383 Drimnin to Doirlinn

[This walk took place on Thursday, 28th March 2019]

I park next to the shed by the slipway in Drimnin. It’s a dull day, but the forecast promises it will cheer up later. Fingers crossed.

Today I’m following a track to the westernmost tip of the Morvern Peninsula, and round to a place called Doirlinn. Or it might be Doirlin, or even Dorlin. As usual, the same place appears to have multiple name variations.

Anyway, the signpost tells me it’s only 6 miles away, although I must “Take care” because I’m entering “remote, sparsely-populated, potentially dangerous mountain country”.

The first section of the day’s walk doesn’t seem dangerous. I follow a private road – a wide gravel track – through the grounds of Drimnin house. The speed limit is only 10mph, but I have no fear of exceeding it as I plod slowly uphill.

The track bifurcates, with the left branch leading to the house, but I take the right branch which climbs further up the hill towards the Ncn’ean whisky distillery.

I gather you can visit the distillery, and the waitress at the pub told me I was welcome to pop in for a cup of tea and/or a whisky tasting, but also suggested you need to make an appointment. Needless to say, I haven’t made an appointment. Anyway, it’s really too early for either whisky tasting or a cup of tea.

A barrel in the grass tells me I’m ‘NEARLY THERE’.

I pass the driveway to the distillery car park. Ncn’ean is a newish organic distillery, yet to produce its first bottles of whisky, and appears to be housed in some functional-looking green sheds.

I carry on up the hill. A footpath sign suggests a deviation down to the left, and I’m tempted, because this path would take me closer to the coast. But my map indicates that the path is a dead-end, so I stick to the track.

It’s unseasonably warm for March. In England the daffodils have come out early and are nearly over, but in Scotland they are still in full bloom. Love their cheerful yellow faces.

The same waitress who recommended the distillery visit has also warned me about a gate ahead. When she last walked this route, she discovered a herd of cattle had congregated around the gate, blocking her route. She’d had to follow the fence for some distance before she found a way to cross through.

Well, here’s the gate. But no sign of cattle. Thank goodness!

I do find some deer on the other side of the gate. They flee up the hill, racing away at great speed. I pull out my camera, but only manage to catch a shaky shot of their disappearing backsides.

It’s a pleasant walk, with a great view down over the Sound of Mull. That’s the end of the Isle of Mull, with the white dot of the Rubha nan Gall lighthouse. Across the straight is another headland… I check my map…

… oh, that’s the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. I feel a twinge of excitement. One day, I’ll be walking to that far point, and what a waypoint that will be! It’s the westernmost tip of mainland Britain.

Oh, no, here are the cows. Luckily they are some distance away from the track, and I don’t have to pass close to them.

Onwards. I’m heading in a northerly direction with the Ardnamurchan peninsula ahead. That looks like a big mountain.

(Later, I check the map, and realise the big “mountain” is Ben Hiant. At 528 metres, Ben Hiant is under the magic 600 metres and so is not, technically, a mountain. It seems huge because its slopes rise directly up from sea level.)

The track has regular mile markers. They seem to point in the wrong direction. Drimnin is actually to the right, and Dorlin (or Doirlinn, or Doirlin) is actually to the left. Bit confusing.

Onwards. The landscape is open and, to be honest, rather bleak and boring. I’m quite excited when I spot something bright ahead along the track.

Oh, it’s only some bags filled with building material. Wonder what they’re doing here?

At least the view across to Mull is interesting. There is Tobermory, with its brightly coloured houses, although everything looks dull in this murky weather. Just a few patches of sunlight manage to find their way through the clouds, and slowly move across the island like spotlights.

The track curves inland, following the boundary of a pine wood. (Later, I realise I could have continued straight ahead along a muddy trail towards Auliston Point, and seen the ruins of the settlement made desolate in the land clearances of the 19th Century. I don’t realise this until it’s too late.)

Beyond the wood, the landscape is open once more, with a great view over the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. And here is the reason for the clearances and the reason why the landscape is so empty. Lots of sheep.

I find another mile marker, lying at a drunken angle, and I’m surprised to discover I’ve covered less than three miles – seems longer – and I’ve still got four miles to go before I reach Dorlin/Doirlinn.

The bleakness of this open landscape makes the walk seem longer than it really is. And the constant wind, pushing at my back, is tiring rather than helpful. So it’s a relief to come across the occasional little stream, and the odd tree.

Here’s a silver birch, clinging on to the side of the track. I’ve been surprised to discover that these pretty trees are incredibly hardy, and are one of the few species that seem to thrive in inhospitable places.

