Kilchoan: The secret peninsula - Scotland Magazine
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Kilchoan: The secret peninsula

Kilchoan is the most westerly village in mainland Britain, which makes discovering it all the more special Words by Sally Coffey Narrow, rocky roads that seem to wend and wind…

Kilchoan is the most westerly village in mainland Britain, which makes discovering it all the more special

Words by Sally Coffey

Narrow, rocky roads that seem to wend and wind at will, with ditches either side, can be daunting to the uninitiated.

The first time I visited Ardnamurchan, one of Scotland’s most remote peninsulas – a finger of land poking out of the west coast between Moidart and Morvern – I arrived via the Corran Ferry. On that visit, it was autumn, the nights were drawing in and navigating the B8007 road as it skirted Loch Sunart for an hour or more to reach our refuge, was challenging to say the least.

This time, the Corran Ferry is closed so we’ve had to come the long way round via Loch Eil from Fort William, which has put a fair amount of time onto our journey.

Thankfully, this time it’s May, and the day stretches out like a long yawn as we make our way along the banks of Sunart with no fear that we will run out of daylight. And this time, my husband is driving, so all I need to do is sit back and breathe in the views. 

The road to Kilchoan offers outstanding view. Credit: Stephen Bennett

Native trees line our path, as we weave our way, with the vivid blue of the loch mirroring the cloudless sky above. Against this canvas, the green hills seem ludicrously lush, with the sheep and their lambs like polka dots on the grass in the distance.

The single-track road follows the water’s edge for much of the route, until it diverts inland to go round Ardnamurchan’s highest hill of Ben Hiant.

Driving in Ardnamurchan you get the feeling that you’re entering uncharted territory and in a sense you are. Until 1900 it was unconnected to the main road network and the only way in or out was by sea. Today, despite being a reasonable detour from the main A830 route between Glenfinnan and Mallaig (where you can catch the ferry to Skye), it remains an unknown landscape for most.

And so, it seems almost implausible that after a couple of hours of driving this road with barely another sign of life other than the cotton-wool sheep, that there should be one of Scotland’s – indeed one of Britain’s – most spectacular restaurants with rooms: Mingary Castle.

Enjoy a drink in the cosy wood-panelled lounge after dinner.

Just shy of the quiet village of Kilchoan, at the fingertip of Ardnamurchan, this castle was once fought over by the MacDougalls, Maclains, the McCains, and the MacDonalds. It was a sought-after strategic stronghold, largely due to its inaccessibility, and indeed the castle is so hidden that even when the satnav is telling us that we are mere moments away, my husband is convinced we’ve taken a wrong turn.

But there, appearing over the brow of the hill is the form of a castle, perched on a promontory overlooking the Sound of Mull. This 13th-century fortress, where James IV once stayed, lay in ruin for 150 years until being restored and turned into a beautifully intimate restaurant run by chef patron Colin Nicholson, formerly head chef at the Albert and Michel Roux Jnr Restaurant at Inverlochy Castle, and co-owner Jessica Thompson who was Inverlochy’s restaurant manager. The pair opened the doors of Mingary Castle in May 2021, and as well as a superb dining offering, its four exquisite suites have somehow done the impossible and turned Kilchoan – little more than a ferry pier and a scattering of homes – into a tourism destination.

The hotel’s interiors are royally grand.

On arrival at the castle, with the relief of having found it palpable, we cross over the drawbridge to discover a courtyard and a door beckoning us in.

Warmly met by Jessica, we are led up the hand-carved staircase to our suite at the top of the castle. The McCain Suite – all suites are named after clans with links here – has two-bedrooms with a luxurious marble bathroom between.

Decorated in a refined Georgian style, it has towelling dressing gowns, antique furnishings and one amenity I can honestly say I’ve never experienced before – our own battlements, much to the delight of our two sons.

As they play outside, my husband looks up at the castellated corners of our four-poster bed and remarks that tonight we will sleep in a castle within a castle. An absurd indulgence, it must be said.

The castle courtyard.

Dinner downstairs is a wonder – we opt for the tasting menu that uses sustainable and seasonal produce from Scotland’s west coast while the boys are catered for with a children’s menu.

As my husband and I savour each flavour, our fidgety boys go back across the drawbridge to play in front of the castle, only to enthusiastically report back that they’ve found a herd of wild goats out front. The wild nature of Kilchoan is a large part of its appeal.

This is an extract. Read the full version in the January/February 2024 issue. Available to buy from Friday 15 December here. 

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Easter Ross: A Highland secret

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Published six times a year, every issue of Scotland showcases its stunning landscapes and natural  beauty, and delves deep into Scottish history. From mysterious clans and famous Scots (both past and present), to the hidden histories of the country’s greatest castles and houses, Scotland‘s pages brim with the soul and secrets of the country.
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