Friday, June 29, 2007

The Silver Sands Of Morar

This was out last full day in Morar so we thought we'd better go and have a walk round the Silver Sands, which is what the area is most famous for. The Silver Sands run all the way from Morar down to Arisaig and have featured in quite a few movie and TV series location shoots. There are also some very good views of the islands of Eigg and Rùm and you can even see the hills on Skye.

The Islands of Eigg and Rùm from the Silver Sands of Morar

We drove round and parked in the car park on the South side of the River Morar estuary and wandered down onto the sands. From there it's a straightforward walk West along the edge of the river mouth, skirting the few rocky outcroppings between the beaches as you go. In theory, you could walk all the way round from Morar to Arisaig but you'd need the tide to be a bit lower than we had it as we got stuck on a highish outcrop, which Lorna didn't fancy descending down from to get to the next beach. It would have meant a bit of hand-over-hand scrambling and she just didn't fancy falling off as it was quite high.

So we backtracked and had lunch and a laze on a nice bit of white beach and then went back to the car and drove round to the Camusdarach car park on the West coast side. From there it's a nice walk through the dunes to the beach, which is one of the best in the area. Anyway, being out for a walk, we headed South along the coast and picked our way from beach to beach until we'd almost got down as far as the Traigh golf course, whic h is where we'd normally end up if coming from the South.

Camusdarach Beach

Another long laze on the sands and then it was time for the walk back up to Camusdarach and back to Morar in time for our tea.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


The weather forecast for today said it’d rain and so it did. It’s not very heavy but it’s that kind of fine, persistent rain which, given enough time will soak anything unprotected right down to the skin.

Mallaig harbourMallaig Harbour

So, after lounging around the house for a bit and getting a bit bored, we headed for Mallaig to pass a few hours and to see if our mobiles could pick up a signal and to see if anyone was trying to contact us. We did and no one was, which was good.

We’ve been in Mallaig a few times and we even stayed there for a weekend once but it rained then as well; couldn't see the end of the pier for the downpour. The Hogwarts Express was in town and a ferry had docked as well so it was quite busy with tourists, all milling around and wondering what to do to pass the time in the rain before either their ferry boarded or the train retuned to Fort William.

We dutifully joined in an milled around a bit as well, then went for tea and a scone since everyone else seemed to be doing that as well; okay we like teas and scones, it's a Scottish thing. Anyway, it got us out of the drizzle for a bit and then we picked up some more beer and cider before heading back to Morar.

Loch MorarLoch Morar In The Rain

It was still raining when we got back but I had a stroll down to Loch Morar to see if I could get any photographs of the loch in the drizzle. I'm not convinced they turned out that great but I wandered along to where the loch flows out into the River Morar, where there were some boats tied up and from where I could get a shot of St. Cumin's, with it's unusual round tower and spire.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Port nam Murrach

With the weather still looking changeable, we drove down to Arisaig and then out to the end of the Rhu road with the intention of walking out the mile and a half or so to the beaches at Port nan Murrach.

Port nam MurrachPort nam Murrach Beaches

There’s the remains of an old pier at the end of the road and enough space to park four for five cars. The rest of the way is pretty straightforward; just follow the track out to Rhue House and, just before the house, you’ll see a way-marked path heading off on the left, between an outbuilding and the fence. Follow this somewhat muddy path and you’ll eventually reach the beach at Port nan Murrach.

There are two beautiful little white sand beaches here. No dunes a such though, regardless of the name. The waterline at the Eastern beach is covered by thousands of little pink, cream and yellow periwinkles while the Western beach is covered in limpet shells. Of course, on both you’ll also find the rare little cowrie shells as well but they are very few and far between. I remember reading that only one in a thousand shells is a cowrie but I reckon they’re far rarer than that.

