An enjoyable walk to the beautiful Singing Sands at Gortenfern in the Ardnamurchan, skirting around the southern edge of Kentra Bay and then through coniferous plantation. Kentra Bay contains a large expanse of mudflat at low tide and small fragments of salt marsh, sand dune and machair. The Bay is particular lovely in Spring and Summer when the salt marsh is awash with the pink hues of flowering thrift (Armeria maritima).
Gortenfern beach is equally stunning and a great place for a picnic, beach-combing and exploring the rocky coastline. The beach is surrounded by Calluna-vulgaris, Empetrum nigrum- Carex arenaria heath. There are some lovely views of the Small Isles.
The geology of the region is mainly metamorphosed Pre-Cambrian sedimentary rock (Morar Group- semipelite and pelite), surrounded by Morar group psammite. The bedrock is exposed as rocky outcrops on the beach at Gortenfern. The outcrops are variously strewn with lichens, barnacles and limpets and fucoids, according to locality and aspect.
The beach and surrounding area was used for commando training during the Second World War and may contain unexploded munitions, so please take care. A battle associated with the 1745 uprising is also believed to have been fought here.
The section through the forest plantation is also lovely, with foxglove, devil’s bit scabious, wood sorrel, tormentil, primrose, purple moor grass, hard fern, shield ferns and bent grasses, to mention but a few, fringing the Sitka Spruce plantation with pine. In addition, some areas of the plantation are strewn with an abundance and diversity of bryophytes, including Spaghnum and Polytrichium spp, Dicranum spp, Common tamarisk moss (Thuidium tamariscinium), Glittering wood moss (Hylocomium splendens), rough stalked feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum), as well as a range of a range of liverworts and lichens. The alternative loop also passes through a small section of mixed deciduous woodland, with fine views of a stream with a small waterfall. Trees include rowan, birch, hazel, holly and ash, with some fine specimen oaks strewn with lichens, bryophytes and epiphytic polypody (Polypodium vulgare). This is a particularly lovely section of the walk.
The walk affords good opportunities to see a variety of wading birds (e.g. curlew, oystercatcher), gulls, cormorants, diving ducks (including red-breasted divers), dabbling ducks (including wigeon and mallard) and, if lucky, white-tailed eagle, little egret and otter. Look out for goldcrests, crossbills, siskins, coal tits, woodpecker, pine marten and red deer in the coniferous plantation.
The walk is along gravelled and forest track and is easy to follow. This is either a ‘there and back’ walk or you can take an alternative track on the way back ( see OS map for details). The return loop passes through a lovely section of plantation on a wide grassy path, following a steam for part of the way, and ending up through mixed deciduous woodland.
The walk can be extended to Ockle for a strenuous, scenic, long distance trek along the old crofter’s path between Acharacle and Ockle. The Ockle extension is a strenuous ‘there and back’ walk.
1. Park in the small car park at the end of the road to the small township of Arivegaig. Follow the track through a metal gate and across the bridge. The track skirts along the southern shores of Kentra Bay providing good views of the bay and its small islands.
2. Keep right on the coastal track and cross a wooden bridge, ignoring a path ascending on your left to a hydro-electric station. After crossing the bridge, the track passes by the front of two adjacent stone houses at Gorteneorn.
3. Continue along the track until you reach the forestry plantation. Pass through the wooden pedestrian gate and head into the forestry plantation. From here, the track ascends gently up hill, skirted by spruce trees on either side. This is a lovely section of the walk, and provides a good opportunity to listen out for the drumming of woodpeckers, and to look out for coal tits, siskins and crossbills feeding in the tree tops. The ground is carpeted with bryophytes. The importance of the site for MOD training during the Second World War is indicated by the danger signs on unexploded munitions on route.
4. Continue on this track for about 2 kilometres until you see a small wooden sign on your right directing you to the beach ot Gortenfern. Turn right at the sign and descend towards the beach through a short stretch of coniferous woodland and then onto to heath before reaching the golden sands.
Spend time exploring this beach, with its rocky outcrops and lovely views of the Small Isles. Listen out for the singing of the sands in a gentle breeze. Look out for diving ducks, cormorants and shags and seals on the water; and otters along the coast. A great place for beachcombing and a picnic. The walk can be extended to explore the sandy bays to the north east of Camas an Lighe including the lovely beach at Cul na Croise. The bays are best visited at low tide. They are accessible via several small undefined paths generally running along the fence line by the edge of the forest plantation. Please note, the route is boggy and uneven and should not be attempted without a map and suitable footware.
5. Return by the same route.
Alternatively, you can take a different route back through the forest plantation by taking a right turn where the path starts to descend. The start of the grassy track has a wide mouth and a steep ridge on one site that gradually peters out to yield plantation on both sides. Where the path diverges by a sign (Tilhill Economic Forestry), veer left and continue downhill.
The track passes through a final section of mixed oak woodland, before passing behind a stone house on the left, and to the side and in front of a larger house to the right.
Continue down the track to join the outbound route, where you turn right to head back to the car park. This is a lovely section of the walk. However, some scrambling over fallen trees may be required if taking the return loop.
Alternatively you can also continue along the track heading towards Ockle on the Ardnamurchan peninsula for a strenuous long distance, ‘there and back’ trek.