Follow in the footsteps of explorer and travel blogger, Virginia as she leads you to the magical Knoydart peninsular. Read on to find tips on places to visit, where to eat and hostel accommodation to stay in. In fact, you have everything you need to plan your own trip to this very special part of Scotland.
For years the rough bounds of Knoydart have felt like an adventurous place that I wanted to visit. Situated across Loch Nevis from Mallaig, a place which in itself marks the end of the road and the start of ferry adventures, it’s a peninsula with an island feeling, cut off from the mainland by a two-day rough walk on the cape wrath trail (probably the hardest long distance walk in the UK) or a 30 minute speedy ferry from Mallaig.
But Knoydart was a destination in itself and for most people it takes some getting to. Interestingly taking the train from London (or anywhere en route) and switching to the West Highland Line in Fort William is probably as good a route as any. I happen to live in Oban, on the West Coast and so my journey took me to Fort William by car (hostels aplenty here) and then to Glenfinnan. Here I wanted to stay in the Glenfinnan Sleeping Car but it gets very booked up! I did stop and say hello to the guests there, it’s a very public spot when the train comes in but otherwise secluded and quiet with the advantage of the Glenfinnan Dining Car next door and an interesting railway museum on the platform. Within a short walk of Glenfinnan Station you can visit both Glenfinnan Viaduct of Harry Potter fame and the memorial to Bonnie Prince Charlie. It’s a popular spot on the road to the Isles, and I spent a pleasant half-day here.
I then took an interesting historical walk from Polnish on my route from Glenfinnan to Mallaig. This is out to the Ardnish peninsula, and a great walk for a claggy day with low cloud. The views were fabulous across to The Small Isles of Eigg and Muck and to the peninsulas on either side. The Ardnish peninsula was once well populated before the Highland clearances at the turn of the 19th century after which landowners replaced people with sheep. Before World War 2 there were families living here and an interesting historical fiction novel by Angus MacDonald, “Ardnish was Home” puts the peninsula in context. There are several ruins at the beach and a bookable bothy should you want a quiet weekend there. I walked 3.5 miles on a boggy, rocky and undulating path through some beautiful woodland, reflecting on people living here back in the day…
I also stopped in Arisaig to visit “The Land, Sea and Islands Centre.” This was very interesting with a section about special operations during World War 2 and local associations. Inverie House, which I later passed on Knoydart, was mentioned as one of the training centres.
I reached Mallaig quickly from Arisaig as the weather wasn’t good enough to take the beautiful coastal route and visit the beaches, especially the singing sands of Morar, but in good weather you could spend a day doing this! It’s a spectacular piece of coastland but very busy on a sunny weekend.
Mallaig is either extremely busy when the train is in, or very quiet when it isn’t. Many people take the day trip there from Fort William and, after admiring the fishing boats, pile into the coffee shops. My arrival at the Tea Garden Cafe coincided with a busy moment and it was a shock after my quiet day thus far.
The next morning I caught the 10am ferry to Inverie and arrived before 11am. It’s a mile walk to Knoydart Bunkhouse which is near Inverie House (now looking very sad and needing repair). Jenny and Ben, who have recently taken over the running of the Bunkhouse for The Knoydart Foundation, welcomed me warmly and showed me my room, giving me lots of walking advice. I immediately felt at home here and it was lovely to be in a special place. As the bunkhouse had a sole occupancy booking Ben very kindly let me use the volunteers’ room which was extremely comfortable with a bathroom nearby. He’s a builder and has some great plans to improve the bunkhouse which was closed in the Covid years. I feel sure that he and Jenny will be breathing new life into what is already a great facility.
I took a low-level walk as the day was claggy and walked 10 km out to the small community of Doune towards the western end of the Knoydart peninsula. It was very pretty with deciduous rainforest and views out to the western Isles of Eigg and Skye beautiful in the distance. Mostly on road this would be an excellent bike ride if you took a bike on the ferry or hired one from the Knoydart Foundation. There were some forestry trails of shorter length for village strolls which are well worth investigating, and a daily ranger walk too.
So, what is the Knoydart Foundation? It was set up in 1997 and in 1999 the community bought 17,500 acres, a hydro scheme and many poorly maintained old buildings. They also own the bunkhouse where I stayed. The website is full of useful information if you want to plan a trip here, as well as history and travel details.
I ate at a fabulous restaurant (currently the only place to eat) called The Lookout which I recommend highly. It wasn’t expensive but the Belgian cook is innovative and the food excellent. Booking advised!
On my final full day I did a Corbett, Beinn Bhuidhe, which is a hill between 2,500 and 3000 feet. The weather had improved somewhat and I had a delightful solo walk, with a slightly tricky river crossing, up to a beautiful ridge line. The views down to Loch Nevis were spectacular and I was glad to have chosen the coastal walk as the Munros (over 3000 feet) were still shrouded in mist. The only disappointment was the seriously steep descent back down into the village, but I’m not sure there was anything I could have done about that! The tall bracken didn’t help!
I celebrated with another fine dinner at The Lookout, joining some sailors who’d moored in the bay for a couple of nights. We went on to the community owned pub, The Forge, where we enjoyed some impromptu live music in the bar. This was only purchased by the community in March 2022 so they don’t do food yet. As in many places, hospitality staffing is an issue.
Another comfortable night and in the morning I headed for breakfast in the Inverie cafe before the ferry back to Mallaig. In Mallaig I enjoyed a visit to The Bakehouse, an artisan bakery that had fabulous pastries and tarts.
By now the wind was blowing and the rain was increasing so it was time to head home and start reading “Ardnish was Home” and think about another trip to Knoydart, maybe walking in from Kinlochhourn or Glenfinnan. I’d really enjoyed my few days away, and look forward to a return trip.