CLXXXVII – Tobermory to Mingarry

Hasteful MammalMY FOURTH walking day in 2018 began with dull grey skies and the promise of drizzle all morning. Who can resist such tempting conditions as that? Clearly not me. Noël Coward once sang that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun but he never said anything about venturing out in an antemeridian downpour. Even the maddest of dogs would refuse to countenance such nonsense and so, like the Englishman I was, I would have to do this walk alone.

Isle of Mull


The rain had yet to start to fall as I emerged from my hotel to stock up on snacks and water of the trapped-within-a-bottle variety. As I ambled along the quayside, Tobermory’s rainbow buildings struggled to inject a note of colour into the meteorological monotone.

Thanks for trying, Tobermory.

Even without the threatened downpour, unbottled water was going to feature significantly right at the start of my journey as it would begin with catching the ferry to Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It was time to leave the Isle of Mull and return to Great Britain.

MV Loch Tarbert

My conveyance for the crossing would be MV Loch Tarbert, a ferry built in Fife in 1992. She was one of four sister vessels comprising CalMac’s Loch class and originally served the Claonaig to Lochranza route before being replaced there by the diesel-electric hybrid MV Catriona in 2016. Loch Tarbet then took over the Tobermory to Kilchoan route in 2017, displacing her sister MV Loch Linnhe, which was the ferry that actually carried me from Portavadie to Tarbert (via East Loch Tarbert) last year.

Officially, MV Loch Tarbert is named for West Loch Tarbert, the loch on the opposite side of Tarbert’s isthmus, alongside which I walked last year.

MV Loch Tarbert
Loch Tarbert and her sisters have familial relation-ships.


The Crossing

I was about halfway across to Kilchoan when the clouds began to empty, quickly swallowing any visibility to the east. This hid from sight Mingarry Castle (Caisteal Mhìogharraidh), a roughly hexagonal 13-17th century castle a single mile down the coast.

The complete disappearance of everything eastwards behind a wall of mist and rain did not entirely please me, given that almost my entire route for the day involved heading east. First, though, I had to alight from the ferry and step foot on the mainland.

Sign: Welcome to West Ardnamurchan. The most westerly point on the UK mainland.
It’s an easy success but I’ll take what I can get.
About the Peninsula

The Ardnamurchan Peninsula (Àird nam Murchan, ‘headland of the great seas’) is not only the island of Great Britain’s most westerly projection but is also the part of it having the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers at very nearly one fifth. Not that that’s a fifth of a vast population — Ardnamurchan is home to about 300 people, which yields about 60 Gaelic speakers.

With its small population and single-track roads, it feels a very rural and isolated area and I suppose it is. The modern population figure misrepresents its past though, being only a tenth of that prior to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when crofters were evicted to make way for more lucrative sheep farms.

B8007 & C1192


The place on this depopulated peninsula at which the ferry landed was Mingarry Pier, which is about a mile from the village of Kilchoan (Cille Chòmhain). The pier lay at the end of a single-track road, which according to my map was the B8007

B8007 to Kilchoan
The name’s MacAdam. Tar Macadam. Agent B8007, licensed to Kil… choan.
Directional Decisions

The choice that awaited was go east or west. Heading east would take me directly into the worst of the weather but had the advantage of being the direction that I ultimately needed to go. Meanwhile, heading west held limited prospects, what with this being the western extremity of the island and all. It could take me to the hamlets of Portuairk (Port Uairce) and Sanna but then I’d either have to backtrack or strike out over pathless country.

Drovers’ Road Route

Alternatively — and this was my favourite plan of the moment — I could follow a track past the former crofting township of Glendrian (abandoned in the 1940s) along an old drove route towards the inlet of Port Eigin-aig and then on to Fascadale, where I would again meet the public road.

I had been looking forward to taking that route—I love an old drovers’ road — but now, on the day, I had doubts. I knew that beyond Glendrian the path was said to be notional and boggy and that it involved stream crossings said to be difficult or impassable after heavy rain. And the rain was getting heavy, not to mention that this was the third rainy day in a row.

