Category Archives: places

Walk : Kilmory to Acharacle

Scotland has a well-documented series of core paths that are designed to give the public reasonable access to the ‘area’ 1. These are maintained – sometimes in the very loosest possible sense of the word – and are the responsibility of the local councils.

Many of these core paths have a long history of usage; as drove roads for cattle herders taking their animals to market, or as coffin roads (or corpse roads) which connected remote rural areas to cemeteries that had burial rights. 

Looking back … an irritating cairn spoiling the view of the Sound of Eigg, with Rum in the background

Fife is particularly well served with core paths, and I can walk for miles on reasonably well signposted tracks and bridleways. In contrast, Highland regional council has far fewer considering its area, and many of these are concentrated along the Great Glen, around Fort WIlliam and Inverness.

Core paths in Ardnamurchan, Morvern, Moidart and Sunart … or the lack of them.

Only seven of the Highland core paths are in Ardnamurchan 2. Of these, only two are longer than 3 km. But these are conveniently contiguous and stretch ~15 km from Ockle to Arivegaig to Acharacle along the north coast of the peninsula.

This is a fine walk or a largely off-road segment of an excellent mountain bike circuit of the peninsula. 

The remote north coast

The north coast of Ardnamurchan has a number of small communities, often overlooking white sandy beaches separated by low rocky headlands. Sanna has world-famous beaches, Fascadale has stunning views to Eigg, Rum and Skye, Kilmory has a lovely remote little beach and Ockle has a population (according to Wikipedia) of 1.

Actually, although I singled out the views from Fascadale, they’ve all got great views to the islands.

What a view! From L-R: Muck, Rum, Eigg, the Cuillin on Skye and the tip of Arisaig (on the mainland)

With the exception of the road from Kilmory to Ockle there is no road along the north coast. Each settlement is served by a spur running approximately north-south from the B8007

This remoteness makes a walk along the north coast all the better.

Kilmory to Acharacle walk – see text for details

This is a linear walk. You need transport to the start and at the end.

Unsurprisingly, with a population of 1, Ockle does not have a regular bus service.

In fact, it has no bus service at all … and, I suspect, may also not have a population of 1. 

Kilmory

Rather than start at Ockle I chose to start at Kilmory (#1 on the map). There is limited parking available and a lovely circular walled cemetery overlooking the sea, with views to the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum and all points North.

If you’re going to be laid to rest for eternity it’s a nice spot. Looking at the headstones it’s clear that there are some long-lived families in the Kilmory area.

Kilmory cemetery

The beach at Kilmory is also worth a visit. It lacks the bleached white sand of Sanna, but is much less busy and (at the right time of the year) the profusion of orchids on the enclosing headlands more than compensates.

Look out for merlin as well as they visit there in the colder months of the year. By the time the diminutive raptor has flashed across your retina and you’ve had time to think Was that a merlin? … they’ve gone.

Leave Kilmory by the only road leading to the east. 

Ockle

It’s about two miles from Kilmory to Ockle. The road winds along the coast, alternately giving views out to sea or across the patchwork of fields and grazing land managed by the local farms. 

The road to Ockle

You pass a number of holiday rental cottages dotted here and there, Swordle Farm and the track to Port an Droighoinn before reaching Ockle, population 1.

An unnamed burn en route to Ockle

Ockle (#2 on the map) is little more than a cluster of farm buildings, some of which are now holiday rental properties. A decade ago there was only one permanent resident, but it looked busier than that when I visited in mid-August. 

Ockle

Whatever the population, there has clearly been a relatively recent local conflagration as there were two halves of a torched boat on the banks of the Allt Ockle. This stream is so narrow you could use the boat as a bridge or simply jump across it.

Don’t burn your boats … or bridges. I’m sure there’s an interesting tale to tell about this …

The metalled road ends at Ockle. Follow the road round the end of the farm buildings and head up the slope. After about 100 m take the estate track that bears off in an easterly direction, past a pool on the hill above the settlement.

This track seems relatively new, or has received little use. Years ago I did the same route by mountain bike and don’t remember the track surface being crushed rock … and since it’s a rather unpleasant surface to ride on I think I would have remembered.

