Ardnamurchan Point

Ardnamurchan Point is a significant point on the west coast of Scotland. For sailors, it marks a change from a coast of bays and sea lochs with many sheltered anchorages and friendly ports, to a more rugged coast with fewer places of safety. For the kayaker, to whom remote landings are more of a stock in trade, this division is less obvious, but nonetheless, as the most westerly point on the mainland, and very exposed to southwesterly wind and swell, it is a place to be treated with respect.

Views are excellent throughout the passage, with Mull to the south and Coll out to sea. The Small Isles (Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna) hove into view as you come round the point, with a backdrop formed by the Cuillin of Skye. The cliff scenery from Sròn Bheag until round the Point (8 km or so) is also very fine, with no landings, and no escapes even if you did make it onto the rocks. There are rocks and odd skerries for those who can't resist playing in the ever-present swell. This is also a very good area for seeing Minke Whales, Dolphins and other marine mammals. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (based in Tobermory on Mull) record frequent sightings off Ardnamurchan.

Passing Ardnamurchan Head. Photo: Andy Waddington
Approaching the lighthouse on Ardnamurchan Point

Round the headland itself, tides run at up to 1½ knots at springs, at which time the stream runs northwards for most of the afternoon. At neaps the stream runs southwards (when you are most likely to find the tide opposed by the prevailing wind) at the time you are likely to be rounding the point. There is often an eddy just south of the lighthouse, so the SW-going stream will not be in your favour all the way. Most people will therefore tend towards a south to north trip, and if you prefer to avoid the peak flow of the tide as you pass the most exposed bit of the coast, sometime just after neaps but not quite yet springs works well. Tides close inshore along the south coast of the peninsula are fairly weak, though if you choose a starting point some way up Loch Sunart to give a shorter shuttle, streams can be more of an issue. Along the north coast, sheltered from SW winds, tidal flow is negligible, though swell may still be significant.

There is essentially no easy access from the road system to the north coast, so finishing points come down to choice between Portuairk and Ardtoe. The latter offers a short shuttle drive from a put-in well up Loch Sunart, giving a long enough paddle for a two or three day trip, whilst Portuairk is the better choice for a shorter trip, with a put-in at Kilchoan giving a short shuttle and just 14 km of paddling. Obviously, the shorter trip is great if you are able to snatch a single day gap in otherwise adverse weather, or if you are unsure how the weather will develop over two or three days. Most SOC trips tend to be planned in advance, often for the longer bank holiday weekends, and a two-and-a-half day trip meets our needs for these very nicely.

Whichever option is on the cards, it is best to be somewhere close to Kilchoan when setting off round the point, so for a three day trip, a put-in at the campsite at Resipole gives an excellent (if quite long) first day paddle. If the tide is to be in your favour round the point on the afternoon of the second day, then you will want a fairly early start whilst the tide is still ebbing in Loch Sunart on the first day. Alternatively, you may opt for a longer shuttle and put in lower down the loch, giving time to poke around the little bays and maybe cross to Oronsay and the Morvern peninsula. The first day's paddle can be quite sheltered, but becomes more exposed as you head west of Ardslignish and especially after Maclean's Nose, crossing the open bay towards Mingarry and Kilchoan.

There's not a lot of facilities at Kilchoan, but there's a fairly easy landing by a small slipway, and it's useful to know that fresh water is available from a tap on the quay, as well as limited provisions from the tiny shop. Depending on how much you enjoy a roller-coaster ride in the flow, you may want to aim to be passing the headland in the last hour of the flood, and be out of the flow by the time turns against you. To achieve this, leave Kilchoan something like an hour and a half before HW Oban. The astute tidal planner will now note that close to springs, this will give quite a late start (but this period gives maximum tidal help in getting to Kilchoan down the Loch). Two or three days earlier gives better timings for the Point, but will need an earlier start in Loch Sunart if you are opting for the longer trip. With a group happy in faster tidal flows, a trip close to springs will allow a reasonable paddle with the ebb out of Loch Sunart on the first day, and a start from Kilchoan around six hours before HW Oban will get you round the headland in the first hour or so after the tide turns in your favour. There's always a risk that any unplanned delay will put you in a faster tide than you'd intended, so an even earlier start will give you time for enjoying the scenery and perhaps entail a wait to get the tide just as it starts running north. At full springs, seven or eight hours before HW Oban is still a fairly leisurely start time, but should still give you time to be well round the headland and along the north coast without being late off the water. There's not much camping potential along the north coast until past Fascadale, but after that, anywhere will give you a shortish day to Ardtoe and time to get home through the bank holiday traffic.

Lunch stop just north of Ardnamurchan Point. Photo: Andy Waddington
Soon after passing the Point northwards, sandy bays open up, offering a welcome spot for lunch or tea. Portuairk is the first good landing, Sanna Bay only a short way further.

With only 14km to paddle from Kilchoan to Portuairk, a one-day trip gives you quite a bit more flexibility over starting time and you can probably fit the trip into any day, springs, neaps or anywhere in between. At neaps, with the tide running less than 1 knot at peak, there's probably no need to avoid peak flow, and it is less critical if you are a little early or late and have to paddle somewhat against the tide. If you are early approaching the lighthouse, the eddy just south will still help you along a little, if conditions allow a route close inshore.

Resources:

  • The area south of the point is within the Clyde coastguard area, 01475 729988. Marine safety information is broadcast on marine VHF radio every four hours (inshore waters forecast) from 02:20, with the main bulletins (including the full shipping forecast) at 08:20 and 20:20. Listen on channel 16 for an announcement to say which channel to hear the full broadcast (which channel depends on the best line-of-sight transmitter). However, be aware that communication with any of the coastguard VHF aerials from a handheld radio at sea level is very "patchy" in this area.
  • North of the point, you are into the Stornoway area, 01851 702013. VHF times here are every four hours from 01:10 with main bulletins at 09:10 and 21:10.
  • The inshore waters area south of the Point is Mull of Kintyre to Ardnamurchan Point and north of it Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath.
  • XTide for Oban predictions as far as you like, including the facility to print an annual tide calendar.

Previous trips:

The Imray Pilot insists that high and low tide in Loch Sunart corresponds with tide times at Oban, but the outgoing stream doesn't set until an hour and a half after HW. Tides only really have any power in Laudale narrows (3½ kt.), well above a likely put-in for this trip, and for a short section by Carna. There are some quite fast flowing tides if you choose to explore around Carna on your way, though there are eddy-hoppable rocks, which is useful, as you will almost always have an opposing tide in one channel or the other as Loch Teacuis fills or empties through both Kyles. We think the tides set inward/outward at pretty much the same time as in the main Loch.

Location flood stream ebb stream local high water
Salen     High water as Oban
Loch Sunart, everywhere west of the narrows in-going Oban -5:00 <1 kt. sp. out-going Oban +1:30 <1 kt. As Oban
Tides can run up to 2½ kt just in the narrow bit north of Carna
NW entrance, Sound of Mull NW-going Oban +4:00 1 kt SE-going Oban -0:45 1 kt Oban +0:20
In the big open area between the Sound of Mull and the Ardnamurchan peninsula, tides are weak but change direction almost constantly as the flows in and out of both the Sound and the Loch change at different times.
Ardnamurchan Point NE-going Oban -5:25 1½ kt. sp. SW-going Oban +1:00 1½ kt. Oban +0:20
An eddy south of the lighthouse, can set NW during the SW-going stream

 

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