I was now foreseeing a possibility in which, having squelched slowly through boggy pathlessness, I reached a stream that couldn’t be crossed safely and would have to turn about and squelch back. It wasn’t a possibility I cared for and I stubbornly held on to my intention to take the drover’s route right up until I reached the junction in Kilchoan where I had to choose.

Easterly Iciness

With a heavy heart but relieved brain, I turned east and strode face-on into the worst of the weather. And it was horrible. The rain, as if cheated, spitefully turned itself up to eleven and hammered down from the skies. Except, that’s not quite right. It didn’t so much hammer down as along, propelled by a howling, icy wind. And I do mean icy.

‘This is a faceful of sleet!’ my brain belatedly realised but by then my body had gone quite numb so it had no one to tell.

Somehow, as if of their own volition, my feet kept on plodding along. The occasional car whooshed past me, their drivers concentrating fiercely on the conditions. Mad dogs were nowhere to be seen. It was hardly a bundle of fun but — and this was important — I wasn’t fording a stream in it.

Achateny Turn-Off

I stomped along, head down and soaked right through, for a distance of roughly three miles. This brought me to a long, snaking, left-hand turn-off that headed down the valley of Achateny Water to a number of hamlets.

A directional road sign at the junction afforded some little shelter from the wind and I confess I hid behind it for several minutes in order to down some coffee that was now lukewarm at best (I really should buy a better flask). I knew though, that I couldn’t stay there forever. There was no future in a life as a road-sign troll.

Man Shouting at Moorland

The winding side-road was officially the C1192, though C-roads aren’t labelled as such on maps or road signs. As has so frequently been the case, it wasn’t actually any smaller than the B-road because a road can only get so narrow before cars can’t use it at all. This one was still just fine for use by a Land Rover, as proven by a farmer who pulled up in his, a short way ahead, and started shouting and whistling at apparently empty moorland. The empty moorland ignored him.

Receiving no answer, the farmer modified his shouting such that its tone was undeniably irate. He was clearly unimpressed that he was standing outside the protection of his vehicle and making the same sort of close, personal acquaintance with horizontal sleet that I was already enjoying. He produced an armful of sheep feed from the Landy and shouted and whistled with more intensity, perhaps fearing that the sheep hadn’t heard him over the wind.

Oh, but they had.

It took me a while to spot them but eventually I saw their little white faces peeking over the rim of the dip in which they were sheltering. The sheep had heard him and seen the tasty sheep snacks but they were clearly weighing the benefits of delicious foods against leaving the lee of their little hollow and getting a faceful of sleet. Apparently, the sheep snacks weren’t quite that tasty.

Challenging Chat

After several long minutes, during which I inched slowly closer, he gave up and chucked the stuff over the fence. He then retired to his vehicle and waited for me to walk past before pulling off. As I drew level with his window, I nodded in greeting and he lowered his window and said: ‘gngrrbghpftgh.’

Well, okay, that might not be exactly what he said but it may as well have been. I love our island’s wide variety of accents and I’ve had little trouble understanding them during my slow progress around the parts I’ve walked. Even in Glasgow, which I feared would prove challenging, I had no real problems. This guy though, I have no idea what he said. I don’t think it was an accent issue; I think it was just him.

‘Ghrthfgnkm?’ he asked me, turning his eyes towards the heavens.

I shrugged and grinned. ‘Could be better,’ I agreed, hoping I’d understood that right. I mean, we were both British and he wasn’t offering me tea. Of course he was commenting on the weather.

A Brief Respite

I hastened off, for fear of further conversation, and he drove off the other way. The sheep continued to eye the sheep feed from the safety of their shelter until, thankfully, the sleet faltered and stopped. Only temporarily, as it turned out, but I celebrated prematurely anyway.

The Kilmory Road
The sky’s not throwing ice into my face! This is the best thing ever in the history of the world!

I followed the winding road to a junction where I could stay on this side of Achateny Water or cross over and take a branching road east. By taking the route I’d chosen, I had removed any reason to pass through Fascadale —which was where the road was heading — so over the bridge I went. This led me through the clachans (hamlets) of Branault and Kilmory.


