Ben Laga is a rocky peak on the northern shore of Loch Sunart in Ardnamurchan. At 512 metres it’s the second highest top (after Ben Hiant, 528 m) on Ardnamurchan proper 1. As such, it gets far fewer visitors than Ben Hiant, a fact reflected in the absence of erosion on the paths to the summit.
Or, for that matter, reflected by the absence of any obvious paths to the summit 😉
Ben Laga from the west with Beinn Resipol just visible over the ridge on the left
There are all sorts of lists of the hills of Scotland, defined by height and their separation from the adjacent tops.
Munros – the hills over 3000′ (914 m), first compiled by Sir H.T. Munro : 282 currently 2
Corbetts – those over 2500′ (762 m) but less than 3000′ : 222 in total
Grahams – hills over 2000′ (609 m) but less than 2500′ : 219 in total
At 1680′ Ben Laga manages to avoid all of these lists … and is all the better for it.
It is, of course, a Marilyn – a hill with a prominence greater than 150 m – but with 1218 other Marilyn’s in Scotland there are a lot of other hills and it’s two-thirds the way down that list 3 so easily overlooked.
There and back
Ben Laga features in a couple of the guidebooks to walking in the region. Brook & Hinchcliffe’s Scotland’s Far West (Cicerone, ISBN 978-1852844073 4 ) has a ‘there and back’ route starting at Laga.
Ben Laga – from the gate through the deer fence at the top of Laga Farm woodland
The route climbs through the (increasingly lovely as it matures) Laga Farm broadleaf plantation 5, emerging onto the moor through a gate in the deer fence at NM634617 (see map – marker 1). It then strikes west northwest up the westerly slope of Ben Laga to the summit before ‘retracing your route to the start’.
The area around Ben Laga
As routes go, it’s OK. But there are alternatives that are as good or better.
That’s the beauty of the trackless hinterland in this part of the world, thanks to Scotland’s freedom to roam rights … you can make your own route.
From the South
A few hundred metres east along the B8007 from Laga, overlooking Laga Bay, you can easily access the hill (marker 2 on the map, NM636610 6 ). Keeping the deer fence encompassing Laga Farm on your west you can traverse up the steep southerly face of Ben Laga. The going underfoot is a bit damp in places. However, this means that at the right time of year (e.g. mid-June to late-July), the lower grassy slopes are studded with bog asphodel and hundreds of stunning orchids.
A little higher and the bracken takes over, but there are well-trodden deer trails leading you upwards. Since deer cannot scale precipices you can have some confidence they’re not going to take you anywhere too vertiginous.
Ready to rumble tumble – Ben Laga erratic, overlooking Loch Sunart, Carna and Morvern. Laga is on the right.
Stopping to look back – and you’ll need to to catch your breath – the view opens up along Loch Sunart as you gain altitude. You climb past an erratic perched on the slope that looks ready to tumble down the hill onto Laga.
Ben Hiant from the southerly slopes of Ben Laga
About halfway up the ground levels and the rocky top of Ben Laga appears for the first time above the area drained by Allt nam Mearlach (which might translate to the Thief’s burn). Keeping to the east of the unnamed lochan, and of Lochan Coire na Mòine, there’s an obvious route towards the top up a steep slanting grassy gully between the rocks.
There are a couple of false tops, but the summit is obvious due to the presence of an inevitable cairn … and because it’s higher than all the other bits around. Since the summit is obvious it remains unclear to me why there’s a need to add a pile of rocks.
On a good day the views from the top are stunning.
To the east you have Beinn Resipol with a panorama of the high peaks of Glencoe in the distance.
Ben Laga selfie with Beinn Resipol and Ben Nevis (snow capped) in the distance
To the south and west you have Loch Sunart, Morvern, Mull and Ben Hiant.
Carna, Loch Sunart, Morvern and Mull – April 2020
And to the north there are views over Lochan Sligneach, Kentra Bay, Camas an Lighe (the Singing Sands) to Eigg, Muck and Rum, with a more distant panorama of the Cuillin on Skye
Ben Laga, looking north. Rum, Eigg and the Cuillin clearly visible. Lochan Sligneach in the centre foreground
There’s a small lochan north west of the summit, surrounded by a jumble of large rocks. Somewhere amongst them you can find a sheltered spot – from the icy wind or blazing sun, whichever predominates – for lunch.
Ben Laga – summit lochan
Look out for eagles and merlin. I’ve seen both in the area.
To or from the North
The northerly spur from the summit towards Loch Laga makes for a fine descent if traversing the hill from south to north. The views remain excellent and the going underfoot is largely dry. Keeping above Loch Laga (map marker 4) you can cross the Allt Beithe a couple of hundred yards below the loch and easily join the track to Acharacle (marker 5).
