The remote and sparsely populated southwest corner of the Highlands, from the empty district of Morvern to the isolated peninsula of Knoydart, is a dramatic, lonely region of mountain and moorland fringed by a rocky, indented coast whose stunning white beaches enjoy wonderful views to Mull, Skye and other islands. Its Gaelic name, Garbh-chiochan, translates as the “Rough Bounds”, implying a region geographically and spiritually apart. Even if you have a car, you should spend some time here exploring on foot; there are so few roads that some determined hiking is almost inevitable.
The Ardnamurchan peninsula
A nine-mile drive south of Fort William down Loch Linnhe, the five-minute ferry crossing at Corran Ferry provides the most direct point of entry for Morvern and the rugged Ardnamurchan peninsula. The most westerly point on the British mainland, the peninsula lost most of its inhabitants during the infamous Clearances and is now sparsely populated with only a handful of tiny crofting settlements clinging to its jagged coastline. It boasts some beautiful, pristine, empty beaches – especially about three miles north of the Ardnamurchan lighthouse at Sanna Bay, a shell-strewn strand and series of dunes that offers truly unforgettable vistas of the Small Isles to the north, circled by gulls, terns and guillemots. The coastal hamlet of SALEN marks the turn-off for Ardnamurchan Point: from here it’s a further 25 miles of slow, scenic driving along the singletrack road which follows the northern shore of Loch Sunart.
The Road to the Isles
The “Road to the Isles” from Fort William to Mallaig, followed by the West Highland Railway and the narrow, winding A830, traverses the mountains and glens of the Rough Bounds before breaking out onto a spectacularly scenic coast of sheltered inlets, white beaches and wonderful views to the islands of Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Skye. This is country associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose adventures of 1745–46 began and ended on this stretch of coast, with his first, defiant gathering of the clans at Glenfinnan, nineteen miles west of Fort William at the head of lovely Loch Shiel. The spot is marked by a column (now a little lopsided), crowned with a clansman in full battle dress, erected in 1815.
A cluttered, noisy port whose pebble-dashed houses struggle for space with great lumps of exposed granite strewn over the hillsides sloping down to the sea, MALLAIG, 47 miles west of Fort William, isn’t pretty. As the main ferry stop for Skye, the Small Isles and Knoydart, it’s always full of visitors, though the continuing source of the village’s wealth is its fishing industry. When the fleet is in, trawlers encircled by flocks of raucous gulls choke the harbour, and the pubs, among the liveliest on the west coast, host bouts of serious drinking.