Branault (Bràigh nan Allt, ‘head of the streams’) was first mentioned in a land valuation of 1667. By 1727, it was home to 19 adults and 12 children comprising eight families and grew to have sixteen buildings but many of these were abandoned in the 19th century when the land was reorganised. New buildings were constructed but today just a few of these remain.

For me, Branault’s main point of interest was a really barky dog whose excitement on noticing me — A stranger! A stranger! — was louder than I might have believed possible.

‘My God, that’s annoying,’ I muttered to myself.

The sleet, not keen to lose its ‘Day’s Most Annoying Feature’ title, immediately came back for another go just to remind me what was what.


At Kilmory (Cill Mhoire, ‘church of Mary’), the road came in sight of the sea once more and turned right along Ardnamurchan’s north coast.

Kilmory was originally one of the areas smaller clachans but became enlarged with people cleared from its neighbours during the mid-19th century. Today, it has less than ten residents and its post office and school are long gone, though the latter’s building still stands.

Kilmory Schoolhouse

The schoolhouse was founded in 1732 by renowned Gaelic poet Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, whose father— the Rev Alexander MacDonald, popularly known as Maighstir Alasdair — had been the Episcopal minister of Ardnamurchan. There was still a school marked on Ordnance Survey maps as late as the 1950s.

Kilmory Graveyard

Kilmory took its name from its pre-Reformation chapel and associated graveyard.

The graveyard remains, though its perimeter wall is now a different shape to that on old OS maps (it’s presumably been rebuilt) and the chapel, which stood inside it, is long gone. A nearby later church was sold in the 1970s and converted into a private dwelling.

Today, the graveyard is surrounded by land fallen fallow but which was still being worked as croft fields in the 1960s.

Kilmory Graveyard
Do you think the wall’s there to keep sheep out or to keep the dead in?
Swordle Bay

The sleet dialled back down to gentle drizzle as I headed east on what was now a coast road. This wound gently along towards Swordle Bay (Port an Eilean Mhòir, ‘bay of the big island’), which today is overlooked by just a few houses but, prior to the clearances, was home to not one but three clachans: Swordlechorrach, Swordlemore and Swordlecheil.

In the 1851 census, the Swordle clachans had 123 residents in total but landowner Sir James Riddell Bt cleared much of the land just two years later. Thus, by the next census (in 1861), Swordle Bay’s population had dwindled to 25.

Exactly when the Swordle clachans were founded is unknown, with Swordlechorrach being the first to be mentioned in written records, having two tenants in 1618.

Viking Boat Burial

The name ‘Swordle’ is much older, though, appearing Norse in origin and possibly deriving from sward (‘grassy land) and dahl (field). Certainly, the Vikings visited the area, as proven in 2011 when a boat burial dating to around 900 was unearthed — the first Viking boat burial to be discovered on the Scottish mainland.

The boat had been dragged up the beach and buried in a pit with the body of a Viking warrior placed within it. Beside the body were arranged a shield, sword, spear, drinking horn and bronze ring pin.

Swordle Bay
His journey ended here. But mine did not, so off I went…

The public road came to an end at Ockle (Ocal), about a mile further on. Ockle is Ardnamurchan’s smallest clachan with a permanent population of just one. There, I sat beside the bridge and watched the Allt Ockle gurgle by as I enjoyed a leisurely, if somewhat damp, lunch.

The road goes ever on and on over here and stops.

While I ate, the drizzle eased and then ended and the skies brightened up. They remained overcast, of course, but the colour of the cloud cover lightened by several shades. With the stop for lunch, the end of the road and the change in the weather, Ockle really felt like a significant transition point, as if I had finished one walk and were now about to begin another.

This second walk commenced with an access track leading towards the lonely house at Eiligadale (Norse elg ‘noble’ + dalr ‘dale’) about a mile and a half away. To begin with, sheep eyed me warily as I followed it past a small, round lochan unnamed on my OS map.

