Ardnave Point and its many fine beaches are for me the most beautiful part of Islay. Here you have everything, a magnificent walk, stunning beaches, amazing wildlife, breathtaking views of some of the Inner Hebridean Islands, beautiful dunes and all that combined with a perfectly managed farm. Ardnave can be found on the very north-western tip of Islay, west of Loch Gruinart and north-east of Sanaigmore Bay.
Getting to Ardnave
From the RSPB visitor centre at the Loch Gruinart Flats, take the single track road up to Ardnave, which is around four miles. Drive slowly and enjoy the views over Loch Gruinart and the wildlife, the trip to Ardnave is almost as stunning as Ardnave itself! Along the road, in a bend at Loch Gruinart House, are many Bramble bushes, great to pick some in August and into September.
Driving further on you’ll pass Kilnave Cross and Chapel which has a lot of stories to tell. It was here during the battle of Loch Gruinart in 1598 that the MacDonalds set fire to the roof of the chapel, when 30 men of the MacLeans clan sought sanctuary inside. Only one man survived. Visiting the chapel and the famous Kilnave Cross is a must. You can park alongside the road and walk down to the chapel. Make sure to close the gates to keep the sheep out. With the history of the chapel in mind and the gorgeous views over Loch Gruinart this is a place to be quiet for a moment to properly take in this very special area.
Back to the present time… From October to April you’ll likely see huge groups of Barnacle Geese in the fields to your right and do watch out for Eagles too as they are keen on catching a goose! At the end of the single track road you’ll end up on the farm track of farmer Robert Epps, a very kind person and very knowledgeable about the area he is farming in. Drive on, keeping the loch to your left, and then park in the grass where the track goes left towards beautiful Ardnave House, which is privately owned. Great tip for birdwatchers: sometimes in the Autumn dozens of Whooper Swans gather here before they head on to winter in Northern Ireland.
In order to describe the beaches properly I’ll take you on a circular trip around the entire coastline of Ardnave. We start on the western side and for that we first need to cross the farm of Robert Epps. Just walk up the track towards Ardnave House and Farm and pass the gate to the farmyard which is usually closed. Needless to say that you have to keep your dog on a lead at all times here. Cross the farmyard, keep the big shed to your left and walk westwards towards the track leading away from the farm and to the sea. If you follow the track you’ll end up on the first beautiful beach which is called Traigh Nostaig on the map. This beach is sandy and you can find beautiful shells, many wading birds, sometimes an otter and every now and then cattle too. Also watch out for Chough above the dunes.
I have to explain something about the concrete structures on the south-end of this beach. These were man-made pools where lobsters were kept in times when prices were low. When the prices went up again they were sold. However, this way of keeping lobsters fresh wasn’t very viable as they developed diseases and turned useless. That’s why this wee project was abandoned, just in case you’re wondering what it is.
The beach can be followed north until it gets smaller. Then walk up the dunes and step over the fence, keep following the shoreline though. Now you’ll enter another beach which is perhaps one of the loveliest on Islay. On a warm day this beach is heaven, trust me! I wouldn’t go out swimming though, as the currents might get the better of you. My neighbour on Islay always kept on telling me that west-coast beaches are drowning beached and I believe her. And besides that, the water in spring can be absolutely freezing!
After you leave this beach, I know it’s hard, keep on walking over the grassy dunes along the shore until you reach another fence with a few steps where you can easily cross. After this fence head right and then find your way over the sometimes wet and boggy field towards a small track. Go left here and then you have access to the tall dunes and the actual Ardnave Point.
The views from the top of the Dunes over the Inner Hebrides are simply stunning. On a clear day you can see the isles of Oronsay, Colonsay, Jura and Scarba as well as the hills on the Scottish Mainland. On a very clear day you might make out the Isles of Mull, Iona and Coll as well. The great thing of Ardnave is that you’re most likely all alone here, well apart from the sometimes thousands of geese taking off when they are disturbed. How cool is that? Also visible to the west is Nave island which has the ruins of a chapel. Trust me, Islay doesn’t get much better than this!
If you walk down from the dunes you’ll find another very nice beach and a rocky outcrop to your right which is Ardnave Point. From there head up the dunes again and walk back to the shoreline to find yet another wee inlet and small sandy beach. You’re now almost near Loch Gruinart and it’s turquoise water. First follow the shoreline for around 500 metres and there where the dunes begin try to find the highest one and climb it. From there you have stunning views over Loch Gruinart, Killinallan Point and you can see the Paps of Jura behind the hills of northern Islay. If you’re lucky and it’s low tide you can spot a seal colony on the sandbank in the middle of Loch Gruinart.
Loch Gruinart Beach
From the dunes walk down to the shore where you’ll find yet another amazingly beautiful beach, around a mile long. Across Loch Gruinart you’ll see the dunes of Killinallan point which are very much worth visiting as well. We’ll cover that in another article. Often, when there’s a cold westerly wind, you’ll have perfect sheltered conditions on this beach. Perfect for a picnic. And again, swimming here is not recommended as you’re easily swept out to see, the currents can be very strong!
Islay’s Herring Industry at Tayovullin Ardnave Point
If you follow the beach south you’ll end up at a fence. You can cross it and in the dunes, close to the shore, you’ll see the remains of what once was a thriving industry, the fishing village of Tayvullin. It was in the early 1900s that herring became a delicacy in Europe. The British Government supported this and at some point there were around 30,000 herring fishing boats in Scotland. Islay was also a place where herring was caught and processed before the catch was shipped out to customers. All that remains now are a few cottages and foundations of buildings but it was quite a busy place more than hundred years ago.
Now head right up onto the dunes and cross them you’ll end up on the grassy patch where you’ve left your car. You’ll probably agree with me if you’ve done this, that this is one of Islay’s finest walks along some of the most stunning beaches, wildlife and views anywhere on the island.