Evidence of the old track to Gortenfern

In places there are signs of the old track, like the corroded metal bars crossing one of the many burns dropping seawards. I don’t remember crossing that either, so perhaps my memory is going.

A sign on the dotted line

After about a mile and half the crushed rock track turns north to a very remote property (labeled Eilagadale on the 1:50,000 OS map, but unlabelled on the 1:25,000 sheet) on the coast, but the route to Gortenfern, Arivegaig and Acharacle continues south-east.

Gortenfern and Ockle signpost

Considering how remote this spot is (#3 on the map) there’s no chance of being in any doubt as to which way the route lies.

The track at this point changes dramatically, from one suitable for a Landrover to something little wider than a mountain bike tyre. The path contours round to a ford across Allt Eilagadale, wiggles a little bit to gain height, and then bears south-east through a shallow cleft between the the flanking hillsides.

Looking north west, back towards Ockle, population 1

The going is generally good underfoot and there are no route finding problems.

In places the combination of a steep hillside and well over a metre of rain a year, means bits of the narrow path have been washed away. 

In some of these places they’ve been washed quite a long way away, leaving a rather steep drop. Nothing to be concerned about on foot, but an interesting section of technical singletrack for mountain bikers.

Or an opportunity to dismount and push … 😉

The top of pass is wide and wet. 2020 has had a dry spring and summer and it was still wide and wet. In a wet year, with a bike, it’s hard work crossing over to the track leading down to Gortenfern.

Wildlife

You are crossing remote moorland, so what you see depends very much upon the time of year and how observant you are. I last did the walk in mid-August and was constantly accompanied by meadow pipits, but saw almost no other birdlife.

There were hundreds of day-flying magpie moths in the heather …

Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata)

… and a range of dragonflies, particularly as the track broadened and approached Gortenfern, including this lovely female black darter …

Black darter (female), Sympetrum danae

Before reaching Gortenfern the path joins a grassy Landrover track passing down one side of a narrow, shallow, flat-bottomed U shaped valley, and then drops into coniferous woodland.

A track to the left, marked variously with a faded ‘Beach’ sign hanging in a tree, and a much more artisticly painted stone, indicates a worthwhile diversion to the Singing SandsCamas an Lighe

This way to the Singing Sands

Camas an Lighe actually translates as something like Bay of the Flood I think, nothing to do with sand or song. The ‘singing sands’ refers to the noise the dry sand makes when it moves, either blown by the wind or when you walk, or better still, shuffle across it. 

To me it sounds more like a squeak, but I guess the ‘Squeaking Sands’ simply doesn’t have the same appeal.

Take care

It’s worth noting that the more you shuffle across the sand, the more likely you are to find some of the ‘unexploded munitions’ left there by commandos training during the Second World War. 

In addition to the singing squeaking and the bombs, the beach is lovely white sand and very scenic. It’s a great spot for a picnic, but can get busy in high season.

Ever eastwards …

If you’ve walked to Camas an Lighe from the west you’ve approached it from the best direction. The vast majority that visit will have walked in from the east, after parking at Arivegaig.

That’s the direction the path takes, through dense conifer plantation for the first mile and three quarters before emerging at Gortenfern (#5 on the map). The conifers are a bit unrelentingly dull, cutting out so much light that there’s little understorey, flowers or birdlife.

Nevertheless, in the damp, gloomy clearings, mosses flourish and cover everything with their soft, verdant pillows of greenness.

Moss heaven

From Gortenfern to Arivegaig you take the track around the southerly shore of Kentra Bay. This is lovely year round, with good views across to Ardtoe and lots of aquatic birds and waders. There is parking for about a dozen cars at Arivegaig adjacent to where the Allt Beithe 3 spills into Kentra Bay.

At Arivegaig you join the metalled road and, immediately after crossing the tiny burn called Dìg Bhàn (possible White ditch; #6 on the map) you turn right and follow the unmetalled track to Acharacle, emerging at the School.

The Dìg Bhàn is small enough to step across, but has its own bridge. For some time there’s been a rather nice rustic bench at the junction here with the track to Acharacle 4.

Rustic bench at Arivegaig

Once you reach the School at Arivegaig continue to the main road and turn right to reach the bustling town centre.