Crofters’ Path to Gortenfern

Eiligadale Access Track

This second walk commenced with an access track leading towards the lonely house at Eiligadale (Norse elg ‘noble’ + dalr ‘dale’) about a mile and a half away. To begin with, sheep eyed me warily as I followed it past a small, round lochan unnamed on my OS map.

Access Track beside lochan.
You can’t see the sheep here but they’re watching you.
Small Isles

Once beyond the lochan, the track became a little rockier as it snaked its way along the coast. There, the extent to which the weather had improved was brought home to me by the emergence of visible islands from the mist on my left. These were the Small Isles of Rùm, Eigg and Muck.

Small Isles
Not the best recipe for eggnog.

The Small Isles remained visible for most of the half hour it took me to walk along the track but then disappeared beneath a wall of rain that I realised, with a sinking feeling, was heading right for me. Or was it?

I stared at the cloud, with its downpour beneath and tried to judge the speed and direction of the wind. I was heading east, while it was heading south-southeast. I could, I realised, if I was quick and not a little lucky, get ahead of its path and watch it go past behind me. Well, that was certainly a plan! I picked my pace up…

Allt Eiligadale

A quarter mile from Eiligadale, the track was barred by a closed gate with a ‘private’ notice on it. This was expected, however, and a footpath branching off the track was clearly marked.

The path was narrow, muddy and in places overgrown with heather as it ran along a steep hillside above the Allt Eiligadale. It was the sort of path that frequently required some concentration as to the placing of feet — especially given the wet conditions and my appalling sense of balance — but I rather enjoyed it; I certainly didn’t feel like it was trying to kill me.

narrow path by Allt Eiligadale
It wasn’t a psycho path.
Monaural Precipitation

The path edged along the valley wall until the stream bed almost rose enough to meet it. This occurred near to where a tributary met the stream and the path crossed over both with a little easy rock-hopping. It then briefly doubled back downstream before turning away and upwards, climbing through a gap in the rocky hills.

It was while I was on this section that the cloud from the Small Isles caught up with my position and clipped me with its edge. I received one last fly-by sleeting, mostly in my right ear, after which the weather left me in peace.

I may have not received the brunt of that particular cloud but it still dumped its water on the hillside to my right, a hillside already saturated from several days of rain. What this meant was that not only were the streams in full spate but frequently the path had also turned into a stream. Not for the first time, I was thankful for waterproof footwear.

A Wee Cairn
a small cairn; the sea is distant and indistinct.
I paused beside this dinky cairn to look back to the sea. It was over there somewhere, really it was.
Allt an Rubha Ruaidh

The path kept heading upwards, crossing a rocky ridge, before dropping into the valley of the Allt an Rubha Ruaidh (‘burn of the red headland’). Here, the path became boggy, patchy and even underwater in places.

In fact, the entire valley floor was boggy as hell but that was no problem — I could clearly see where the path climbed out on the far side and, that being so, felt free to try to pick my own route across. This, I sort of accomplished with much squelching and splashing and generally putting the waterproofness of my footwear through a rigorous trial.

Valley of Tolerable Muddiness

On the far side the path climbed briefly to crest a low hill (200 m above sea level). I was tempted to stop and rest there, enjoying the view down this dry(-ish)-floored valley but there was nothing unsquelchy enough to sit down on:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of tolerable muddiness, I shall know only moderate fatigue…

You can see on the right of the photo above where the footpath descended along the valley wall. This was, once again, muddy and overgrown and, in a couple of places, had pretty much slipped down the hillside. I made my way along it with care and paused for a rest at the bottom, where it met with the access track from Acarsaid (‘harbour’), another settlement ravaged by the Clearances.

Acarsaid Access Track

The track was also soft and muddy and part-flooded in places but nonetheless offered some fairly easy going as it continued downwards towards the patch of blueness that was Lochan na Glaice (‘tarn of the hollow’). This put me in mind of Flanders & Swann’s Hippopotamus Song, whose chorus demanded to be sung…

Track leading down to Lochan na Glaice
So follow me follow / Down to the hollow / And there let us wallow / In glorious mud…
Lochan na Glaice

Much to my relief, the lochan didn’t actually have all that much mud.