PEigg and RùmEigg and Rùm from Port nam Murrach

Port nan Murrach is probably the nearest place on the mainland to the Island of Eigg so you can get some really good views of the island and its cliff-draped coastline. You can also see the Island of Rùm just behind Eigg and, if it's clear, all the way over to the Isle of Skye and the Black Cuilin.

PS The local cattle use the beaches as well so watch out for their fairly sizable presents if you’re going to have a sit on the sand.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Camas Rhuba a’ Mhurain Beach

After yesterday's trek from Bracorina to Stoul, we were feeling a bit weary so we fancied a day at the seaside for a change. There was also the chance of a long walk on the beach, if our legs were up to it, so we headed over to the beaches on the road to Arisaig, just North of Portnaluchaig. The area is more popularly known as Camusdarach but we were going a wee bit more south of Camas an Daraich so technically it was more like Camas Rhuba a’ Mhurain. The sandy beaches around Camusdarach have been a popular choice for movie locations over the years and is best known for scenes in Local Hero as well as Breaking the Waves and TV series Hamish Macbeth and Monarch of the Glen.

Camas Rhuba a’ Mhurain BeachCamas Rhuba a’ Mhurain Beach

This whole stretch of coast, from the mouth of the River Morar down to Arisaig, is a beach-lovers paradise. The sands are white and soft and there are lots of little secluded coves and bays in which you can find an appropriate nook to nestle down into and snooze for a few hours in the sun. We camped at Back of Keppoch some years ago so we're pretty familiar with the area and have spent many a day lazing on these beaches.

You can also go for a long walk along the coast here or hunt for the rare little European Cowrie or "Groatie Buckie" shells that you can find if you’re lucky and don’t mind getting down on your hands and knees; It passes the time if you get bored lying around. You can also get some good views out to the islands of Eigg and Rùm and even a decent glimpse of the Cuillin hills on Skye.

RùmThe Island of Rùm

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bracorina To Stoul

It’s Monday and it looks like the rain is going to hold off, at least in the West, so we threw together a pack lunch and headed along the North side of Loch Morar to the end of the road at Bracorina. This the starting point of two popular walks and there’s room for six or seven cars to park here.

If you’re feeling energetic, there’s the long walk along the loch side to Tarbet on Loch Nevis but it’s a 15 mile round trip unless you organise the ferry to pick you up and take you back to Mallaig. We’ve wandered along about half of this walk before and we really didn’t feel up to a trek of that length this time.

Loch Morar and EiggLoch Morar and Eigg

The shorter walk is over the hill to the old deserted hamlet of Stoul on the shore of Loch Nevis. The path to Stoul heads off North just after crossing the bridge at the end of the car park. It’s well signed so you can’t miss it, just turn left after going over the bridge. This is quite a strenuous walk so make sure you’ve got decent boots on and clothing to cope with any weather.

The sign at Bracorina says 2.5 miles to Stoul but this very generous and it’s probably closer to three by the time you spend losing and re-finding the path at the Stoul end so that makes it about a six mile round trip. The guides for the walk say that the maximum height gained is 235 metres (765’) but you’ll do that a few times over the day so you’ll have climbed over 1,500’ by the time you’re done.

The path is well defined at the start and climbs up until you get to Lochan Innis Eanruig. All the way up there are some good views back over Loch Morar and out to the islands of Eigg and Rùm. The path then skirts round the edge of that little lochan and heads over the peat hags and down to Lochan Stole, where you have to cross the loch by means of a quaint stepping stone bridge. Once over the stones, the path runs up and along the east shore of the lochan until it climbs up to Bealach nan Sac, which is about as high as you get on the walk. It then drops very steeply down to Stoul on the shore of Loch Nevis.

Loch Nevis and Sgurr na CicheSgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na h-Aide

The views from the top of the bealach are splendid. You can see over Loch Nevis to Inverie in Knoydart, one of the most inaccessible parts of Scotland. You can also look up Loch Nevis to where it narrows at Kylesmorar and Kylesknoydart and, if the clouds are being kind, all of that is presented against the amazing backdrop of the pinnacled summits of Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Chioch Mhor and Sgurr na h-Aide.

