Top things to do in Ardgour
The gateway to Ardnamurchan - almost an island!
Assuming that you have not missed it and gone into Fort William, you'll be crossing Loch Linnhe on the Corran Ferry. If you do, then Ardgour is your landing spot - but it is often overlooked as visitors head on to their accommodation in Morvern or Sunart.
Ardgour (Gaelic: Àird Ghobhar - 'Height of the goats') is generically the area to your left and south as far as the Glensanda silica quarry and along the western shores of Loch Linnhe and southern shores of Loch Eil almost as far as Glenfinnan.
I'm sure Kingairloch, Kilmalieu and all the villages to the north would want to rightly promote their own identities, however, it is easy to use the name 'Ardgour' to mean the larger area they all are located in. Until 1829, Ardgour was part of the largest parish in Scotland - Kilmallie Parish. In 1894, Ardgour became a parish in its own right.
Loch Shiel separates Ardgour from Moidart running from Glenfinnan right through to the River Shiel (which separates Moidart from Ardnamurchan) and into Loch Moidart itself before flowing out to the Inner Seas of the Western Isles (Rum, Eigg and Muck).
While there is a road around Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil via Fort William, the Corran Ferry is by far the easiest way of getting to Ardnamurchan especially if you are coming from the south.
The Corran Narrows are a short, but quite fast flowing and deep, section of Loch Linnhe which flows from Fort William into the Sound of Mull and on past the Isles of Lismore and Jura.
The ferry service is one of very few in Scotland not run by CalMac, or Caledonian MacBrayne, so the pricing and approach is a little different to normal. Cars are charged at £8.80 each way (2021) irrespective of how many passengers there are in the vehicle and you pay from your car on the ferry. Foot passengers and bicycles (and kayaks and canoes) are carried free of charge - for now. In late 2019, The Highland Council put pay meters in on both sides for foot passengers and cyclists, but covered them again within weeks. They have remained covered since then.
The other two ferries off the West Highland Peninsulas (Loch Aline to Fishnish on Mull and Kilchoan to Tobermory, also on Mull) are both run by CalMac and can be booked in advance.
The three minute crossing offers great views from the upper deck (do wait with your vehicle to pay the fee first) down Loch Linnhe and out to sea. Take your camera and binoculars and see what wildlife you may encounter. The views down Loch Linnhe at sunset are especially worth waiting for. Also consider that as you make the short crossing, you are travelling over a historical geological fault line and between two different periods of history separated by about 10 million years!
NB: Due to Coronavirus restrictions, you are asked to remain in your car throughout the journey. They also ask that you wind your windows down before the purser arrives at your vehicle to take your money and to wear a suitable face mask whilst doing paying.
The ferry runs every half-hour from either side unless they are busy, in which case they will probably be 'shuttling' back and forth to get visitors on their way as quick as possible - perhaps every 20 minutes. An easy way to remember the ferry times is the local saying, "On the hour from Ardgour". The ferry will depart the Ardgour (Strontian/Ardnamurchan) side on the hour and half-hour (unless shuttling) from 09:00 through to 21:00.
The most important thing to note is that the last ferry from Lochaber / Fort William side is at 21:30... Miss that and you'll have about an hours drive through Fort William to get to where you should have been in three minutes!
You will find a number of places to eat in Fort William if you are coming from the north, but eating places to the south are more limited. So why not head across the ferry and dine on 'Ardnamurchan'?
There is the Inn at Ardgour that does good pub meals overlooking Loch Linnhe. Their car park is almost directly opposite the ferry slip. Do watch out for vehicles as you will be crossing the 'main' road on the peninsulas.
If you are arriving on a Friday night and have been organised enough to pre-order and are arriving between 5pm and 8pm, you can pick up a freshly made pizza in Ardgour courtesy of Ardgour Ales (yes, they also make their own beer. And fresh bread.)
The next dining places are in Strontian and detailed on their own page. As this is about a 20 minute drive off the ferry, you won't be waiting too long to get your dinner.
Both of the above restaurants also do accommodation, but for both dining and staying, you'd be advised to book in advance especially during peak season as they get busy. Do also check opening hours for the restaurants as these can change during the year.
On the Lochaber / Fort William side is the Corran Bunkhouse. With a light and airy lounge extension in 2018 (a great place to relax after cooking your dinner) and other upgrades in 2020, this is definitely a cut above your average 'bunkhouse' and a handy place to stay if you are exploring Glencoe, Fort William, etc. However, you will need to book in advance as it is very popular.
On the Ardgour Estate there is a wonderful five star self-catering cottage for two people know as Cuil Moss which was judged runner up in the Scottish Outdoor and Leisure Awards 'Best Self-catering' 2017. Staying here gets you access to the Stargazer Tower which won 'Eco-shed of the year 2017' and is a great place for stargazing, wildlife watching or simply hiding away.
Somehow I expect that you'll need to book this at least a year in advance if you wanted to stay there...
