I had long planned a visit to Tarbet on Loch Nevis, and last summer I had the opportunity to visit this very isolated settlement. This walk needed some planning and would involve a bus journey out and a ferry back. Whilst in Mallaig, I confirmed that the ferry would call in to collect me from the isolated settlement of Tarbet which lies on the southern shore of Loch Nevis on the day of my walk. The ferry only serves this isolated settlement once a day and so missing the ferry would mean a very long walk out.
Tarbet or Tarbert means isthmus as it lies on a neck of land which connects two bodies or water. Tarbet on Loch Nevis is probably the least known of the three ‘Tarbets’ or ‘Tarberts’ in Scotland. The one in Knapdale is located on a neck of land between Loch Fyne and West Loch Tarbert whilst the Tarbert in the Outer Hebrides is located on the neck of land between Loch an Tairbeairt and Loch a Siar.
The day has arrived and I am setting off before the ferry office opens in Mallaig so I will need to call them once I got off the bus in Morar and then prior to losing the mobile phone signal.
The day isn’t exactly bright with a heavy overcast sky and bad light as I get off the bus at Morar. I venture in to take a look at the empty station before making my phone call to the ferry office. All I have to do now was to get to Tarbet by 3.30pm which gives me ample time.
In Morar I make a short detour up to the iron cross which overlooks the village before walking down the road to the outlet from Loch Morar and here plenty of water is rushing through among the rocks towards the open sea. This is the River Morar which claims to be the shortest river in Scotland.
It is a steady road walk now along the northern shore of Loch Morar to the road head at the tiny settlement of Bracorina and in the meantime the rain looks like setting in, and so at a convenient point at a picnic bench I don waterproofs. The water level on Loch Morar is well up and a brisk breeze sends small waves lapping along the shore. Over time the rain turns intermittent and thankfully peters out. At the end of the road, a sign indicates that Tarbet is seven miles but according to the ‘Walk Highland’ website this is a gross over estimate. Time is very much on my side as I set off on a good path above the shore.
It isn’t long before I come to the shell of Inverbeg Chapel, a roofless ruin set just above the beach. An information board depicts its history in this remote part of Scotland. The chapel was built by the local people after the priest Ranald MacDonell returned from the Scots College in Spain in 1780. He was the priest in the area for some sixty years. The chapel was the meeting point for all the people living around the shores of Loch Morar. There was an earlier chapel on the nearby island of Eilean Ban but this was destroyed by government troops after the Battle of Culloden. As I head inland, so the countryside becomes remoter and by now my mobile phone signal has long since gone. The path condition gradually worsens but is still well defined and is somewhat boggy in places. Reaching the deserted settlement at Brinacory I find that it is now almost swallowed up by the tall bracken and the low walls of houses are only just visible. The path climbs and descends several times and at Sron Ghaothar comes right down to hug the shore. A section of the path has been built out into the loch with rough stone above a point where the loch plunges to over a thousand feet deep just offshore. Loch Morar’s claim to fame is that it is the deepest loch in Scotland and deeper than the London Shard is high. A mile further on I decide to stop for lunch in this the remotest of spots. A jumble of green and craggy mountains lie inland and opposite at the far side of the loch is the tiny settlement of Meoble which will be another walk for me some day in the future.
Making good time I set off again. It is only a mile and a half to Tarbet which will mean that I will have much time to kill. It isn’t long before I come to an isolated house at Wester Swordland which is in good order but empty. The only way to this place is along the path I am using. A short distance further on, I come across a much larger building. This is Swordland Lodge, a fine Victorian hunting lodge built during the 1870’s with its only easy access by boat along Loch Morar. I find out later that it had been little occupied since the 1960’s but seems in a good state of repair with recent work being carried out. With time in my favour I wonder down into the grounds to take a closer look.
A slightly better path now runs east before climbing to a hidden col and ascends to a cairn. A winding rough track leads down into Tarbet which today has a population of three. This is quite a fascinating place with a just handful of buildings including the old school cum chapel complete with a cross on the roof. One small grassy field is full of sheep but the place is fairly deserted. It seems that after a full day’s walk I feel that I am some sort of missionary trekking into the outback.
I still have over an hour before the boat is due and so I decide that I have the time to venture along the coast as far as Kylesmorar and back. The path climbs steeply uphill to round the headland at Druim Chuilinn and later zigzags its way down a steep slope overlooking Loch Nevis. The weather is clearing up by now to reveal a sunny afternoon. The going is slower than expected and I monitor the time I need to turn back. I have just enough time to get to this very out of the way hamlet before retracing my steps. The few buildings here are in good order and I understand they are now holiday lets with access only by boat or a long walk from the nearest road head. Talk about getting away from it all!
In afternoon sunshine it is time to head back to Tarbet. On my return to the hamlet there is still no sign of anyone around and the ferry is due in around ten minutes, but now I realise that there may be a problem insomuch that the tide is right out and the little jetty is not big enough to get me aboard a ferry. I sit on the small slipway pondering. Two dinghies are tied up at the end of a slippery seaweed covered jetty. The prospect of getting into one of these with a loaded rucksack isn’t something I look forward to. As the allotted time comes for the arrival of the ferry, all is silent and no sign of any such boat. It’s not long before three more walkers appear along the pebbly beach and a man comes from the school cum chapel. The ferry is due, and the man will take us all out into the bay in his dinghy to board the ferry as he is awaiting some mail. As the ferry arrives it stops a couple of hundred yards offshore in Tarbet Bay. I am first to board the dinghy from the slippery jetty and without mishap I take my place in the bow. The other three walkers board to take their places in the middle of the dinghy. It’s a short sprint across the bay and once alongside the ferry I am asked to grab hold of one of the old tyres with are slung along the side of the vessel. A ladder is passed over the side for us to climb aboard. With all three walkers safely aboard and with me holding the dinghy to the side of the ferry it is then my turn and I just pray that the dinghy doesn’t drift away from the ferry whilst I’m clambering up the ladder. Very relieved I make it aboard for the return trip via Inverie to Mallaig.
It’s been a fascinating day out and somewhat an adventure into the wilderness. It was nice that the weather had cleared up by the time I’d reached Tarbet and this was followed by a lovely boat trip along Loch Nevis aboard the MV Western Isles, a old wooden fishing vessel.