Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Fortified on Loch Sunart

Emerging from the calm at the eastern end of Loch na Droma Buidhe, I was straight out into a stiff headwind and had an energetic twenty minutes paddling to cross to the north side of Loch Sunart.

My aiming point was a gap between two outcrops to the west of the island of Risga which framed the grand looking Glenborrodale Castle.  The present building, described on the excellent Canmore database of historical sites as "a florid vision in Annan sandstone rising up from sham fortifications" is a country house hotel and replaced an earlier building erected by the diamond magnate Charles Rudd, an associate of Cecil Rhodes.  The hotel website is very welcoming.......

...but not it seems, to everybody.  Welcome to Glenborrodale.  The law of Trespass in Scotland is a difficult one to define in a few words, but essentially if you don't damage property, don't intend to stay permanently and abide by the provisions of the Access section of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act - you are not trespassing.  Perhaps the sign is another "sham fortification"?

On the way back to Salen there's a site which is much older and certainly wasn't built as a sham fortification.  Dun Ghallain is situated on a tiny rocky islet, defended mostly by steep rock, but on one side by a tumbled wall. 

The fort walls enclose a small flat area at the summit of the islet, and the fort builders chose their site well.

The view extends almost the length of Loch Sunart in one direction....

.....while to the west the view stretches beyond the mouth of Loch Sunart and out to the Cairns of Coll. 

Although accessible at low water when a sandy spit conects Dun Ghallain to the shore, for most of the time the fort was protected by water. It couldn't withstand a prolonged attack, but this little fort must have been a real strategic asset to its builders.

The last leg of my short trip on lay close in on the north (Ardnamurchan) shore of Loch Sunart, and what a pleasant stretch it is.

There's interest in the shoreline rock, as here where a broad viein of quartz is intruded into the darker bedrock, the vein continuing down underwarer as far as I could see.

....while all along the shore the Atlantic Oakwood reaches to the water, interspersed in places with pine and larch.  In the clear air generated by a northerly airstream the colours simply "zinged". 

Arriving back at Salen, I used my trolley to haul the boat back up the shingle slip and got things sorted out and loaded to the car.  There was plenty of time to visit the Salen Jetty Shop for a post-paddle treat of coffee and cake.  The shop and coffee-shop are a new addition to Salen and a very welcome one, the range and quaility of goods on offer is really good and features local produce too.  It's worth knowing that the building also has toilets and showers available for jetty/shop customers.  The coffee was superb and the cake was exceptionally good, I left "well fortified" for the journey home across Scotland - as a sea-kayaking refreshment/resupply point, the Salen Jetty Shop rates 12/10!

This short trip from Salen to Loch Teacuis, around Oronsay to Loch na Dhroma Buidhe and return to Salen was about 45 kilometres.  There are tidal sections to negotiate with Spring rates of up to 3 knots at the entrance to Loch Teacuis, otherwise tidal streams are fairly weak. 

Salen can be reached either from the south and east by crossing to Sunart at the Corran Ferry and travelling on the A861 past Strontian; or from the north by the A830 from Fort William to Lochailort, then the A861 past Glenuig and Acharacle.  The A861 is a "classic" highland singletrack "A" road with passing places; it's narrow, twisty and always takes longer to drive than the mileage would suggest.  A significant issue is finding somewhere to park and access the water, particularly in summer.  Spaces are few and far between and it may need a degree of flexibility to find a suitable launch spot.  Three Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50K sheets are required to cover the area - Sheet 47 (Tobermory & North Mull) and Sheet 40 (Mallaig & Glenfinnan) cover Loch Sunart, Sheet 49 (Oban & East Mull) covers Loch Teacuis.


  1. Ian, your images and words always fortify. Read your post just before launching this morning...so many great memories of the Scottish waters accompanied every paddle stroke. We had lunch on an isolated pebble beach...and were thankful for having a "paddle" in both places. Warmest wishes. Duncan and Joan.

  2. Thank you D & J - you look to be having some fine paddling weather over there!; as you say, a blade in each ocean is no bad thing :o)

    Warm wishes

  3. I've been in Salen a few times and even had a small boat out on the loch once. An area still undisturbed by most tourists but a scenic one. Like the Quartz intrusion.

    1. Hi Bob, the long approach and narrow roads seem to put a few folk off - it's a great area though...

      Kind Regards