West Highland Peninsulas
If you are visiting Strontian and Sunart you will find these local's tips ofreal interest. You will also certainly be in for a real treat as it is a stunning area. We came here on holiday in 2015 and moved here in 2016 - so be careful...
At over 19 miles long, the largest geographical feature of the West Highland Peninsulas is most certainly Loch Sunart (pronounced 'soon-art' from the Gaelic Suaineart).
While it is the loch that many are familiar with, it is the district of Sunart particularly the village of Strontian that I will focus on. It is bounded to the north by Loch Shiel, to the west by Ardgour and the south by Loch Sunart itself. On the southern shores of Loch Sunart are the mountains of the Morvern peninsula. The eastern boundary is the least defined, but generally considered to be around the Salen area where a turning takes you into 'Ardnamurchan' and going straight on to Acharacle and Moidart.
The two main modern access routes to Strontian are from the east from Fort William / Oban via a decent road from the Corran Ferry or from the west from Mallaig, turning off at Loch Ailort in Moidart. This road starts well, but becomes single track (with loads of passing places - please use them to allow overtaking as well as passing) from Kinlochmoidart right through to Strontian. It is not far in terms of miles, but does take considerably longer than you may be used to...
Historically Strontian would have been several small settlements such as Anaheilt, Ardnastang, Ardery, etc. Many of these were created to serve the lead mines further up the valley towards Upper Scotstown and Bellsgrove.
At one point there were over 500 men recorded as working in the mines. This would have equated to a population of around 2000 people back in the 1800's when the mines were at their peak usage.
Around these there would also been several crofts - some of which still exist today. Crofts such as Myrtle Moss Croft (where much of our fresh salads come from) and Darach Croft as well as Tigh Dubh (Black House) Crofts where we get various meats from.
Today, most of the population lives in these small settlements along the northern shore of Loch Sunart in and around Strontian. The population now stands at around 350 people.
Sitting at the head of the loch, on the north shore, Strontian has the essential amenities to keep you going through your stay in the area. In the centre of Strontian you'll find the Keystore selling a wide range of food and drink products, including a selection of fresh vegetables and salads, and also DIY and toys, magzines, etc. It also has a cash machine towards the rear. Open from 08:00 to 17:30 Monday to Saturday and from 10:00 to 14:00 on a Sunday, you'll be able to top up your fresh foods during your stay quite easily. Please note that opening times do change out of season, so check first.
There is also a Post Office and filling station in the village that you'll find open from 08:00 to 19:00 each day with slightly shorter opening times in Sunday. As well as all the usual Post Office facilities (including cash withdrawals) you'll be able to pick up stationary, magazine, and a surprisingly wide range of essential foods including bread and milk.
Eating and drinking
The main advice is that if you want to eat out in the evenings, especially during the peak months (May through to September) you would be well advised to phone ahead and book as most places are full most evenings. They also have at least one evening when they are closed, so do check first.
Similarly, if you are planning a visit in winter months several are closed for a well earned rest. Occasionally, there is no where to eat in Strontian in an evening! There should still opportunities in Ardgour & Corran as well as Salen and Acharacle.
The most obvious place to head to is the Bothy Bar at the Strontian Hotel overlooking the shores of Loch Sunart. They generally have a range of meals available each evening and, if you have a larger party or function, you could book ahead and dine in style in Dungallons Restaurant.
Hidden away from the main road is the Ariundle Centre on the edge of the Ariundle Oakwoods. This is a relaxed place to stop for afternoon tea and cake or for an evening meal. You may be lucky and find they are hosting a candlelit 'dinner and music' evening during your stay, so worth checking and booking in advance. Kate also runs a number of weaving, spinning and other craft courses during the year.
The ultimate dining experience in Sunart must be The Kilcamb where you'll find the Lounge Bar and Driftwood Brasserie overlooking Loch Sunart. Relax in the plump sofas in the drawing room infant of a wood burner before dining in style. Their are known for their seafood specialties and also for their Sunday carvery. Take your time and enjoy!
Let's not forget the Sunart Cafe by the Keystore (where you can get 'tea and cake') as they do a 'Fish and Chip Friday' during the main season. The menu for each Friday is usually up outside the entrance during the week. Be sure to check it out and end your week with some delicious fresh fish and great chips.
