The ferry ride from Corran to Ardgour lasts only a matter of minutes. But those few minutes take you to the rugged and little-known Morvern Peninsula in south-west Lochaber on the dramatic west coast of Scotland. The name Morvern comes from the Gaelic A’Mhorbhairne, meaning the Sea-Gap. Head due west and you’ll reach Ardnamurchan, regarded as the most westerly point of the British mainland. Head south from Ardgour and you come to Morvern.
On a first visit to somewhere new it’s not alway seasy to know where to begin. Checking the map we thought the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve in the Rahoy Hills might be worth a visit. And we weren’t wrong. Leaving the car at the small and rough Black Water car park on the Ardtornish Estate, we set out for Loch Arienas. This unusual sounding name derives from the Gaelic for Angus’ Shieling, or summer pasture. The natural beauty of the loch and the surrounding area were immediately clear to see.
Rich in plant- and wildlife, the track through the woods wends its way up and down and roundabout, sometimes boggy, sometimes narrow and twisty, but all the while giving splendid views onto the loch and its unusual sandy beaches. It’s also thanks to Morvern’s geology that the soil here is home to so many rare plants.
This reserve is particularly important as it contains rare surviving remnants of the historic native Atlantic oakwoods, once found along much of the Atlantic seaboard all the way from Norway to Portugal. Established in 1975 the Rahoy Hills Reserve is not only an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), but parts of it, as here at Loch Arienas, have been given extra protection as Special Areas of Conservation. And with good reason.
By allowing the trees to self-seed, a genuinely natural regeneration of the woodland is taking place and with that comes the accompanying natural growth of habitats for many other flora and fauna. A variety of native Scottish trees, such as hazel, ash, rowan and birch, intermingle with the oak, and under and around them an array of mosses, pure-air-loving lichen, ferns and the primitive – and often rather damp, slimy and strange looking! – liverworts are much in evidence. Add to this primroses, violets, bluebells and other small and delicate spring flora with their lovely yellow, blue, pink and lilac colours, and the setting is perfect.
But there is more here. Beautiful as the scenery may be and rich the flora and fauna, the glen has another story to tell. Like so many parts of Scotland the land seems empty now – empty of people that is. Yet like so many places in Scotland this glen was once home to many families. Continuing along the track we came to Arienas Point and the remains of the deserted township of Arienas.
This former settlement of seven houses, barns and a corn-drying kiln was built around 1755, but its inhabitants were ‘cleared’ in the 19th century to make way for sheep. These sad reminders of past lives aren’t the only indications of previous human habitation in this lovely glen. Archaeologically rich Bronze and Iron Age sites also lie nearby. Evidence that this has long been a place where people could, and did, live and call home.
We also came across a cairn-memorial to the naturalist Brian Brookes, best-known now for the British Naturalists’ Association Guide to Mountain and Moorland. Perhaps it was a special place to him. It was without doubt a special place to many in the past and is here for us all today thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Ardtornish Estate.