390pm Portuairk to Sanna and Kilchoan

[This walk was completed on the 13th April 2019]

I don’t want to leave Portuairk, but know I must press on. I nearly miss the rustic wooden sign that points the way to Sanna.

Ah, here’s a more official-looking sign.

I walk through a glade of trees, and then lose the path… but luckily someone has placed another one of those rustic signs to point the correct way. The path is vague, but I can just about make it out.

I climb up through rocks and grass, and sit on a flat stone to eat my lunch. The view across Portuairk is lovely. What a nice place to live.

I have to remind myself that this bay would look quite different on a cold, misty day, or through sleeting rain.

Onwards, and the path leads practically through the garden of a holiday cottage. Now this would make a good artist’s retreat. Look at those views!

Then down to a stream – Sruthan Braigh non Allt – where I have to scramble across  stepping stones. Luckily it has been a dry winter, because if the water was running higher I would surely get my feet wet.

Now the path turns away from the shore and I climb up the slope of a hill. It’s steep, and I’m puffing by the time I get to the top.

I come around the back of a rocky outcrop and – oh – what a delightful view! This is Sanna Bay and that is Sanna Beach. How glorious it looks.

I hurry down the path. Can’t wait till I get to the sands.

The beach is an irregular jumble of sand and rocks. Spectacularly beautiful in the afternoon sunlight. How lucky I am to be here on such a perfect day.

I walk over stretches of smooth sand, clamber among rocks, splash through shallow pools, and skirt around areas of shore which are covered in shellfish.

Mine are the only footprints in the sand. Always a special feeling.

Further along, as I get closer to the end of the beach, I spot a few people out walking. A couple of lads are balancing precariously along a ridge of rock. Nearby, a couple are walking their dogs.

Portuairk was sheltered from the wind, but Sanna is exposed, and the gale has started up again. Shame. It’s cold and tiring.

I near the end of the sand, and turn inwards to walk close to a pretty white house. It’s situated on the other side of a narrow stream, Allt Sanna, and can only be reached via a footbridge.

Beyond the house, a footpath leads to the tip of the next headland, a place called Sanna Point. I was half-planning to walk out to the point, but the ferocious wind puts me off. It would be alright walking out there, but very cold and unpleasant walking back.

So, I turn to my right, head over flat pastureland towards a huddle of houses, skirt around some buildings that are being renovated, and join a track.

Highland cattle are grazing on the fields. The grass looks pale and long. The cows are too busy eating to notice me. That is a relief, of course, but also means I don’t get to capture any cute-cow photographs.

I reach the carpark, where there are a plethora of notices. Along with various parking restrictions, a sign informs me that this is dune grassland, called Sanna Machair. The Machair provides common grazing land for five crofts, each of which is allowed to graze a restricted number of animals. The animals are ‘hefted’ to the area, meaning they stay close to home and don’t wander, despite no fences or hedges.

Another sign is more alarming. Sinking sands! Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the dangers when I was strolling across the beach!

I wonder how dangerous the sands really are. If someone got trapped, no doubt you could call for help… but only if you had a mobile signal. I check my phone. No signal.

Oh, good, there’s a handy phone box nearby. How convenient…

… but, when I open the door of the phone box, I see a notice has been stuck up inside. “Hello.” The notice starts off in a welcoming way, but the rest of the wording isn’t so pleasant. “Our information shows that this phone box has had very little use over a significant period of time.”

Poor old phone. It’s condemned and destined for removal. How are people going to call for help now?

I begin to walk along the road that leads out of Sanna. A nearby shed wall is painted with another sign. The sign is huge, but the corrugated surface means I can’t read it until I get nearer. “RESIST UK ENTANGLEMENT IN U.S.A. WARS”

Further along, and a fence bears more signs. “Hiroshima Day 6 August” and “Not enough cash for carers? Never mind, we’ve got trident.”

You wouldn’t think quiet little Sanna was such a hotbed of political controversy and anti-nuclear rhetoric.

I follow the road, which begins to climb gently uphill, leaving the Machair plain behind. I turn to take one last photograph of Sanna.