We lost the path once we started down to Stoul as it degenerated into a lot of sheep tracks through heavy bracken. This is where that 235 metres height comes in as that’s about how far the drop is to Stoul so it is very steep and care must be taken if you are going to go down. You can see the ruined houses and shingle beach from the top and I suspect a lot of walkers don’t go much further than that, thinking about the hard climb back up, and that probably accounts for the lack of a decent path as well.

Undaunted, we worked our way down towards the largest ruined house, which had a large Scots Pine beside it. It was a good place to head for as there was a gate in the fence, allowing us through to the houses and beach. The hamlet is split into Easter and Wester Stoul, on either side of a small shingle beach, but all of the buildings have been abandoned. Those with roofs are now the territory of the local sheep so I doubt if anyone would be keen to spend a night in any of them.

Wester StoulWester Stoul

We parked our bums under the big Pine tree and got a bit of shelter from the biting wind from that and a bit of old ruined wall. We had a rest and a bit of lunch before heading back across the beach to Easter Stoul to look for the path back up. Needless to say, what looked like the right path also disappeared into the bracken and we ended up just striking straight up to the top of the bealach the hard way. That’s over 760 feet (235 metres) from sea-level in a very short distance and our legs were aching by the time we got up there.

Once at the top we spotted the original path over the moor so it easy to cross over to that and trudge wearily back to Bracorina.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Loch a' Bhada Dharaich

We woke late to a rainy Sunday morning in Morar. To the West, the island of Rùm was obscured by clouds but the view East along the loch was looking a bit clearer so we had hopes that it might clear later on. Meanwhile, we had lunch and watched the British Moto GP, which also suffered from the rain.

After lunch, the rain stopped and the clouds lifted a little so we thought we’d risk a short stroll up to Loch a' Bhada Dharaich, the Loch of the Oak Thicket, which lies about a mile North of Bun an Lòin on Loch Morar.

Three LochsLoch a' Bhada Dharaich, Lochan a' Mheadoin and Loch an Nostarie

We parked in a lay-by just before the jetty at Bun an Lòin and found the start of the walk just past that, where a path leads up to a house. The walk is signed so you shouldn’t miss it. Follow the path up to the house and, despite the fact that whoever lives there has attempted to turn the path onward into a midden, keep on going. Once past the house and it’s untidy residents, the path meanders North, roughly following the line of the Allt an Lòin, the burn of the pools, which runs down from Loch a' Bhada Dharaich.

The path is, in theory, waymarked with yellow striped posts but we found these either very hard to locate or almost misleading. As for the path, when you can see it, it is very boggy so a decent pair of boots is essential or you’re going to get very wet feet. The lower section of the path winds through a small wood beside the burn but once past that and onto the open moorland, it becomes very indistinct and easily lost but bear in mind that your goal is at the head of the burn so you can’t really get lost. We flushed a deer out of hiding while walking over the moorland here.

After a few “lost path” episodes and once following the arrow on one of those yellow posts into what was a pathless bog, we eventually caught sight of the loch. Ploughing on, we emerged at the South end of the loch, near a stand of Beech and Pine trees (no Oaks in sight). Lorna spotted a large bird flying low across the loch just as it came into view; could have been a heron or a large bird of prey but she didn't get a good look at it.

Small HeathSmall Heath Butterfly

There was a small hill here so we climbed that on the off chance of spotting that bird again. We pulled out a waterproof mat to sit on had a snack and drink while admiring the view over Loch a' Bhada Dharaich, Lochan a' Mheadoin and Loch an Nostarie, with its little tree covered island. No sign of that bird again though!

