When we visited the Ardtornish Estate last month, autumn was in full bloom. We’d been hoping for an Indian summer but got grey skies and soaked to the bone. Despite the foul weather it was a wonderful trip, and the autumn tones surrounding us, at least gave the illusion of warmth.
Fast forward to November and we’re heading to Ardtornish again for another spot of self-catering in the beautiful Scottish Highlands, this time as winter sets in.
We left Edinburgh early to make the most of the daylight hours – but not before popping into the Barnton Bakery for breakfast. It’s our favourite hot footing it out-of-town eatery.
The roads were quiet, and we made good progress without Mr G ranting about slow-moving traffic. His fixation this morning was rain. He’d checked the forecast on the multitude of weather apps he’s become obsessed with, and it didn’t look good.
Keen to spend time outdoors before the heavens opened, we stopped at Glencoe Lochan for a walk, then grabbed lunch at the dog friendly Glencoe Gathering nearby.
After lunch we hopped on the Corran Ferry to reach the blissful tranquility of Morvern.
Instead of taking the direct route to Ardtornish, we took a detour via the tiny settlement of Kingairloch. Mr G’s forecasted rain had arrived, so a scenic drive seemed like a good way to stay dry. As we approached Kingairloch I spotted an eagle soaring overhead. We watched it circle the loch looking for prey, before disappearing into the distance.
The boy poked his nose out of the car window, to enjoy the breeze in his hair. He was in his element, and seemed to appreciate the scenery just as much as we did.
Before checking-in we headed to Lochaline to place a take-away order at the Lochaline Snack Bar – that was dinner taken care of!
We popped into the estate shop at Ardtornish to announce our arrival and say hello to Tourism Manager Kat. The boy gravitated towards a display of doggy treats. He was in luck as Kat let him try a sample, and he left with a goodie bag of Scottish cheddar bites.
Our home for the weekend was Castle Cottage. The cottage sits in a pretty garden, at the head of Loch Aline – making it the perfect place to ‘get away from it all’.
Inside, the decor was traditional, country cottage which gave the place a nice homely feel. With three bedrooms, a large lounge, family bathroom and fully equipped dining kitchen we had everything we needed for a comfortable stay.
Later, we drove to Lochaline to pick up our take-away dinner. Scampi for Mr G (and Casper) plus a tasty homemade chicken curry for me.
We toasted the arrival of the weekend with an alcoholic tipple, and spent the night listening to music and chatting by the fire as the boy snoozed.
We slept like logs, and woke early the next morning raring to get outside.
After a continental breakfast we were soon “enjoying” the fresh Highland air.
Our day turned out to be a day of walking (all good – we love hiking), but our walks ranged from waaaaaaaaaay too boggy to just right – like a hiking version of Goldilocks and the three bears.
Walk 1 – Rahoy Hills Nature Reserve
On paper this walk ticked all the right boxes. It was a moderate, three-mile ramble through heathland, woodland, then along the shore of Loch Arienas. There was history too in the form of ancient cairns, a ruined mill and an abandoned settlement.
Mr G had forecast rain, but it didn’t look like we’d be seeing it any time soon.
Our walk began on dry grass – so far, so good.
After the grassy path ended we reached a boulder field.
I could see cows grazing in the distance but judged them to be at an acceptable distance for our walk to continue. I love cows, but since taking up hiking I avoid them. ‘Hiker trampled to death by angry cows’ stories in the news only exacerbate my fear.
I scrutinised the boulders for signs of Neolithic remains, but there were so many it was impossible to tell the difference between a monolith and an inanimate lump of rock.
Disheartened, I headed in the direction of the next route marker on our walk. Yuck, the field was wet. As in very wet, and muddy too, really muddy. I looked down at my new (muddy) Merrell trail shoes in dismay. They’d returned from hiking in Iceland spotlessly clean, yet two minutes in Scotland and they were clarty (Scots for dirty). The further we walked the more hellish it got underfoot. No amount of creative leaping was going to get us across this field clean and dry. Moods soured, we started to niggle and needle at each other. Apparently, if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on looking for ruins we could have found a nice dry walk instead. Then Mr G began to pick on the boy for sniffing – poor Casper, the only hardy, uncomplaining hiker in our party. My tough little trooper tackles all walks with glee, and never baulks at the sight of mud or bog. I sided with the boy, and we continued our walk in frosty silence.
We reached a gate where a rocky path climbed uphill through woodland. Running down the full width of the path was a stream. A heavy, drizzle had started to fall too (the sort of Scottish drizzle that soaks you right through). With a string of expletives I declared our walk over, and stormed off in the direction of the car.
As we squelched our way back to the car defeated, I turned to look at Loch Arienas. They say every cloud has a silver lining – well sometimes crappy walks have them too. Over the loch was a gorgeous rainbow – we snapped photos, and as we snapped the rain stopped and our grumpy moods disappeared. Mr G ruffled the boy’s soggy head affectionately, and we were all friends again.
