Glencoe to Mallaig / Glenelg to Diabaig

Cottage at InveralliginOn this occasion we were travelling by car to the Torridon Mountains to stay in a cottage for a while. As the journeys each way were due to take at least ten hours, we stayed overnight at Banavie and Pitlochry to break them up.

We had already completed the west coast as far as Loch Leven, so we started this trip in Glencoe, intending to reach Loch Maree, but leaving the wilder areas of Moidart and Ardnamurchan for a further visit when we hope to revisit Mull and Skye.


Leaving Argyllshire on the south bank of Loch Leven, we drove into Inverness-shire, with Ben Nevis, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye lying within its borders. At last this is the ‘Real Scotland’.

It's the largest county in Scotland, forming a wide belt across the Highlands from sea to sea.

Ben NevisThe landscape is fabulous, with Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain, the Monadhliath Mountains and part of the Cairngorms. Here is Loch Ness, Loch Lochy and great sea lochs like Loch Linnhe, Loch Morar and Loch Hourn.

There are also famous glens, the Great Glen itself, Glen Spean, Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Affric each with its lovely loch. Magic!


Road through Glen CoeThe drive through 'the Narrow Glen’ provides some of Britain's loveliest scenery as well as mountaineering challenges. There are ski slopes served by tows and a chair lift with wide views over Rannoch Moor from it’s terminus.

Glen CoeOriginally, people settled on the north bank of the river at a village they called Invercoe. Now, the village is called Glencoe and a folk museum is housed in a group of thatched cottages. Some of its displays recall the infamous Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, when members of the MacDonald clan were butchered by Campbells of the Argyll militia.

Monument to MassacreDuring the Jacobite uprising, William II tried to force all Scottish Clan Chiefs to sign an oath of loyalty to the crown but the Macdonald's was five days late. Men from the Campbell Clan were sent into the area and were warmly received by the Macdonald's who didn't suspect any one was in danger and offered the Campbell's food and shelter, but one week later the Campbell's turned on their hosts. The orders were to wipe out the Macdonald's, who were slaughtered as they lay asleep in their beds and thirty eight men and boys were killed and any survivors driven out into the snow.

By the mid 1700s there was a ferry operating across Loch Leven from Invercoe to the north shore and a path from there led to Fort William. By 1850 steamers from Glasgow called at the pier and in the 1930s the A82 road was built along the south side of the river bypassing Glencoe. This process was effectively completed when the Ballachulish Ferry was replaced by the bridge in 1975.

Glencoe Mountain RescueThe headquarters of Glencoe Mountain Rescue is housed in a white-harled building carrying a plaque dedicated to the memory of Graham Flatters, "who loved to wander in wild places".

Glencoe visitor centreWe went to the National Trust visitor centre, which is a rather splendid new set of buildings next to a camp site we stayed in about 20 years ago. There is an excellent exhibition and viewing platform.


Ballachulish The name Ballachulish comes from the Gaelic for ‘village of the narrows’ . Loch Leven narrows dramatically here and North and South Ballachulish grew up around the slipways from which a ferry crossed the loch from as early as 1730.

Ballachulish bridgeBallachulish bridgeFrom 1912 until 1975, there was a vehicle ferry that disappeared when the steel truss bridge opened, although the slipways that served the ferry remain, by no means opposite one another.

quarrySouth Ballachulish largely comprises the slipway and the hotel but North Ballachulish is a little more developed. The largest settlement lies on the south side of Loch Leven which started life in the 1500s as Laroch and became the site of a major slate quarrying operation which continued until 1955.

quarryThere is a large visitor complex here now and we were lucky that it was very sunny so the quarries looked quite beautiful now that they have been landscaped. We also walked up to the top for a fabulous view over the Loch and the bridge.

Beside the bridge is a monument to James Stewart who was hanged on this spot in 1752 for complicity in the murder of Colin Campbell, a land agent employed by the English to evict suspected pro-Jacobites. The story goes that Stewart was put to death only because his accusers and the jury were under Campbell domination

Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe Mountains rise steeply from the waters of Loch Linnhe which is a long, straight inlet of the sea. Sunsets here can be very photogenic. Just to the west of Ballachulish, lies Onich, which enjoys fantastic views over the water to Argdour in the west and the mountains of Glencoe to the east.

Corran ferry Onich is full of hotels, guesthouses, B & Bs which are mostly situated along the main A82 road that runs beside the loch

The Corran ferry crosses the loch at its narrowest point, saving motorists approaching or leaving the mountainous Ardgour region from a long detour around Loch Eil.

Fort William

Fort WilliamThe town began life with the much more charming name of Inverlochy until Oliver Cromwell came along and built fortifications. William lll decided to keep the rebellious Scottish clans in order and extended it and had the town renamed Fort William. The garrison fought off attacks from Jacobites during the rebellions of 1715 and 1745.