We thought about wandering down closer to the lochside but the wind was picking up and there were a few rain drops so we thought better of it; maybe another day. The return path was much the same as the way up; we got lost in a bog several times but we made it down eventually. We did spot a bird of prey above us on the way down and, from the size, I’d reckon it was a buzzard but it was against the sun and we didn’t get a clear view of it. We also spotted a couple of butterflies and a frog jumped over my foot as well.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


It’s Saturday and the day we head North for our week in Morar on the west coast. We’ve rented a house in Morar, which is a wee village about three miles South of Mallaig, a bustling ferry port and the last stop on The Road To The Isles.

Loch MorarSunset on Loch Morar

Morar has possibly three claims to fame. One being its Silver Sands and the others being Loch Morar and the River Morar…
  • The Silver Sands of Morar is a beautiful stretch of pure white sandy beaches on the sides of the mouth of the River Morar. These unspoilt sandy beaches run South all the way around the coast to Arisaig and we’ve spent many a day over the years, sunning ourselves on them or scouring the sand looking for shells.
  • Loch Morar is the deepest body of fresh water in the United Kingdom and reputedly the home of Morag, a cousin of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. It’s almost 12 miles long and over 1,000 feet deep.
  • The River Morar is the shortest river in the United Kingdom. From the loch out to the end of the estuary is only about 2½ miles and, if ou're measuring it from the loch to the start of the estuary, it's only about a ¼ of a mile long.
Regardless of what you're going to be doing in the area, have a good look through The Road To The Isles web site as it has a wealth of local information on everywhere from Fort William to Mallaig.


We left trying to get somewhere to stay too late. We really fancied somewhere around Arisaig but all of the accommodation there was unavailable and there was only the one place left, Tioram in Morar. The house is just on the outskirts of the village, on the start of the road down to Loch Morar. It sits on a slightly raised position with a good view along the loch with its little tree-covered islands. Looking West, we could see all the way out to the island of Rùm.

It’s an odd choice a name for a house as it means “dry” in Gaelic. Maybe it’s a reflection of the hospitality provided and is probably why it was the last place left available. They didn’t supply towels and we had to pay extra for the electricity via a coin meter. On top of that, the master bedroom with it’s en-suite bathroom was locked off so no tourists were getting to use that. We had to make do with the lumpiest and most uncomfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept in.

The description of the place mentioned a drop-off at the end of the garden, which could be dangerous for children but there was no garden, only a dense growth of bracken and you’d have needed a machete to hack through that to even find the drop off point.

Morar SunsetThe Island of Rùm from Morar

On the upside, there was a nut feeder hanging just outside the patio doors and there was a constant stream of greenfinches, tits and sparrows visiting it for a snack. We also got a few visits from deer, nosing their way almost up to the doors and, yes, we did keep the gates closed so they must have been getting in some other way.

The downsides of the accommodation apart, I think Morar was probably a better choice of location, as it’s more central to the area, but I wouldn’t recommend Tioram unless, like us, you’ve left it too late to get anywhere else.


There are lots of documented walks in the area of Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig with a few more out by Lochailort and Glenfinnan. The first thing you’ll need is Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 40, which covers the whole area and you’ll get lost without it. After that is some decent waterproof boots and clothing. If you’re going off-path or out in misty or rainy weather, then take a compass as well.

I downloaded and printed off a selection of walking guides before we came so these proved really useful. If you’re planning on visiting the area for some walking, then check out these links…
Loch MorarIslands in Loch Morar

Eating Out

We brought most of our food up with us but if you fancy eating out for a change, then there’s the Morar Hotel and a carry out Thai food place in Morar itself. A little further afield and you’ll find places to eat in Mallaig and Arisaig. You will need to book ahead though as they get pretty busy.

We did dine out once at the Old Library restaurant in Arisaig and really enjoyed it. It's a wee bit on the pricey side but almost everywhere in the area is. That said, the food was excellent and the service quick and friendly.