No hippos either; my singing must have scared them off.
Camus an Lighe

From Lochan na Glaice, the track descended, passing patches of woodland. Over the treetops I caught glimpses of Camus an Lighe, which I believe means ‘flood bay’.

Camus an Lighe
It was suitably full of seawater.
Gortenfern & the Singing Sands

About half a mile further on, the track met a rather more substantial one which had come from the clachan of Gortenfern (‘alder field’) near the bay’s beach. The beach is known in English as the Singing Sands on account of the squeaky noises the sands can make when walked on (due to shear stress).

It was tempting to divert off to squeak the sands as that had amused me greatly at the Whistling Sands of Porth Oer in Wales, however I decided I’d rather just keep going.

I soon passed a sign warning that the area had hitherto been Ministry of Defence land — it was used for extensive training during WW2 — and consequently might still be littered with things capable of spreading me thinly across a wide area. Not the sort of shells you generally want on the beach.

Mediaeval Battles

Camas na Lighe and its neighbouring bays are no strangers to warfare, according to local tradition which is based in part on archaeological evidence.

Viking nails and other finds suggesting a ship burial were uncovered in 1924 and may support the tradition that they once fought a battle there. The location of the ship is now lost, meaning it cannot be verified, which is why the 2011 discovery in Swordle gets to be the ‘first’ one the mainland, even though it probably isn’t.

A second battle is supported by a number of weapons and other artefacts dating to the late 13th century and may have been fought in 1297 between the forces of Edward I of England and Roderick of Bute and Lachlan MacRuari of Garmoran.

Presumably, any desire to go looking for further mediaeval artefacts is tempered by the MOD’s warnings that it’s incapable of clearing up after itself.

Kentra Bay

Sun-Dappled Woodland

Beyond the warning signs about potential unexploded munitions, the path plunged into some glorious woodland and remained so surrounded for about a mile and a half. I was rather glad of this on two counts: Firstly, I love a bit of sun-dappled woodland. And secondly, the reason it was sun-dappled was that the cloud was clearing and the sun was blazing away. I was unequipped with sunscreen and really didn’t want to end my day with sunburn. As it was, it had grown sufficiently warm that I had to start taking off layers.

Broad track through woodland.
Hide your eyes, birds and squirrels, lest you be struck blind by the horror!

I enjoyed this section greatly, ambling merrily along, shaded by the trees. It was wonderful.

Tidal Mudflats

Eventually, the unmade road that the track had become burst free of its forest surroundings and emerged by the shores of Kentra Bay. This revealed to me a vista of tidal mudflats and distant hills, which I enjoyed as I edged around the bay to Gorteneorn (‘barley field’).

Kentra Bay mudflats
Lots of mud. Still no hippos.

At Gorteneorn, the road crossed over the Allt a’ Ghoirtein-eòrna (‘barley field burn’) by means of a sturdy, modern wooden bridge on which I sat and rested for a while. Immediately downstream, stood the pillar and abutments of an older, vanished bridge.

Remains of disused bridge
Or maybe it’s an invisible bridge. For invisible hippos. Well, that explains everything.

Once across the wooden bridge, the road continued along Kentra Bay’s southern edge until it came to another bridge and a gate, where it met the public road. This was the hamlet of Arivegaig (Àirigh Bheagaig), where their ideas about civic art are… interesting

Old tractor as civic art
‘What the hell?’
‘You said you didn’t care as long as it looks tractive.’
‘No, I
said… ah, whatever.’

I met a cyclist in Arivegaig, who had stopped for a break while out for a healthy ride about. We commented on the weather, as is required by custom and law, and enthused about the scenery, if not the decorative tractor. He told me that the place where I was staying was highly recommended and that he’d gone there just to eat their excellent food. That boded well.

Kentra Moss

A long and fairly straight road led eastwards from Arivegaig cutting across the southern part of the marsh of Kentra Moss. This was pretty enough in its own way but had little to comment on, the only relief to its benign monotony being the bridge across the Dig Bhàn (‘white ditch’), a sluggish stream flowing down to the bay.

