by the jerk who flew by the passing point on his end of the road, expecting us to reverse about a mile to let him by. My reversing skills being what they are (crap - but I am a good driver, honest!), I refused to back up, and instead of backing up ten yards or so, he decided to get out of his car (I thought he was going to come throttle me) and make certain there was enough room off the road for his precious vehicle to pass. Grrr!
Road rage aside, we continued onwards after showing him our gratitude (my mum-in-law, now 80, added her surprising hand signal), and after what seemed like a lifetime, arrived at Glenborrodale. Glenborrodale is a nice town in itself, but visitors may want to reserve some time here for the Ardnamurchan Natural History Visitor Centre. This is a superb centre, highlighting the geology, plants and animal life of Ardnamurchan.
Nearby you will also find a wildlife reserve, home to golden eagles, otters, and seals, among others. You can hike through this area (for the hearty and prepared), or you may want to try doing some coastal spotting by hopping a ride with Ardnamurchan Charters (enquiries: 44 (0)1972 500 208), who can take you to the Isle of Mull, or other trips, including Fingal's Cave.
The next town down the road is Kilchoan, the main village on the peninsula. This town makes the best for exploring the western end of the peninsula, and during the summer season, there's a car ferry to Mull seven times daily, and a tourist information centre (enquiries: 44 (0)1972 510 222).
Should you continue to the most westerly point of the peninsula, the aptly named Ardnamurchan Point, an unmanned lighthouse, visitor centre (enquiries: 44 (0)1972 510 210), cafe, and wonderful views await you. Birders will love the terns, gillemots and gulls here, and everyone can enjoy the wild wind and cracking views west overlooking Tiree, Coll, and Mull.
The sun was starting to tire, and we were alarmed to see it preparing to set for bedtime, so we started to backtrack our way to Salen (there's only the one road down the peninsula - how's that for remoteness?). We were on a merry way when we came across yet another car that had passed its passing place. The road looked a bit wider here, so with kindness in my heart, I swerved to the grassy area on the left of the road to make room for the car to pass when...
Boom! There was an awful metal cracking sound, and I struggled to keep the car from crashing while stopping safely on the side of the road. The car that passed stopped, having heard the commotion, and pulled behind my car. Without having to get out, I knew I had a flat. My heart sank. We all got out of the car to have a look at the tire, as you do, and it wasn't going to get any flatter, so the kind man tried to change it. No cigar...the tire was stuck on there!
A Midge Feast
As we struggled to change the tire (okay, admittedly, most of us, his girlfriend included, were only watching), we noticed that there were midges everywhere...trust me to break down in the most midge infected section of Scotland. The tire was not going to budge, and naturally, my mobile had no service, as we were in the middle of nowhere.
A passing motorist arranged to call my automobile club service, and eventually three kind Edinburgh lads removed and changed the tire (thanks guys!). There was a puncture hole the size of a 5p coin, thanks to a massive sharp rock cleverly buried in a hole, also cleverly disguised by the grass on the verge. As I slapped my head with a "d'oh!," it then occurred to me...when you drive by mountainous areas...where does the water drain? Downwards, and in this case, eroding holes by the side of the road. So never leave the road! I'd learnt my lesson.
After thanking the Edinburgh lads extensively (they wouldn't even let us reward them with beer money, bless 'em), we were on our way, scratching midge bites like mad. We got about a quarter of a mile, and a sick feeling in my stomach told me all was not well with the car, so we pulled over to wait for the motor service. Upon arrival (which was pretty quick, considering how far away we were from a sizeable town), the bad news was pronounced. The suspension arm was twisted, and would need to be repaired before driving the car again.
We were towed back to Acharacle, the nearest garage, and accepted our stranded fate. The lads at the garage referred us to a B&B, owned by Emily and Gerald Crisp (enquiries: 44 (0)1967 431 318). We dropped off our things, and headed to the local pub at the Loch Shiel House Hotel (enquiries: 44 (0)1967 431 224) to drown our sorrows, and laugh off the day.
Acharacle, admittedly, is a nice town, but unless you are a walker, there is absolutely nothing to do there. Even the locals will tell you that! So we spent the night merrily in the pub, chatted with a local about the area and our misfortune, and giggled at Hamish, a small dog who acted like he owned the pub and barked at absolutely everyone.
After a tasty breakfast with our hosts in the morning, we decided to let the motoring service tow us home, rather than hope the parts needed for the repair arrived on a Friday afternoon from Inverness (which is miles away!). It had been a great trip, but sitting in the tow truck cab, after all the miles we had covered, I was quite happy to let someone else do the driving and really enjoy the view, the whole way home!
Marks out of 10 for Ardnamurchan Peninsula: 7
Don't drive off of the road even an iota in a mountainous area. Ha ha! For more information about this area, head to the Ardnamurchan Tourist Association web site at: http://www.ardnamurchan.com