A Wander round the northern half of the Ardnish Peninsula.

It was a few years back that I walked the path into Peanmeanach on the Ardnish peninsula from the Mallaig road and having subsequently read a little of the history of the peninsula, and having spotted the ruins of one of the other settlements Mullochbuie below the path on the Loch nan Uamh side I decided to have a bit of an explore to visit not only Mullochbuie but also the other abandoned settlements. Note the use of "we" as I was accompanied by three pals - Bhreac and Corrie, the Cocker spaniels and Fin, an English Springer spaniel.

I find these apparently isolated communities fascinating on so many levels. When you stand among the ruins of these settlements one can not help but wonder, not only the the amazing dry stone construction of the buildings themselves but of the people and families that inhabited them. How long have these sites been lived in and how far back does the lineage of the folk who lived there go back. Where did they fit within the surrounding community and clan system? What did theses sites look like when they were inhabited and what was life really like? How did they manage to scratch any kind of living from the land which nowadays is a combination of rank heather, mossy bog, scrub birch and a great deal of rock! How on earth did they survive the winter? I think it is probably impossible for us to really conceive how hard it was and how tough these highlanders were.

Sloch, Glasnacardoch, and Feorlindhu, Peanmeanach and Laggan are all by the sea, so one factor that has to be borne in mind is that in times gone by the main highway for the folk of the West Highlands would have been the sea. When this is taken into account it certainly lessens the remoteness of these sites. However in the winter with storms coming in from the Atlantic no doubt their would be long periods when travel by sea would have been impossible. The exception, Mullochbuie, is just over 250 feet above sea level with a steep drop to Loch nan Uamh below, although there are a couple of buildings shown down what appears to be a steep gully towards the shore. Seen from the other side of Loch nan Uamh there looks little in the way of landing places below this settlement.

The plan was to follow the Peanmeanach path until we could see the ruins of Mullochbuie below, and to then to drop down to explore them before climbing back over the ridge to Loch an Fhearainn Dubh and then follow the Allt an t-Sluichd burn down to Sloch. The next section round from Sloch to Glasnacardoch was always going to be a bit of trial and error. The way out of Sloch, across the beach and then following a relatively flat area down towards Port na h-Aifrinne seemed relatively obvious. However trying to follow the coast round towards the next section was tricky and there may be a more obvious way by going over the ridge that separates Sloch from its nearest neighbour, Glasnacardoch, but it will most likely involve a fair bit of ascent. Once round the headland a beautiful sandy beach can be seen, know locally as the Singing Sands, and that is where we headed. Once the beach is reached it is a fairly straight route taking in the ruins of Glasnacardoch and the old school a bit further on, before passing the remains of Feorlindhu, and then dropping down over the Allt Loch Doir a Ghearrain to Peanmeanach.

I have kept this page mainly as a description and photos of the walk. However if you are interested in the history of the Ardnish and its various settlements I have done a bit of research on the internet and also transcribed the census records for the locations all of which is available HERE

Please note all the maps are reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Ardnish Peninsula - Inverness-shire (Mainland), Sheet CXXXV - Survey date: 1873, Publication date: 1876

The route 14.6 km - Image from Google Earth

The path starts of at the lay-by on the Kinlochailort-Arisaig road and drops down to the shore of Loch Dubh before crossing the railway bridge over the Fort William-Mallaig railway.

The Peanmeanach path signpost

Loch Dubh

Bridge over the Fort William - Mallaig Line

With a bit of research into the times of the running of the Jacobite steam train on this line a view of it going under the bridge can add an extra bonus to the day.

The Jacobite en route back to Fort William passing under the bridge
(from a previous walk)

The path then gradually climbs up to the top of a small outcrop where views of Loch Beag open up in front and to the right the railway line crossing Loch Deabhta which is now a bit of a boggy morass on this side of the embankment. Interestingly the OS Name Books of 1876-1878 for Inverness-shire translates Lochan Deabhta as the "Drying up Loch", suggesting it has always been a shallow lochan.

Looking over to Loch nan Uamh

Looking down to the bay at the head of Loch Beag where the Allt Camas an Raoigh burn enters.

The path drops down to cross a small burn Allt Camas an Raoigh. If this is followed down to the shore there are a series of abandoned houses to the right of the burn. Although shown on on the early Ordnance Survey maps and possibly on Roy's 1747-1755 map this settlement is not named on any of them. However I believe it does appear in 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses named "Camusarue", "Camasruy", "Camasurye" and the OS Name Books of 1876-1878 for Inverness-shire translates Allt Camas an Ruigheas the "Burn of the Bay of the Sheiling". The fact that I have not found it listed in the censuses after 1861 and that the revised map of 1899 identifies the buildings as ruins suggests the site had been abandoned as a permanent community for a while.

