For this walk I was staying in Mallaig and had a lovely sea view from my window. It’s May, so it was a bit of a shock when I opened the curtains this morning to see that there was snow and sleet coming down outside. Fortunately for me this was short flurry, but clearly it wasn’t going to be a balmy day!
Today my plan had been to walk from Arisaig to Beasdale station, but as you can probably tell from the title I changed the planned walk due to some concerns over the rail service. I began from Arisaig as I needed to catch the only suitable train back to Arisaig with the service reduced to just 2 trains per day (from the usual 4 and the first one was in the middle of the day). This was due to Covid or staff shortages or something, I rather lost track of what the reason was.
I drove from Mallaig down to Arisaig and parked at the small car park at the railway station to save any walking at the end of the walk. From here I headed down the approach road, crossed the A82 and followed the same road I had followed at the end of my last walk (but in reverse) down to the centre of the village. From here I turned right and then left to follow the dead-end road heading west through Ru Arisaig forest though the road sign says it goes to Rhu which is a place not even marked on my map. The map also suggests there is not much forest despite the name (navigating in Scotland can be rather confusing at time!).
This road follows the south shore of Loch nan Ceal. It heads over a river intriguingly called “The Canal” which links up several small lochs inland. Sure enough it’s dead straight and so perhaps was a canal at some point but with the rocks poking above the water it’s clearly too shallow for boats to use it now.
The road is very pretty and I soon have fine views back to Arisaig and much of the road is lined by trees.
Motorhomes are clearly a problem here. Every passing place has a sign “No Camping. No Fires” and these signs also appear at regular intervals along the road. The weather is somewhat changeable and out over the loch there is soon a rainbow. Fortunately the rain doesn’t reach me.
There are a few houses along the road but no real village just a few houses spread roughly along the road. I soon come into a rocky little bay and continue on the road round into a larger bay marked as Ru Arisaig on my map.
Just as I’m trying to take a picture around the bay a big white ugly motor home comes round the corner, the first I’ve seen so far today. I wait for it to move along the road out of my picture but naturally it stops in a passing place so I manage to hide it (mostly) behind a tree (you can still see it, the white behind the tree, but it’s not quite as intrusive now).
Not quite the photo I wanted but it will have to do. I continue on the road and soon the motor home comes, slowly, passed me. Around this bay I reach another called Port a Mhuilinn. The road continues just above the shore to a place where an old quarry is marked.
The only real remains of it I can notice is a jetty where a small boat is moored.
Here the road cuts inland, missing out the little headland of Torr Mor.
The road rejoins the coast on the west side of this headland where a building is intriguingly marked Porters Lodge.
What is (or was), this the porters lodge for? Some sort of large estate I imagine. It wasn’t giving anything away since the house was also just named Porters Lodge, as the map said it was. The Big Giant motor home was now parked on the corner here but I could get behind it to get a view over the coast.
I often wonder what these people in these motorhomes do. Just drive around and sit in their motor home drinking tea and looking at the view? So few people even seem to get out of them!
I was now nearing the end of the road but another car came and parked up in a small parking area at the very end of the road. I was not unsure of my onward route, now I had reached the end of the road. I could turn back on the road or I could explore the tracks onwards (and perhaps try and make my own route back). Well I didn’t want to turn back right away so my vague plan was to try and head down the continuation of the road, now a track. This soon split, part going to Rhue Cottage and part past another building (un-named on the map). I wondered if I’d find both of these tracks ended at private dwellings and I could go no further. I was hoping to reach Port a Bhathaich on the south shore of this peninsula.
I was puzzled by the arrival of this other car. A couple got out, obviously planning to walk and also with a large hold-all. Where were they going? Did they know this path? In that typically British way I held back slightly so they would set off in front of me and I could follow. If there was a path they knew it would be useful for me to follow them. Of course my plan back-fired. The man soon stopped, turned back and headed back to their car. Perhaps they had forgotten something or he wanted to double check he locked it. I said hello as he passed and the same to his wife (I presume) waiting by the point he had turned back by a gate. Now I was the leader and the couple were soon following me. I had to look confident, like I knew where I was going!