But mainly I walk through a treeless desert. Spectacular, in its own way, but somewhat intimidating. I’m achingly aware of my isolation and loneliness in such a vast and unforgiving landscape.

After climbing steadily, the track curves around a series of bends and the land drops away.

Wow! What a tremendous view. Those must be the islands of Oronsay and Carna, with the mountains of Ardnamurchan beyond.

I stop for a drink and a snack, but don’t dare stop still for too long. The cold wind blowing at my back is energy-sapping, and it’s easy to get chilled.

Time for a quick self-portrait. What a wonderful place.

I pass the remnants of old buildings. Check my map. Sornagan, another abandoned settlement.

This landscape is so empty and barren, it’s hard to imagine there were once communities living here.

Down goes the track, winding around the steep slopes of a hill. Grass growing in the centre.

Over a wooden bridge. It looks somewhat rickety, but actually has a name on my map. Drumbuie Bridge.

I’m walking down by the shore now, and around the edge of a pebbly cove. The pointed headland is called Rubha na h-Oitire, according to my map, and I realise this water is no longer the Sound of Mull, but Loch Sunart.

I pass a small sailing boat, sad and abandoned among the weeds. It has an improbably impressive name – ‘Hercules’ – painted in curly script on its hull.

Here’s another pebbly cove, and this one has a jetty. I wonder if ‘Hercules’ was once launched from here. The jetty looks a little worse for wear.

The track leads to a place called Druimbuidhe. It appears to consist of a single farmhouse, and the track passes straight through the grounds.

Among the outhouses is a blue Land Rover, with “VOTE for SALLY” written in bright red letters across the driver’s door.

Ah, Sally. I believe a lady called Sally lives in that isolated house, and even runs a B&B, although I’m not sure how many would-be visitors make it this far down the track. I’d been advised to knock on her door and she would invite me in for a cup of tea. But, of course, I chickened out.

Beyond Sally’s house, the track dwindles to a rough path. It passes through a marshy area, past the headland of Rubha na h-Eaglaise (wow, these names seem wildly foreign!) and then runs along the shore.

Ahead is the island of Oronsay. Bit confusing, because there are several islands called Oronsay in Scotland. Just as the same place can have several different names, they often call several different places the same name!

This Oronsay is now uninhabited, as the result of the awful 19th century clearances, and is joined to the mainland by a small isthmus – dead ahead in the photo below.

My track curves round, past the isthmus, climbs up a slope, and then drops down to a building. I can see chimneys ahead, and I’m worried I might end up in the garden of somebody’s home…

… but when I reach the building, I realise it has long been abandoned. How sad it looks.

I believe there was once a ferry here, linking Morven to Glenborrodale on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, and this building was an inn. The place seems so isolated and lonely now, it’s hard to imagine it was once a thriving ferry crossing.

This is the end of the track and, surprisingly, someone has set up a picnic bench overlooking the water. I stop for a drink and a snack lunch. What a view! Shame the weather is too dull for decent photography.

I was half-hoping to find a path beyond the track, where I could carry on my walk along the shore. I know several coasters have manged to get through this section in the past, but I can’t see an obvious way. If I stick to the water’s edge, I end up scrambling over slippery rocks. But the ground above the shore is boggy and overgrown, and difficult underfoot.

After dithering about, and making several aborted attempts to find a route through the undergrowth, I give up.

Time to turn round and head back to my car.

Miles walked today = 14 miles, but only 7 in the right direction
Total around the coast = 4,011.5 miles

This route description on the Heritage Paths site gives some background information about the area, and a moving description by the victim of one of the forced clearances. Hard to imagine the inhumanity of the landowners of that period.


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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27 Responses to 383 Drimnin to Doirlinn

  1. Chris Elliott says:

    Hi Ruth – Sally campaigned in the local elections a while back which is why she has the slogan on her LandRover. I don’t know what she was standing for – an independent I think, but alas she got nowhere. It was Sally who told me how to get around this section. Basically there is no path for the next half mile or so. It is a very hard slog through incredibly boggy ground – the worst bog I came across in Scotland. The Forestry Commission in the estate south of here have extended a rough path to within half a mile of here as there is a bird reserve on Loch Teacuis which some people visit. Sadly the owner of the estate that includes Doirlinn refused the Forestry Commission permission to link their path to the Doirlinn track as he did not want ‘lots’ of walkers traipsing through his estate. It was a great pity – the Forestry Commission wanted to do it. You didn’t miss anything in the boggy section. I did it with 18kg on my back and it nearly killed me. I’m interested to hear that the abandoned house was once an inn – I didn’t know that. By the way Sally’s AirBNB is only visited by people in boats – in summer there are lots of sailors out on Loch Sunnart. Her website basically says access is only by boat or foot – no one other than Sally is allowed to drive out to her croft as the track is private. Not even Sally’s friends can use the track – she goes to collect them from Drimnin.