The settlement by Allt Camas an Raoigh - Survey date: 1873

Some of the ruins by the Allt Camas an Raoigh burn on the shores of Loch Beag
(from a previous walk)

The path climbs steeply up on to the shoulder of Cruach Camas an Raoigh with views of Loch nan Uamh and the Small Isles opening up before you.

Loch Beg and Loch nan Uamh

Looking back to the railway viaduct at the head of Loch nan Uamh
(The Jacobite is crossing it and the smoke can just be seen)

Looking out over Loch nan Uamh with the Sgurr of Eigg, and Rhum visible on the horizon.

After a short while two distinctive ruins which a part of the settlement of Mullochbuie can be seen below and after a shortish descent the settlement is reached which sits in a natural bowl above the Loch. On the OS map of 1873 there is a path shown on the map down to the settlement from the Peanmeanach path, although if any trace still exists we missed it. As already mentioned this is the one settlement that is not obviously immediately accessible from the sea although there are a couple of buildings shown towards the shore, down what appears to be a steep gully. In fact Donald McVarish a tenant at Glasnacardoch made a submission to the Napier Commission at Arisaig on 6 August 1883 on behalf of the tenants on the Ardnish peninsula, in which he included a statement from the three crofters tenanting Mullochbuie - "We feel great hardship in having to carry sea-ware on our backs up a steep and high hill." Seen from the other side of Loch nan Uamh there looks little in the way of landing places below this settlement but maybe that is an exploration for another day. Mullochbuie is also the only settlement on the trip actually named on Roy's 1747-1755 map alough identified as Mor.

The settlement of Mullochbuie - Survey date: 1873

Approach to Mullochbuie

Mullochbuie

Looking down from Mullachbuie to Loch nan Uamh (Loch of the caves) is in itself a fine vista, but it is made all the more striking when one considers that if you were stood on the same spot on 25 July 1745 you would have seen Prince Charles Stuart disembark from the the French privateer the Du Teillay on the other side of the Loch, marking the beginning of his attempt to win back the the throne for his father James. From the very same spot just over 9 months later you would have born witness to what is sometime called the "Jacobite's Last Stand" when on 30 April 1746, a pair of French privateer vessels, the La Bellone and the Le Mars, anchored in Loch nan Uamh carrying money, gunpowder, arms, and brandy for the Prince and his army. It was all too late as the army and the cause had been destroyed fourteen days earler at Culloden on 16 April 1746. Ironically the hills overlooking the head of the loch were occupied by some 400 Jacobites, most of them Clanranald Macdonalds, who at first mistook the French ships for Hanoverian supporters and fired on them. However when the ships raised their French flags the mistake was realised and some supplies were unloaded, and Jacobite fugitives were taken on board,. However a couple of days later on 2-3 May three British ships sailed into the loch and engaged the French vessels, which were anchored close to the rocky islets at the head of the loch. After several hours of exchanging broadsides, and casualties on both sides, the English ships withdrew and the French ships made good their escape. And finally if you were to return one lst time just under 5 months later on 20 September 1746 you would have been able to watch the defeated prince boarding the French ship L'Heureaux from the same spot he had landed some fourteen months later, leaving the Highlands to bear the wrath of the Government troops under the Duke of Cumberland.

The view down to Loch nan Uamh from Mullochbuie.

These two ruins were beautifully constructed with their rounded corners and not a drop of mortar.

There are a couple of other ruins a bit further on to the west which presumably formed part of the settlement at some time. There are the ruins of the stone cottage and a possible possible sheep fank hidden in the trees to the left.

A bit further on there is a somewhat strange ruin. There are two small structures that show up on the 1873 and 1899 maps but all that can be seen appears to be two gable ends with chimneys with no trace of the walls one might expect.

View out towards Eigg in the distance from the aforementionned ruin

A steep pull up the burn that runs down by the trees and by the ruins of the stone cottage takes one up onto the ridge above the main Peanmeanach path. From here there is a fine view back over Loch nan Uamh to the left, Loch Doir a Ghearrain centre and the bay of Peanmeanach off to the right in the far distance.

Corrie admiring the view over to Loch Doir a Ghearrain and the hills beyond.

Loch nan Uamh to the left, Loch Doir a Ghearrain to the right.

Loch Doir a Ghearrain to the left, and the bay of Peanmannach to the right in the distance.

From here an angled descent takes one down to Loch an Fhearainn Dubh and following the shore westwards the can be followed all the way down to Sloch.

Loch an Fhearainn Dubh

The ruins final come into view with a steepish final descent on to the flat open ground that runs up from the cove, Port an T-Sluichd which translates as the "Port of the Hollow" and when the location is seen, it is easy to see how it got its name.