Take care on the main road (the A861) … not only will it have the only traffic you’ll have seen since Kilmory but there may also be red deer walking down the road in the middle of the day.

Mountain bike circumnavigation

The route from Kilmory to Acharacle makes up a little more than one third of a 32 mile circuit of eastern Ardnamurchan.

It makes sense to start and finish the circuit in Acharacle. There’s ample parking, Cafe Tioram, toilets and a village store. Good coffee and cakes are also available from Paul and Anita at Salen Jetty Shop if you’d prefer to start from Salen 5.

The route is entirely obvious … from Acharacle south to Salen, west through Laga and Glenborrodale to the junction with the Kilmory/Fascadale road near Ben Hiant. There you turn north to Kilmory where you join the route described above.

Ben Hiant … on the B8007 en route to the turn for Kilmory

About 10 miles of the circuit is not on a metalled road. Relatively little of it is truly unrideable if you have a good level of fitness, go after a prolonged dry spell, have reasonable singletrack skills and don’t mind the odd tumble.

However, if there’s been a lot of rain the singletrack east of the Eilagadale junction can get washed away and simply walking over the pass might require waders.

The 32 miles includes 3500 feet of climbing. It’s largely small undulations as the entire route goes from sea level to no higher than 700 feet. Over 90% of the metalled road in the circuit is single lane with passing places and fabulous views. It’s very easy cycling.

A superhuman or crazed masochist could instead start and finish a circuit at either Glenmore Natural History Centre (more coffee and cakes available 🙂 ) or the Glenborrodale RSPB reserve and cycle from Glenborrodale to Acharacle over ‘the top’. I’ve described this route (in the reverse direction) as an extension of the walk from Acharacle to Laga. From Acharacle you then stay off-road to Kilmory before taking the road back to Glenborrodale. This variant replaces the 11 mile road section from Acharacle to Glenborrodale with about 7 miles of off-road fun.

I’ve not done this last version of the circuit and doubt I ever could 🙁


 

Walk : Ben Laga

Ben Laga is a rocky peak on the northern shore of Loch Sunart in Ardnamurchan. At 512 metres it’s the second highest top (after Ben Hiant, 528 m) on Ardnamurchan proper 1. As such, it gets far fewer visitors than Ben Hiant, a fact reflected in the absence of erosion on the paths to the summit.

Or, for that matter, reflected by the absence of any obvious paths to the summit 😉

Ben Laga from the west with Beinn Resipol just visible over the ridge on the left

It makes for an enjoyable half day walk, with stunning panoramic views, or can be incorporated into a longer walk from Acharacle to Glenborrodale or Laga with ease.

Marilyn but not Munro

There are all sorts of lists of the hills of Scotland, defined by height and their separation from the adjacent tops.

  • Munros – the hills over 3000′ (914 m), first compiled by Sir H.T. Munro : 282 currently 2
  • Corbetts – those over 2500′ (762 m) but less than 3000′ : 222 in total
  • Grahams – hills over 2000′ (609 m) but less than 2500′ : 219 in total

At 1680′ Ben Laga manages to avoid all of these lists … and is all the better for it.

It is, of course, a Marilyn – a hill with a prominence greater than 150 m – but with 1218 other Marilyn’s in Scotland there are a lot of other hills and it’s two-thirds the way down that list 3 so easily overlooked.

There and back

Ben Laga features in a couple of the guidebooks to walking in the region. Brook & Hinchcliffe’s Scotland’s Far West (Cicerone, ISBN 978-1852844073 4 ) has a ‘there and back’ route starting at Laga.

Ben Laga – from the gate through the deer fence at the top of Laga Farm woodland

The route climbs through the (increasingly lovely as it matures) Laga Farm broadleaf plantation 5, emerging onto the moor through a gate in the deer fence at NM634617 (see map – marker 1). It then strikes west northwest up the westerly slope of Ben Laga to the summit before ‘retracing your route to the start’.

The area around Ben Laga

As routes go, it’s OK. But there are alternatives that are as good or better.

That’s the beauty of the trackless hinterland in this part of the world, thanks to Scotland’s freedom to roam rights … you can make your own route.