Now it’s time to head back towards Kilchoan, along a valley that runs parallel to the one I walked out along this morning. I was hoping that this valley would be sheltered from the wind… but no such luck.

Oh well, button up, head down, march onwards.

After a couple of miles I come to a small settlement called Achnaha. Nothing much here. Just a few houses, many of which are shuttered.

I startle a few sheep which have escaped from the nearby field and are sauntering along the verges of the road.

What’s it like to live out here? It’s such an exposed place in a bleak landscape. I pass a prefab home surrounded by odds and ends of accumulated junk, and wonder how, other than farming, you would make a living.

A little copse of trees makes a welcome change from the open landscape. Because of the wind, I don’t hear the car sneaking up behind me, and the driver has to toot his horn.

Onwards, and the road rises and falls, while twisting slowly along the valley. This flat area is surrounded by a ring of bare hills.

Off to my left is a footpath that leads around the curve of the hills, and heads, eventually, to run close to the shore. I’m going to walk that route tomorrow, so am pleased when I spot a parked vehicle, and realise there is a little parking area near to the start of the path.

Finding places to park along these narrow, single-track roads is always difficult.

The car has a pair of child’s wellies sitting on the dashboard, alongside a pack of Weetabix. How sweet those little boots look.

I think of my little granddaughter, and feel a tug of longing. I haven’t met anyone to talk to all day, and suddenly feel quite lonely.

Onwards. A cyclist overtakes me, and I feel another tug. Reminds me of my husband, and of everything I’ve lost.

Shake my head. Mustn’t let myself get miserable. I’m walking across the westernmost tip of the British mainland, in glorious sunshine, and everything is going to be just fine.

Another car sneaks up behind me and toots loudly. The driver scowls. Yes, yes. I’ll move. I couldn’t hear you because of the wind.

On and on goes the road.

Over the crest of a little hill, and there’s Loch Sunart ahead. Good, I’m nearly there. But I feel another tug of sadness, because I realise I’ve finished walking the southern side of Ardnamurchan and the shore of beautiful Loch Sunart. Tomorrow, I’ll be on the northern side and next to open sea.

I reach the junction where the road splits into two. There’s the fire station, the recycling centre, and the mysterious collections of shacks and boxes.

This completes my circuit of the area, although it’s not really been a circular walk at all, more of a stroll around an elongated, and slightly wobbly, triangle!

Now, where is my bike… ah, hello old Monster. Nobody has stolen you yet?

The ride into Kilchoan is mainly downhill, and I cruise along at a good pace – reaching the heady speed of at least 10 mph in places – despite the wind. Perhaps I love my Monster of a bike, after all.


Miles walked today = 11 miles
Total around coast = 4,092 miles

Route: black this morning, red this afternoon


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
This entry was posted in 22 Highlands and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 390pm Portuairk to Sanna and Kilchoan

  1. jcombe says:

    Wow, stunning photos Ruth, what a beautiful place and write up. I’m looking forward to reaching this part of the coast. I think it’s days like that one that really help remind you why you are doing this walk, or at least it does for me.

    • It was a very special day, Jon, and I agree there are a few wonderful days that make up for all the difficult ones. Happens when a good mood, fine weather, and glorious scenery all fortuitously combine together on the same day!

  2. P Murton says:

    It’s probably been said many times before but will say it again … these pics look so much like the karroo in South Africa on a fine day

  3. Martin D says:

    Ruth, I came across your blog today and have been really enjoying it. I was in this area last year. Did you know that Achnaha is in the centre of an old, extinct, volcano https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achnaha. You may have noticed that you were in a bowl. See Google maps to get an impression of the massive crater ring feature

  4. Martin D says:

    Apologies, I jumped the gun and see that you discuss the ‘Ring of Fire’ in your next post

    • Hi Martin, and thank you for your kind words about my blog. It wasn’t until the next day that I realised on this particular day I was actually walking inside one of the concentric circles that make up the Ring. The scale is so vast, I couldn’t see it!

  5. Karen White says:

    “Wow!” to the colours and spectacular land / seascape at Sanna. Very, very beautiful.

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