Walk : Acharacle to Laga

In 2005 the Land Reform (Scotland) Act came into force. This wonderful piece of legislation gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland.

These rights are sometimes referred to as ‘freedom to roam’ or ‘right to roam’.

There are specific exclusions e.g. fields with growing crops, gardens (!), and there is a requirement to behave responsibly. All very reasonable.

Without this legislation, walking would often be restricted to rights of way such as footpaths and bridlepaths, often long-established.

And Ardnamurchan has relatively few of these.

Coast to coast

The settlements on Ardnamurchan are situated on the periphery of the peninsula. The sheltered moorings at Salen, Glenborrodale bay with its castle and Kilchoan on the southern shoreline. Sanna, the hamlets of Kilmory and Ockle on the north coast, and Acharacle at the mouth of Loch Shiel.

Ardnamurchan peninsula

These places are still linked by tracks across the relatively barren hinterland. On the north shore of Loch Sunart the winding B8007 presumably follows a historic cart track and, before then, a route used by farmers going to and from Ardgour.

However, along the north coast and linking the north and south coasts, a number of tracks remain. These provide relatively unchallenging walking over some beautiful empty hills and moors, often offering stunning views across the peninsula.

One of my favourites is the track from Acharacle to Glenborrodale.

Kentra Moss

Recent forestry activity at the Glenborrodale end of the track has made access more difficult (more on this later) and left an ugly scar on the landscape.

I therefore recommend walking north to south (starting from Acharacle) and deviating from the Glenborrodale track to instead finish at Laga.

Acharacle and Kentra Moss

The easiest point to start from is Acharacle Primary School (NM 67448 68069). This is a short walk north along the A861 from the bustling metropolis of Acharacle.

Don’t let the the ‘A’ prefix on the road number mislead you. Parts of it are single track.

Acharacle, Arivegaig and Kentra Moss

There’s a small parking area just west of the school, with a gate leading to the track to Arevigaig that winds through the Bealach Clach an Aighe 1.

Kentra Moss

You emerge from the scrubby mixed birch woodland onto the south eastern edge of Kentra Moss. This, together with Claish Moss on the southern shore of Loch Shiel, is one of the rare ‘eccentric’ mires in the UK. This habitat is characterised by oceanic blanket bog, rich in mosses, sphagnum, cross-leaved heath and bogbean.

Stick to the track. This amount of sphagnum doesn’t flourish without very large amounts of water. The raised bog isn’t safe to walk on, and would be damaged if you did.

Kentra Moss … very wet everywhere

Kentra Moss is a great place for dragonflies and insectivorous plants, neither of which I’m much good at identifying. During the summer months the bird life is good, with a number of different breeding waders.

A couple of hundred metres after the track bears west you come to a junction with a concrete bridge over one of the many burns that drains the bog. Turn left here (bearing south) on a recently upgraded track leading up away from Kentra Moss into the low hills.

Kentra Moss – track junction looking north

To see more of Kentra Moss there’s also a circular walk that follows the track on to Arivegaig.

Waterworks

There is a new water purification plant up the hill above Kentra Moss. The track goes past a large agricultural-looking building and a water tank with a fabulous view across Kentra Bay to Eigg and Rum before abruptly petering out at a gate held closed with a rusty chain.

View across Kentra Bay to Eigg and Rum.

The track changes from reasonably well-graded crushed rock to a more typical gnarly mountain track, largely suitable for a good 4WD vehicle, an Argo ATV, a mountain bike (and fit rider) or Vibram-soled boots.

Here, and increasingly on the route south, the track offers the ‘path of least’ resistance to water, so it’s not unusual to be walking up a shallow stream.

There’s plenty of evidence of the previous glaciation of the region, with rocks bearing characteristic linear scarring where glaciers have advanced or retreated.

Glacier was ‘ere

The track climbs gently before cresting the ridge and dropping to a sturdy wooden bridge over the Allt Beithe (Birch stream).

Bridge over Allt Beithe

After crossing the stream the track gets smaller and wetter, climbing across the hill in a south-easterly direction towards Beinn Laga.

As the track approaches Loch Laga the land levels out and it gets very wet underfoot. The water just stands around waiting to overtop your boots, rather than conveniently running away downhill.

But the view opens out to the south and east, particularly if you climb a little way above the track (but don’t leave a cairn to spoil the landscape for others). It feels remote but isn’t really.

The Sunart hills

On a poor day, with heavy cloud and squally showers, the views are less good, or potentially non-existent. However, don’t forget to scan the surrounding ridges for eagles – I’ve often seen them here, particularly when the weather is less than favourable.

Loch Laga

Loch Laga lies in the boggy ground between Meall nan Each and Ben Laga, east of the Fiddler’s Slab (Leac an Fhidhleir). There’s a small corrugated fishing hut at Loch Laga and I assume the fishing is controlled by the Ardnamurchan Estate, though I’ve not been able to confirm this.

