The Loch Shiel Hotel is located in centre of the village of Acharacle, just over an hours drive away from Fort william and well situated to explore Ardnamurchan, Mull, The Small Isles and Lochaber.
This is a lovely walk along a tarmac track by the shores of Loch Aline through coastal deciduous woodland, affording some lovely views of the loch, surrounding hills and Ardtornish House.
The coastal woodland is stunning composed of hazel, ash, sycamore, alder, beech, rowan, elm, oak and holly with scattered mature Scots pine, as well as some exotic conifers. Alder and ash dominate the shoreline. The notable understory species include shield and butler ferns (Dryopteris spp), hard fern (Blechnum spicant), tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), bent grass (Agrostis spp), wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia), dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis), red campion (Silene dioica), Enchanter's nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), knapweed (Centaurea nigra), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum), yellow pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum), primrose (Primula vulgaris) and violets (Viola spp); the distribution and prominence varying according to local edaphic factors and season. The trees, rocky outcrops and boulders are also variously strewn with mosses, lichens and epiphytic polypody ferns. There are also patches of great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia subsp. telmateia). In addition, some of the rocky outcrops are cloaked with heathers (Calluna and Erica cinerea).
The dry stone stonewall boundary towards the head of Loch Aline also provides an ideal habitat for mouse-ear hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum), goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea), wall rue (Asplenium ruta muraria), maidenhair spleenwort (A. trichomanes) and wild strawberry, to mention but a few, as well as a variety of green, white and orange crustiose lichens.
There is also small fringe of salt marsh around the edge of the loch which merges into fucoid assemblages.
Look out for a range of woodland birds and otters, waders and diving and dabbling ducks along the coast and open waters.
The underlying geology is the Morvern Green Sandstone formation (glauconitic sandstone) formed from silica-rich sediments deposited in shallow seas, resting upon older Moine Series metamorphic rocks. The Silica Sand Mine extracts this pure form of silica sand (quartz) for use in high grade glassware, solar panels and abrasives. There are also exposures of Jurassic mudstone (Pabay Shale Formation). Look out for fossilised Gryphaea, Devil's toenails, (a genus of extinct oysters spanning the Jurassic to Cretaceous periods) on the coastal fringe; although please leave them for others to enjoy.
Lime kilns can be found on both sides of Loch Aline, with some in use until 1930s. There are also small cairns at Achranich ( if you wish to extend the walk).
Good views are afforded on route of the fine baronial style Victorian mansion, Ardtornish House, at the head of the loch. The original mansion house was constructed by the London distiller, Ocatvius Smith, and was completed in 1866; only later to be demolished by his son, Valentine. It was replaced by a much larger version, completed in 1891, but incorporating the original clock tower. The grounds were further embellished with 28 acres of formal gardens. Ardtornish Gardens are open to the public and now support a fine collection of rhododendron and Acer species and cultivars, as well as many other exotic ornamental species, with an emphasis on shape, texture and colour complimenting the natural setting.
The former Kinlochaline Castle is also nearby, but now in private hands at the head of Loch Aline. The tower house, perched on a rocky outcrop at the head of Loch Aline, was originally built in 15th century as a stronghold for Clan MacInnes. The tower was constructed of mass rubble and had three unvaulted storeys, with the ground and first floors having separate entrances set through walls of 2.5m to 2.8 m thick. The castle was defended by box machiocoltion (downward slits) surmounted on corbels. The tower underwent considerable alteration in the late 16th or early 17th century, including the introduction of two vaulted cellars, turrets and a parapet with corbels. After which, the castle fell into disrepair as a result of bloody disputes between MacLeans and Campbells. Further restoration and alterations, including the installation of new floors, large windows and a metal roof, was carried out in the 19th century. The tower house was finally converted into a private family home in the late 20th century.
1. Take the old low road by the ferry port at Lochaline, as signposted, just north of the Public Conveniences and Lochaline Social Club. The tarmac track crosses a small watercourse with waterfall, adjacent to an old red painted mine tube by the bridge, before heading towards Lochaline Silica Sand Mine.
2. At the Mine, the route passes through a wooden pedestrian gate, as signposted, and skirts around the edge of the Sand Mine, with good coastal views. Once passed the Sand Mine, the path skirts around a small harbour with its pontoons, where there is an interpretation board. The interpretation board provides an insight into the geology of the region and the workings of the Sand Mine.
3. Continue along the tarmac track which heads through a lovely section of coastal mixed deciduous woodland, passing by several small streams on route. There are some lovely views Loch Aline, dotted with moored boats and yachts.
The track passes by a single pot lime kiln, now sadly derelict. Shortly after, good views are afforded of fine baronial Victorian mansion, Ardtornish House, at the head of the loch with its tall clock tower and lovely gardens (both formal and natural).
4. Continue along the track until you reach a cottage (Castle Cottage) and the junction with a minor road. This marks the end of the walk.
5. Return by the same route admiring the lovely views of the loch, surrounding hills and the Sound of Mull. Alternatively, you can continue left on the minor road for an external view of the tower of Kinlochaline Castle (now a private residence), or turn right to visit Ardtornish Gardens.
This is a lovely there and back walk, along the western shores of Loch Aline in Morvern. through coastal woodland, with the opportunity of taking a detour to Ardtornish Gardens. You can also stop for lunch at the award winning White House Restaurant in Lochaline.
The makings of a great day trip out from Moidart and Ardnamurchan.
starting grid ref:
- there and back