From the South

A few hundred metres east along the B8007 from Laga, overlooking Laga Bay, you can easily access the hill (marker 2 on the map, NM636610 6 ). Keeping the deer fence encompassing Laga Farm on your west you can traverse up the steep southerly face of Ben Laga. The going underfoot is a bit damp in places. However, this means that at the right time of year (e.g. mid-June to late-July), the lower grassy slopes are studded with bog asphodel and hundreds of stunning orchids. 

A little higher and the bracken takes over, but there are well-trodden deer trails leading you upwards. Since deer cannot scale precipices you can have some confidence they’re not going to take you anywhere too vertiginous.

Ready to rumble tumble – Ben Laga erratic, overlooking Loch Sunart, Carna and Morvern. Laga is on the right.

Stopping to look back – and you’ll need to to catch your breath – the view opens up along Loch Sunart as you gain altitude. You climb past an erratic perched on the slope that looks ready to tumble down the hill onto Laga.

Ben Hiant from the southerly slopes of Ben Laga

About halfway up the ground levels and the rocky top of Ben Laga appears for the first time above the area drained by Allt nam Mearlach (which might translate to the Thief’s burn). Keeping to the east of the unnamed lochan, and of Lochan Coire na Mòine, there’s an obvious route towards the top up a steep slanting grassy gully between the rocks.

There are a couple of false tops, but the summit is obvious due to the presence of an inevitable cairn … and because it’s higher than all the other bits around. Since the summit is obvious it remains unclear to me why there’s a need to add a pile of rocks.

Stunning views

On a good day the views from the top are stunning.

To the east you have Beinn Resipol with a panorama of the high peaks of Glencoe in the distance.

Ben Laga selfie with Beinn Resipol and Ben Nevis (snow capped) in the distance

To the south and west you have Loch Sunart, Morvern, Mull and Ben Hiant.

Carna, Loch Sunart, Morvern and Mull – April 2020

And to the north there are views over Lochan Sligneach, Kentra Bay, Camas an Lighe (the Singing Sands) to Eigg, Muck and Rum, with a more distant panorama of the Cuillin on Skye

Ben Laga, looking north. Rum, Eigg and the Cuillin clearly visible. Lochan Sligneach in the centre foreground

There’s a small lochan north west of the summit, surrounded by a jumble of large rocks. Somewhere amongst them you can find a sheltered spot – from the icy wind or blazing sun, whichever predominates – for lunch.

Ben Laga – summit lochan

Look out for eagles and merlin. I’ve seen both in the area.

To or from the North

The northerly spur from the summit towards Loch Laga makes for a fine descent if traversing the hill from south to north. The views remain excellent and the going underfoot is largely dry. Keeping above Loch Laga (map marker 4) you can cross the Allt Beithe a couple of hundred yards below the loch and easily join the track to Acharacle (marker 5).

Allt Beithe and Ben Laga with Loch Laga almost hidden from sight

Alternatively, you can include Ben Laga in a circular walk from Glenborrodale, leaving the Glenborrodale to Acharacle track south of the junction with the Laga track (map marker 3). After crossing the boggy ground south of Loch Laga you rapidly gain height traversing up the westerly slopes of Ben Laga.

Ben Laga – erratic on the westerly slope overlooking Loch Laga

Keep bearing west rather than south 7 to reach the ridge, then turn south to the top.

And while you’re in the area

To the north west of Ben Laga is Meall nan Each (see map, marker 6). At about 490 m this makes a good walk on its own, or a very worthwhile extension from Ben Laga. As the 841st Marilyn in Scotland it’s rarely troubled by visitors 😉

Again there are no tracks to help you, but the routes up from the westerly shore of Loch Laga for example, are both straightforward and obvious. The summit has a trig point 8 and a small cairn (of course 🙁 ).

Meall nan Each trig point with Rum, Eigg and the Cuill, Skye, on the horizon

If you descend Meall nan Each south along the rocky spur to Leac an Fhidhleir you can eventually regain the track to Glenborrodale or Laga, and from there the B8007.


 

Wordless Wednesday #15


Wordless Wednesday posts are images from Ardnamurchan and the surrounding regions – Sunart, Morvern, Ardgour, Moidart and the Rough Bounds. No description is necessary but further details may be provided with the linked full-size image. I will try and ensure they were photographed in the same month, but perhaps not the same year, that they appear online.