Acharacle is City/Area of Highlands, Latitude: 56.7445, Longitude: -5.79726

Loch Shiel at Acharacle   Acharacle is a widely dispersed settlement that serves as the main centre for a large area of Moidart and Ardnamurchan.

Loch Shiel at Acharacle
Acharacle is a widely dispersed settlement that serves as the main centre for a large area of Moidart and Ardnamurchan. It lies at the south western end of Loch Shiel which, after stretching all the way from Glenfinnan, fails by just a couple of miles to reach the sea. The name comes from the Gaelic Ath Thorguil or Torquil’s ford, following a battle in 1120 at a nearby ford across the river Shiel between the King of the Isles Somerled and the Norse invader Torquil. Torquil was killed in the battle and his followers ousted from the area.

Acharacle today lies on a loop road that extends from the Corran Ferry to the east through Strontian and Salen. Part of this route was first built in the early 1800s by Thomas Telford, who also built a bridge across the River Shiel just north of Acharacle. Today’s Shiel Bridge dates from the 1930s. Though difficult to believe, the road that continues north to meet the Fort William to Mallaig road at Lochailort and complete the loop was only finished in the 1960s.

With the arrival of the West Highland Railway in Glenfinnan in 1901, the easiest way to Acharacle became via the steamers that plied Loch Shiel to carry passengers and mail. These had, sadly, ceased to operate by 1960, though cruises on Loch Shiel are still run from the Glenfinnan House Hotel in summer.

In the 1200s a small tidal island in the mouth of Loch Moidart became the site of Castle Tioram. This was later modified to provide a home for Amy MacRuari, the ex-wife of John, Lord of the Isles, when he divorced her to allow him to marry the daughter of Robert II. Parts of the interior date back to this time. In later life Castle Tioram was the main fortress of the MacDonalds of Clanranald.

The fortunes of war and history were not always kind to Castle Tioram. It was attacked by the Duke of Argyll in 1554. Then in 1715 it was burned by its Jacobite owner, Allan of Moidart, to prevent it being reused by government forces (see our Historical Timeline).

You can reach Castle Tioram via a minor single track road that starts just north of Shiel Bridge, then walk along the beach and across a natural tidal causeway to the island on which it stands. Sadly, though, the castle is in a very poor condition and has been closed to visitors. Today there are signs warning visitors that parts of the island are dangerous because of the risk of falling masonry. There are proposals to restore Castle Tioram, but these are caught up in a major planning dispute: and in the meantime the structure continues to crumble. You can read the full story of Castle Tioram on our feature page about it.

Another minor road north, this time from near Acharacle Parish Church, takes you to Kentra Bay. At the far end of this is the tiny village of Ardtoe. Since 1975 this has been the home of an important fisheries research unit. Here they study shellfish cultivation and work out how best to farm halibut. On the road into Ardtoe you can see the biggest midge in Scotland, where someone has entertainingly decorated a large roadside boulder. Acharacle Parish Church was built in 1829 as one of many “Parliamentary Churches” across the Highlands and Islands.

A little further north, where the A861 crosses the River Moidart, is Kinlochmoidart. Set a little back from the road here is the attractive Scottish Episcopal Church of St Finan’s Kinlochmoidart, while nearby is Kinlochmoidart House, built in 1885 to replace an earlier house burned by government troops in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite uprising. Also close by are the Seven Men of Moidart: survivors of seven beech trees planted here to commemorate the companions of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Monster Midge

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