The track was marked as no unauthorised vehicles and heading to Rhue Cottage. I didn’t notice the memorial marked on the map and continued through a gate now with arable fields on the left with horses grazing. When the track split the one on the right, that the map shows as heading to the cottage was grassed over whilst the one ahead was still gravel and obviously used by vehicles. So I continued ahead on the gravel one but now a little apprehensive as I had expected this to be the less used. This began to approach a house but just before the fence I was delighted to find a sign, intriguingly signed “Port Nam Murrach” and underneath Rhu Beach.
Great – a proper path to the beach which I hadn’t expected to find (it’s not marked on the map). The path was well made with little bridges and gates at all the places there was a fence and excellent large signs showing the way. So I could continue on the path, confidently looking like I knew where I was going with the couple 50 or so metres behind me.
I came over the top of the hill only to have an aggressive dog charging towards me barking and jumping round my feet. The owner soon appeared and apologised and called the dog back (I later found she lived at the house at the end). Ahead was the most gorgeous beach!
White sands, turquoise shallow calm sea and little rocky headland either side, with a small island. It was incredibly beautiful with the Small Isles visible on the horizon.
Sitting on the rocks at the back of the beach it was really sheltered (there was a strong, northerly wind so it was cold in the wind). Down here was a little sun trap out of the wind and the water was calm – practically a pond. The couple behind me too were astonished by the place and commented that it really looks like the Bahamas. I can believe it, what a stunning place. I had to agree (though I’ve never been to the Bahamas to compare). They, like me, were thrilled to discover this beach such a beautiful un-spoilt place I had no idea was here.
This is one of the great joys of this walk discovering out of the way beautiful beaches like this. The couple told me they were going to go diving (hence the hold-all) and were going to get changed. I sat at the rocks at the back of the beach to give them some privacy (I could hear them changing further up the beach) and they soon returned now in wet suits. I gathered however when they entered the sea, from the screams, that the sea was not quite the temperature that might be expected in the Bahamas! Now after a rest at this wonderful place it was time to make a move.
The problem was I hadn’t checked the name of the place on the sign against the map. I hadn’t followed my route on the map, but thought I knew where I was. However I was wrong and wasn’t where I thought I was – but I hadn’t worked that out yet.
Where I thought I was was at the beach at grid reference NM627830 (not named on my map). I now planned to try and make my way east along the shore as best I could. I was aiming for roughly grid reference NM645835 where a fence was marked on the map. My plan was to try and find this and then head north beside it, passing some “old shielings” according to the map and woodland and back to the road (trying to get all the way along this trackless moorland was going to be too tough to do it the whole way).
So I set off finding a rough “sort of” path around the shore, sadly littered with a lot of plastic stuff, washed up, I presumed.
I kept losing the path but soon found it, or another. I soon reached a rocky bay and was then puzzled that making it over the next hill I could see a dry stone wall behind the pebble beach ahead. Where on earth was I? I couldn’t see any fences marked on the map and knew I couldn’t have gone far enough to my intended point. I had to get my GPS out to find out and from that I realised I was a bit south of that house at Port a Bhathaich. I briefly thought I must have somehow gone wrong and turned the wrong way at that beach. But I knew I hadn’t and checked the map realised the path had actually taken me to the beach at grid reference NM614837, which of course I now see has the name marked on the map that matched the sign (Port nan Murrach). I hadn’t even spotted that beach on the map! So I’d been further west than I realised. Sadly this Port a Bhathaich place where I was now wasn’t very friendly. The gates in the dry stone wall were all marked “Private Keep Out” (well there is a right to roam so no – you don’t have to keep out but it does not bode well). I consider going this way, or beside the wall and back to the road. It will be faster but then I will have missed the sandy beach that I had spotted that I wanted to get to (the one I initially thought I was already at). So I continued to make my way east over the rough moorland, with rocky areas in places.