Approaching Loch Laga.

It’s an exposed spot and it’s not unusual for the loch to be covered in short, white-capped waves. This is a good place to see both red and black throated divers. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them bred on the small rocky island in the Loch.

Loch Laga

As the track skirts the west shore of the loch it is indistinct in places and heavily eroded in others, with the latter likely due to over-enthusiastic (or ambitious) access with an Argo on the peaty soil.

The track rises gently, curving in a more westerly direction. About half a mile after the fishing hut there’s a small cairn in the heather on the left side of the track (NM636632).

This marks the junction with a smaller track leading to Laga.

Cairn do

From the Acharacle to Glenborrodale track, this spur off to Laga is almost invisible. Perhaps this is one of the few times when a cairn is useful. Approaching from the west there’s a tendency to turn south too soon and the ground is very rough and boggy. Not recommended.

After a hundred metres or so the track rises on a rocky spur leading south. Underfoot the going is good except for a few extensively boggy areas. None of these offer too much of a problem if you’re willing to skirt around them and take a ‘leap of faith’ (from one semi-dry tussock to another) a few times.

Track to Laga

The track descends very gently towards Laga. With every step the views across Morvern, the Isle of Carna and Loch Sunart increase and improve.

Keep an eye on the rocky ridge of Ben Laga to your east. This is a good place to see eagles, though the prevailing wind tends to need to be south-westerly or westerly.

From outside in – Laga Farm native woodland

The descent steepens and a deer fence appears to the west. This marks the boundary of the Laga Farm native woodland development.

The end is nigh

In a fold in the hillside a heavy angled gate appears in the deer fence which enables you to cross into the land enclosed by the Laga Farm fencing.

From inside out – open moorland to the east of the Laga Farm native woodland enclosed area

Within metres the difference is striking.

Inside the protective deer fence there are trees growing all over the place. Inevitably some of these will have been planted, but many of the birches, rowan etc will be self-seeded.

In contrast, outside the fence, the moorland is barren with barely a tree in sight. The only exceptions are those growing in inaccessible clefts on the steepest slopes, or in the ravines through which the streams tumble.

This is compelling evidence that there are too many deer.

Laga Farm native woodland, looking south across Loch Sunart to Morvern

The next kilometre or so are increasingly steep and increasingly wooded. It’s lovely now and it’s getting better year after year as the trees mature.

The gravelly and rocky path still offers the ‘path of least resistance’ to water which, in turn, provides miniature pools for dragonflies to lay eggs, like this golden-ringed dragonfly.

Finally the track levels out and you reach a gate through the deer fencing which brings you out onto the B8007.

Turn left for the fleshpots of Salen and all points east, turn right for civilisation, Glenborrodale and Kilchoan.

Loch Sunart, near Laga

It’s worth noting that parking at Laga is very restricted. The road is single track and the passing places are heavily used for, er, passing. Don’t park in them! Laga Bay is also the base for Mowi in this part of the loch and some gateways are used for lorries turning. Finally, Laga is the base for Ardnamurchan Charters (ferry to Mull, Carna and wildlife trips) and their parking area should not be used.

Alternative ending

Rather than turn south at the cairned turn (NM636632) shortly after Loch Laga you can keep on the main track to Glenborrodale. The route turns more westerly and eventually turns south into Glen Borrodale. The going underfoot is much like the first half of the route, with some spectacularly wet and soggy bits.

The route crosses a couple of good-sized burns and bridges ensure your already soaked footwear doesn’t get any wetter 😉

Bridge over the Allt something or other

As the route bears south into Glen Borrodale there are a number of deer fences to negotiate. This area has recently been clear-felled and it is a rather barren and unattractive landscape. The track improves and so do the height of the deer fences.

If you are lucky the gates will be unlocked. If you’re unlucky you will have to scale the 8 foot fences. In several visits over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky about 50% of the time.

Trees were here … but won’t be again for a long time

So much for the ‘right to roam’.

This is a well-established route between Glenborrodale and Acharacle and is in many of the guidebooks to the area.

The deer fences 2 are to protect the thousands of young (native thankfully) trees planted in the felled and adjacent areas of moorland. At my last visit these were only 30 – 60 cm tall, so there’s some way to go before the forestry-induced scarring is hidden again.

The track finally descends through the Glenborrodale woodchip plant and emerges on the B8007.

There are more places to park near Glenborrodale but the deforested landscape, locked gates and less impressive views make the Laga end to the walk preferable in my opinion.

Loch Laga

The Acharacle – Laga walk is about 6 miles. The alternative ending in Glenborrodale is probably a mile or so longer.