The buildings were demolished to make way for the railway line and only scant remains of the fort can now be seen near the station, as well as the 13th-century ruins of Inverlochy Castle.Inverlochy Castle

Now the town is a busy holiday centre that attracts walkers and climbers. It is the junction of road and rail routes and is more functional than beautiful with a range of shops and hotels.

MuseumPreparations for raceThe West Highland Museum has good displays of Highland clans and Jacobite memorabilia, including a bed in which Prince Charles slept and a portrait of him that can only be seen when reflected in a cylindrical mirror. Preparations were going ahead for the Ben Nevis Race the following day – no doubt for the fit and strong-willed.

Ben Nevis DistilleryJust outside the town at Lochy Bridge is the Ben Nevis Distillery which has a visitor centre and a fine display of barrels outside.

Ben Nevis is Britain's highest peak at 4,406 ft and is normally climbed from Glen Nevis, a gorge which is enclosed by dramatically plunging slopes and has a ski gondola that is open all year for scenic views.

Neptune's StaircaseThree miles from the town in the suburb of Banavie, is Neptune's Staircase, a series of eight linked locks on the Caledonian Canal. Thomas Telford’s canal took 24 years to complete and opened in 1847. View over Ben NevisIt runs for 22 miles, linking the lochs in the Great Glen and has 24 locks, including this flight, which lower the water by 90 ft in less than two miles between Loch Lochy and Loch Eil.

We were staying at a hotel next to the canal and were lucky enough to have a room with a magnificent view over the staircase towards a gorgeous sunset over Ben Nevis.

Ardgour, Moidart, Morvern and Ardnamurchan

West of Fort William is one of the most remote parts of the Highland region, stretching south to the Morvern Peninsula, and west to the wild Ardnamurchan Peninsula. This lonely corner features a dramatic landscape of rugged mountains, desolate moorland and near-deserted glens, fringed by a coastline of white beaches and clear blue seas with wonderful views across to the isles of Mull and Skye. It is one of the least-populated areas in Britain, mainly due to the Highland Clearances in the mid 19th century and is noted for its wildlife.

We have not covered this area yet.


Piping competition We took the ‘Road to the Isles’ that runs beside the West Highland Railway to Mallaig.

Glenfinnan lies at the head of Loch Shiel, stretching south west for twenty miles to Acharacle. The Highland gathering was taking place and the sound of the pipes echoed around Glenfinnan’s Monument on the shore of the loch.

GlenfinnanThe monument is a tower topped by the statue of a kilted warrior and marks the spot where Charles Edward Stuart raised his standard in 1745, to rally the clans to support him. It was erected in 1815 in memory of the clansmen who fought and died for the Prince.

Glenfinnan monumentPrince Charles arrived to claim the British throne for his father, James, son of the exiled King James VII of Scotland and II of England. The clan chiefs had expected French support, but the Prince arrived with only a handful of men so they were reluctant to join the cause. The Prince raised his standard and his faith was soon rewarded when he heard the sound of the pipes and Cameron of Lochiel, along with 800 men, came marching down the valley to join them.

visitor centreCharles then came pretty close to taking the crowns he sought after easily taking Perth and Edinburgh and marching as far as Derby. He made the mistake of not pressing on, after a closely argued meeting in the upstairs room of a Derby pub, not realising the state of panic in London, and went on to be defeated at Culloden

There is a National Trust visitor centre with displays of the Prince's campaign from Glenfinnan to its grim conclusion.

Glenfinnan ViaductIn 1812, Thomas Telford was in charge of the ‘Loch na Gaul’ road from Fort William to Arisaig and by 1901, the building of the railway from Fort William to Mallaig was complete. One of the largest structures on the railway is the curved Glenfinnan Viaduct which is 416 yards long and has 21 arches, the tallest of which is 100ft high.

The original station buildings have been converted into a railway museum by enthusiasts. There are two disused railway carriages, one being used as a Dining Car.

Loch Nan Uamh

Prince's CairnDown on the shore of this loch, we found a memorial cairn where Charles Edward Stuart landed from the French sailing ship the Du Teillay, at the start of the 1745 rebellion.

He departed for France 14 months later, following his defeat at Culloden with a price of £30,000 on his head.

Gleann Mama ViaductLoch nan Uamh means "The Loch of the Cave", probably because the Prince sheltered in a cave here. At the head of the loch is the Gleann Mama Viaduct, an eight arch bridge made of "Concrete Bob" McAlpine's favourite material.


Road to the IslesLochailort lies on the junction of the Mallaig road and a ‘new’ coastal road south through Moidart that was built in 1966. In the 1990s, since our last visit, the Mallaig road has been vastly improved as well.

