Ardnamurchan Peninsula is in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands. It's the most westerly and remote part of mainland Britain, accessed only by a long, winding single-track lane. For visitor purposes the name applies to the entire triangle of land west of Loch Linnhe, north of the Sound of Mull, and south of the A830, taking in Moidart, Sunart, Ardgour and Morvern as well as Ardnamurchan which geographically is just the western tip. The total population is about 2000.
Àird nam Murchan in Gaelic means "headland of the great seas". The soil is poor and the terrain though of no great height is rugged. There are few natural resources, though lead was mined and oak forests managed for charcoal. The population mostly lived by crofting - subsistence farming - until the 19th century. Then the landowners realised they'd earn more from sheep-farming than from the meagre rents of their tenants, so the crofters were evicted. The emptiness of Ardnamurchan, as elsewhere in the Highlands, has been man-made by these "Clearances", of which the village of Bourblaige is a silent but eloquent witness.
Strontian is the tiny village at the centre of this triangle of land which gave its name to the element strontium. In 1790 geologists discovered a new mineral in the lead mines, which they called "strontianite", and within it identified strontium from its distinctive crimson-red flame. It became commercially important in the 19th century in the extraction of sugar from beet, and in the 20th century for the coating of TV cathode-ray tubes; nowadays a major use is for red firework flares. It's chemically similar to calcium and is therefore taken up by bones and other body tissues. The natural isotope is mostly strontium-88, which is non-toxic, radio-stable and not a health concern. It's strontium-90, a radioactive product of nuclear fallout such as of the Chernobyl accident, that causes bone cancer, leukemia and other serious conditions. You're not at heightened risk of these through visiting Strontian.
Get in edit
See Fort William for inter-city routes. You need a vehicle to get in and around this remote place.
1 Corran Ferry is reached by A82 through Glencoe and over Ballachulish Bridge. This is operated by Highland Council and saves a long detour around Loch Eil. It sails M-Sa 06:30-21:30 every 20 min, Sundays from 08:30 every 30 min, £8.20 per car (as of 2023) for the five-minute crossing. No booking, just turn up and queue. You land at Ardgour, follow the lane south to Strontian, Lochaline and Kilchoan
The other route from Fort William is to take A830 west along Loch Eil then past Glenfinnan, branching south at Loch Ailort. This road leads to Moidart, Acharacle, Salen and Kilchoan. See under Mallaig and Fort William for buses and trains along the Glenfinnan stretch.
There are two Calmac car ferry routes from the island of Mull:
- between Fishnish near Craignure and Lochaline every 90 min, taking 20 min, see Craignure#Get in.
- between Tobermory and Kilchoan every couple of hours, taking 35 min, see Tobermory.
The Tobermory-Drimnin ferry no longer sails.
Get around edit
You need a car. Ardnamurchan's few buses are timed for school run and shopping trips and similar errands to Fort William, with one bus there in the morning and one bus returning mid-afternoon.
Shiel Bus 506 runs n-Sa between Kilchoan and Fort William, via Salen, Acharacle, Strontian and the Corran ferry, taking 2 hr 30 min. The eastbound bus leaves Kilchoan around 08:00, connecting with the ferry from Tobermory. The westbound bus leaves Fort William at 13:50.
Shiel Bus 502 runs M-Sa between Acharacle and Fort William via Moidart, Loch Ailort and Glenfinnan, taking 90 min. It's basically a school bus for Lochaber High School, with the eastbound bus leaving Acharacle around 07:00 and the westbound bus leaving Fort William at 15:30; it doesn't connect with the 506.
Shiel Bus 507 is mostly just a school bus from Drimnin via Lochaline to Strontian. On Thursdays only, it runs from Lochaline at 09:30 via Argour and the Corran ferry to Fort William, taking 80 min, and setting off back at 14:50.
- 1 Ariundle Oakwood is in the glen north of Strontian. Oak forests once carpeted the Atlantic coast from Norway to Portugal; Ariundle is a rare survival in Scotland, designated as a National Nature Reserve. Both sessile and pedunculate oaks (plus hybrids) thrive here. Their presence is partly artificial, as they were cultivated for charcoal to fuel the ironworks at Bonawe (hence their multiple stems, from coppicing). There are two trails through the woods, which can be combined into a 3-mile loop; watch out for otters, pipistrelle bats, wildcats, pine martens and badgers. The woods are also notable for mosses, liverworts and lichens. Higher up the glen are old lead mines and eventually the trail leads to the summit of Sgùrr Dhòmhnuill, a Corbett of 888 m or 2913 ft.
- 2 Castle Tioram (pronounced "Cheerum") is a ruin on a tidal island on the shore of Loch Moidart, dating perhaps to 12th century. A bastion of Clan Ranald, it was burned out in the 1715 uprising. The ruin is unsafe to enter but you can stroll around the exterior at low tide - Tioram is Gaelic for "dry" but don't push your luck.
- 3 RSPB Glenborrodale is an oak woodland and wildlife reserve. It's free to access 24 hours, donation appreciated.
