This walk along the north coast of the Ardnamurchan peninsula was another awkward walk to plan. Sanna is at the end of a dead-end single track road and Achateny is part way along another dead-end single track road. A path sort of links them and takes a more direct route than the roads as to drive between them is around 12 miles. So I again opted for another there and back walk.
There was nowhere obvious to park at Achateny when I was there on my previous walk but a car park marked at the end of the road at Sanna, so I opted to head to Sanna. I was staying in Shielfoot, not far as the crow flies but it takes over an hour to drive round to Sanna as road classification on the Ardnamurchan peninsula largely seems meaningless. A road, B road or unclassified, they are all the same – single track with passing places (and often hilly and twisty too) so progress is slow.
I am planning to follow a path that runs from about 1 1/2 miles south of Sanna off the road that serves it, which heads towards and then along the coast to Fascadale to rejoin roads then along the road to Achateny. I wondered if it might be possible to park at the point the path leaves the road as that would save a bit of driving. The good news was it was. The bad news was it wasn’t. I’ll explain. There is a small parking area, so it is possible to park there. The bad news for me was that it was full of overnighting motorhomes so there was no space. Therefore I continued on to Sanna. Fortunately here there is a fairly large car park that still had plenty of space.
Sanna is a rather pretty place with several beaches. I knew however my next walk would also bring me here and today I was a bit worried about how long the path would take as I never know how good or bad paths on Scotland are. Some are excellent. Some don’t exist at all! So I opted to defer an explore of Sanna for another day. There was another reason too, the weather forecast was for heavy rain all day. Fortunately for me it wasn’t raining yet but I wanted to get going in the hope I could get much (or perhaps all) of the walk done in the dry.
Therefore I immediately set off back along the road. The road is remote and empty, sometimes with grass growing down the middle.
After about a mile I reach the only other settlement along the road, Achnaha. There isn’t a lot to it, a dozen or so houses scattered beside the road is all there is. I continued along the road, with some sheep that seemed to be posing for a photograph, so I obliged.
Soon it was time to leave the road and I was back at the small parking area. Fortunately the path was obvious as it was a car-wide earth track heading away from the road.
I continued up it soon coming to a gate. Here a sign informed me that I was about a mile away from an abandoned crofting township called Glendrian. Unlike many local villages, Glendrian was not not subject to the highland clearances but simply declined away to nothing. In 1861 the population was 47. However from then on the population began to decline. By 1901 it had dropped to 11 in 3 houses. By the 1920s this had dropped to two households but both left by 1941, leaving the village abandoned, as it has remained ever since.
Although the map showed this as a path it was actually a track all the way to the village. Just before it there is a ford (not marked as such on the map) over a small burn. Fortunately for me this was easy to cross with some stepping stones to allow me to cross and reach the abandoned village.
The houses were now roofless but otherwise in surprisingly good condition. They looked to still be used by a local crofter for storage etc and equipment for grazing sheep, as there were many grazing nearby (though also a dead sheep in one of the abandoned houses, so I didn’t linger there).
Beyond the village the path narrowed from a track to a path, sometimes difficult to see.
At one marshy area I initially lost the path but soon realised my mistake and found it again. After that I never lost it entirely but it was hard to spot in places. It briefly headed down inland to run beside another stream to finally near the coast. Here there is another ford after which the path splits with a small dead-end part going to a beach at Port Eigin-aig.
I don’t know if it was ever used as a port, but it was a pebble beach with rocks either side and today at least fairly sheltered. I used the opportunity to stop for a mid-morning snack and drink (after getting Lyme disease last year I am reluctant to sit down on grassy area, so preferred to wait until I got to the beach).
It looked like there was rain out to sea but fortunately for me it was still dry here, albeit overcast. On the way back I found the junction, or where it should be, but initially struggled to find the onward path to Fascadale. There was a lot of bracken but I soon found the onward path.
Initially the path wasn’t too bad but after about a mile I reached the area around Lochan Dubh where it became very marshy so I soon had wet feet.
Unusually I soon met a group of walkers coming the other way (most footpaths in northern Scotland seem to be little used). They were heading for Glendrian and wanted to know how long it would take. I told them it had taken me an hour and 45 minutes. They didn’t seem to put off by this and continued but I realised a few minutes later my timings had included the walk to the beach and back and a sit down there and if they went direct it was probably nearer an hour. Unfortunately it was too late for me to tell them that now. I passed the remains of a bridge over one part of a boggy area, but all that remained was part of the support on one side.
From the loch the path undulated a bit and soon I was at Fascadale, but I didn’t see it until I was almost there due to it being in a valley. The path down to the beach was steep and quite tricky but soon I made it to the beach. Flushed with success I decided to celebrate with lunch here. The rain still hadn’t started but the wind was picking up so I found a fairly sheltered area at the eastern end of the beach to have lunch, where I was out of the wind.
