Category Archives: Acharacle

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 : 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.