The route and going underfoot is easy to moderate but remember to wear appropriate footwear and take waterproofs. This near to the Atlantic the weather can change – and often does – in minutes.


 

  1. I’m not going to guess at many of these translations … this is something like Pass of the Ice Stones … perhaps.
  2. But the lack of opening gates is disappointing and – as the Laga Farm example shows – easily remedied.

8 thoughts on “Walk : Acharacle to Laga

  1. Mairi Ross Grey

    Thank you for this wonderful article and enjoyed the positive reaction to Laga Farm woodland. We planted it in 2012 and there were many sleepless nights due to very dry spring weather and other management issues . Delighted it is doing so well and making an impact. We are keen to encourage walkers to enjoy walking over the hill . Loch Laga is in Shiel Bridge Estate ownership for info. Kind Regards Laga Farm

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello

      The Laga Farm planting is an inspiration. It just shows what can be achieved when the deer are kept at bay (plus the addition of a few thousand bareroot ‘whips’, good planning, rain etc.). I think I first walked this track in the mid/late 90’s and have done it several times in the last 18 months. It’s great to see the trees maturing.

      A little further west and we’re plagued with rhododendron which I’m slowly clearing. This winter the first 100 or so mixed hazel, alder, hawthorn, gean and rowan go in. It’s a much smaller area (and already has some birch and oak) and it’s reassuring to know that in 5-7 years we can hopefully see similar improvements to the habitat.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply
  2. Lynn Genevieve

    Lovely description – I’ve only done the full walk once… I live locally… the access issues are a factor in why I do not walk this more often. It’s a pity this wasn’t shared a few weeks ago so that the cord footpath consultation could’ve been added for people to comment on the Highland council site. It’s closed now…

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Hello Lynn

      I also live locally – some of the time – and didn’t know there was ongoing consultation about the core footpaths. If I had, I’d have contributed as I have strong views about estates closing routes when there’s no real justification for it. This route is well established and on OS maps going back 20+ years (probably when I first walked it), though it’s not on the 1875 OS maps of the region I’ve seen. The ‘self-closing’ gate design used by Laga Farm would be a straightforward solution, preventing deer from getting through a gate left open inadvertently, whilst enabling walkers access to the hills.

      Regards
      David

      Reply
      1. Lynn Genevieve

        Indeed David – the self closing gates or similar should be in place according to the grant conditions the estate had for planting and the access via the wood chip plant also should be maintained according to planning… we have appealed to a Highland council, MP’s and open access officers and the land owner is standing firm… only court action will budge this… sadly I think a watered down response will ensue and we’ll be pushed around forever by this land owner if we’re not careful… so we all should keep walking these paths.
        I’ve only just discovered your blog… it’s fab.

        Reply
        1. David Post author

          Thanks Lynn

          I’ve only really just started writing … so you’ve not missed a whole lot.

          I’ve no intention of being put off by a few fences from enjoying my right to walk in the hills. I’ve been challenged at the wood chip plant, but not stopped … I was polite (as always) but resolute and went on my way.

          I like your email name!

          Cheers
          David

          Reply
  3. Archie McLellan

    Very evocative, and great pictures.

    I’ve not heard of core footpaths. I quickly looked for a popular one that I knew well: Bracorina (Loch Morar) to Stoul (Loch Nevis) – but it doesn’t qualify as ‘core’. It is visible on the amazing aerial maps on Bing maps which are far higher resolution than when I last looked. That volcano crater shape near Sanna is very striking!

    Thanks as always for the posts.
    Archie

    Reply
    1. David Post author

      Thanks Archie

      Core footpaths were new to me when I returned to Scotland in 2015. In Fife there’s an extensive and well established network of well-signed routes. In Lochaber much less so. This is perhaps understandable. Fife is arable and inevitably routes need protecting to avoid them being ploughed over or obliterated (accidentally or otherwise 🙁 ).

      I think the Bracorina to Stoul route was walked (at least part of it) by Neil Ansell in The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence which I know you’ve read. It’s an area I plan to visit … along with about a thousand other places as well in the region.

      There’s a canoe route east along Loch Morar, a tough portage across to Tarbet on Loch Nevis, and then back west around the coast to the start point at Morar. This is not on my list of things to do, but I respect those fit enough to do it (whilst also questioning their sanity).

      The Bing and Google satellite images are – in many regions – very high resolution. In places, they’re good enough to identify beehives in apiaries. Or even paving slabs with or without a hive standing on it. They’re also a few years out of date … though this doesn’t influence visualising the remains of the volcano shaped crater on Ardnamurchan.

      Which, tangentially reminds me to prepare a Wordless Wednesday post on an amazing erratic (boulder) I discovered recently … a glacial rather than volcanic remnant, but related as being rocky and old.

      Cheers
      David

      Reply

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