After lunch I continued from the beach to the road and follow the road through Fascadale. Fascadale is a tiny place about half a dozen houses and the one nearest the beach was having a lot of work done, with builders hammering away as I passed.
From here it was about a mile walk along the road to Achateny where I got to on my previous walk, so I could ensure I joined it up. The land beside the road was not especially interesting, being fairly flat with marshes on either side so I was glad of the firm footing of the road.
I continued along the road to the point I had got to yesterday (when coming from the other direction). There isn’t a lot to Achateny either, just a large farm really. Having joined up my walks it was time to head back.
I soon got back to the beach at Fascadale and stopped for my final refreshment stop. I soon felt spots of rain which quickly turned to drizzle so I didn’t linger, keen to get back before I got too wet. I should have paid more attention on the way down as on the ground were a number of paths and I wasn’t sure which was the right one, it seemed easier to find the right way on the way down. I checked my GPS and discovered I was a little of course, but not drastically so soon followed that to be back on the correct path and soon there was only one route on the ground anyway as I reached the top of the hill.
The rain got harder, soon turning from drizzle to heavier rain and then became quite heavy (this is also a reason there are no more photos today). I soon met the same group I had seen earlier now on the way back. They confirmed they had got to Glendrian and enjoyed their visit, so I was pleased I hadn’t put them off with my dodgy timings and apologised that I probably told them it took longer than it did but they told me it was about right, so that was good. Well the adults told me they had enjoyed it. From their faces, I’m not sure the couple of teenagers with them had!
Unfortunately the now heavy rain soon turned torrential and soon the water had penetrated my jacket so I was soon also getting wet. My feet were wet too, so I kept my pace up in order to keep warm.
The rain had further consequences, tending to flow along the lowest area of ground which mostly seemed to be the path. It now had a couple of inches of water flowing over it in places and it was quite incredible to see the difference compared with my outward route in such a short time. Having said that with now sodden feet anyway I didn’t bother with avoiding the boggy or flooded areas on the way back because it was all like that now.
It felt that the rain had got heavier to make up for it’s late start! I was pleased when Glendrian came into view. Not far to the road now, where at least my feet and shoes had a chance to start drying out a bit!
There was a lot more water here too. Where it had been all grass earlier several streams had now erupted flowing over the grass, perhaps as much as a couple of inches deep in places, even causing a small waterfall and some large flooded areas. The heavy rain that had been coming down had now saturated all the ground. Again it was surprising to see the transformation from a few hours ago.
I was pleased to now reach the track and continue ahead to the ford. I now realised I had a problem. Potentially a big problem. The stream was much deeper than when I was here earlier. The stepping stones were now under a foot or so of water with a large amount of river to step over to even get to the first one because it was now much wider as well as deeper. I was obviously going to get very wet feet.
I made it over to get both feet on the first one. However the force of the water was a real surprise. Although only about a foot deep it was flowing very fast and I didn’t feel confident I could step over to the next, submerged stepping stone, as when I tried to move my feet the force of water soon moved them from where I was trying to step and this one was deeper underwater. If I missed the stepping stone the water either side was much deeper and there was a big risk I could fall in. I felt that the water was flowing fast enough that if that happened I could be in real trouble, I’m not sure I’d have been able to stop myself being washed down it. It wasn’t that it was that deep, but the speed it was flowing and the force this causes.
What had earlier been interesting to see the change in the landscape was now turning a little scary. and I was shocked at the change to this burn in a short time. The power of nature was clear to see and I had to be careful.
I left the stream trying to find somewhere else to cross. A farmer had a sort of compound and I wondered if I might find something there to help me across, but no. However walking around a field I did find beside the burn a log. I tried to put it over the river, but it wasn’t quite long enough and when I put it in the water the force pulled it out my hand and it flowed off down the stream!
I was beginning to panic a bit now. I decided it was best to go back to the ford, I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I thought, I convinced myself. However it looked like it had already got a little deeper. I started to cross again, but again didn’t feel I had confidence I could make it across without falling in the river and retreated once more.
What was I going to do now? It was pouring with rain. There was no mobile signal. I tried to check the map – I always carry a paper map due to unreliability of phone signals and the fact it makes it easier to see a wider area than on a small phone screen. However in this rain I couldn’t look for longer than a few seconds or it would turn into papier-mache. What I was trying to see is how far up the river it was to it’s source. I knew I’d be able to cross there, but couldn’t really see it. I decided instead to just follow the river upstream hoping it would get narrower to the point I could cross, then had back to the ford to rejoin the track.