As I'm including Kingairloch in this region, it is definitely worth mentioning the Kingairloch Highland Estate as you'll probably not have heard of it. They are nestled away from the 'main' road and off the tourist track (what isn't over here?) and can offer self-catering accommodation as well as bed and breakfast. They closed the beautiful Boathouse Restaurant overlooking the loch in 2019, but the building is available for private hire (e.g. weddings, conferences, etc.) and you stand a good chance of seeing otters.
If you happen to be a young couple and one of you is a chef the other good with people/front of house and fancy living and working in a beautiful area, then have a word with Susan or Katrina (the estate owners). It might just bring you to the Highlands and the Boathouse Restaurant back to life.
As you get off the ferry, turn right and park in the small parking area just past the Ardgour Inn and walk back to the pier before the ferry slip. There are three small wooden nest boxes on the southern side where you can often see the Black guillemots launching themselves comically into the water. You may also see diving birds or even Common dolphins in that area, so it is worth stopping rather than getting caught up in the surge of traffic off the ferry heading towards Strontian.
Up in the mountains red deer can be heard roaring in October/November and the woodland walks, through beech trees mostly, behind the church contain a wide range of wildlife, especially bird life.
Kayaking or Canoeing on Loch Linnhe
Quite a few canoeists or kayakers stay at the Corran Bunkhouse as it makes many of the local rivers easily accessible. With the Etive (V), Spean (IV/V), Roy (II - IV), Nevis (V) as well as the Falls of Lora all within an hours drive, it is no wonder you often see short, fat kayaks on top of cars outside the bunkhouse.
However, you also see quite a few long pointy sea kayaks there as well as it is a great starting point for exploring the west coast south of Fort William. From here you can head down to Mull, Lismore, Jura, Islay, etc. or 'turn right' up the Sound of Mull and on to Arisaig, Skye and beyond. With such diversity and beauty around here, it is no wonder that sea kayaking on the West Coast of Scotland is becoming a major attraction.
Generally we don't see many canoes on the open waters, but that is not to say they can't go there. I've led canoe journeys down many of the tidal and freshwater lochs here and out to sea or around remote headlands. Plus a canoe can carry much more equipment (think food) than a sea kayak!
Loch Linnhe provides shelter in certain wind direction making water based trips and activities much more enjoyable. There have been days when Loch Sunart outside our home is very rough yet Loch Linnhe clam and almost flat. While the upper stretches towards Fort William may lack a little of the 'wilderness' feeling (especially on the eastern shores), it is possible to explore the unique geology of the area from a canoe and feel the water change as you pass for deep to relatively shallow waters.
You just need to watch out for the occasional large cruise ship passing by heading to/from Fort William, or the fast flows of water through the Corran Narrows...
No matter whether you are on the water, driving the 'long way round' to Strontian or up in the mountains, from the very north eastern corner of Ardgour, you get views across to Fort William and Ben Nevis. Although you will need to be lucky to see the summit as it is rumoured that it has an average of 15 clear days each year!
Cycling in Ardgour has a few routes worthy of consideration - the most obvious being the road route from the ferry northwards alongside Loch Linnhe before heading west along Loch Eil before doubling back (onto the main road - the Road to the Isles) towards Fort William and southwards back to the ferry where you can cross free of charge (for now) with your bike.
This can be extended into a mega cycling route by turning left when get to the main road and heading towards Mallaig. Turn off left at Loch Ailort and follow this road though Moidart, Sunart and back to the ferry again. A long day out for many cyclists, but under 100 miles...
There are some off-road routes to explore, but these are serious mountain routes with mud, rivers, large boulders and few footpaths that would require competence in off-road cycling as well mountain navigation. The weather does change rapidly here, so be prepared for anything to happen. I am currently looking to expand the range of routes available to us, but it not a 'bike park' area. If you want graded trails, head to Nevis Range (home of the World Cup downhill track) or Laggan Wolftrax north of Fort William.
If you are touring the area and heading to Strontian, it is worth adding a few miles and a couple of hills taking the detour to Kilmaliue and Kingairloch keeping your eye out for mountain goats and otters on the beaches or seals in the water. You'll come down 'Liddesdale', sometimes regarded as one of the top 100 cycling hill climbs in Scotland. I'm afraid I don't agree as it is not especially steep (just a bit long). As you come down here, you'll be able to look across to the one above Strontian that heads over to Polloch. This does deserve to be in the top ten... Good luck!
If you were heading from Ardgour toward Loch Aline and on to Mull (and not in a rush), this would be the most scenic route to choose.
Walking the mountains of Ardgour
Most of the rugged mountains, Corbetts, on the peninsulas are in Ardgour. The biggest ones are mentioned on the Strontian page as they are most readily accessible from there. However, there are many smaller mountains to explore, including Stob Coire a' Chearcaill (771m) overlooking Loch Eil. Relatively straightforward navigation and pretty easy, if initially a bit steep, walking, makes this suitable for novice mountaineers and families with younger teenagers.