The Ardnamurchan Peninsula (Scottish Gaelic: Àird nam Murchan: headland of the great seas) is 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 generally 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.
Strontian is the tiny village at the centre of this triangle which gave its name to the element strontium. In 1790 geologists discovered a new mineral in the lead mines here, 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 the Chernobyl explosion, that causes bone cancer, leukaemia and other serious conditions. You're not at heightened risk of these through visiting Strontian.
The nearest railway stations are in Fort William and Oban, and you need a car to get in and around this remote place. The usual approach is by A82 through Glencoe and over Ballachulish Bridge to the little ferry at 1 Corran, then follow the lane south to Strontian, Lochaline and Kilchoan. The ferry, which saves a long detour around Loch Eil, is run by Highland Council. It runs M-Sa 06:30-21:30 every 20 min, Sundays from 08:30 every 30 min, £8.20 per car for the five-minute crossing. No booking, just turn up and queue.
Another route from Fort William is to take A830 west 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 ferry routes from the island of Mull:
- - between Fishnish (by Duart Castle) and Lochaline, every 90 mins taking 20 min, return fares are £15.20 per car, £5.20 per adult including driver, £2.60 per child (Dec 2019).
- - between Tobermory and Kilchoan, every couple of hours taking 35 mins, return fares are £18.40 per car, £6 per adult including driver, £3 per child (Dec 2019).
In previous summers a foot-passenger ferry ran across the outlet of Loch Sunart between Drimnin, Kilchoan and Tobermory, but none are scheduled for 2020.
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 Mon-Sat 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, PH36 4JB (above Strontian). Oak forests once cloaked 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 during the lead-mining era (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. Trails starting from the Oakwood go up to the old lead mines and the summit of Sgùrr Dhòmhnuill, a Corbett of 888 m or 2913 ft. Free.
- 2 Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum), Dorlin PH36 4JZ. A ruin on a tidal island on the shore of Loch Moidart, dating perhaps to 13th century. The ruin is unsafe to enter but you can stroll around the exterior at low tide.
- 3 Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, PH36 4JB. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. It's not quite the most westerly point on the British mainland, as Corrachadh Mòr half a mile south just edges it, but it's still a spectacular view over the roiling Atlantic. The tour includes ascent of the 36-metre-high (118 ft) tower. Adult £7.50, concs £5.50.
- 4 Ardnamurchan (Adelphi) Distillery, PH36 4JG (on B8007 between Salen and Kilchoan). M-Sa 10:00-18:00. It produces single malt whisky, but as it was only started in 2013, the whisky is still maturing and is not yet on sale. Standard tour £8.
- 5 Glenborrodale Castle & Gardens (between Salen and Kilchoan). The gardens are closed and the castle is for sale at £3.75 million (as of 2019).
- 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, 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.
Your best option is the hotel restaurants.
- Cafe Sunart in Strontian serves snacks M-Sa 09:30-16:30, Su 10:00-15:00.
The hotels mostly have public bars.
There are campsites at Strontian, Resipole, Laga and Kilchoan - and, inevitably, yurts at Portuairk near the lighthouse.
Small B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering cottages are clustered around Strontian, Moidart, Lochaline and Kilchoan.
- 1 Strontian Hotel, Acharacle PH36 4HZ (on main road through village), ☏ . Friendly small hotel with a public bar and restaurant. Dog-friendly. Open mid-Feb-Oct, B&B doubles from £80.
- Kilcamb Lodge is a small luxury hotel near Strontian village centre, dog friendly, B&B double from £220.
- 2 Mingarry Park, Acharacle PH36 4JX (on A861 at foot of Loch Shiel), ☏ . Stylish rooms and restaurant. Open April-Oct, B&B doubles from £110.
- 3 Kingairloch Estate, Ardgour PH33 7AE (by Loch Linnhe), ☏ . Elegant rooms for B&B or self-catering. Boatman's Bistro open Wed-Sun. Open mid-Feb-Oct, B&B doubles from £100.
- 4 Salen Hotel, Acharacle PH36 4JN (jcn of A861 and B8007), ☏ . Hotel with 3 rooms, cottage, public bar and restaurant. B&B doubles from £100.
- 5 Kilchoan House Hotel, Kilchoan PH36 4LH (at jcn with lane to ferry pier), ☏ . Small family-run hotel. B&B doubles from £100.
- Splurge at 6 Mingary Castle, Kilchoan PH36 4LH (just east of village), ☏ . Luxurious retro-Georgian hotel within 13th-century shell. Open Feb-Oct, B&B doubles from £350, entire castle (sleeps ten) from £1750.
Passable mobile & Wi-Fi coverage in the main settlements. Some dead spots along the roads between, and near zero out on the moors.
- 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.