Majestic mountains, dense forests, babbling burns through peaceful glens, deep mysterious lochs, hidden coves, grazing deer, a soaring eagle, empty white sandy beaches, I could go on and on, because our few days in the west of Scotland have had all this and much more too.
Failte. That is welcome in Gaelic, the greeting you see as you enter many of the places in the West Highlands of Scotland, and a very warm welcome we had everywhere we went on our few days break. We travelled on a Sunday, passing through Glasgow and heading over the Erskine bridge, through Helensburgh along the Firth of Clyde, then on the shores of Gare Loch and Loch Long, climbing up to Arrochar. This we realised was to be a holiday of Lochs and forests! My husband was singing his repertoire of Scottish songs by then, and Yon bonny banks and Ye tak the high road and Ill tak the low road were being sung! We travelled through Glen Croe, in the Argyll Forest Park, passed and admired the Cobbler, not being a climber I wasnt tempted to try the well known climb! We paused at Rest and Be Thankful for a walk and to take some photos and then continued down to Loch Fyne and to the little town of Inverary, which is on a Loch Shira, an arm of Loch Fyne. This was the first time we had found a traffic queue, because there are lights to cross the narrow picturesque bridge into the town.
Our hotel overlooked the loch, so was in a lovely setting. Nearby was the Castle, home of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. There is some beautiful furniture and amazing swords, it is more of a stately home than your usual castle. It was built in the 18th. Century and the Duke cleared the village to build on the best site, and then decided he needed to have a village that complimented his castle and built new homes around the church and school for the villagers. Inveraray Jail won an award as a visitor attraction, it was a very enjoyable visit and the guides were dressed up as prisoners. You even get locked up! But we were released and continued to explore the area. There is a maritime museum aboard the Artic Penguin which is a 1911 3 masted Schooner, and there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore and things to try as you move around the ship. Several hotels in the area, warning though it gets very busy ay weekends with day trippers!
With the words of the famous McCartney song, Mull of Kintyre, we drove the next day along Loch Fyne to Lochgilphead, deciding not to stop at the Crarae Gardens or Kilmory Woodland Park, but continued down to Tarbert. Enjoying fantastic scenery en route and the lovely fresh air, we needed a walk and a coffee, and there were some very clean toilets available! Fishing boats were moored, men were working around the harbour and occasionally a ferry comes in to moor. There were lots of little shops and the town was bustling with locals and visitors. Picnic food bought, we continued down the peninsular, crossing over to Loch Tarbert for a while before heading along a single track road to Skipness and its little Castle. There was a short walk from the car park to the castle, mostly ruins, but a wooden staircase had been put in to give access to the higher floors, it was worth the climb with lovely views from the top. There was no charge which did surprise me! On the way back we stopped in a little cove and looked across to Arran, we listened to the birds, and wished we could recognise them all, walked on the wonderful rounded sparkly stone beach and looked at seaweed in rock pools. A pair of binoculars is very useful, in fact two pairs would have been useful! We ate our picnic, whilst absorbing all the beauty around us, and then we continued down along narrow roads with some very steep hills at times to Carradale, once when we stopped to take a photo I was surprised to see Wild orchids growing on the road side, we have them near where I live but they are still fairly rare in some areas. Then on to Campbeltown, where we walked along the harbour and visited the RNLI shop, the boats are very important and we always like to support them. The town was larger than Tarbert and even had a Woolworth store! Not that we went in, but it helps give you an idea that this a larger place, I prefer local craft shops when we are visiting different areas. By this time we had moved on from singing Mull of Kintyre to Campbeltown loch I wish you were Whisky and I would drink you dry! It was soon time to head back up the A83 this time, where we had views across to Islay and Jura, and also to Gigha. After 38 miles we were back at Tarbert and retraced the road to Inverary.
There are several forestry walks around Campbeltown, Lussa, Skipness, Tarbert and Carradale. There are some good leaflets about the walks which are graded, time and distance is estimated and information about things to look out for. Unfortunately we didnt have enough time but hope to go back and do some walking at a later time.
A word of warning, roads are often one track or very bendy and especially if you get behind other traffic, it does take longer to travel so always allow plenty of time especially if you aim to catch a ferry!
We had booked two nights in Inverary and were moving on to Ballachulish, we stopped to look at the standing stones and stone circles in this area. Kilmartin is about 8 miles north of Lochgilphead. There was a walk through the fields, along a short stretch of road and back along woodland and fields taking in a lot of the sites. Some had been uncovered by pure chance and there is a possibility of more stones in the area.