Walk 2 – Ariundle National Nature Reserve
My harbinger of doom foretold of more rain to follow later, so we headed to Ardnamurchan to see if we could find a walk more pleasant underfoot.
The Ariundle National Nature Reserve near the village of Strontian was our next stop. I knew there were trails there in an area of ancient oak woodland. Now protected, the woodland at Ariundle once provided charcoal for lead-smelting furnaces in the region.
We left the car waterproofed up to the eyeballs and sunglasses free. It was dry – dry was good.
A decent path led us through the woods, and as we walked the sky brightened overhead. Autumn leaves still clinging to the trees, burned orange under the low November sun. We followed a path which branched off to our right and came to a scenic spot with great views of the River Strontian, and the pretty glen stretching ahead of us.
Back on the main path we branched off once more, this time crossing the river. We were now following a riverside trail through the glen and the scene before us was a vision of autumnal perfection. Winter seemed so far off, as we squinted in the sunlight, cursing our decision to leave our sunglasses behind in the car.
It turns out our idyllic hike wasn’t going to be 100% perfect after all – the further we walked the wetter and muddier the path became. Soon, we were leaping over puddles and patches of bog like lunatics. The boy nimbly navigated around the obstacles causing us so much alarm.
“It’s nowhere near as bad as the last walk” we repeated like a mantra, to stop our good humour descended into another bout of sulking. Our positivity paid off, as a short while later we crossed back over the river into woodland and back onto ‘good’ path.
The boy was in his element as we headed along a stretch of wooden boardwalk. He stopped to peer into the boggy grass either side of us, clearly toying with the notion of jumping in. “If you jump in, you’re on your own buddy – we don’t do bog” we warned!
With 5-miles or so of mostly pleasant walking in the bag we were ready for lunch.
We grabbed a take-away lunch from Café Sunart in Strontian and tucked in, ravenous after our morning hikes.
Walk 3 – Loch Shiel
Hunger abated, and rain still holding off we followed road signs for Polloch to see what was down that stretch of road.
It was a spectacular drive and we stopped a few times to admire the scenery. The landscape glowed like gold and once again it seemed impossible that winter was so near. Our drive took us uphill, and across remote moorland, before twisting and turning dow into Glenhurich – it was stunning.
Our drive ended at the remote end of Loch Shiel, by the settlement of Polloch. It was a far cry from the Glenfinnan end of the loch, where the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct attracts hordes of Potter Heads desperate to catch a glimpse of the Hogwarts Express (Jacobite Steam Train).
We parked at the Glen Shiel car park and there wasn’t another soul around – bliss. A sign warned that we were in remote territory now, and the 16 mile trail which lay ahead of us required good navigation skills and the proper equipment. With only a few hours of daylight left we planned on following the path for a mile or so, before turning back.
This route was perfect underfoot – in our quest to find a ‘just right’ walk we’d finally struck gold.
We spotted some adorable heilan’ coos hiding in long grass and stopped to try to coax them to pose for photos.
As our walk climbed gradually out of Polloch views of Loch Shiel began to open up before us. I love Glenfinnan, but I loved this wilder side of the loch more. We wandered on, happy and niggle free, our footwear no longer faced with the horror of tackling mud and bog.
After a while we reached a rocky outcrop with route markers on it. We followed them and were rewarded with a perfect view. All three of us stood gazing out over Loch Shiel. I felt euphoric – these are the moments I live for on my travels around Scotland. The simple pleasure of finding a good viewpoint on a hike gives the most amazing feeling of calm and contentment – it’s awesome.
On our way back to Ardtornish we stopped at the village store in Strontian for provisions.
Once back at our cosy cottage, we changed into out PJs and enjoyed another night of music and chat by the fire. Obviously there was beer and wine involved too, but with 20,000+ steps in the bank we’d earned it.
Autumn on the Ardtornish Estate …. again!
The next morning, after watching the sunrise over the loch we loaded our bags into the car and bid a sad farewell to Castle Cottage.
It was a glorious morning and we were in no rush to leave, so we decided to go for a walk first. We headed along the loch-side path next to our Ardtornish but n ben.
Clear blue skies and rich russet colours made for a perfect final walk of the weekend. Shy deer eyed us suspiciously from amongst the trees and out on the loch we caught a glimpse of an otter fishing for breakfast.
We continued in the direction of Lochaline, until the blissful perfection was shattered – in front of us lay a humongous, muddy puddle covering the entire path. Keen to end our weekend on a high we turned on our heels and left.
As we drove out of Morvern we noticed that the mountain tops had been sprinkled with snow overnight.
Winter is coming……
A big thanks once again to Kat for arranging our visit. Although we stayed at Ardtornish on a complimentary basis, all information contained within this blog is accurate and opinions are entirely my own.
If you’ve enjoyed this post you can read the one I wrote after our autumn visit to the Ardtornish Estate here.
Until next time ………