[This walk took place on April 10th 2019]
I park my car in a village called Salen, and catch the early morning bus back to Strontian. Today, I must start from the point where my last walk ended, and that means from the front of the Strontian Hotel. What a lovely view.
Strontian has a village shop, a petrol pump, a village café, a public car park, a village green, and even public toilets. It’s one of the largest places around.
On the other side of the bridge, a road branches to the right and leads up a valley towards Loch Shiel. It ends, eventually, at a place called Polloch. Most of the houses in Strontian seem to be grouped around this road, including the B&B where I’m staying.
But I’m carrying straight on to Salen. I was worried about traffic along the A861 because I knew I would be walking this section at 9am. Rush hour? Hmmm… where are all the cars?
The road climbs above the loch, and hugs the slope above a line of houses.
Although I miss the isolation of my previous walks on the Morvern Peninsula, this vantage point allows me interesting peeks into private gardens and yards.
Through a garage door I spy a sign. “Hip Hip HOORAY.”
I wonder what was being celebrated when that sign was made. A birthday, perhaps?
There is some building work going on. Maybe a new house? What a fantastic view the new owners would have.
Leaving the houses behind, I spot a “Footpath to Beach” sign. It’s tempting… but I know I can’t get far along the shore, and so I stick to the road.
I cross over another river. Allt Ard Nan Staing. And here’s another turnoff to the right.
I stop to read the signs, and realise if I followed the turnoff road to the end, and then continued on along a footpath, I could walk all the way to Polloch. It’s another ‘Heritage Path’, an old coffin road and also a miners’ path.
Only 6 miles to Pollock, says another sign. Another tempting diversion… but 6 miles there means 6 miles back. That requires a whole day. Meanwhile, I have to get to Salen.
Onwards. It’s a little frustrating to be walking some distance from the shore, but at least the walking is easy. And the views down over Loch Sunart are fabulous.
The traffic is building up now. As I approach another bridge, three cars pass by in quick succession. I guess the lead car is a holiday visitor, driving slowly along this unfamiliar road, while the following cars are impatient locals.
I’m amused at the way every tiny river has its own signpost in Scotland. But on the back of each sign is an OS grid refence. Very sensible. I’m not sure why the EU flag is there too. Did the EU supply the funding for the signs?
The road runs through woodland and sheep pastures. I stop to have a chat with this flock, but they run away.
Half hidden in vegetation is a ruined building. I always feel melancholy when I see these abandoned structures. Is it an old farming croft? Was it recently abandoned, or is it the result of the Highland clearances?
The road dips and then climbs higher still. Although the view is often obscured by trees, when I do get a view of the loch, it is hard to miss the obvious landmark of Laudale House on the other side.
Now I’m dropping down towards the water. I do love this road. Although the area I’m walking through (Sunart) is famous for its ancient oak forests, most of the trees I see are the ubiquitous silver birch.
Down at the level of the loch, I turn off the road and sit for a while on a piece of flat grassland. Time for a drink and a snack, and time to soak up this wonderful view. I must say, the Morvern Peninsula looks wonderful this morning. Wild and remote.
Hard to believe I hiked over those hills.
I follow a track for a short distance, past some static caravans, and rejoin the road at another bridge. Allt Ard Airigh.
[Later, I look up the meaning of some of these Gaelic words. Allt Ard Airigh means the stream of the high pasture – I think.]
The road turns away from the loch again, and passes behind a raised area of thick woodland.
Along here, flying low above the trees, I spot a couple of large birds. They’re half hidden from me by the branches overhead, so I don’t get a good view, but both have white tail feathers.
Oooh. White tails? They must be sea eagles! My second sighting!
The birds are gone in a flash, disappearing behind the trees and I realise, in my excitement, I forgot to take a photo. Keep looking up as I walk – until I feel quite dizzy – but I never see them again.
A hundred yards farther along, and I come to a Forestry Commission parking area – Ardery or Ard Airigh in Gallic. The same name as the stream I crossed half a mile back.
I’m a little fed up with tarmac and so, when realise I can wander along a woodland walk through the trees, I turn off and go exploring.
Reaching a high point. I stop for a rest on a bench overlooking Loch Sunart, which later provides a convenient spot for a self-portrait.
Information boards in the car park described several wild flowers you can find here, but it’s still early April, and so very few flowers are out. I do, however, notice how the bare tree branches are festooned with feathery lichen.
I walk on and, about 5 minutes later, I realise I’ve lost my cap. I took it off for the self-portrait, I think. Retrace my steps. There it is, on the bench.
I hear voices ahead, and see a couple of figures walking towards me. They look Asian, and I wonder if they speak English. I haven’t met anybody since I got off the bus, and I fancy a chat, but they quickly turn off down a little path towards the water. They seem to be in a hurry. Maybe I scared them?
Onwards, through the trees. I wish the rest of my walk could be along such a pleasant path.
Oh, what’s that overhead. High above me is another large bird. It’s too far away to see clearly, but I try to catch a photograph. The results are, to be frank, completely embarrassing.
Is it a sea eagle? I have no idea. Oh dear, I can never claim to be a wildlife photographer!
Here’s another bench and – what a coincidence – someone has left a cap on this one too. I wonder if it belongs to the couple I saw earlier.
A branch in the path leads down to a wildlife hide. I decide to take a look, although the approach is a little off-putting, with a snaking gangplank to navigate. And there is a group of people standing by the hide, chatting.
Well, even thought they’re talking quietly, that noise is going to scare away any birds or wildlife in the area. Having been in two minds whether to visit the hide or not, I now feel quite indignant.
Ironically, a nearby sign advises me, “If you go quietly, there’s no telling what wonderful wildlife you might see…” Quite.
The crowd come towards me along the gangplank, and smile politely. They seem to have a leader. Must be a guided tour.
Once everyone has gone, I make my way down to the hide. It’s a pleasant place, with information boards, benches to sit on, and even a free telescope to use. How wonderful.
I try to spot some seals. There must be some here, surely? Or perhaps a sea otter or two? But I don’t see any. Just some boring old gulls.
Oh, well. It’s a nice sheltered place to sit and, because I was up early to catch the bus and breakfast was rushed, I’m really hungry. Time for lunch. Great view.
I realise the tip of headland I can see (on the far right in the photo above) is Rubha Aird Earnaich, the most northerly point of the Morvern peninsula. It’s the place where I sat and had a snack only a couple of weeks ago. There seems a pleasant symmetry to this coincidence.
This morning’s route: