A weekend in Ardnamurchan
Last month we spend a couple of wonderful nights at The Stontian Hotel in the pretty Ardnamurchan village of Stontian. The village’s Gaelic name, Sròn an t-Sìthein translates as nose of the fairy hill. Legend has it that the mythical Sídhe lived under the hills surrounding the village. Some say they were forced to flee underground by Norse invaders. Tales of such shadowy, underground dwellers are prevalent in Celtic mythology.
The periodic element Strontium is named after the village, so if it ever comes up in a pub quiz you’re laughing.
It’d been a long time since I’d spend any quality time in Ardnamurchan. My last proper visit was long before I became a Scottish travel blogger. In fact it was so long ago that blogs weren’t even a thing! In recent years I’d only ever whizzed through its fringes to catch the ferry from Lochaline over to Mull, so I was really looking forward to enjoying it at a more leisurely pace.
As it happens a leisurely pace is the only pace that Ardnamurchan allows.
The winding roads of Ardnamurchan
I had no recollection of just how narrow and winding the roads were. Either that or I’d erased them from my memory completely, after the trauma of travelling on them before. It takes the patience of a saint to get anywhere. It’s a place where travelling at 30mph feels like rally driving. The roads are single track and full of sharp twists, turns and blind summits. It’s near impossible to see oncoming traffic until you’re virtually nose to nose.
Mr G who takes the speed limit literally and rages at anyone who dares to drop 5mph below it was like a caged bull. If he told me once, he told me a thousand times over the course of the weekend that he was not enjoying driving on the roads one little bit.
Fortunately the scenery knocked his socks off. Mine too, I’d forgotten just how breathtakingly beautiful it was. A spectacular, remote wilderness. We picked a great time to visit too as the place was in full bloom with wispy, white bog cotton covering the moors. Stunning, tall yellow irises and sea pinks by the waterside and pink rhododendrons in the woodland.
Our Ardnamurchan highlights (day 1)
On our first afternoon we decided to visit Sanna Beach so the Wee White Dug could cut loose. It was an overcast afternoon but a warm and breeze free 24 degrees.
Camas Nan Geall
En route to Sanna the road winds precariously by Camas Nan Geall or the Bay of Strangers. A dramatic, volcanic landscape that will stop you in your tracks to gaze in wonder at the view. We stopped and despite the moody overcast skies it looked spectacular.
Before heading to Sanna Beach we popped into Kilchoan Crafts & Gallery for coffee and cake. They very kindly let the Wee White Dug inside and brought him a nice fresh bowl of water. Us humans enjoyed delicious chocolate brownies and a decent cup of coffee. The gallery sells some lovely locally made arts and crafts. It’s well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Kilchoan. If you ever do go, be sure to drop the c in Kilchoan so you sound like you’re in the know.
Sanna Beach even on a balmy, grey day is stunning. It’s undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest beaches. Well worth a queasy tummy from the endlessly, winding road to reach it.
We enjoyed a long walk and a nice paddle in the sea. In the couple of hours that we spent there we only saw a handful of other people – heaven.
During our walk at Sanna I found what has to be my favourite sign ever.
In these parts they really do frown upon ass whipping on the beach – so much so in fact that they even have by laws to prevent it!
The Strontian Hotel, Ardnamurchan
After an afternoon spent enjoying the sights of Ardnamurchan we headed to our hotel to check in. We were warmly welcomed by the owner on arrival. It turned out to be an excellent choice for our stay. In a beautiful location, we had a lovely room with a view of Loch Sunart. The service was excellent. The food good and the ambiance chilled. We both loved it. Casper gave it a big paws up for dog friendliness and said to let you all know that he was given a sausage to take-away for breakfast. He said it was a good, quality sausage.
During our stay we ate our evening meals at the hotel’s Bothy Bar restaurant. It was lovely eating, as we looked out over Loch Sunart. Scotland at its best – that is until the dreaded Scottish, biting midgies showed up on our first night and the restaurant erupted into a sea of flailing arms. If I’d had a pound for every time I heard someone utter the word midgie that night I’d have ended the weekend a rich woman. Only the half-dozen or so snoozing dogs (The Wee White Dug included) in the bar seemed unaffected by them.
Midgies have the ability to penetrate the impenetrable and find a way indoors despite every effort to keep them out. I remember a couple of years ago, enjoying a romantic anniversary meal in a lovely hotel by Rannoch Station. I sat picking midgies out of my glass between sips of champagne as if it was the most normal thing in the World to be doing.
Thankfully midgie season in Scotland is relatively short and being a true Scot in the know, I was armed with the perfect weapon in the anti midgie arsenal – Avon’s Skin so Soft. I’ve no idea why they hate it so much but they do.
Our Ardnamurchan highlights – (day 2)
Sail from kilchoan to Tobermory
Next morning we enjoyed an early breakfast. We’d decided to take the 10:15am CalMac ferry from Kilchoan across to my beloved Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. It was my birthday and what better place to spend it than in my favourite place on Earth. Mr G had checked the estimated drive time online before we left. 1 hour 6 minutes to cover 29.6 miles. When he made it in 54 minutes he almost did a victory lap of the ferry car park.
It’d been 20 years since I last took this route to Mull. Last time the ferry was tiny and it was followed across by a dolphin. I watched it over the side of the boat as it raced along beside us. It was magical and something I’ll never forget. This time the ferry was bigger and we weren’t lucky enough to see a dolphin but the gorgeous views more than made up for it.
We spotted local celebrity Tobermory Cat on arrival then spend a happy couple of hours pottering around Tobermory, rounding off our flying visit with lunch at The Pier Cafe. Home made soup and cheese sandwiches. A perfect birthday lunch, with perfect company in a perfect place.
Back on the mainland our next stop was Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point of the UK mainland. It’s worth visiting if only to see what must be Scotland’s most remote yet necessary set of traffic lights.
Fancy driving that stretch of road without them? We were greeted by a lovely Border Collie who gave us a tour of the rocky landscape, as sure-footed as a mountain goat. If you look closely you may be able to spot him in the photo above.
The lighthouse is situated in a spectacular spot with stunning views across to the Isle of Eigg, with its distinctive profile.
Our final stop of the day took us back along the never-ending, winding road to the ruined, medieval Castle Tioram – pronounced cheerum but known to the locals and signposted as Castle Dorlinn.
The castle sits on a tidal island where Loch Moidart and the River Shiel meet. It can be reached by a causeway at low tide. As luck would have it the tide was out when we arrived. It’s an impressive fortress if not a little foreboding. Sadly it’s in a poor state of repair so we had to content ourselves with snapping the exterior.
Later back at the hotel, showered and ready for dinner we slathered on a generous application of Skin so Soft and headed down to dinner feeling invincible. Haggis stuffed chicken in a creamy whisky sauce washed down with midgie free champagne – a perfect end to a wonderful birthday and another great Scottish adventure.
Until next time ………..