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Frank Cowper got it right in 1896: "This is really an ideal anchorage. Beautiful scenery, perfect safety, a good inn close by, and mail steamers every day except Sunday. To be anchored in such a place goes far to reconciling one to the miseries of the W. Highland climate. Loch Aline is almost perfection".
Even these days it is a much, much more promising place than the first impression you get from the silica quartz sand mine at the narrow entrance. This opened in 1940, was closed down in 2008 as being 'uneconomic' with the loss of 11 full-time jobs, but re-opened in 2012 and now seems to be working flat out. By 2018 the work force was up to 23. And off goes the high quality sand by ship to Runcorn, and much of it then on to Italy to make glass for solar panels. Watch the film! You might strike lucky and catch one of the tours which run during the Morvern games in July, or you could try a polite phone call to 01967 421324.
Of course the loch is an easy place to get in and out of, even at night.
The village itself is not much of a place but there is a basic shop, and right next to it the extremely good Whitehouse Restaurant (ph 01967 421 777). Quite small, relaxed, in the Good Food Guide from 2012, lots of awards, so need to book. Very fine dining. No doubt going for a Michelin star. They also have a very pleasant and spacious toilet. Well worth a visit for sure even though you can’t easily anchor all that near. However, since 2011 there have been pontoons not too very far away (marina manager ph 07583 800 500), although it is a pity they couldn't have been right by the old harbour. Very good showers and toilets, and extremely friendly. The path to the village is even illuminated which seems a bit unnecessary. This was all planned by the Morvern Community Development Company to encourage more business and employment after the silica mine closed down.
You can get a reasonable home-cooked meal in the Loch Aline Hotel, down on the shore with great views overlooking the Sound of Mull, but no real ale I fear (ph 01967 421657). Last time I was there I was astonished to find a helicopter outside — not a visiting Russian oligarch, just a couple of blokes carrying stuff around for the fish farms. The hotel website is rather nice, designed by the graphic artist son of the owners.
Below the village by the stone pier you will find the well-known Jean's snack bar selling what snack bars sell, just £2 for a coffee and scone sitting out in the sun (or rain). However, after 27 years, Jean sold the business and retired - let's hope her successor is just as good. In 2016 she was awarded the BEM for her efforts — well deserved, unlike so many on the Honours List. This pier was once called the Relief Pier because it was constructed in 1843 to provide work for the local population which had been decimated by the potato famine and the clearances. Instead of money they earned food. It was restored in the late 20th century.
It is worth reflecting that it was to here and around about that the St Kildans were evacuated in 1930. It provided their first sight of trees, let alone roads and motor cars.
The Dive Centre has a useful website, and now the O2 café which is said to be better than it was, indeed I have found it serves excellent coffee in quiet and friendly surroundings (ph 01967 421 627).
It is definitely worthwhile to walk up the hill behind the village to Kiel Church. The church itself, built in 1898, is not that interesting but two other things are. First, the graveyard with a lovely view across the gravestones up the Sound of Mull (with deer last time I was there on a quiet evening). In the southeast corner you will find an interesting 18th century gravestone commemorating the 11 children of John and Florans Cameron, 11 little heads all in a row. Second, the small building next to the church, once a school built in 1774, contains a wonderful collection of medieval Scottish grave slabs and free-standing crosses decorated with swords, warriors, churchmen and birlinns. These are very well displayed with excellent information about them.
The walks on either side of the loch are excellent, particularly I would say the east side. At first from the south you will find a sign to Tennyson's waterfall, apparently he was a frequent visitor. Then a burn with 200 million-year-old mollusc-like fossils, and a small long-abandoned lime kiln. Eventually at the head of the loch you pass an old boathouse before arriving at the gates of Ardtornish House, a late 19th century gothic pile with an amazing clock tower. In fact close-up the house doesn't have quite the fairy tale impression it gives from a distance, being in a curious way rather plain and dull, maybe because it is now all or mostly holiday flats, and perhaps because it is of concrete construction, albeit faced with red sandstone. But the grounds and gardens are nice to wander around with lots of lovely trees and, in season, 200 different rhododendrons in flower (£4 entrance)). And a small gift shop. The estate website is certainly enthusiastic and informative. And you can get married here.
Perhaps more architecturally interesting is just next door, the now very reconstructed and restored 15th century — and sort of orange — Kinlochaline Castle, built for the MacLeans of Duart as a tower house. You cannot get in but even the outside is worth a view. There is a high keep and perched on top what looks like a small highland house. It peeps out just above the trees as you sail up the loch.
From the anchorage in the southeast corner there is another great walk with wild flowers and views, not round the loch but along the coast to Ardtornish Bay with its castle.
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An unusual sculpture, by the small pier on the southeast side of the entrance
Kiel graveyard overlooking the Sound of Mull
18th century gravestone at Kiel