Ārd nam Murchan
A trip along the Ardnamurchan peninsula takes you through beautiful scenery to the most westerly point on the British mainland. Along the way, you'll see a spectacular landscape created by repeated volcanic activity, glens carved out by huge glaciers, and rock formations that were once deposits on an ancient sea-bed.
The six stopping points on this geotrail help to show the different events that have shaped today’s landscape.
1. Salen – An Sàilean
The trail starts at the picturesque village of Salen on the north side of Loch Sunart. Stop in Salen where the road to Ardnamurchan branches off at a prominent junction. In a cutting opposite the junction, you’ll see a fine exposure of Moine mica schist. This rock was created when high temperatures and pressure transformed shales and mudstones on the sea bed into new minerals. The sediment started out in horizontal layers on the sea bed, but are now steeply tilted. This tilting happened as the mountain-building process turned the shales into schist.
2. Camas Nan Geall – Camas Nan Geall
The view from the road above Camas Nan Geall (Bay of Pledges) is one of the most beautiful in Ardnamurchan. To the west of Camas Nan Geall you’ll see the distant headland known as Maclean’s Nose. This promontory and the rocky cliff running inland from it were formed during an explosive eruption of the first volcano on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
The peninsula to the south of the road is built of some of the basalt lavas which poured across the landscape as the North Atlantic began to open 60 million years ago.
3. Mingary Castle – Caisteal Mhìogharraidh
Mingary Castle is signposted on the left as you approach the village of Kilchoan. The ruined castle sits on two horizontal sheets of distinctively different igneous rock - these formed when molten rock pushed its way between the existing layers of sedimentary rocks cooled and hardened. You can also see the layer of sedimentary rocks underneath the newer ‘sills’.
The rocks you see to the east of the castle are Jurassic limestone formed when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
4. Point of Ardnamurchan – Rubha Àird Nam Murchan
The impressive Ardnamurchan Lighthouse stands 36 metres high on the most westerly point on the British mainland. It was built in 1849 using granite from the Isle of Mull.
The lighthouse stands on a grey, coarsely crystalline rock called gabbro. It was formed from magma that had risen from deep within the Earth. It has the same composition as basalt, but because it cooled much more slowly within the Earth’s crust it developed bigger crystals and has a different appearance.
This gabbro makes up much of the coast around the western tip of Ardnamurchan, as well as the hills to the south of. It was once part of the chamber of magma that fed the second volcano to erupt on Ardnamurchan.
5. Achnaha – Ach Na H-ath
Return from the lighthouse and turn left to Sanna about 1km before Kilchoan. As you drive you will become aware of passing beneath high ground, which starts to form a curved line of hills around behind you. You are now near the centre of the third and final volcano that erupted in this area.
Stop in a small passing place about 1km before Achnaha, and take the track that leads to the abandoned village of Glendrian. Walk along this track a short way and then ascend to the crest of a line of small hills. From here you can see that the surrounding hills make up a near-complete circle around you. These hills are formed from a type of gabbro that is more resistant to weathering than the surrounding rocks and this has resulted in the spectacular natural ampitheatre we see today. Just imagine – what you are standing on was once the root beneath a massive volcano!
6. Sanna Bay – Bàgh Shanna
Return to your car and continue on the car park at Sanna Bay. From here you can wander out through the dunes to the superb beach. The low-lying ground forming the headlands on either side of the bay are made of gabbros from the second volcano, as it is at Ardnamurchan Point. The sand on the beach is composed largely of countless tiny fragments of white shells. Relax and enjoy one of the best sandy beaches in Lochaber!