That first trip back in the mid-1970s was by sheer fluke: my dad had booked us on what turned out to be a disastrous, cheapskate holiday in a battered (and leaking) caravan on Mull, which had to be abandoned after three days, with our family in open mutiny.
"Right, OK, we'll get out of here," my father finally relented. "We'll go to Tobermory and take the ferry over to Ardnamurchan. We'll stay for the week."
My sister and I looked at each other askance. "Where? What did he just say? Ardna - Ardnum -"
From that first baking summer all those years ago I've gone back to Ardnamurchan ever since. From Glasgow it is a three-and-a-half hour drive; from Edinburgh more than four hours, but it is worth the journey. Ardnamurchan offers everything: scenery, walking trips, beautiful beaches, some spirituality if you need it, as well as the obligatory and fairly welcoming village pub.
In the car, though, brace yourself for the final, tight, twisting part of the journey. After you've headed west past Strontian and Salen you pass a sign which says "Kilchoan 22 miles" which makes you think you are within shouting distance of your destination. But that B8007 road is as fraught as any in Scotland, hugging the very lapping waters of Loch Sunart as it skewers its way out to the peninsula. "You wouldn't put cattle on that road, never mind children," one Kilchoan resident said to me years ago following one of many ill-fated attempts to get it upgraded.
Yet it is a great adventure. After 40 minutes on this twisting corkscrew of a route you suddenly emerge into blissful, eye-catching open scenery, with glens on either side and a brooding Ben Hiant ahead of you. One summer I made this familiar trip on a gorgeous, sunlit evening only to be stopped dead in my tracks in my car. Twenty yards in front of me, suddenly by the roadside and on the nearby hill, was a 30-strong herd of deer, down from the mountain to slake their thirst in the low river. I stopped the car to take in this captivating scene, and the deer in turn stood and eyeballed me, frozen to the spot. I can still picture the frieze of antlers before me. It is one of many beautiful moments I have had in Ardnamurchan over the years.
A few minutes further on and the road sweeps round the corner, with Moidart to the north and Mull to the south, when Kilchoan finally homes into view. The main village on Ardnamurchan is a scattered clachan of houses and cottages spread all around the horseshoe bay, from Ormsaigbeg at the top to the jetty at Mingary at the foot.
When I was a little boy there was an old woman called Katy, with a weathered face and black fangs for teeth, who lived right up at the top of the village, in the very last house before the land falls down into the Atlantic. I'll never forget being taken up to see her in 1976: she came waddling out of her house, and behind her from the kitchen came sheep and hens and a goat, all of whom appeared to share her home.
I went back see old Katy's house when I was back in Ardnamurchan, and then went swimming off the rocks in the clear, freezing water down the grassy verge from her home. The house is still there – indeed, someone is trying to do it up – and the "front garden", for what it is, is typical of Ardnamurchan: a mound of grass on top of the hill with a breathtaking view across the water to Mull and beyond.
If the weather is sunny – and when it is, this place is special – the thing to do is pack up the car for the six-minute trip across the peninsula from Kilchoan to Sanna. The very word "Sanna" conjures up for me white sand, pristine water and a blissful, slightly melancholy peace.
Sanna Bay is a west Highland gem: the beach, usually fairly deserted, is about 500 yards long, separating the ancient clachans of Sanna and Portuairk, with its white sands inviting you to lounge there for an afternoon. You have to park the car beside the old red telephone box and then walk for two minutes over the dunes, before the luxuriant beach suddenly gleams in front of you. It is a magical place of repose.
The hamlets of Sanna and Portuairk, having once housed crofters and fishermen, had pretty much become uninhabited by the mid-1980s, but these days they do have some all-year-round residents, plus some lucky people who have bought the old crofts and done them up for holiday homes. So across the bay are these whitewashed, luminous dwellings dotted above the beach.
In a blistering heat in high summer I have been poached alive lying flat out at Sanna. Last year, during another hot spell, my little boy and I ran and plunged into the fantastic, heart-stopping water. Stay in there for a minute and you'll never want to come out.
If the weather is not so good the thing to do on Ardnamurchan is get your boots on, pack some lunch, and take off on one of the myriad, scenic walks across the peninsula. Everything is within a 10-15 minute starting point from Kilchoan, and quite often the best thing is simply to stride out of your house or hotel and just start walking. Within minutes you are in a chaotic geological wilderness of heather, wild flowers and these west Highland boulders that are strewn everywhere.
The great climb to do is Ben Hiant, standing at 528m (1732ft). The grand old lady stands watch over Ardnamurchan, offering panoramic views from the top to Mull, Skye, Coll, Tiree, Rum and Eigg. You can go up Ben Hiant any one of three ways: hike straight from the village (all day there and back); or park at the Kilchoan side (four hours up and down); or park at the rear of the mountain, in which case it is an easy 100 minutes up and an hour coming down.
Local rule: you cannot spend a significant time on Ardnamurchan and not climb Ben Hiant. If it is warm or even hot, the best way is to do the climb in the morning and then head straight over to Sanna and plunge in.
And at the end of it all, there is the village pub in the evening. There are two pubs, actually. The Kilchoan Hotel is right at the entrance to the village. Or there is the Sonachan Hotel, five minutes away by car en route to the lighthouse.
I love the pub at the Kilchoan Hotel, a wee snug where the locals gather, and where in summer visitors are warmly welcomed. I've been in there some nights when a guitar or a fiddle has come out, when the place has been heaving, and suddenly you realise you're still there in the early hours. This Highland hospitality is not to be scoffed at.
On a Sunday, if you want some spiritual solace, the kirk in Kilchoan with its grey, wind-battered walls is the place to be. The organ wheezes as the hymns are wailed, but the sense of the numinous in there is always special. In midweek I sometimes poke my head in that lovely old church and imagine the faithful down the decades meeting there, bringing their storm-tossed petitions with them. I always say this: whether you are a theist or a heathen, no Highland clachan is complete without the Church. Here's hoping the current consultation over the future of the kirk plays out in its favour.
I usually retreat from Ardnamurchan either sunburned or windswept, my muscles aching, my mind and heart restored. The journey home takes me back along Loch Sunart, back over the Corran ferry, then down through brooding Glencoe towards the lowlands and city life. Often, idling in the city again, I sometimes stop and wonder what it's like back there.
Where to stay
Kilchoan House Hotel (kilchoanhousehotel.co.uk, 01972 510200) has rooms from £45 per person per night and family rooms (two adults and one child) from £115 per night. Sonachan (sonachan.com, 01972 510211) has B&B from £35 per person per night and a bunkhouse with beds from £15 per night.
Where to eat
Besides home cooking your only options are the two hotels. The Kilchoan does special fish-and-chip nights, which are delicious. Either phone in your order and collect, or place your order over the bar and have a drink while you wait.
What to do
Gosh, where to start? You can walk, climb, swim or visit the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse (ardnamurchan lighthouse.com) with its visitor centre and coffee shop. Or take the ferry to Tobermory and explore Mull for the day. At Tobermory you can take boat trips to Staffa and Canna. Ask also about boat trips from Kilchoan in the community centre (01972 510711).