One of the places we really enjoyed pottering about during our recent Ardnamurchan trip was the interesting strip of land between Loch Shiel and Loch Moidart. This is a wonderful highland landscape, with a fascinating history. There are also many gorgeous beaches, fabulous hill walks and archeology and vernacular architecture to enjoy — from the remains of iron-age forts to the ruins of ancient castles.
One long walk (or the way we managed it, two walks over two days) that we really enjoyed starts just after Shiel Bridge (on the Lochailort Road), following the course of the Blain Burn on a good track north towards Loch Blain. From here, there’s a rough path that continues up and around Lochan na Fola from where, gaining height, you are eventually rewarded with fantastic views of Loch Moidart and beyond to the small isles.
This is a landscape full of stories. To the west of where I’m standing is the gigantic boulder known as Clanranald’s seat. This purportedly marks the viewpoint from which Allan the Red, 14th Chief of Clanranald, having instructed his servants to burn Castle Tioram to the ground rather than have it fall into enemy hands, watched his home burst into flames and burn.
You can retrace Allan’s journey to Castle Tioram (pronounced cheer-um), either by coming down from the hillside via the pass of Scarduish (to the west) or following a path north and east past the ruined township of Briagh. The latter route brings you out on the spectacular shores of Loch Moidart, and the narrow, rocky path known as the Silver Walk.
The Silver Walk is so-called because a valuable cache of silver coins was discovered here in the late nineteenth century. The cache had been stolen from Castle Tioram two hundred years previously, and one of the three accused (a young girl) was punished by being tied by her hair to a skerry (rocky outcrop) in the loch, where she suffered an unimaginably awful fate after being left to drown. The skerry is locally known in Gaelic as Sgeir Nighinn an t-Sheumais (the skerry of James’ daughter). Her co-accused – both men – were hanged for their part in the robbery.
The Silver Walk slowly meanders along the shore of Loch Moidart toward Castle Tioram. It’s a path that, with its undulating gradients, and something new to look at at every turn, certainly invites you to take your time. We were there over two lovely sunny days: late primroses lined the path and the views were superb. It’s a delightful walk.
At the west end of the Silver Walk you reach Castle Tioram itself, and tides permitting, you can cross the sandy isthmus to the castle.
The castle was constructed (like most such castles, on the site of an existing structure) in 1353 by Aimi, divorced wife of John of Islay. Between then and its 1715 burning, it was besieged many times but apparently only captured once, and that very briefly (for just a couple of hours) by the Earl of Argyll in 1554. The damage of fire and canon is still apparent on these walls.
There’s no public access to the interior of the castle, which currently remains in a fairly ruinous state. The structure belongs to an individual who, in the late 1990s, wished to redevelop the castle as his private residence, but these plans were not approved by Historic Environment Scotland. In terms of setting and location, it is surely one of the most spectacular Scottish highland castles and in this landscape – which remains accessible to all – is a place enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.
If you have stronger legs than me and wanted to make this a circular day walk (rather than our two walks, over two days), you might return to our starting point at Blain Burn via the Dorlinn B road, or by crossing back over the hills via the Pass of Scarduish.
I have to close by mentioning that on both days that we walked here there were white tailed (or sea) eagles circling overhead!