It was hard going and time consuming but for much of the way I’d find a “sort of path”, whether formed by animals or people I wasn’t sure. Eventually the beach I wanted to reach came into view.
Another stunning beach, just like the one I had been to earlier. I was so glad I hadn’t opted to miss out this little peninsula! What a stunning place it was, with this other beautiful beach. There was no one else here, though footprints in the sand suggested someone had been here today, since the last high tide. I wondered where they had come from and were going.
I stopped here for an early lunch.
My own private paradise of a beach! After lunch I continued with my plan but now couldn’t really find a path for much of the way.
So I headed a bit further inland, to get higher so I could plot a route (it’s much easier to plan when you can see the terrain ahead). Across the Sound of Arisaig some of the mountains had a slight dusting of snow at the top.
I could soon see Loch Camas Drollaman and headed for the south side of this.
It is only possible to plan the route a few metres ahead at the time. I wanted to avoid losing too much height or going into a valley it would be impossible to get out of without heading back. My plan largely worked but I could see the water from the loch flowing out and wondered if I would be able to cross it. Thankfully as I got closer it was narrow enough I could step over the rocks between the flow of water and get over with dry feet.
Fortunately whilst cold, spring this year has been dry so the moorland was drier than I am used to with fewer boggy bits. I struggled my way over the open moorland. This kind of walking always takes far longer than I anticipate, with no path uneven ground and constantly having to change route or double back.
Soon I could see the beach, Camas Leathann below me. No sign of the fence though, but the GPS confirmed I was in the correct place (thought I’d better keep it on after my previous mistake). I could see an area of tall rocks beyond so to continue on the coast I’d have to head quite far inland to get around it.
With no further sandy beaches ahead I was happy to leave the open moorland here and head back to the road, even if it was repeating the route from earlier. I saw a wide grassy path ahead heading up away from the beach. However I’d got myself on a steep ridge, too steep to get down it so I had to keep going along the ridge until it got lower (or the path to my right got higher) and it was possible to get onto it. This had the feeling of a farm track about it with short grass suggesting animals grazed here. I could now see the Old Shielings marked on the map and trees, but still no sign of that fence!
I continued following the sort of path to soon come over the brow of the hill. The map showed a track coming out of the woodland I hoped to intercept, but I couldn’t see it on the ground. However with sheep around I knew I must be near a farm and was able to follow until I could see the road.
Then head through a field with sheep grazing to a gate which I could get through to the road, joining this track just before the road.
Now back on the road I was pleased to have made the diversion. I was a bit concerned about my plan for today. I had originally planned to end at Beasdale Station on the A830 (with a diversion down to Druimindarroch on the way). With only one train I could catch I didn’t want to miss it. However this is a remote station. Other than the station building itself, there are no other buildings within half a mile. The national rail site showed no parking at the station (a potential problem for tomorrow). However my other concern was the next day I had planned a walk from Beasdale to Lochcailort via Ardnish and Peanmeanach, taking the train back between these two stations.
Yesterday when I used the train the guard was hiding on the train, I didn’t see them in either carriage and they never came around. Both Lochailort and Beasdale are request stops, adjacent on the same line and I’d need to take the train between them. The system for using request stops in Britain is archaic (when I’ve experienced such stops abroad there have been buttons on the train to request it to stop at the next station or on the platform at the station if boarding). In Britain the process when you get on is to simply flag down the train as it approaches. To get off at a request stop, you are meant to find the guard on the train and tell them where you want to get off. The guard then goes and tells the driver to stop at the station you want to get off at. However if the guard was hiding, like yesterday I’d have to try and find them. Then allow time for them to go and tell the driver to stop. How long would that take? Would they manage to do it before we even got there? I had visions of the train going straight through Beasdale. When you are relying on the last train that is a problem.