Our Lady of the BraesAn inn was recorded here around 1650 and the settlement grew with the name Kinloch Hoylort. At the height of construction of the railway, it became a small town housing all the navvies as several tunnels and viaducts were constructed to push this monster through the difficult terrain.

The main claim to fame recently was the appearance of the church, Our Lady of the Braes, which featured in the church scenes in the film ‘Local Hero’.


Arisaig We left the new road for the coast at Arisaig, sitting beside Loch nan Ceall, the ‘loch of the churches’. In the 12th century, monks who settled called it An Garbh Chriochan’the Rough Bounds’. This is very rocky bay and from the pier, Arisaig Marine were running boat trips to Eigg, Muck and Rum.

In 1746 two French ships, sent to help the Jacobites after the Battle of Culloden, were cornered by the Royal Navy in the loch. The French escaped however, but managed to land their gold, which was carried inland and promptly lost!

ArisaigFrom the pier, the village looked very picturesque with it’s colourful painted buildings and rather smart hotel. Work was being done in the nearby boatyard and yachts were sailing around the harbour. On the wooded hillside is St Mary's Church and the was installed to commemorate the famous Gaelic poet Alasdair MacDonald.

St Mary's ChurchThere is an ancient ruined chapel nearby with gravestones with medieval carvings.

John Silver was born in Arisaig, who went to work on the construction of the lighthouse at Barrahead. The lighthouse designer was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, who is supposed to have used the name for his character in Treasure Island.

Traigh Beach

Traigh BeachBoth Traigh and the beach at Camusdarach are backed by dunes and there is a golf course here as well. We were able to park right beside the stunning white beach, surrounded by rock pools and with remarkably blue water. The views stretch to Rùm and the Cuillins of Skye and therefore this is a popular destination for holidaymakers - and caravan sites, but there is plenty of space here. The shallow lagoons were being enjoyed by a group of dogs fetching sticks being thrown by their owners.


Silver SandsPassing several caravan sites, we reached a gorgeous bay at Morar, where the beach scenes from the movie Local Hero were filmed on the famous ‘Silver Sands’.

railway viaduct The road passes under the railway viaduct and crosses the River Morar. Loch Morar fails to meet the sea by a few hundred yards so this river is one of the shortest in the country, falling 40 feet in some spectacular cascades.

The loch is 11 miles long and more than 1000 ft deep, the deepest lake in Europe. It is said to be home to Morag, a monster akin to Nessie. Apparently whenever she is sighted it heralds the death of a member of the MacDonald Clan. A scientific investigation in 1971 uncovered a remarkable number of sightings. Morar station

On the other side of the ‘new’ road, the village itself sits on the hill above the bay and pretty much consists of a hotel with wonderful views and a railway station. There is a tiny road inland along part of the loch to the hamlets of Bracara and Bracorina.


MallaigThe "Road to the Isles" ends at this busy harbour village with magnificent views over the Sound of Sleat to Skye. We were quite disoriented by the high quality road that was only built in 1988, it is quite a transformation from the narrow winding one that used to come in over the hill.

Steam trainMallaig is also the terminus for the West Highland Railway which carries normal service trains and excursions of the steam hauled ‘Jacobite’ from Fort William. We were already dreaming up a holiday that included this adventure along with a boat along the Caledonian Canal from Inverness and a ferry to Skye and the Outer Hebrides!

Mallaig harbourIt was the coming of the railway in 1901 that led to the growth of the town although the railway was originally meant to finish at a new fishing port that was planned on the shore of Loch Ailort. The landowner wouldn't agree terms, however, so the port developed at Mallaig instead.

A steamer pier was built in 1901, ferries started immediately to Armadale and Mallaig became an important ferry port, with services to Skye, Uist, the Small Isles and to Knoydart.

MallaigMallaig is also a fishing port, mainly catching shellfish that is landed on the quay for the evening market. Mallaig Marine World allows you to view the local sea life and the Heritage Centre gives more information about the area. The whole town was busy with tourists and holidaymakers and the harbour is very attractive.

Cal Mac ferryWe were heading for Lochalsh so the only route open to us was by ferry to Skye. The beautiful black and white Caledonian MacBrayne ferry beckoned from the quayside and Andy’s comment was ‘Bring it On’.


ArmadaleSkye has got to be the subject of a whole chapter and we only saw it fleetingly as we passed through on this trip. We will return at a later date.

Kylerhea ferryArmadale is a 30 minute crossing of the Sound of Sleat. We drove between Armadale in the south and Kylerhea on the east coast, where a tiny six car ferry travels over the narrowest stretch of water back to the mainland in just 5 minutes.

This is much more fun than getting here entirely by road.