- Glenborrodale Castle half a mile east is an Edwardian mansion that has been a hotel but is now a private residence, no tours.
- 4 Bourblaige or Buarblaig is the haunting remains of a village. Its seven families were brusquely evicted in 1828 to make way for a sheep farm, as part of the Highland Clearances. The site had been inhabited since prehistoric times and may have been a battlefield in 731 AD between the Picts and the Dalriads, the Ulster folk who colonised southwest Scotland. Wear stout boots for the soggy path from B8007.
- 5 Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, PH36 4JB, ☏ . Apr-Oct M-F 11:00-16:00. This was built by Alan Stevenson in 1849, a 36 m / 118 ft column in pink granite. It's unlike other fluted Stevenson creations and this style is called "Egyptian", which must confuse mariners. There's a visitor centre and you can climb the tower. Adult £8.50.
- Corrachadh Mòr half a mile south of the lighthouse is the most westerly point on the British mainland. Rough going over the heath to reach it.
- 6 Sanna Beach is the best on Ardnamurchan, and you may have it to yourself. At its south end stood Sanna Bheag, an Arts-and-Crafts / Tigh dubh hybrid cottage built by Mary Ethel Muir Donaldson (1876-1958) and her partner Isobel Bonus. Donaldson was a photographer and ethnographer of a fast-disappearing Highland way of life. Her cottage burned down in 1947.
- Scuba diving: preferably in a dry-suit, though you can get away with a chunky wet-suit in summer or early autumn. Lochaline has a dive centre[dead link], with the signature dive being along the wall near the slipway. The Sound of Mull is littered with wrecks, many of historical interest. The dive centre has a bunk-house and occasionally runs archaeological dives on protected sites where diving is normally restricted, such as the Swan, a Cromwellian warship lost in a storm in 1653; prior booking is essential.
Stock up before you come, there's limited supplies of anything here.
- Cafe Sunart, Strontian PH36 4HZ (by campsite), ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-16:00, Su 10:00-15:00. Friendly cafe for full meals or light bites.
- Hotels have bar meals and fine dining restaurants.
- The hotels mostly have public bars.
- Adelphi Distillery, Glenbeg PH36 4JG (on B8007 between Salen and Kilchoan), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:30, Su 12:00-17:00. Delightful small place producing single malt whisky. The original Adelphi was near Glasgow, but folded after the Great Gorbals Whisky Disaster of 1906, when a building collapsed to send a tidal wave of whisky down the street, and folk literally drowned. The site was demolished and is now Glasgow's main mosque. The Adelphi name was revived in the 1990s, the Ardnamurchan distillery began production in 2014 and whisky went on sale from 2016. Standard tour £15 M-F.
- Campsites: two at Kilchoan and one at Sunart.
- B&Bs and self-catering cottages are clustered around Strontian, Moidart, Lochaline and Kilchoan.
- 1 Strontian Hotel, Acharacle PH36 4HZ (on main road through village), ☏ . Charming small hotel with a public bar and restaurant, open all year. Dog-friendly. B&B double £125.
- 2 Kilcamb Lodge, Strontian PH36 4HY (on A861), ☏ . Tranquil small hotel near Strontian village centre, great dining, dogs welcome. Open all year. B&B double £300.
- 3 Mingarry Park, Acharacle PH36 4JX (on A861 at foot of Loch Shiel), ☏ . Stylish rooms and restaurant, open April-Dec. B&B double £170.
- 4 Kingairloch Estate, Ardgour PH33 7AE, ☏ . Cottages for self-catering, let year-round by the week from F or Sa, dog-friendly. Boatman's Bistro is open W-Su.
- 5 Salen Hotel, Acharacle PH36 4JN (jcn of A861 and B8007), ☏ . The hotel has been converted into a cafe, and accommodation is in two glamping pods open Mar-Oct.
- 6 Lochaline Hotel, Lochaline PA80 5XT, ☏ . Friendly small hotel by Lochaline Castle and ferry pier, open all year. B&B double £140.
- 7 Kilchoan House Hotel, Kilchoan PH36 4LH, ☏ . Small family-run hotel near ferry pier, clean and cosy, open April-Oct. B&B double £170.
- 8 Mingary Castle, Kilchoan PH36 4LH, ☏ . Rave reviews for this luxurious retro-Georgian hotel within a 13th century shell, open March-Dec. The restaurant serves non-residents. B&B double £350, entire castle (sleeps ten) from £1750.
Finish any important calls before leaving A82 / A830. As of July 2023 the village has 4G from Three, but nothing from other carriers, and the other settlements and roads have near-zero signal.
Go next edit
- The island of Mull is just south across the Sound, by ferry from Lochaline or Kilchoan.
- Go north to Arisaig or Mallaig for boat trips round (or longer stays on) the Small Isles.
- Ferries from Mallaig ply to Armadale on Skye, or drive the longer way around by the bridge. The scenery is spectacular but it'll feel very crowded and touristy after Ardnamurchan.