I decided then on a different plan looking at the map. Perhaps I’d stick to the road today to Lochailort then tomorrow do the walk to Peanmeanach (and back), which I could drive to. There is a station there so I can catch the train back from there. Looking at the time it might be a bit tight but it seemed worth a shot. It would remove the worry of using two adjacent request stops tomorrow.
Anyway back to the walk today. I continued up the road aware it was getting darker and darker! Soon the heavens opened to give me a hail shower. Lovely! I managed to reach a wooded section of the road before the worst and got a bit of shelter in the trees until the worst of it passed. I headed now back to the beach of Camas an t-Salainn, just south of Arisag (despite all the walking I had done I was less than a mile from where I started). A track was marked here, heading right for about 3 miles. A more coastal route than the A830 and I had read other coastal walkers going this way. I reached the start of what I presumed was the track. A sign warned “Farm Road No Vehicles” but also keep dogs on lead suggesting walking here is fine.
I later read this is actually the old A830 before it was upgraded and re-aligned. It led me to a junction with two cottages (Pheasantry Cottage and Glen Cottage). After this the track went through a lovely wooded valley, quite beautiful.
However cows, with calves had all gathered further up. Fortunately they didn’t get too stressed by me passing and I kept as much distance as I could.
Soon past the cattle the track continue through woodland over a couple of bridges and soon with the little Lochan nan Tri Chriochan on my left. Here the track climbed ahead and I could hear the stream train on the nearby railway, the Jacobite.
This track eventually became a tarmac road and I came to a junction.
Here my original plan had been to head down the road to Druimindarroch and the beach of Saideal Druim an Daraich at the end of it. Though I knew really with my new plan to end at Lochailort that I didn’t really have time. I still hadn’t ruled it out, but as I approached some cottages, a dog walker was heading up that road and the dogs immediately ran towards me barking. Not again! I didn’t want to go that way past them so made my decision to miss this bit out.
Instead I continued ahead the short distance to the A830 ahead and I was pleased to find a combined foot and cycle path alongside it but I knew from driving this road it didn’t go all the way.
Still it was nice to follow it whilst it lasted, past Borrodale House but soon by some houses I had the ominous “Cycle Route Ends” sign ahead and was directed back onto the road.
I wasn’t looking forward to this bit. The road has the railway line on the right, behind fences and sheer clifs and woodland on the left. Traffic is fast (the road has a 60mph speed limit) and it means there is nowhere for me to go if traffic comes both sides at the same time. Fortunately that didn’t happen and I get a quick respite at Beasdale station. Here there is a single platform and a house. The house looks disused. Yellow with green windows, but all the windows have green shutters over them, even those facing the platform. A holiday home, perhaps? The station sign tells me to use the help point for train times. The station shelter had a sign declaring that it was “Out of Use” due to Covid to maintain “social distancing”. This seemed overkill at a station used, on average, by less than one person a day! But of course much better to let passengers get wet and cold than take the tiny chance there might be two of them at the same time wanting to use the shelter. Crazy.
Despite what is said on the National Rail website it did look like there was room to park about 3 cars here but I wasn’t sure if it was public parking or private parking for the house. There wasn’t a sign to say either way. Looking at the time I was just under 2 hours before the train was due. This was the last train and with no buses after the train if I missed it, I’d be stuck and have to call a taxi or try and hitch a lift. So I considered whether to wait here for nearly 2 hours or try and press on for Lochailort, the next station on the line. Looking at the distance I estimated a little under 8km. I aim for 4km an hour roughly but can usually do more than that on roads. So it looked doable. Instead then I’d aim for that and come back the next day to do a there and back Peanmeanach, (assuming the path existed and I could find somewhere to park). It would be good to get this busy road section done. So I pressed on, head down walking fast.