Allt Beithe and Ben Laga with Loch Laga almost hidden from sight
Alternatively, you can include Ben Laga in a circular walk from Glenborrodale, leaving the Glenborrodale to Acharacle track south of the junction with the Laga track (map marker 3). After crossing the boggy ground south of Loch Laga you rapidly gain height traversing up the westerly slopes of Ben Laga.
Ben Laga – erratic on the westerly slope overlooking Loch Laga
Keep bearing west rather than south 7 to reach the ridge, then turn south to the top.
And while you’re in the area
To the north west of Ben Laga is Meall nan Each (see map, marker 6). At about 490 m this makes a good walk on its own, or a very worthwhile extension from Ben Laga. As the 841st Marilyn in Scotland it’s rarely troubled by visitors 😉
Again there are no tracks to help you, but the routes up from the westerly shore of Loch Laga for example, are both straightforward and obvious. The summit has a trig point 8 and a small cairn (of course 🙁 ).
Meall nan Each trig point with Rum, Eigg and the Cuill, Skye, on the horizon
The settlements on Ardnamurchan are situated on the periphery of the peninsula. The sheltered moorings at Salen, Glenborrodale bay with its castle and Kilchoan on the southern shoreline. Sanna, the hamlets of Kilmory and Ockle on the north coast, and Acharacle at the mouth of Loch Shiel.
These places are still linked by tracks across the relatively barren hinterland. On the north shore of Loch Sunart the winding B8007 presumably follows a historic cart track and, before then, a route used by farmers going to and from Ardgour.
However, along the north coast and linking the north and south coasts, a number of tracks remain. These provide relatively unchallenging walking over some beautiful empty hills and moors, often offering stunning views across the peninsula.
One of my favourites is the track from Acharacle to Glenborrodale.
Recent forestry activity at the Glenborrodale end of the track has made access more difficult (more on this later) and left an ugly scar on the landscape.
I therefore recommend walking north to south (starting from Acharacle) and deviating from the Glenborrodale track to instead finish at Laga.
Acharacle and Kentra Moss
The easiest point to start from is Acharacle Primary School (NM 67448 68069). This is a short walk north along the A861 from the bustling metropolis of Acharacle.
Don’t let the the ‘A’ prefix on the road number mislead you. Parts of it are single track.
Acharacle, Arivegaig and Kentra Moss
There’s a small parking area just west of the school, with a gate leading to the track to Arevigaig that winds through the Bealach Clach an Aighe 1.
You emerge from the scrubby mixed birch woodland onto the south eastern edge of Kentra Moss. This, together with Claish Moss on the southern shore of Loch Shiel, is one of the rare ‘eccentric’ mires in the UK. This habitat is characterised by oceanic blanket bog, rich in mosses, sphagnum, cross-leaved heath and bogbean.
Stick to the track. This amount of sphagnum doesn’t flourish without very large amounts of water. The raised bog isn’t safe to walk on, and would be damaged if you did.
Kentra Moss … very wet everywhere
Kentra Moss is a great place for dragonflies and insectivorous plants, neither of which I’m much good at identifying. During the summer months the bird life is good, with a number of different breeding waders.
A couple of hundred metres after the track bears west you come to a junction with a concrete bridge over one of the many burns that drains the bog. Turn left here (bearing south) on a recently upgraded track leading up away from Kentra Moss into the low hills.
Kentra Moss – track junction looking north
To see more of Kentra Moss there’s also a circular walk that follows the track on to Arivegaig.
There is a new water purification plant up the hill above Kentra Moss. The track goes past a large agricultural-looking building and a water tank with a fabulous view across Kentra Bay to Eigg and Rum before abruptly petering out at a gate held closed with a rusty chain.
View across Kentra Bay to Eigg and Rum.
The track changes from reasonably well-graded crushed rock to a more typical gnarly mountain track, largely suitable for a good 4WD vehicle, an Argo ATV, a mountain bike (and fit rider) or Vibram-soled boots.
Here, and increasingly on the route south, the track offers the ‘path of least’ resistance to water, so it’s not unusual to be walking up a shallow stream.
There’s plenty of evidence of the previous glaciation of the region, with rocks bearing characteristic linear scarring where glaciers have advanced or retreated.
Glacier was ‘ere
The track climbs gently before cresting the ridge and dropping to a sturdy wooden bridge over the Allt Beithe (Birch stream).
Bridge over Allt Beithe
After crossing the stream the track gets smaller and wetter, climbing across the hill in a south-easterly direction towards Beinn Laga.
As the track approaches Loch Laga the land levels out and it gets very wet underfoot. The water just stands around waiting to overtop your boots, rather than conveniently running away downhill.
But the view opens out to the south and east, particularly if you climb a little way above the track (but don’t leave a cairn to spoil the landscape for others). It feels remote but isn’t really.
The Sunart hills
On a poor day, with heavy cloud and squally showers, the views are less good, or potentially non-existent. However, don’t forget to scan the surrounding ridges for eagles – I’ve often seen them here, particularly when the weather is less than favourable.