Now for a real local's tip: Sanna Spice, an Indian takeaway based in Ardnamurchan beyond Kilchoan, have started doing a delivery to Strontian on the first Wednesday of the month. Order in advance (by 9pm the day before) via their Facebook page. If you are lucky enough to be in the area at the right time of the month, do order from them and you won't be disappointed. If they get enough orders throughout the year, they may extend their regular Acharacle run to Strontian on a more frequent basis...
Strontian also gets the mobile fresh 'fish van' from Iain Stewart Fish Sales in Fort William on Tuesday mornings. He will be outside Strontian Post Office at 09:45 and in Strontian Square (by the shop) from 10:00-10:45. He also stops in Ardgour (09:00-09:30) on the way before travelling on to Salen Jetty (11:45), the shop in Acharacle (12:30), Newton (13.30), Ardtoe (14.00) and Glenuig (15:30).
There are plenty of gentle walks in Strontian such as Phemie's Woodland or the Ariundle Oakwoods. Download the Forestry Commissions leaflet about these and other walks in adjacent Morvern before your visit.
There are also a number of wonderful high level walks, that include some scrambling, on the boundary with Ardgour. The two highest peaks on the peninsulas, Garbh Bheinn (885m) and Sgurr Dhomhnuill (888m), are both accessible from Strontian. Although these fall a little short of being Munro's (3000ft or 912m), it means you are unlikely to see (m)any people on them and you'll have the breathtaking views to yourself. However, These are definitely mountain routes in tough terrain without any significant paths to follow and should not be taken lightly - each route is likely to be a 7-8 hour walking day (obviously depends upon your speed of walking).
There is also Ben Resipole (827 m) to the east that is accessible from the campsite. There is the option to climb this from the east, above Strontian, along some of the old 'coffin tracks', but this route is quite boggy, ill-defined and hard-going in places.
All of these peaks are known as Corbett's, that is peaks between 2,500 and 3,000 feet (762.0 and 914.4 m) with at least 500 feet (152.4 m) drop on all sides of the summit. Named after John Rooke Corbett in the 1920's, he complied a list of 222 mountains that fulfilled this criteria.
Depending upon who you ask, there is one of the 'top ten' road cycling hill climbs in Strontian. The route from the shores of Loch Sunart at sea level through Scotstown and Bellsgrove then over the pass of Bealach Feith nan Laogh (343 m) and down to Polloch (10 m) on the shores of Loch Shiel does justify being on the list.
If the step climb and short hairpin zig-zags on the way up don't stop you before you enjoy the wonderful fast and long descent to Polloch, the realisation that the only way out is either a 16 mile rough track to Glenfinnan or to turn around and head back the way you came just might...
If big climbs or road cycling are not your idea of a good bike ride, then you'll need to look at adjacent regions, such as Morvern, or head to Fort William where the MTB Downhill World Cup is held each year in June.
I obviously have to recommend Otterburn Bed and Breakfast as that is where I live and where Otter Adventures is based. It is the only B&B in the village with views along Loch Sunart. There are amazing sunsets throughout the year right from the front windows. If the weather is kind, sit outside and see if you can spot otters or seals in the shallow waters; or walk on the beach at low tide.
All the mentioned eating places have accommodation (apart from the Sunart Cafe). The Ariundle Centre has a comfortable bunkhouse whilst the Strontian and Kilcamb are both hotels catering for different clients.
There are several other B&B in the village and surrounding area as well as a wide range of self-catering options. Do book any accommodation ahead, as it is almost fully booked from May through to September. Many announce that they are booked for the year in January!
Things to do
Obviously you will all want to go sea kayaking on Loch Sunart or canoeing on Loch Shiel with Otter Adventures as this will give you a new perspective on landscapes you may be familiar with from previous trips.
If you do visit in early November, the firework display hosted by the Sunart Community Company should definitely be in your plans as the sheer scale of the display puts many larger displays to shame. In 2018 the fireworks died out after 45 minutes only to be reignited for another 15 minutes! The local Scout group are usually there selling hot drinks, burger, etc. to keep you fed and warmed. The event is reliant upon donations and sponsorship from local businesses so please do be as generous as you would be if you had paid to go to a (probably worse) display in England like we used to...
Do have a look at the pages for adjoining areas, such as Resipole and Salen, as there may well be inside information only the locals know about that you'll be missing out on...