One place to avoid if you're short of time or have a fear of crowds is Tyndrum. We stopped in on the road up for lunch and were shocked at just how much it now resembles an over-developed motorway service station. The place was chock-a-block with tourists, cars, campers, howling kids, etc. We had to queue to park and then queued again for almost 20 minutes before getting to the counter. Mind you the food was actually quite good when it finally arrived but I don't think I'd want to repeat the experience.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

At World's End is to the sequel to the excellent Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and is the third in the series of movies based on a Disney adventure park attraction. With the first two movies being so successful and having thoroughly enjoyed both of them, deciding to go and see this one was a no-brainer…
The East-India Trading Company, under the command of the thoroughly nasty Lord Cutler-Beckett (Tom Hollander), has declared war on the pirates and all who collaborate with them. Having been given the still-beating heart of Davy Jones by Norrington (Jack Davenport), he also commands the services of the Flying Dutchman and its grisly crew and is steadily decimating the pirate community, but to what end? What's he after?

Meanwhile, the song has been sung and the brethren council of the Pirate Lords must be brought together to decide how to answer the threat posed by Cutler-Beckett but that needs all nine of them and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and the Black Pearl were eaten by the Kraken to settle his debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy).

So, the mysterious Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) has brought Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) back from the dead and, along with Elizabeth (Kiera Knightley), Will (Orlando Bloom) and the rest of the crew, they head for Singapore to seek the aid of local pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) in a quest to rescue Jack and the Pearl from the land of the dead - Davy Jones' Locker!

Another convoluted plot, rife with laughs and we really enjoyed it. This film has had some poor press with some reviewers saying it's over-long, short on action and that the storyline had been done to death but I can't see where they got any of that from. Admittedly, a few scenes could have been shortened but the overall storyline fits in very well with the preceeding two films and the comedy and horror elements are still up there as well. Frankly, if the reviewers lost the plot, then they weren't paying attention.

Johnny Depp is still on top form and is hilarious as Jack while Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley play the straight guys well too, even if they are a little on the bland side. Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy are excellent as Barbossa and Jones and you just have to hate Tom Hollander as the nasty Cutler-Beckett. With that and some great support from the likes of Jonathan Pryce, Jack Davenport, Stellan Skarsgård and Chow Yun-Fat, it really couldn't fail. Even the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards get a role as Captain Teague, Jacks' dad, and does a good job of it as well.

With the exception of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, everyone of import to the plot is or has been either a pirate or a politician so they're all out to double or even triple-deal everyone else. It does make it all a bit confusing but director Gore Verbinski does a good job of pulling all these threads together and bringing the tale to a satisfactory ending. Both of us enjoyed it and would recommend it. If you seen the first two films, then go and see this one but don't blink or you'll lose track of it.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror.
My Rating: 8/10

Friday, June 15, 2007

Praia da Rocha, Portugal

We're not long back from two weeks on Portugal's Algarve and we stayed in Praia da Rocha, which is the main beach suburb of the city of Portimão. Praia da Rocha is probably one of the best known resorts on the Algarve and it certainly has some of the best beaches in the area.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha Beach


We stayed in the Vila Rosa complex, which seems to be a mix of self-catering and time-share/owned apartments. Actually it looked like a time-share venture gone a bit sour but it hits the mark as a self-catering venue. Our building had a few obvious structural cracks in the walls that might have put off buyers, which is how I'm assuming the tour operators get the use of them for holiday lets now.

The building we stayed in, and the place has several spread over a wide area, had several apartments that looked "lived-in". You know what I mean, they had doormats and you could see a level of decor in some of them that we certainly didn't have. Oh and there was a huge Alsatian staying in the apartment above us, which occasionally vented its lungs out from the balcony at all and sundry and that tended to set off the neighbouring muts, of which there were quite a few. For example, the house opposite our building had a Golden Retriever and three large Alsatians prowling the grounds. We did notice a few complaints about neighbours with noisy dogs on a few review sites before we went but they really weren't that bad and we were never disturbed by it.