Loch Laga lies in the boggy ground between Meall nan Each and Ben Laga, east of the Fiddler’s Slab (Leac an Fhidhleir). There’s a small corrugated fishing hut at Loch Laga and I assume the fishing is controlled by the Ardnamurchan Estate, though I’ve not been able to confirm this.
Approaching Loch Laga.
It’s an exposed spot and it’s not unusual for the loch to be covered in short, white-capped waves. This is a good place to see both red and black throated divers. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them bred on the small rocky island in the Loch.
As the track skirts the west shore of the loch it is indistinct in places and heavily eroded in others, with the latter likely due to over-enthusiastic (or ambitious) access with an Argo on the peaty soil.
The track rises gently, curving in a more westerly direction. About half a mile after the fishing hut there’s a small cairn in the heather on the left side of the track (NM636632).
This marks the junction with a smaller track leading to Laga.
From the Acharacle to Glenborrodale track, this spur off to Laga is almost invisible. Perhaps this is one of the few times when a cairn is useful. Approaching from the west there’s a tendency to turn south too soon and the ground is very rough and boggy. Not recommended.
After a hundred metres or so the track rises on a rocky spur leading south. Underfoot the going is good except for a few extensively boggy areas. None of these offer too much of a problem if you’re willing to skirt around them and take a ‘leap of faith’ (from one semi-dry tussock to another) a few times.
Track to Laga
The track descends very gently towards Laga. With every step the views across Morvern, the Isle of Carna and Loch Sunart increase and improve.
Keep an eye on the rocky ridge of Ben Laga to your east. This is a good place to see eagles, though the prevailing wind tends to need to be south-westerly or westerly.
From outside in – Laga Farm native woodland
The descent steepens and a deer fence appears to the west. This marks the boundary of the Laga Farm native woodland development.
The end is nigh
In a fold in the hillside a heavy angled gate appears in the deer fence which enables you to cross into the land enclosed by the Laga Farm fencing.
From inside out – open moorland to the east of the Laga Farm native woodland enclosed area
Within metres the difference is striking.
Inside the protective deer fence there are trees growing all over the place. Inevitably some of these will have been planted, but many of the birches, rowan etc will be self-seeded.
In contrast, outside the fence, the moorland is barren with barely a tree in sight. The only exceptions are those growing in inaccessible clefts on the steepest slopes, or in the ravines through which the streams tumble.
Laga Farm native woodland, looking south across Loch Sunart to Morvern
The next kilometre or so are increasingly steep and increasingly wooded. It’s lovely now and it’s getting better year after year as the trees mature.
The gravelly and rocky path still offers the ‘path of least resistance’ to water which, in turn, provides miniature pools for dragonflies to lay eggs, like this golden-ringed dragonfly.
Finally the track levels out and you reach a gate through the deer fencing which brings you out onto the B8007.
Turn left for the fleshpots of Salen and all points east, turn right for civilisation, Glenborrodale and Kilchoan.
Loch Sunart, near Laga
It’s worth noting that parking at Laga is very restricted. The road is single track and the passing places are heavily used for, er, passing. Don’t park in them! Laga Bay is also the base for Mowi in this part of the loch and some gateways are used for lorries turning. Finally, Laga is the base for Ardnamurchan Charters (ferry to Mull, Carna and wildlife trips) and their parking area should not be used.
Rather than turn south at the cairned turn (NM636632) shortly after Loch Laga you can keep on the main track to Glenborrodale. The route turns more westerly and eventually turns south into Glen Borrodale. The going underfoot is much like the first half of the route, with some spectacularly wet and soggy bits.
The route crosses a couple of good-sized burns and bridges ensure your already soaked footwear doesn’t get any wetter 😉
Bridge over the Allt something or other
As the route bears south into Glen Borrodale there are a number of deer fences to negotiate. This area has recently been clear-felled and it is a rather barren and unattractive landscape. The track improves and so do the height of the deer fences.
If you are lucky the gates will be unlocked. If you’re unlucky you will have to scale the 8 foot fences. In several visits over the last couple of years I’ve been lucky about 50% of the time.
Trees were here … but won’t be again for a long time
So much for the ‘right to roam’.
This is a well-established route between Glenborrodale and Acharacle and is in many of the guidebooks to the area.
The deer fences 2 are to protect the thousands of young (native thankfully) trees planted in the felled and adjacent areas of moorland. At my last visit these were only 30 – 60 cm tall, so there’s some way to go before the forestry-induced scarring is hidden again.
The track finally descends through the Glenborrodale woodchip plant and emerges on the B8007.
There are more places to park near Glenborrodale but the deforested landscape, locked gates and less impressive views make the Laga end to the walk preferable in my opinion.
The Acharacle – Laga walk is about 6 miles. The alternative ending in Glenborrodale is probably a mile or so longer.
The route and going underfoot is easy to moderate but remember to wear appropriate footwear and take waterproofs. This near to the Atlantic the weather can change – and often does – in minutes.