Location: The Ardnish Peninsula, Lochaber

Grade: Moderate walk

Distance: 7 miles/12km

Time: 4-5 hours

The Cleared Village of Peanmeanach

I thought I knew the stretch of coastline between Lochailort and Arisaig reasonably well but I had never walked across the Ardnish peninsula. It was only when a forecast of high winds put paid to a planned ascent of Rois-Bheinn that I considered a lower level walk and a glance at the map showed what looked like a good path running across the hills of Ardnish Peninsula between Polnish on the A830 and the cleared village of Peanmeanach.

My visit followed a period of sustained wet weather but even at that I was surprised how wet and boggy the footpath was. With a couple of hundred metres of the start I was ankle deep in mud. The state of this footpath is not great, but the scenery is well worth the effort and the discomfort of wet and muddy feet.

Initially the path weaves its way through oak and birch woodland before crossing the Fort William to Mallaig railway line. A prominent sign suggests the bridge over the railway line is not suitable for vehicles, which is self evident given that the broken tarmac would form a formidable barrier to a Sherman tank. Beyond this bridge the path crosses another bridge, this time a couple of railway sleepers over a bubbling stream. Take care - these sleepers can be slippery when wet.

Once out of the trees that path undulates as it traverses the Mullochbuie slopes and gradually climbs towards a gap below Cruach an Fhearainn Duibh. Below lie the waters of Loch nan Uamh, where Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived in 1745 and from where he eventually departed for France after his inglorious attempt to win the crown for the Stuart cause. It’s said the boatman who took the Prince and Flora MacDonald ‘over the sea to Skye’ came from Ardnish.

Once through the gap the views open up, across to the prominent peaks of Rois-Bheinn and ahead to the Small Isles of Eigg and Rum. Closer at hand lie the lovely waters of Loch Doire a’Ghearrain. The path now begins its descent to Peanmeanach, gently at first before it crosses over the outflow of the loch by some stepping-stones. Soon you pass through more birch and oak woodland before crossing large flat meadows that lead to the bay and the row of ruined cottages that is all that is left of the former village. One of the buildings has been maintained by the MBA as Peanmeanach Bothy.

Two hundred years ago families were cleared to the coast from their traditional crofts by lairds eager to turn good farmland into sheep grazings. Peanmeanach, Glascardoch and Laggan became dumping grounds for people and the numbers of folk trying to exist on minimal resources soon became unsustainable. Poverty, exacerbated by the raising of rents by the landowner, led to mass emigration. By the middle of the 19th century there were only a handful of people living here and the last resident of Ardnish, Nellie MacQueen, left in 1942.

As you prepare yourself for the return journey to Polnish think of this – the children of Peanmeanach used to walk to school at Upper Polnish, and back, every day. Our recreational walks are puny in comparison.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 40 (Mallaig & Glenfinnan)

Distance: 7 miles/12km

Approx Time: 4-5 hours

Start/Finish: Layby on the A830 at Polnish (GR: NM 742836).

Public transport: None to the start.

Information: www.wildlochaber.com

Route: Leave the layby and follow the signposted path past a Highland Council road maintenance quarry. Descend through dense woodland, pass Loch Dubh and cross the broken bridge over the railway line. Descend to a railway sleeper bridge, cross this and emerge from the trees on the path that runs above the waters of Loch nan Uamh. Climb to the notch in the skyline below Cruach an Fhearainn Duibh, pass Loch Doire a’Ghearrain and descend to stepping-stones over the loch outflow. Descend through woodland and cross boggy meadows to the coast and the remains of Peanmeanach township. Return by your outward route.