The Moorings Hotel on the banks of The Caledonian Canal by Neptune's Staircase
A pleasant walk along a rough/coastal path to the ancient crofting village of Smirisary in Moidart and onto the silvery sands. Good views over the Bay of Arisaig and to the Small Isles. The species-rich coastal grassland, the sandy shell beach and clear blue seas make it an ideal spot for botanising, beachcombing, a picnic, paddle or swim.
Take time to revel in the beauty of the coastal heath, machair grassland and wet meadow. The coastal grassland is a riot of colour in Spring and early summer, studded with fragrant orchid, heath-spotted orchid, early marsh orchid, thyme, rue, wild carrot and birdsfoot trefoil. The wet meadows are variously tinged with the yellows of bog asphodel, the pinkish-reds of water avens and the purples of devil's bit scabious, according to season. The ledges on the surrounding hills support an eclectic mix of species, including aspen, wood sage and English stonecrop.
Butterflies and moths include meadow brown, common blue, dark green fritillary and six-spot burnet. Golden-ringed dragonflies patrol suitable breeding waters and four-spotted chaser take up territorial perches on emergent vegetation. Look out for raptors on the crags.
The route can be very boggy in places and crosses a steep ravine, but it is a great walk on a sunny day for the scenery of, mainly open habitats and the wonderful isolated beach. The Smirisary walk is a ‘there and back’ walk, with the option of an alternative loop around the village to vary the route. The walk can very boggy in places so stout, waterproof footwear is recommended.
The author, Margaret Leigh lived in one of the white-painted croft houses and in her book recalls the trials and tribulations, as well as the enchantment, of a crofting lifestyle during the Second World War. The Spade Among the Rushes is a great read, and captures the beauty of the Moidart and and life amongst the Highlanders.
1. Park at the car park just before the end of the road and walk down towards the houses. Turn right through a metal gate onto a tarmac path through rough pasture and then on through a wooden gate. The path ascends with good views afforded of the Small Isles.
2. Take the left hand path descending to the village of Smirisary; the village was a formerly deserted crofting community, but many of the houses have since been restored. Head towards the white house in the distance by the coast.
3. Cross the boardwalk and follow the sign to the White Sands. The walk climbs through wet heath, with an abundance of ling (Calluna vulgaris), and bell heather (Erica cinerea), with cross leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and Bog myrtle (Myrica gale), and an abundance bryophytes in the wetter areas. Look out for the extensive patchworks of crustiose lichens on rocks and exposed rocky outcrops. The path skirts along the hillside with great coastal views.
4. Cross a small ravine stream and keep left and continue uphill for a short way, before descending to onto a silvery sandy beach. Look out for a variety of marsh and bog plant specialists, as well as unique machair flora, as you approach the coastline. Highly folded and fractured metamorphic rocks form an impressive backdrop to the beach. At low tide, extensive kelp and fucoid beds, interspersed with eel grass are evident; a rich feeding ground for otters at high tide. The coastal rocks also abound with molluscs (barnacles, limpets and whelks). Look out for a range of coastal birds, raptors and otters.
5. After exploring the beach and coast, and enjoying the wonderful views of the Small Isles, return by the same route. Take time to explore the village on your return journey.
Alternative return route
Alternatively, you can take a slightly different route back by taking a right turn on the board walk, followed by a left when you reach the open grassy area. Walk along the lower edge of the grassy area and then take a left when you reach the small stream at the end.
Follow the path, passing by an old derelict croft and behind a white house with a blue shed and walled garden. At this point, take the right track up the hill, heading towards the fence line and view point. This route takes you back to the original path from whence you can head right back to the car park.
starting grid ref:
- there and back