Ahead the road curved round over Beasdale Burn and then came to a railway bridge. Here the road narrows briefly to a single track to get under the bridge and unlike other such bridges on this road here traffic lights had been put in. Unusually they also had a pedestrian option, allowing me to set both lights to red to allow me time to walk under the bridge. Such power! I pressed it and duly waited for the green man. I was a little disappointed when I got to the other side that no one was waiting and it was a couple of minutes before any traffic came from behind me so in fact all I’d done is briefly change the lights, but not stopped anyone!
The road now curved south and back on the shore. It was astonishingly beautiful with snow on the tops of the mountain on the other side of the loch and lots of little islands.
A laybay was by The Prince’s Cairn but I could see it from the road and didn’t have time to stop for a closer look really. The road too had briefly got a pavement and cycle path back again but it soon stopped again (why build it just for part of the way – it’s odd). Still for a trunk A-road traffic was light and I could enjoy the views and with a grass verge much of the way I at least had somewhere to avoid the traffic. Ahead I could see an impressive railway bridge and the road headed under this to go inland again.
Apparently one of the supports of the railway bridge (they are hollow concrete I believe) contains a dead horse that fell into it during construction and they didn’t get it out.
The road soon gained crawler lanes as I headed up hill for Polnish. This village was essentially abandoned with now just a single inhabited house. Inland there was an old part of the road, marked as Arnipol. If the A830 was too bad to walk in I had this as an alternative but actually the A830 wasn’t too bad so I stuck to it. I soon reached the point where the path to Peanmeannach went. I was pleased to note a large layby on the road to park (two cars were parked here) and a clear sign for the path (though another warning the bothy there was now permanently closed).
That is good as it suggests the path is there and fairly well used. Something to look forward to tomorrow. Today I had to crack on to reach Lochailort.
The road passed Loch Dubh far below to my right and then crossed the railway with a few houses along what I took to be the old road just below to my left.
I followed the A830 to the other end of this road confusingly also called Polnish on the map (hadn’t I just passed that?!). Now the road descended to the shore of Loch Ailort and it was stunning! Beautiful litlte rocky islands, snow covered hills and clear blue skies. Wonderful.
I knew now I would easily reach Lochailort in the time I had so could slow down a bit. Sadly the road soon turned a bit inland again to reach the junction with the A861.
This is my onward route but for now I continued ahead to the small station at Lochailort. I passed the hotel on the right, the Lochailort Inn which was open but had no cars at all in the car park and found the turning for the station on the left. (The hotel has since closed down – but the website says it will re-open again in Spring 2023).
This was a lovely little station with pine trees just behind the platform. The remains of another platform were visible but the tracks on that side long gone. No one else was here as expected. Again the shelter said it was “Not in Use” due to Social Distancing, but wasn’t actually blocked off so I went and sat in it anyway, I mean I’m the only person here, so it doesn’t matter.
This is a request stop so I had to flag down the train. The information sign assured me the train was on time, but the time it was due to come passed and no train arrived, which started to make me nervous. Fortunately it was only 2 minutes late, I flagged it down and the driver sounded the horn to acknowledge me and the train stopped. This time the guard did come round promptly to take my fare which was good, so I would have had no issues going to Beasdale. To my surprise someone even got on there, so the train had to stop. They had been dropped off in a car, parked with the window down and presumably husband standing beside it to check the lady got on the train. Nice to see this remote station getting used but I did wonder where they had come from. In any case she only had about 30 minutes in Mallaig before the train came back which was the last one of the day so either she was going further afield from there (perhaps by ferry) and staying over or making a short trip.
It was a beautiful ride and I managed to get a few photos through the window of the train.
Soon I was back at Arisaig. When I got there the steam train was also there so I stopped to watch it going the other way depart (it has to wait at Arisaig for the train I was on to be able to pass).