    • Ah, thanks for all this information Chris. I couldn’t understand why the Doirlinn track didn’t connect up with the end of the path from Kinlochteacuis, which is just a km or so away. How sad that the landowner refused to allow a proper route to be put through. Glad I didn’t try harder to cross the bog, as it sounds awful!

  2. Eunice says:

    An interesting walk but with some very desolate looking land, I don’t think I could tackle it alone like you are doing

  3. Mike Norman says:

    I’ve been similarly confused by mileposts in the past. I guess we’re used to seeing modern signposts with place names and distances on them pointing towards the named place. But old mileposts were not signposts and the idea as you approached one was that it would confirm where you’re going and how far you still had to go (the same principle as distance signs that you pass driving up a motorway). Not all old mileposts are like this though, for example on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, the mileposts are the other way round. I believe this was to do with it being more important to know how far you had already come from where you started as this determined the toll you had to pay. So you’re right – confusing!

    • Interesting. Yes. I suppose I was looking at the milestones through modern eyes. But now these particular milestones make sense from the point of view of a nineteenth century traveller. The side of the milestone facing you tells you where you are going and how far you have left to go.

  4. chuckles4th says:

    Despite the dreary weather I really enjoyed your photos. Such a remote part of the British Isles. Keep going .. you’re doing so well. Jules

  5. owdjockey says:

    Hi Ruth, given that it would have been difficult to get back to your car, the sensible solution was to do an out and back, like you did. Although a path is marked on the map, it is very difficult to find. I found a semblance of a path after 400m before I picked up the main forest track. Of course you could do an out and back from Kinlochteacuis to Dorlinn, but I don’t your current position and whether you have passed on around the coast

  6. This is like a good jazz solo improvisation – I’m wondering which way you will go next.

  7. John Bone says:

    Inspirational stuff Ruth. I’m impatient to see how you handle the next bits of this difficult but stunning coastline.

    Keep smiling.

  8. Di Iles says:

    Great read as ever Ruth but I do get confused with Scotlands place names. I’ve noticed several duplicate place names on my travels. Doirlinn ??? Are there two??? We often holiday further up the coast From where you are on the shores of Loch Moidart near castle Tioram, and sometimes get a boat from there to stay on Eilean Shona, a stunning private Island. I’ve always thought that, that area was Doirlinn. But now I’m confused as you seem a much further south from the Doirlinn I know, (part if that coast is called the silver walk and it’s stunning, you may have done it by now. Are they the same place or it it just a huge estate?
    I have so much respect for you navigating this area, it must be a nightmare, I know how hard that terrain is, but beautiful though. Keep posting 😃

    • Hello Di, yes, that’s another Doirlinn! This Doirlinn consists only of that ruined inn, so hardly a place at all. I’ve learnt to be very carefully when booking accommodation in Scotland, Always check the map. For example, there are quite a few Tarbets or Tarberts around too.

  9. Congratulations on reaching the 4,000 mile mark Ruth!
    Do you know in the moment when you’ve reached one of these big numbers? Or do you only realise later when you’re creating the blog entry?
    I ask because I only made four figures once, during my 2010 end-to-end. That day I’d worked out the exact distance I needed to cover to reach the 1,000 mile mark. I kept a close eye on my GPS, stopped at the exact place (a bend on a random lane in Cornwall) and stayed there a few minutes to savour the moment. Sad, I know, but that’s me!

    • Hi Gary, I’m afraid I only add up the miles retrospectively when I write the blog. Perhaps I need to keep a running tally because I realise I’m missing out on opportunities to celebrate! I do take notice of boundaries, and always feel a little thrill when I enter a new county or country.

  10. Karen White says:

    Congratulations on passing the 4000 mile mark.
    I read that account by Mary of Innimore at the link you gave. It’s hard to imagine how it must have felt to be evicted from your home with nowhere to go. Terribly harsh and very sad.
    At the same link I read that Doirlinn is the Gaelic word for as isthmus, maybe taht explains why there is more than one. Similarly, Oransay translates as ‘tidal island’.
    A wonderful walk across wild country, but how lonely to have lived in that abandoned cottage.

