All dogs must be on leads, and remember to keep clear of all livestock, especially sheep and sheep with lambs and … please leave all gates as you find them. Thank you.
1. Achnacroish to Balnagown
Start at Achnacroish where the car ferry from Oban arrives. Walk up the main road past the welcoming phone box on the left which sometimes has baking from the Dutch Bakery on Lismore and always has books about the island from Camelart. At the top of the hill pass the school.
Lismore Primary School opened on this site in August 1965. The 1872 Education Act provided state-sponsored schools, with compulsory attendance for all children aged five to 13; Lismore previously had two schools, one at Baligarve and one at Baligrundle. Those who went on to Oban High School were away from home from the age of 11 or twelve as they are today. Sadly, then, not all scholarly children were able to go to the high school. With improved ferry services, it is now possible to travel daily.
Beyond the school, a field on the left has two horses and on the right the remains of the World War II lookout. Almost immediately you reach a square white house.
Turn right following the track past the house through the farm and beside a wall which soon becomes a fence. You are making for a sturdy stile in a wall ahead which leads into Balnagown. In the distance, before you cross the stile, is a clump of trees. Aim for the left of the largest one. There is a burn to cross before the stile, so find the narrowest part.
2. Balnagown to Killandrist
Climb up the field, veering slightly left towards the trees, and you will see a small gate. Just before this gate are the ruins of Connel’s Croft, the Connels having been boatbuilders. The remains of their sawpit and workshop can still be seen at Port Moluag (not on this walk.)
Through the gate is a croft house ahead, so turn right and head towards another large gate which soon becomes visible. Turn hard left here and begin to climb up the hill until you reach a fence with a wooden stile at its highest point.
3. Killandrist to the Heritage Centre
Over the stile, you are in Killandrist and soon looking down on Loch Balnagown, one of the island’s most photogenic lochs. A lovely cairn sits on a peak, the work of the late Jimmie MacCormick who farmed this land. Continue ahead and down towards a wooden gate in a low wall in the distance. Through this, follow the fence round and pass to the left of a steadings and a large uprooted tree to reach the road.
A little further on is a gate to the main road; turn left for the Heritage Centre where you will find a café, a museum and a reconstructed cottar’s cottage.
4. Heritage Centre to the Mill
If you wish to return to the Achnacroish Ferry, turn left onto the main road and then the first right signposted for Balnagown, retracing your steps a little.
You are back in Killandrist, a place rich in ecclesiastical history, the name meaning St Andrew’s Chapel. Although the chapel is long gone, it was there some 1400 years ago.
The large white Killandrist House is on your left and then the shell of Samuel MacColl’s school (Sgoil Shomhairle) which, before the 1872 Education Act, was one of two parish schools, the other being at Baligrundle. Samuel MacColl, a Gaelic-speaking schoolmaster, taught here from 1809 to 1862, fostering the talents of Alexander Carmichael and Captain Hugh Anderson, amongst many others, less celebrated perhaps only because history’s celebrating is random and never neutral. How many ‘mute inglorious Liosaich’ held slates here.
Follow this road to the end.
Soon Balnagown Loch comes into view on your left, and a bungalow on the rise on your right.
At the end of a steep descent is the gate to the Mill which lies at the end of this road. About 50 metres after the mill gate, concrete steps lead down to a small boathouse on the loch shore belonging to the Fell family.
The Mill house is still occupied by the Stewart family, although the meal and linen mills remain quiet reminders of former times. According to Donald Black’s book, Sgeul no Dhà às an Lios, A Tale or Two from Lismore, it was last operated by a Donald MacColl until just before World War I, the family having run it for much of its life.
5. The Mill to Achnacroish
Walking south you pass a hut enclosed by a low stone wall, and ahead is a red kissing gate behind a cottage on the shore, now known as Stoker’s Cottage. It was previously lived in, maybe owned, by a Mrs Paxton.
In the 1960s, Professor Sir Michael Stoker bought the cottage. He died in 2013, but it is still owned by the family, and run by his daughter Jenny and her husband David Norgrove. Professor Stoker was the first-ever Professor of Virology in the UK; his research at Glasgow University into cancer-causing viruses and herpes simplex broke new ground, and led to the medication for herpes. Many have reason to be grateful for this. Lismore has always had some connection with Glasgow University, as the late Professor Subak-Sharpe (Laggan) succeeded Professor Stoker. A frequent visitor to Kilcheran was the late Professor Marshall Walker, an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Scottish Literature, among other things.
The kissing gate at Stoker’s is one of many on the island; three on this walk alone. Two work well, but the third near Achnacroish has been demolished by tree roots.
The way south to Achnacroish along the raised beach passes the large Celtic cross, a memorial to Waverley Arthur Cameron, the son of Duncan Cameron, inventor of the “Waverley” nib pen and the owner of The Oban Times newspaper. Waverley was drowned in 1891 when his yacht foundered off the coast nearby. Otherwise, I know of no connection to the island.
After the monument go through the second kissing gate and continue towards the ferry on what can be a muddy and wet path, but which was unusually dry this summer (2021). It requires stout footwear. Through the last kissing gate you pass in front of a row of cottages before reaching the ferry again.