“End of the Road Scotland”
July has been a particularly busy month for us with travel around Scotland taking us to some of the country’s most remote locations where you really do get a sense of isolation. It takes a special sort of person to manage to live in these “disconnected” locations where a trip to the nearest shop or petrol station might involve a 3 hr round trip or more! Whilst it is always interesting and enjoyable to explore these corners of Scotland, we’re not sure that we’d manage to live there all year round and we admire the hardy types that can.
Back in our May Blog, we wrote about our visit down to the Rhinns of Galloway and the lighthouse at Scotland’s most Southerly tip, Gallie Craig on the Mull of Galloway. This month we travelled to the Scottish Mainland’s most Westerly tip at Ardnamurchan lighthouse. These are very different places; the Mull of Galloway has fertile farmland with lots of holiday cottages scattered around, Ardnamurchan has rugged wilderness with just a few isolated homes and caravans clustered in the more sheltered bays. To get to Ardnamurchan Point, you have to drive ~24 miles of twisting single track road along the Ardnamurchan peninsula. This road starts off as a pleasant drive through densely wooded coastline, but halfway along the route the trees give way to open moorland. After a slightly unnerving drive around the steep sides of Camas nan Geal bay, where the road clings to the hillside like a sheep track, you enter a landscape that bears distinctive signs of its volcanic origins.
Follow the road all the way out to Ardnamurchan Point, you’ll need to allow around 90 minutes for this, and you find what must be the most remote set of traffic lights on the Scottish mainland. These traffic lights aren’t just there to amuse or frustrate the locals, they are necessary as the last few hundred yards of road up to the lighthouse are single track hemmed in by high side walls so you can only have one direction of traffic at a time. The walls are a precaution that we assume is required to prevent the road, or its travellers, from being washed away by Atlantic storms. Assuming that you have survived the journey to the road’s end, you can reward yourself with a cup of coffee and a slice of cake (oh yes, there’s a café here!) before climbing the 165 steps to the top of the Lighthouse. It’s a lot of time and effort, but you get quite a view from the top and can have some fun working out which island is which.
If the idea of driving 90 minutes to cover 24 miles of single track road is a bit off putting, you might prefer to visit Knoydart, which can only be accessed by boat, helicopter or a 16 mile hike over some pretty rough terrain. Knoydart, more specifically the village of Inverie, boasts the most remote pub on the Scottish mainland, “The Old Forge”. In fact, most people seem to visit Knoydart just for the experience of the pub, or at least the food at the pub. As you might expect, seafood is the main element on the menu of the “Old Forge” and the chances are pretty good that you will have travelled further to get to the pub than the food that you eat here.
Knoydart has a vibrant little community of around 100 inhabitants, but this is just a fraction of the 1000 or so people that lived here prior to the Highland Clearances. This area was hit particularly hard with evictions and in 1853 over 300 residents were deported on a ship bound for Canada. The turnaround in the fortunes of Knoydart eventually came in 1999 when a community trust managed to buy over the estate and run it for the good of the inhabitants. Good on them! If we lived here, we think we might be tempted to go the whole hog and set up Knoydart as an independent state!
If you want to visit Knoydart, your easiest option is via one of the passenger ferry services that run from Mallaig to Inverie. The faster ferry boat takes about 30 minutes, but there is a larger and more comfortable boat trip available on the MV Western Isles. The downside of taking the MV Western Isles is that the crossing is 45 minutes and the service only runs to / from Inverie twice a day. That said, the MV Western Isles boat does have a nicely refurbished bar area downstairs where you can sample some whisky, but it seems a pity to be down in the hull of the boat when there’s so much scenery on display.
The third remote place on our July travels was the community of Lochbuie on Mull. As the crow flies, Lochbuie doesn’t really count as remote, but the 8 miles of single track road that leads to this lonely spot is not a drive that you take on lightly. It’s not that there is anything alarming about the road, but you might start to question the wisdom of driving to the end of the road when you come to the pot holed sections with grass growing down the middle. If you persevere, you will eventually arrive at the shores of Loch Buie and you might be surprised to see other cars are parked at the beach. You might also be surprised to find that there is a wee cafe here in the village’s old post office building. Well, we say “building”, but it is really not much more than a glorified garden shed, but it is a welcome find at the end of the road.
The reasons for visiting Lochbuie are to see the neat stone circle, clearly signposted as you arrive, and the ruins of Moy Castle. The castle is undergoing restoration, but the walls are not yet stable enough to allow access to the general public. The castle has starred in at least one film, the 1945 classic “I know where I’m going”. This film has a bit of a cult following and it features some wonderful black & white photography around Mull. Moy Castle features quite prominently towards the end of the film, but it doesn’t look quite the same today as the trees have grown quite a bit since 1945. There are stories of the castle once having a water filled dungeon with pillars upon which the prisoners had to balance in order to avoid drowning. Not sure if that legend is true, but it sounds like a very grim way to go. The castle is also reputed to be haunted by the headless ghost of Ewen Maclaine who rides his horse around the castle. Not a place that you want to visit at night, and definitely to be avoided if it means driving back on that road in the dark!