Beside the current bridge stood its predecessor, an iron and concrete affair with vehicular access blocked off. What amused me was that the road across the moss headed directly for the old bridge on both sides and, when they built the new one, they’d clearly not had the funds for proper road realignment. The result was a couple of sudden, sharp bends complete with warning chevrons to shift traffic over to the new bridge and back again, essentially creating a kink in the otherwise long, straight road.

Old bridge from new at Dig Bhàn
What chicanery is this?

The road continued across Kentra Moss until it ended in a junction with the B8044. There, I turned right and followed the B-road for about half a mile until it too ended on the outskirts of Acharacle.


Torquil & Somerled

Acharacle (Àth Tharracail, meaning ‘Torquil’s ford’) is named for a Norseman — Þorketill — who, tradition says, was slain in battle in 1120 by forces led by the warlord Somerled.

Somerled, who became King of the Isles by ousting his brother in a coup in 1158, was certainly active in the 1120s but he unhelpfully fails to appear in any written records until 1153 when he supported a rebellion against Scotland’s King Malcolm IV.

Loch Shiel

Acharacle today is something of a regional centre despite being little more than a large village. Prior to the 1960s, when a spate of roadbuilding opened up access to the west coast, it was an important gateway to Ardnamurchan, with goods and people transported by ferry from the railhead at Glenfinnan down the length of Loch Shiel.

You may recall that I left Glenfinnan on foot and walked about two thirds of the length of Loch Shiel some five walks ago. Such is the undulating nature of the coastline, and the frequent deviation from it of my route choices, that I had now arrived at the foot of that loch.

River Shiel

The outflow from Loch Shiel is the unsurprisingly-named River Shiel (Abhainn Seile) and it was at a ford on that river that Torquil is said to have been slain by Somerled.

River Shiel
This is a no-Viking area; anyone caught Viking will be executed.

The River Shiel marks the historic boundary between Argyll and Inverness-shire (Siorrachd Inbhir Nis), though today both sides are in the Highland council area.

Shiel bridge

I crossed the river on the rather lovely three-arch, single-track Shiel Bridge, constructed in 1935.

Shiel Bridge
Farewell, Ardnamurchan Peninsula. May your sleet always fall sideways in facefuls.
Dog-walking Little Old Lady

A handy bench on the far side of the Shiel enabled me to sit and rest while looking back at the bridge. In the course of so doing, I found myself talking to that unparalleled fount of all local wisdom, the Dog-walking Little Old Lady.

Her dog, as dogs do, decided that I was the single most interesting thing it had ever seen for all of thirty seconds, after which I was boring old news.

Its owner, after the obligatory weather discussion, informed me my exact route and remaining distance and added her heartfelt commendation of my hotel choice to those of Mr Cyclist earlier. I was starting to very much look forward to dinner.


Thanks, Mr Telford!

Eventually, I persuaded my legs to stand up and do more of the walky thing and they carried me slowly but surely as the road looped west, north then east.

The road I was on was the A861 though it has only borne an A-designation since the aforementioned 1960s road building extended it all the way to Lochailort. Prior to that, it had been the B850 and before that it had been one of the many roads built by Thomas Telford (1757-1834).

The original Telford bridge over the River Shiel still stands, now linking a side-road to nowhere in particular but it was a way downstream from the 1935 bridge and I had no idea that it was there.

Mingarry Park

I thus went straight past the relevant side-road and followed the A-road to Mingarry Park. There, I found and booked into my accommodation, a family-run guest house and restaurant that was fairly expensive but worth every penny. Not only were they very welcoming indeed but dinner, when I ate it, was absolutely amazing. I rank it easily in the top three places I have eaten on these walks, alongside the Michelin-rated Kilberry Inn and the place I stayed in Harlech.

That night I slept the sleep of a happy, well-fed mammal and awoke early the next morning, ready to continue on my way…

Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 18½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 3,238½ miles

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