Having had many holidays on canal boats we stopped to gongozzle as a yacht came down the canal and through one of the locks. It saves 100 miles of difficult sailing around the Mull of Kintyre and is a popular short cut and safe transit route from Ardrishaig to Crinan. It is only 9 miles long with 15 locks, rising 68 feet about sea level.
Passing more lochs and enjoying more splendid scenery we reached Oban. A bustling port, and popular holiday town, often called the unofficial capital of the West Highlands. It is protected from Atlantic storms by the islands, and you get wonderful views looking across to Mull. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry crosses from here taking lots of visitors to this beautiful island and lots of children wanting to visit Balamory, the popular television programme for little children. If you are energetic a climb up to the folly called Mccaigs Tower is definitely worth while! It overlooks the town and gives wonderful views of the islands and Firth of Lorne.
Thirty five miles north of Oban is the little village of Ballachulish, once famous for its ferry but replaced by a bridge which crosses Loch Leven, a narrow loch which is a branch off Loch Linnhe. There are several hotels and lots of Bed and Breakfast places in this area, we headed towards the village of Glencoe and stayed at The Isles of Glencoe Hotel, on the shore of Loch Leven and looking out to the Pap of Glencoe. If Ciao will add this hotel I will write a separate review!
Situated at the top of Loch Linnhe and the end of Loch Eil, overlooked by Ben Nevis, Fort William is a very busy town. Larger shops which we avoided are in abundance, we had visited the town when we spent a holiday on the Caledonian Canal and had come to stock up on food supplies, this holiday we passed through as we were on the Road to the Isles and our destination was Mallaig.
*THE ROAD TO THE ISLES*
We had glimpses of Loch Eil as we headed to Glenfinnan, which is 15 miles from Fort William and on Loch Shiel. There is a National trust visitor centre and here you can see the Glenfinnan Monument, erected in memory of the Jacobites. Another piece of architecture is the viaduct, which is late Victorian over 100ft high it has 21 arches. Famous for its role in Monarch of the Glen and Harry Potter films.
We were lucky enough to see the Jacobite steam train on its trip to Mallaig, it costs £25 return for adults and leaves Fort William at 10.20am during the summer and returns at 4.00pm. It is advised to book since the Hogwarts Express as it is now known locally has become very popular with Harry Potter fans. It passes the deepest freshwater loch Loch Morar, we were luckier travelling by car as we could stop at Morar and walk on the beautiful white deserted sands, and revel in the peace and solitude of this area.
Mallaig itself is the Gateway to Skye and the Hebrides and is a busy port. Over the sea to Skye was my husbands song of the moment! We arrived before the train disgorged all its passengers, so walked around and purchased some fresh crab rolls for our lunch! Still a busy fishing port, it now has a by-pass road which makes it more accessible, although there is still a stretch of single track with passing places. There is a Heritage centre telling the story of Mallaig, how the railway was built, all about the Highland clearances and about the Lifeboat rescues. Very handy for train visitors! Especially if it is raining during their 1.5 hours stop at Mallaig! We were lucky the sun shone for us.
*MOIDART AND SUNART*
From Lochailort we followed the coast road and then wound our way through forests along the A861 to Strontian. Then along Glen Tarbett to Inversanda on Loch Linnhe, by now we had driven a distance and were in need of a rest so decided as we approached Ardgour to hop on (well drove on actually!) to the Corran ferry and saved 43 miles journey for a charge of £5.20. It runs about every half hour and only took a few minutes to cross over to Corran, which is only 4 miles from Ballachulish. There are lots of places to stop and rest, enjoy a walk, admire a view, you can take as long as you wish. A comfortable hotel with Jacuzzi, Sauna and pool was waiting for us so we headed back!
I couldnt end without a mention of this dramatic backdrop, a place often remembered for scenes of massacre, it is also a home to wild animals and rare alpine plants. The famous Aonach Eagach or notched ridge links 3 peaks and is over 3000 feet high and covers over 3 miles.
There is a National trust visitor centre with loads of information. Many people actually enjoy walking and climbing in the area, skiing in winter but if you are not energetic you can still enjoy this magnificent area from the comfort of your car or bus! Fortunately the songs were scarcer by now but we did have Cauld is the snow that falls on Glencoe!, but he didnt remember anymore words, so was forced to whistle!
If you are still with me thanks for reading as I rambled around the West Coast, there are too many places to mention them all. Scotland is a beautiful country and although I was born in England, I have lived here for many years, but still there is a lot to explore. I hope this might encourage you to take a holiday and enjoy the beautiful lochs and forests here. Re-charge your batteries, be prepared to eat wonderful local foods! Freshly caught fish, venison, and not forgetting the excellent choice of Whisky! Afraid my diet was forgotten! But we have some to lovely photos to remind us of our short break.
I just wish I could add them here for you to enjoy!