We had a one-bedroom suite with a sort of open-plan living room and kitchen as well so there was plenty of room, even if fairly basically furnished. The hot water was a bit of a hassle but once we'd learned to put the boiler on boost about 20 minutes before we wanted a shower, then both of us could get washed without it getting cold. Our little balcony looked out over a row of very expensive looking houses and an awful lot of ongoing building developments, through which we had a very small glimpse of a sea view. I guess being surrounded by tourists and poorish ones at that accounts for all the guard dogs around about.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha Beach

The Vila Rosa complex had a couple of pools with lots of sun-beds and a bar/restaurant close by. There was also a very good restaurant sort of attached near the bottom of the complex. Reception and bar staff were all friendly and helpful. I quite liked the place!

The Resort

From where we were staying, the resort proper was about a 10-15 minute walk down the hill, across a fly-over and up the hill again. Praia da Rocha consists mainly of a single street of bars, hotels and restaurants, stretching along the cliff top above the beach from the adjoining resort of Praia do Vau to the Portimão marina.

Unfortunately they were in the middle of re-laying the road and pavements along almost the entire length of the main strip, which meant the place was in complete chaos. Some stretches had no pavement at all, which meant walking on the churned up earth, avoiding the JCBs and groups of construction workers during the day and trying not to fall down unmarked holes or walk into all sorts of obstacles in the evening. We were there just at the start of the season so the planner's timing was far from perfect, given that there would soon be a very large number of tourists arriving.

Castle of Sao Joao do AradeCastle of Sao Joao do Arade

I can't fault the beaches though. They were excellent! There was a wide stretch of sand from the marina to the centre of Praia da Rocha with a line of bar/restaurants built out of what looked like mocked up aeroplane fuselage units. You could then walk through a connecting tunnel in the rock to the west side beach, which stretched all the way along to Praia do Vau and had some of the most amazing sandstone rock and cave formations all along the way and all of this backed by a cliff wall.

Eating Out

Being in self-catering accommodation pretty much meant eating out every night. It was okay for cobbling together breakfast and the odd lunch but it wasn't really equipped for cooking a full meal. Anyway, we were on holiday so the idea of cooking wasn't really high on the agenda.

Praia da Rocha has a lot of eateries to choose from and I think we sampled a good percentage of them. You can choose from mainly a mix Italian, Chinese and Portuguese restaurants and I saw at least one Japanese and an American diner as well. The Hollywood Steak House was quite good if a little pricey. We tried a lot of the Italian restaurants and a few of the Portuguese ones but weren't that impressed by any of them. The signature dish of the area is Piri-Piri Chicken but Jús interpretation of that was serving up a grilled chicken breast and handing you a bottle of chilli oil.

Praia da Rocha BeachPraia da Rocha from the Lighthouse

The Chinese restaurants were much better and The Dragon had a pretty good buffet. Asia had just opened so was also pretty good since they usually want to impress in the first few months. We also tried the Taj Palace for a curry one night and it was pretty good as well. Best of the lot though, had to go to the Sabor Gaúcho, a Brazilian restaurant attached to the Vila Rosa. It was basically a meat-fest and they offered a buffet with two options - one steak from the grill or a constant stream of grilled and barbecued meats. We opted for the simple buffet, which had loads of dishes plus a really well cooked and tasty sirloin as well but a group of four people tried the full buffet option and we sat, amazed at the array of meats that were brought out at a constant rate. There was one point that I thought one of the girls was going to fall over as they dropped yet another steak on her plate - you could see all of them groaning!

Night Life

I think we must have been a wee bit early in the season as the nightlife was still getting into gear and the bars were still a bit quite as they had to compete for the lower number of holidaymakers at the time.

There were plenty of Irish bars with some pretty good, live Irish music acts and of course the Guinness, which helps everyone get into the spirit of the thing. There were a few other decent, modern sort of bars along the strip where you could listen to some non-Irish music and just chill for a while. Of night-clubs we saw but one, which always looked empty, although it did get busier towards the end of our holiday.

See the rest of the photographs of our trip in my Portugal set.