390: Ardnamurchan

OS Explorer map 390, Ardnamurchan: Moidart, Sunart & Loch Shiel – I do not own this map, and had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post Saturday 31st March 2018.

So my last two posts concerned two days when I and the Dearest Progenitors stayed on Skye, and made a trip across to Glenelg on the adorable little Glenelg Ferry. The next day, we left Skye on the Armadale-Mallaig ferry, to drive to Mull, where we’d stay another two nights before ending our trip and going home. This was therefore to be a day of two ferries, as we’d be going from Skye to Mull via the mainland.

Our route for the day, vaguely. Red = driving, purple = ferries. (Map from OS Maps online.)
We arrived in Mallaig as planned in the morning, and drove down the A830. This is the road from Fort William to Mallaig, which at the Fort William end is tantalisingly signposted as the Road to the Isles, and I’ve rather wanted to go down it for a while. [1] Unfortunately I don’t think we saw the most spectacular parts of it, as, around the point where we entered this map area, we soon turned off southwards onto the A861 towards Acharacle.

It was, I think, slightly after Acharacle that we stopped for a moment to look at what looked like a tourist sign. However, we were disappointed to find that the sign was in fact not present, showing us nothing more than wood and nails…

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Father Dearest with the disappointing sign…

We soon passed Salen and were in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula proper. Ardnamurchan is one of the most isolated parts of the mainland, accessible only by one single-track road; if you live in the village of Kilchoan, where we’d be getting the ferry, it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive just to Fort William for the nearest reasonably-sized town.

Ardnamurchan is also very notable, though, for being the westernmost part not only of Scotland, but of Great Britain. (I.e. the island of Great Britain, disregarding all of its outlying islands.) It’s easy to forget just how much the Britain “leans over” towards the West, as one’s conventionally used to thinking of Scotland as just northwards, but it is a strange yet true fact that Edinburgh, on Scotland’s East coast, is further West than Bristol, on a similar longitude to Cardiff. If asked for Britain’s westernmost point, people are fairly liable to say Land’s End in Cornwall, since Land’s End to John O’ Groats is the famous corner-to-corner route. But Land’s End is actually only the westernmost point of England.

A map with Great Britain itself highlighted, thereby getting rid of Skye, Mull and Islay, makes it clear just how much Ardnamurchan sticks out from the west coast of Scotland:

Great Britain highlighted without its islands, with Ardnamurchan clearly visible as the most westerly point. (Image source.)

I’ve been to the northernmost point of Britain, Dunnet Head near John O’ Groats, before, and to the southernmost, The Lizard in Cornwall. With Ardnamurchan done now, I’ve just got Lowestoft to do as the easternmost and I’ll have got them all! (I’m not quite sure why I left Lowestoft until last, it being by far the easiest to access…)

We’d planned to stop somewhere after Salen for lunch at a café of some kind – I’d looked it up in advance and there were a few along the road, such as at the Ardnmurchan Natural History Visitor Centre, but unfortunately they were all closed, so we had to drive on past. (We also narrowly escaped doing a tour of a distillery, since Father Dearest saw the sign and wanted to, but that was closed too.)

We were, however, able to stop at a little car park by the side of the road and have a read of a tourist sign that was actually pleasant, so that was good. It pointed to a load of archaeological sites on the peninsula that it would’ve been nice to visit if we’d had the time, including a couple of abandoned villages, a standing stone and a burial mound – I’ll have to come back! The car park overlooked a little bay, and the view was pleasant; one could see across to Mull very clearly.

Next came a slight adventure. We arrived at Kilchoan, where our ferry would be leaving from, but drove on, because we wanted to go to the lighthouse at Ardnamurchan Point – and importantly, we knew it had a café, which Mother Dearest had called to check was open. Therefore we drove towards it, however just after Kilchoan’s tiny community fire station, we were stopped by two ladies in a car coming the other way, frantically waving to us out of their window. Someone had come off the road a little way along, they told us, and the road was blocked, so we’d better turn around. And so we did. (Father Dearest suspected that they might have been joking, thinking that they seemed a little drunk, but I’m sure they weren’t.)

Anyway, we dutifully turned around and went back to Kilchoan, where we stopped for lunch in the Kilchoan hotel. The gossip we brought about the blocked road spread rapidly around the public bar…

Lunch was very pleasant. We were sat next to a window, in which was placed the pictured potpourri. Not very notable, you might think. However, it turned out that for all my life so far I had been wrong about what a potpourri was, and was therefore surprised when my mother called that bowl of smelly things one. (I had the image of a tied-up bunch of herbs in my head; I think I must have always confused it with a bouquet garni.) [2]

Afterwards, we made a second, successful, attempt at driving over to Ardnamurchan lighthouse, almost the very western extreme of the peninsula and Great Britain. Technically, the headland Corrachadh Mòr about a mile further south is the westernmost point, but there’s only about 100 yards in it.

Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse and Corrachadh Mòr, which just beats it to the title of westernmost point of Great Britain.

The drive over was notable not only for the now-clear road, but also for the huge variety of animals we passed over the last couple of miles – there were sheep, cows, chickens, pigs, goats, dogs and even llamas!

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A couple of cute members of the menagerie that we passed…

We arrived at the lighthouse without trouble, and decided not to go into the exhibition, since it would be good to get back to Kilchoan in time for the next ferry and not have to wait another hour and a half. Still, we walked up to the lighthouse.

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Me being silly in front of the Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse

The view north from there was wondrous; I’m pretty sure that I could pick out Muck, Eigg, Rùm, Canna, and all the way back to Skye behind them, where we’d started our day about 40 miles away!

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The view north from Ardnamurchan lighthouse in which (I think), Muck, Eigg, Rúm, Canna and Skye can all be seen.

We then went briefly into the shop and bought a couple of postcards, before driving back to Kilchoan for the ferry across to Tobermory, about which see my next post!

From the ferry, looking back at Ardnamurchan, I could see Mingarry Castle, which is really very interesting for being a 13th-century castle that, despite being a ruin until a few years ago, has now been turned into a luxury hotel! Basically, they’ve built a new building inside the old walls.


[1] The A830 also runs parallel to the last section of the West Highland Line, between Fort William and Mallaig, which again I’d really rather like to ride sometime. Particularly wonderful would be if I could manage to go on this beauty!

[2] The word potpourri featured in my life a month or so earlier, when I was thinking about it and realised how similar it sounds to “popery” (i.e. the somewhat derogatory term for Roman Catholicism). The two are pronounced differently, but distinguished only by stress; it being on the third syllable in the former, the first in the latter – they’re /ˌpəʊ.pəˈriː/ and /ˈpəʊ.pəˌriː/.

There are a good few pairs like that in English – consider the verb prodúce and the noun próduce, or incite and insight – so that’s not that weird. However, when I thought about it a few months ago, I initially thought that, at least for me (in my idiolect of English, as the technical term is), the two words both had initial stress, and were distinguished only by the strength of the secondary stress on the final syllable. This was indeed very weird, and I excitedly messaged Erithacus about it – I also ended up posting about it in Linguistics Shitposting, a Facebook meme group for those who study linguistics to make stupid jokes; it’s actually a really pleasant community and I really like it.

popery potpourri
Me posting about the popery/potpourri situation…

Of course, a while later, I don’t actually think this true anymore; I think that I was led astray by the fact that the secondary stress is just pretty strong in both words, and the diphthong /əʊ/ and long /iː/ are pretty secure against weakening in unstressed position.

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