I set off doing that but was dismayed that it soon headed into a steeper valley with rocks on either side. This made the water flow still faster and with a big drop on either side just to get down to it (and no stepping stones). I continued but I couldn’t see where the water came out of the valley and it was very tough terrain underfoot. I wasn’t going to be able to cross here and I didn’t know how far upstream I’d have to go.
Again I convinced myself the ford can’t have been too bad. It must be better than this surely? So I headed back AGAIN but once more it looked a little deeper and I didn’t feel confident of making it across safely.
I was in a bit of a mess. I wasn’t in serious danger because given the terrain I had followed from Fascadale I didn’t think any of the little streams or boggy areas would have become so deep that I couldn’t make it back to the road there and safety, but my car would be in Sanna. Assuming I could get to the road I could follow the road back to Sanna. The problem is that was around 12 miles! On top of the distance I had already covered (and would have to cover to get back to the road). There are no buses and with no phone signal no possibility to call for a taxi either, not that I think there are any on Ardnamurchan anyway. So I’d likely not get back until late into the evening or perhaps the early hours, with nothing to eat. I could try and thumb a lift but I’m not sure a soaking wet and bedraggled walker was something many people would want in their clean dry cars!
What else could I do? I thought about it for a few minutes and then decided I’d try to follow the burn down stream instead. I know rivers tend to get wider as they near the sea, but perhaps that would also make the water slower and shallower and so make it easier to cross? The map showed it got wider and reached the coast at Sanna, but there was also a bridge marked there so that should be an option (assuming it still exists). So that was what I decided to do.
I struggled along the near waist high grass and bog beside the river down stream for what felt like about half an hour though was probably less, watched by bemused sheep. There was nowhere safe to cross and it was getting wider but then just as I was panicking a bit more I found a possible solution.
A high fence. Normally I curse these fences, they are usually topped by barbed wire but here the farmer had also continued the fence across the burn. Presumably this was a deer fence and went across the rive too because deer have no qualms about swimming if needed. However along the bottom where it went in the river it was supported by a couple of sturdy looking wooden poles though they were also about an inch or two underwater now! But I could inch my way along these, holding onto the wire fence attached to them for support.
Fortunately for me that was what I managed to do. I was glad not to fall in because it was still deep and fast flowing here, but at last I had made it back onto the side of the river near to the road. That was a great relief! I now made my way back along the rough ground on the other side of the river to rejoin the track. I was now shaking a bit, I don’t think so much from the cold but adrenaline after getting into a panic over getting over the river, which I’d finally done.
Fortunately the track was down hill all the way now with no more water to cross (other than many puddles) and I was soon approaching the road. One of the motor-homes that was there this morning was still there, I wondered if they had even left that spot all day. Though given the weather perhaps they had the right idea, it was likely warm and cosy in there!
The rain continued heavily as I followed the road back to my car at Sanna and I was glad to get back to somewhere dry and back to safety.
So this walk hadn’t exactly gone to plan! I had made it safely to my destination and back again in the end but I needed to be more careful about walking in such conditions in future. The rain had been forecast (albeit starting earlier than it did) and I knew that so it wasn’t like it was a surprise, but I had been shocked at how quickly it can transform a fairly benign landscape into something quite dangerous in a short space of time. On many previous trips I have abandoned my plans for a day of walking when faced with similar weather. I hadn’t this time perhaps because there weren’t really any “indoor attractions” or castles etc to visit in the area instead. Another aspect was with all the Covid restricitons stopping me getting to the coast for much of 2020 (and early in 2021) I was even more determined to make all the time I had there count and not waste it sitting around for a day reading etc (which I could do at home) just because it was raining. But I must consider abandoning walks in these kinds of conditions in future, at least when walking on remote paths in areas with no phone signal, where I don’t really have the option of cutting the walk short or getting help. If I do walk in weather like this again it would be sensible to at least do a walk on or close to roads so I have the option of getting back to the road and relative safety.
Happily the weather forecast for tomorrow was better so I hoped that turned out to be accurate. This is also one of the reasons I plan to do most of my walks in the Scottish highlands in spring, summer or autumn in the hope of avoiding the worst of the weather, but that plan hadn’t worked out so well today.
There is no public transport access anywhere on this walk. There is a daily bus (except Sunday) along the B8007, but it is several miles walk from there north along roads to Achateny or Sanna.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.
Someone recently left a comment mentioning that my routes can be hard to follow because there isn’t a map. The reason for this is I often don’t have a GPS track of the whole route and the Ordnance Survey tend to be very protective about copyright if you try to include one of their maps and I find Google Maps not too useful when off roads. But I had a go at drawing my route for this walk onto OpenStreet map so lets see how that works out.