  11. Brian Mullins says:

    Just read your blog on the Drmnin coastal part of your journey. I have lived in Drimnin for 17 years and am the only person who has walked around the Morvern p eninsular in one continuous journey, it took 6 days and I wrote about it in our monthly magazine. The way through from Dorilinn is bogey but if you keep to about 50 yards above the shoreline for about 400 yards you come to the deer fence and gate. The walk is best done in May when the weather here is settled. I should point out that the views from the high moor above the track on the Northern side give an enormous view, taking in Skye, Rhum, Eigg, Muck and most of the West coast for about 60 miles. Inland to the East Ben Nevis, the Mamores , Glen Coe hills ,Drive hills to Cruachan most of Mull’s mountains and from Ben Bhuidhe on a clear day Scheahallion.I love living here and can’t think of a better place.

    • Hi Brian, what a wonderful place to live, and congrats on completing the walk around the peninsula. Thank you for posting the advice on how to find a way through, which I’m sure will be useful to other coastal walkers. I can imagine how wonderful the views must be. Best wishes.

  12. jcombe says:

    I did this walk today. What a difference in terms of weather and how the scenery varies from early spring as in your photos and summer now. That sign at the start of the track with the dire warnings seems so unnecessary. The path is practically a road the whole way!

    I was very lucky with the weather. It was misty at the slipway but soon I was above the mist in beautiful sunshine looking down on the loch entirely misty but I was in sunshine. Quite magical! The mist had mostly gone in the way back. The slipway has been repaired or replaced. I had lunch on the same seat as you. At the end I did make it through, with great difficulty, to the end of the path through from Kinlochteagus but it was hard work over very uneven terrain and I fell over once, fortunately a soft landing so no damage done.

  13. Steph Ibbotson says:

    My family have a history with Doirlinn cottage! back in the 60’s and 70’s and even through to the 80’s .
    My late father Geoff and his friend Cliff used to take youth clubs to Doirlinn. It was in the days before insurance and health and safety became too much. They would have to canoe, sail and fish for their dinner and learned life skills. My fathers interests included aero modelling and he would often be found launching his latest build off a hill nearby to the cottage.
    As my father married and subsequently had his own children, we all went to Doirlinn for as many years as I can remember. Sailing our mirror dinghy, paddling the canoes,(Guthrum and Bacchus) , catching Mackerel for tea. The cottage was the homestead and we would walk from Drimnin carrying the supplies with us. Dad would always have a van that we would pile into and we even had a piano one year! Dads friend Paul playing it in the back!
    There was no running water at the cottage and no electricity. Gas was carried in bottles from Glenborrodale in the dinghy to the cottage. We knew where the spring was and if the newts were in it, it was safe to drink. The toilet was a thunder box with a bucket and chuck it system. It’s still there now a little way from the cottage and its still painted red on the inside. Oh how we laughed when mother painted the toilet seat in this post office red. In the damp atmosphere it took days for that paint to harden! I think we all had red rings round our posteriors!
    Cliff and his wife Jenny had the middle room upstairs and my family had one of the two larger rooms.
    One evening we all walked to druimbuidhe for dinner with Campbell Semple. We had a choice of lights on or the oven on, so we sat in candlelight while Campbell made a feast. Campbell was very interested in alternative technology and he had rigged up a hydro electric power source which would power either one thing or another but not enough to power everything.
    Walking back to Doirlinn in the moonlight was an experience and a half. Memories to cherish.
    It is said that Simon King the wildlife photographer from the telly box had stayed at Doirlinn and filmed otters.
    Cliff and Jenny continued to spend many years staying at Doirlinn , experimenting with running water and sewage systems.
    Dad and I went back to the cottage when I was 16 to collect the mirror dinghy from the cottage as friends of the estate owner now required the building for their own purposes.

    I took my fathers ashes back to Doirlinn 3 years ago.it was so sad to see the derelict Doirlinn we all so loved. I did meet up with Sally and Nick who are wonderful people and another lovely couple who all knew my Father and Mother. It was a very special trip.
    I did ask the estate if they would sell Doirlinn to me but I fear they will just let it rot.
    I live in anticipation that before I’m too old I will see Doirlinn made strong again. Xxx

    • Oh my word. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful piece about Doirlinn. What a wonderful time you had in this magical place. And how sad to see it going to ruin now. What a shame the estate won’t let you buy it. (I’m guessing the same estate won’t allow a path to join up the coastal paths around Doirlinn either.) Anyway, was very interesting to read your memories, and very touching too. Glad your father’s ashes were scattered there, a fitting place. Best wishes to you.

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