The latest Marvellous Maps post celebrating National Map Reading Week* takes us to the far west of Scotland. Leading us there our expert guide, Andrew Baxter, urges us to visit the westernmost point on mainland Britain – Ardnamurchan Point.
Getting increasingly remote in Scotland
If you look at the whole map covering the expanse of Ardnamurchan you see how remote the land becomes. Although a peninsula of the mainland it might as well be an island. It takes a real effort to get to one of the remotest places in Scotland. In fact, the easiest way to start your journey is by a short ferry crossing between Corran and Ardgour, south of Fort William.
Trace the sinuous roads as they get tighter, with more and more bends. The only road that takes you alongside beautiful Loch Sunart is a lonely single track. It’s a slow road. But there is no hurry in this part of the world. Why rush when you can stop and enjoy the peaceful surroundings? And travelling through Scotland’s own rainforest makes this a special drive. Cladding the loch-side are the remnants of the Atlantic Oakwoods. Caught in the mild, and damp, Atlantic jetstream they have their own moist microclimate. Take some time to get out of the car and just wander.
Spat out into a rocky wilderness
Whilst you might marvel in the dense tree cover of the oakwoods, the map tells you that will soon end. Suddenly, a traveller is spat out into the light of a rocky wilderness. Heading further westwards brings a craggier landscape. Yet, we are still some way from our final destination. Don’t give up – the reward is worth the travel.
Reaching the small coastal village of Kilchoan, there’s one last surprise before reaching journey’s end. You are forced northwards to reach Britain’s westernmost point! It’s counter-intuitive. How appropriate for a peninsula that reveals new horizons around every corner.
Scotland’s coastal exclamation point.
With Kilchoan disappearing behind, you begin to wonder will you ever arrive. Then all of the sudden, appearing on the horizon, is Ardnamurchan lighthouse. An exclamation point! Sat upon high cliffs the lighthouse proclaims “you are there!”
This is one of the Highland's hidden little secrets. You need to be determined to reach this spot. The lighthouse was built by the Stevensons. A family that seemed to have had the monopoly on lighthouse construction around the treacherous Scottish coastline. The dynasty built 97 lighthouses over a 140 year period.
But to really appreciate where you are, there is still a little more work to complete. Take a tour of the lighthouse and climb to the very top. 152 steps and two step ladders and you emerge into the light chamber itself. In a typical Scottish understatement, the lighthouse website describes the climb as “quite strenuous.”
From here, with the salty smell of seawater all around you can gaze out to the Small Isles. Names that intrigued me as a schoolboy poring over my world atlas. Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck. How I wanted to visit those places as a wide-eyed 9-year-old. And now I can – and do.
On a clear day, there is no better place to stand with binoculars and scan the sea. This coastline is renowned for its whale and basking shark sightings. Indeed, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust frequently arrange community watches from the tower.
Don’t hurry away. Stop and gaze. Look out to the vastness of the ocean and contemplate the meaning of life. If we are ever going to discover the answer this will be the place to find it.
*National Map Reading Week
Britain's national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, lead an annual National Map Reading week every October. Its aim is to encourage the awareness and use of maps, following a survey that revealed that many Brits couldn't place major cities such as London or Birmingham on a map of their own country.