Then I drove back to Mallaig. Despite having stopped to watch the steam train I was surprised to drive past Mallaig station and see I had beaten the train to get here – the road is a good standard but the rail line slow and twisty!
Back at my hotel I had a surprise – I couldn’t get back into my room. I had originally booked 4 nights at this hotel back last year in the hope that all the Covid rules would be gone and also booked flights to Inverness to get me here and back. The restrictions hadn’t ended. The flights got cancelled. So I decided to come for a longer trip and drive all the way from home instead. However when I had made that decision (and hence wanted to book the extra nights) hotels in Scotland were still closed due to Covid restrictions. The website for the West Highland Hotel, where I was staying said that the hotel was closed and the phone would only be answered on two days a week. Despite me ringing on the days and times it was meant to be answered there was no answer. I left messages on the answer machine but never got a call back. I also got no replies to the couple of emails I sent. This didn’t bode well and I hoped the hotel hadn’t closed down for good. So not having been able to get hold of them I used the website to book to stay for a further 4 nights, making 8 nights in total, at the start of my previous trip. I wanted to ring to confirm this and ask if I could avoid the need to check out in the morning and back in in the evening, but had been unable to do so.
Fortunately when I arrived (and discovered to my relief the hotel was indeed still in business) I explained this to the receptionist. This initially seemed to cause much confusion (I think rooms, different rooms, had already been allocated for the two stays) but once she saw both bookings told me they would be combined, I could stay in the same room and there was no need to check out and back in again. Well today was the day my first booking ended and second started. Well you can probably guess what happened. My key card to enter the room had only been set up for the first 4 nights, not all 8 as promised, so now it had stopped working. So I had to head back to reception to sort that out. This seemed to take a while to sort (there was also a queue) but then I had a new key.
When I checked in I was told that although I was here for (slightly over) a week my room would not be cleaned at all during that time because it was too dangerous for the staff to enter a room that may be occupied due to the risk of Covid. That was annoying and also meant I’d had to go and buy shampoo because suppliers were not refilled after I’d used the tiny bottles provided and I couldn’t be bothered to join the long queue at reception to ask for more (there was usually a queue due in part to the need to fill in a form each day for breakfast). I must admit I’m getting pretty fed up of paying a lot of money to hotels to get a reduced service (but no corresponding price reduction) and be treated like a walking disease whose presence in the hotel is just barely tolerated. That did mean however I didn’t feel so bad about leaving the room messy with clothes strewn about if no one was going to come in and see the mess. So now my second surprise was that in fact someone had been in my room! Presumably because it was still logged somewhere I was meant to be checking out today. I was a bit surprised by this as the fact the room was still full of my stuff might have been a clue to the cleaner I hadn’t checked out! So the bin had been emptied and new towels put on the bed (but my old ones left in the bathroom) and my dirty cups replaced, but the bed not made or changed and shampoo not replenished (though tea had been). Oh well it was better than nothing.
Still despite the issues at the hotel it had been a really lovely days walk. The coast was astonishingly beautiful, far better than I had imagined. I had discovered some truly beautiful remote beaches and some lovely lochs and made successfully my way over the remote moorland. My updated plan had worked too, though I planned to come back to fill in the parts of coast I missed out in my hurry to get to Lochailort station in time for the only train.
Scotrail West Highland Line : Glasgow Queen Street – Dalmuir – Dumbarton Central – Helensburgh Upper – Garelochhead – Arrochar and Tarbet – Ardlui – Crianlarich – Upper Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy – Rannoch – Corrour – Tulloch – Roy Bridge – Spean Bridge – Fort William – Banavie – Corpach – Loch Eil Outward Bound – Locheilside (by request only) – Glenfinnan – Lochailort (by request only) – Beasdale (by request only) – Arisaig – Morar – Mallaig. There are 4 trains per day Monday – Saturday (one of which only runs between Fort William and Mallaig) and 3 on Sundays. It takes around 20 minutes to travel between Lochailort and Arisaig.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.