Ardnamurchan’s History


60 million years ago, as the earth’s crust between Europe and Greenland split apart, creating the northeast Atlantic Ocean, Ardnamurchan was one of five major volcanic areas along the Scottish west coast and some of these volcanic craters are clearly visible today, even though there has been no volcanic activity for over 1 million years. Once the volcanic activity ceased, these extinct volcanoes went through years of erosion by water and ice, sculpting and revealing the landmass that is seen today. Due to the importance of Ardnamurchan’s volcanic ring dyke and Moine rocks the area has been included in the European Geopark status

To explore the areas volcanic history a drive to Sanna will take you across the floor of the volcanic crater where you can clearly see the last remnants of the outer crater.

The People of Ardnamurchan

Ardnamurchan today is a peaceful, quiet and remote corner of Scotland. However, the fact that it is a peninsula on the west coast with poor land access made it ideal for the “power barons” of the past. A base on this peninsula was a highly important strategic fortification for overseeing activities in Mull, Skye, the Argyll coast and even as far as the Western Isles.

This is why the Vikings landed here and stayed for over 500 years – the names Placaig, Acarsaig, Ormsaig and Grigadale are all Norse in origin. But they were not the first settlers on the peninsula – there is evidence of ancient settlers going back 4,000 years.

The Vikings finally left Ardnamurchan in the mid 13th century having been challenged by the powerful Scottish leader called Somerled.

With the demise of Viking rule, Ardnamurchan became part of the feudal holdings of the Scottish King David II. Mingary Castle was built around this time (circa 1400) and it served the needs of the Lords of the Isles against the wishes of the Crown.

Following the death of King James IV in 1513, feuding again started and the stronghold of Mingary Castle was eventually destroyed in 1517. It was rebuilt again by the MacIain and again destroyed in 1519. Mingarry Castle is located just outside Kilchoan and has been restored to a small 5 star hotel and restaurant.

© Jon Haylett / The Mingary Castle blog / CC BY-SA 3.0

After the ’45 rising the Highland Clearances took hold in the Highlands and Islands and Ardnamurchan was not spared. In 1828 the townships of Coire-mhuilinn, Skinod, Bouarblaig and Tornamona were cleared and in 1853, the Swordle townships. Remains of these townships are still visible and described on the The Ardnamurchan History and Heritage Association website

Since then the Ardnamurchan estate has been sold several times, and it now owns just a part of the peninsula.

The history of this remote area of west coast Scotland is fascinating, sometimes harsh and violent and often sad but, above all, it has been highly prized not only by the power barons of medieval times but by the people it has housed, sheltered and sustained over the centuries. The Ardnamurchan History and Heritage Association has an excellent website documenting the history of the area and sites of interest you may like to visit and the websites Wild Lochaber and both have descriptions of many destinations with historical interest