Visiting Strontian and Loch Sunart
Tourist information from a local
If you are looking for things to do in Strontian and Sunart, I hope you will find these local's tips of real interest. If you visit will you 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. The region is bounded to the north-west by Loch Shiel, to the east and north-east by Ardgour and the south by Loch Sunart itself. On the southern shores of Loch Sunart are the mountains of the Morvern peninsula. The western 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, Bellsgrove and above the Ariundle Oakwoods.
At one point there were over 500 men recorded as working in the mines. This may have equated to a population of around 2000 people back in the early to mid-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 well-stocked Keystore selling a wide range of food and drink products, including a selection of fresh vegetables and salads, and also essential car parts, toys, magazines and comics, 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 petrol/diesel 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, magazines and newspapers, and a surprisingly wide range of essential foods including bread and milk.
Accommodation in Strontian
I'll obviously have to recommend Otterburn Bed and Breakfast as that is where Otter Adventures is based. It is the only Bed and Breakfast in the village with views along Loch Sunart, and the sunsets throughout Spring and Autumn right from the front windows are amazing. If the weather is kind, sit outside and see if you can spot otters or seals in the shallow waters; or walk along the beach at low tide.
There are several other B&B's 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 with some announcing that they are booked for the year in January!
To the west of Strontian, is Resipole where your find Resipole Farm and Holiday Park overlooking the shores of Loch Sunart. Here's you'll find serviced pitches for your caravans and camper vans as well as tent pitches, lodges and a couple of 'glamping' pods that were new in 2019.
Eating and drinking
The main advice if you want to eat out in the evenings during the peak months (May through to September) is to phone ahead and book, as most places are full most evenings.
Similarly, if you are planning a visit in winter months, some are closed for a well earned rest or you may find there is one, possibly two evenings, a week when none of the restaurants are open (apart from the Kilcamb Lodge). So be prepared if you are staying in a B&B over winter. There should still opportunities in Ardgour, Salen and Acharacle, although you will need to drive to these and Scottish alcohol limits are lower than in England.
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 is the only 'pub' in the village.
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 in-front of a wood burner before dining in style. They are known for their seafood specialties and also for their excellent value 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.
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). Check their Facebook page for the latest updates on what he is bringing with him each week.
There are plenty of gentle walks in Strontian such as Phemie's Woodland or the Ariundle Oakwoods. For something 'family-friendly' but up a hill, try Tom an-t Sithein - with amazing views overlooking Loch Sunart and Strontian, it is worth being up there at sunset for the landscape photography. Download the Forestry Commissions leaflet about these, and other walks in adjacent Morvern, before your visit or pick up a leaflet in Oakwoods, the visitor centre, with these other local walks on.
We also a large 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 one of the 282 Munro's (3000ft or 912m) across Scotland. This means you are unlikely to see (m)any people on the mountains of Ardgour and you'll have the breathtaking views to yourself. 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). If you would like to venture into these with a guide, perhaps for some scrambling, please get in touch and we will check availability of our freelance guides.
Resipole to the east of Strontian, is roughly the western boundary of Sunart. Here you'll find Ben Resipole (827 m), accessible from Resipole Farm Holiday Park, one of the more readily accessible mountains on the peninsulas. 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.
The highest Munro, and the highest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis, is within reach of us at Otterburn. You will need to head across the Corran ferry, but you can coincide this with a shop in Fort William as well. At 4,411 feet (1,345 m), it is a challenge on any route and with an average of 14 days a year when the summit is not obscured by cloud, you'll need a lot of luck to get the views and photographs from the summit you may have wanted.
Also within reach is Glencoe with its rugged skyline and deep valley. The Glencoe visitor centre, revamped in 2020, is worth a visit to learn more about the area and for the coffee shop. It is likely that you will drive through Glencoe on your way to Strontian - do be sure to time it so that you have some daylight to see the landscapes that have inspire so many stories.
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 almost at sea level in Strontian (6m), heads towards the Ariundle Oakwoods before turning left and upwards through Scotstown and Bellsgrove and over the pass of Bealach Feith nan Laogh (343 m). Stop here to admire the views (and recover) before you head down to Polloch (10 m) on the shores being careful of some very tight bends lumpy roads on the way towards Loch Shiel. This route does justify being on the list.
If the steep climb and short hairpin zig-zags on the way up hasn't stopped you already, the realisation that the only way out is either a 16 mile rough track to Glenfinnan (and a big road ride back via the south shores of Loch Eil) or to turn around and head back the way you came just might... If you are first up and do find you need to stop at the hairpins to get your breath, just turn around and look at the views over the top of the quarry/mine and onto Loch Sunart (that's what I do!)
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'm currently exploring more of the 'mountain' routes and exploring the local forest trails in order to provide maps and guides in the future. I suspect there will never be a 'bike park' type facility on the peninsulas as the routes are too spread out. However, that makes for a more enjoyable day out for those with experience of mountain navigation and conditions.
If you Google anything to do with off-road cycling in the area you'll find many references to "eleven off-road cycle routes in the Sunart Oakwoods alone, ranging in length from 3km to 64 km". This simply is not correct and it looks like people have simply 'copy and pasted' that from old information without checking the practicalities of it first. The Oakwoods are relatively small pockets of ancient oak woodland dotted around the peninsulas and joining them together via off-road routes is not possible without a lot of bike carrying and quite a bit of on road cycling as well. In the Ariundle Oakwoods (the bit that is often referred to as the 'oakwoods') there is potential for a couple of routes, either out and back or one circular route. Please note that the bridges on this circular route occasionally get closed off for repairs (as they are at the time of writing - April 2021) and make it impossible to complete the circuit.
We have several off-road routes available in the are and are exploring more and discovering different levels of 'adventure' to suit all abilities. One is about 80% track with quite a long climb and 20% bike carrying over wet, muddy ground. It'll be an adventure for some! Otherwise, the easier trails in the Ariundle Oakwoods and Strontian lead mines or a route to Ardtornish Old Castle may be appropriate for your level. If in doubt, please ask us and we can offer advice and guiding if you want an adventure with the comfort of knowing a local guide can make appropriate decisions as you go along.
Things to do
Obviously you will all want to go sea kayaking on Loch Sunart or canoeing on Loch Shiel and Loch Moidart with Otter Adventures as this will give you a new perspective on landscapes you may be familiar with from a previous stay in Strontian.
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 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.