The settlement of Sloch - Survey date: 1873

Hidden behind the trees on the left looking towards the shore is a cave described in the Scottish Cave and Mine Database on their website as "situated at head of small gorge on true left hand side of valley approximately level with inland limits of shingle beach. Single inclined rift of varying height for much of length eventually closing down to small tube at furthest point, (approximately 30 to 40 m). Floor rounded cobbles which taken with marshy area outside entrance indicates there might have been active stream flowing through cave at some time. Rock of dark brown to black colour & differs markedly from igneous rocks, (granite?) which make up rest of peninsula. The cave goes back about 100 feet, gets tighter and lower all the way and ends in a tiny round chamber that just fits 3 people."

Looking back towards Sloch from th beach

A walk down across the beach leads to a steepish slope up onto an area of relatively level ground which is followed down to Port na h-Afrinne. The name of the bay in translation is "the harbour of the mass" and the name is linked to a visit by Bishop Gordon in 1707 to the "farr west". At the time Catholicism was proscribed and to avoid a garrison in Castle Tioram, the Bishop came instead to the southern tip of Arisaig, and "the people, crossing over the hills and descending to the sea-coast at Roshven, were ferried over to the this bay to where he was ready to receive them". (From "Moidart; or Among the Clanranalds"-by the Rev Charles MacDonald, the priest of Moidart from 1859 to 1892.)

At this point we tried to follow the coast which proved tricky and involved a certain amount of scrambling about. It is possible there may be a better way through the rocky outcrop that separates Sloch from the Glasnacardoch and Peanmeanoch beyond, but I suspect a fair bit of ascent maybe involved. We managed to more or less follow the coast and eventually the white sands of a beach could be seen further on down the coast. We soldiered on and after a fairly steep descent the beach was reached. The walk along the pristine sands was a joy, especially after all the rough ground crossed.

I believe these are known as the "Singing Sands"

We headed slightly inland from the end of the beach and a bit further on are the ruins of Glasnacardoch.

The settlement of Glasnacardoch and Feorlindhu - Survey date: 1873.

A bit further on are the remains of the school which served the local children, which was built so that the children no longer had to walk to the entire length of the path from Peanmeanach to the original school at Upper Polnish. The Glasnacardoch school house finally closed its doors in 1932.

Further on is a ruin of a cottage which once formed part of the settlement of Feorlindhu. From here one has a good view down to the ruins of Peanmeanach sitting back from its curved beach.

Looking back along the coast from above Peanmeanch - Glasnacardoch school just visible mid image
(Acknowledgement to Nigel Webber - Google maps guide)

We dropped down and crossed the Allt na Loch Doir a Ghearrain, had a wander round the abandoned croft houses of Peanmeanach. Down on the beach the outlines of "Nausts", basically hollows excavated into the foreshore above the high water mark where boats could be dragged up and stored. These are presumed to be Viking in origin. The roofed house was once the home of the schoolmistress of the school at Glasnacardoch. It was the last house to be inhabited in Peanmeanach and was abandoned in 1942. The building was latterly re-roofed and opened as a bothy but sadly due to abuse this has now been closed up.

The settlement of Feorlindhu and Peanmeanach - Survey date: 1873.

Peanmeanach circa 1900 (The bothy was built in the gap a few years later)
(Acknowledgement Ardnish Estate Webpage

View from above Peanmeanch - what are believed to be the outlines of Viking"Nausts" can bee seen bottom middle.
(Acknowledgement to Nigel Webber - Google maps guide)

Further on round the coast is Laggan but as anticipated I was a bit leg weary and we had the climb up over the shoulder of Cruach an Fhearainn Dubh, so that maybe a walk for another day. We set off back along the path which runs straight inland through the substantial flat lands behind the settlement which at one time would have been kept drained and used for growing crops, probably oats.

The path away from peanmeanch across the "meadow" looking back to Peanmeanach

The path then turns sharp left and climbs gradually though the birch woods before dropping down to cross the Allt Loch Doir a Ghearrain and wending its way up a the shoulder of Cruach an Fhearainn Dubh.

The path emerging from the birch woods looking back to Peanmeanach

The path approaching the climb up the shoulder of Cruach an Fhearainn Dubh

Looking back down the path from the shoulder of Cruach an Fhearainn Dubh

Looking back down the path towards the top of the shoulder of Cruach an Fhearainn Dubh

On the path above Loch Doir a Ghearrain

Loch Doir a Ghearrain with Bhreac cooling off his paws. I would have joined him if I had the energy!

Once past Loch Doir a Ghearrain a bit more uphill before the path levels out before the steep drop down to recross the Allt Camas an Raoigh. A final climb up the slope up from the burn before following the path to the bridge over the railway, and the final stretch from Loch Dubh back to the lay by.

An "erratic boulder" perched on top of the hill above the Peanmeanach path