Way Out West
Reminders of volcanoes and ancient oak woods, the Jacobite Rebellions, the first ever Commando Training Centre, five more lochs and a village twinned with Mars are among the many things that I’ve encountered this week.
Following NASA’s naming of a geological feature on Mars as ‘Glenelg’, the small Scottish community of the same name decided to twin itself with its Mars namesake. The twinning partner is proudly proclaimed on its village road sign! I noticed this as I left the village to start the climb up and over the Ratagan Pass through vast areas of worked forests. Originally built as a military road after the first Jacobite rebellion, this road was used by the garrison stationed in the now decaying Bemera Barracks in Glenelg.
On reaching the Ratagan summit, imagine my surprise when I saw two Christmas trees at the edge of the forest already bedecked with baubles and tinsel. Will they do that to the whole forest, I wonder?! Dropping down from the 1,100ft summit to the next valley I was lucky enough to see loch Duich, the first of my five lochs, laid out before me with the Five Sisters mountain range behind. Later, as I walked Duich’s shores I looked across at the famous Eilean Donan Castle that regularly appears on Christmas shortbread tins.
Having exhausted the accessible parts of the coast in this area, we made our way back onto Skye where I joined the dots of last week by walking down to Armadale. Here it was a quick ferry crossing to Mallaig, chased by squally showers. As a working port, Mallaig was bustling with ferries, lorries, fish boats, tourists, and the Jacobite steam train hissing in its railway station, giving it a very crowded feel. Looking out to sea, the volcanic remains of Rhum, Eigg and Ardnamurchan Point were all evident – with the latter being my target for later in the week.
The route from Mallaig to Inverailort was a mix of coastal and main road walking. The main road had been constructed across open moorland, woods and through deep cuttings. Busy and noisy as this road was, I was amazed to find a lone male walker asleep on the verge just yards from car wheels whizzing by at 70mph. He looked happy enough, so I quietly stepped over him and continued!
As the day cooled I reached a stretch of water where the Prince’s Cairn stands proudly on the shoreline. This marks the place where ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ is reputed to have fled to France in 1746 after the Jacobite Rebellion and his defeat at Culloden the previous year. Later, when walking the shoreline of Loch Ailort, I saw another plaque commemorating the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’ who had landed with the Prince at the start of the rebellion.
A variety of overnight stops in the Victory Van have been enjoyed this week in remote parts of Moidart, and Sunart. We’ve overlooked a valley, shared a hill with sheep, spent the night by a level crossing, slept by a loch, snoozed by a cemetery and nodded off by a fish farm at Inverailort! It was here that we learned the fish farm imports its eggs from Norway for hatching. The salmon are then taken to pens at sea until they are big enough to be collected by special ships and taken to Mallaig’s processing plant.
Prior to being a fish farm this site at Inverailort had been the very first Commando Training Centre during WW2. The unit had trained many nationalities in commando techniques, had housed an Intelligence unit and was supported by a detachment of Wrens. Who’d have thought that a place for teaching commando skills would end up as a place for teaching fish to swim!
Heading further south, the shores of Loch Shiel were followed by those of Loch Moidart, with its ruined Castle Tioram built on a beautiful tiny island. By way of contrast, I found the bare peat bogs of Kentra Moss rather gloomy. A huge open expanse, ringed by mountains and hills on all sides, it resembled nothing I’d seen before. It led me towards the flats of Kentra Bay where sheep lazily grazed on this vast expanse of marshland.
I finally began the long walk out to Ardnamurchan Point, the most westerly point of UK mainland, by initially following Loch Sunart’s shores. To begin with I passed through the ancient oak woods of Sunart. As much as I love trees, I found them overbearing, forming a gloomy green tunnel ahead of me. I was glad to emerge on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula into open country.
The highlights of the week came when I rounded a series of ‘S’ bends, saw the Ardnamurchan lighthouse at the UK mainland’s most westerly tip, and clocked 2,700 miles all at once! I made it just in time to celebrate with tea and cakes (and an unexpected £20 donation) before the lighthouse café closed.
See Photo Album Numbers 45 – Funnies of the Week; Radio Interview with Hal Stewart of BFBS; Way out West