Bunavullin Coffin Roads
Start location: Laudale House, Loch Sunart (NM 749 598)
End location: Shore at Doirlinn, Loch Sunart (NM 607 585)
Geographical area: Lochaber
Path Type: Coffin Road
Path distance: 46km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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These two routes through Morvern pass deserted settlements. Our route descriptions both start at Bunavullin.
Bunavullin to Doirlinn (11km): From Bunavullin, head north first on the B849 and then at the left bend, on the track towards Drimnin, taking the right fork at the signpost. The track continues north past Drimnin House and continues at about 150m above the sea-shore passing the remains of Portabhata and other villages, before dropping sharply through wooded slopes down to Doirlinn.
In order to visit Auliston, go along the main track for about 3 km north of Drimnin House then turn left immediately after crossing a small burn (before the series of bends on the main track) and follow the south fence of the young forestry plantation.
Bunavullin to Laudale House (35km): From Bunavullin take the track to Mungosdail farm, passing very close to the house and continue through the forest for 1500m. Just after crossing a burn, take a small path NE from NM 583 533 to the edge of the forest. In 1794, there were corn mills and a kiln at Mungosdail.
Continue NE over the hill (no path) keeping to the E of Lochan Chrois Bheinn as far as NM 601 550 then over a stile into Barr Forest. Follow a path then a track to Ardantiobairt where the school (no longer used) can be seen just short of the public road at Kinlochteacuis. From NM 658 548, Kinloch/Rahoy road junction, take the track to the NW around Loch Teacuis as far as NM 646 557 near Carnliath. Here turn right on to the open hill (no path but some waymarkers). The route goes to the east of a small knoll then north to join the path at Bealach Sloc an Eich (pass of the hollow of the horses), to the west of Beinn Ghormaig (452 m.) From the cairn, follow the path down the burn to a forest road and waymarkers at NM 663 591. The original bridge is now dangerous and the path has been diverted (waymarked) to the west of Glencripesdale House. As there has been considerable forest felling and new forest roads have been built, it is advisable to follow the waymarked route. From Glen Cripesdale, take the good hill track to the east which gradually rises through the forest to Lochan Dhonnachaidh (Duncan's Loch) at a height of 300m. On the path, there are stone seats every 800m or so, possibly to allow the ladies of the house to rest while on their way to watch the men fishing. There are first class views to the west and north from the track near the lochan. The track then drops down through the forest to join the shore track at NM 734 603. There is car parking at NM 755 600.
The route from Drimnin to Doirlinn and that from Drimnin to the Barr River are both accessible by mountain bike. For more information a downloadable leaflet is available from: http://www.sunartoakwoods.org.uk/getactive/cycleroutes.htm.
The public road to Kinlochteacuis (Kinloch on map) from the A884 gives access to the township of Inniemore (a victim of the Clearances) which has recently come to light as tree felling has taken place. The village is situated just over 1km to the SE where there is a car park at NM 666 520 with signposts and information boards.
OS Landranger 47 (Tobermory & North Mull) and 49 (Oban & East Mull)
The route round the western tip of Morvern from Drimnin to Doirlinn passes along a former public highway built in 1880 as a poor relief project. It passes old settlements some of which were inhabited at that time, but are now long-since deserted. In 1836 most of the 341 inhabitants of the estate subsisted on some sheep and cattle rearing, a limited amount of arable farming (corn and potatoes) and fishing. However by 1861 clearance of the villages had started in order to make way for sheep farming and the population fell from 118 in 1861 to 58 in 1891. Auliston village itself had a population of 115 in 1851. The remains of this village can still be seen with individual houses being found right down to the shore. Portabhata means boat haven. The wall which you see here was built by men on poor relief in 1847. Most of the people in the west of Scotland at this time were destitute due to the failure of the potatoes crop from blight in 1845 and 1846. Potatoes were, as in Ireland, the staple crop.
Doirlinn is the Gaelic word for an isthmus, where one can reach an island (in this case, Oronsay) by wading at low water. Six families who had been evicted from Auliston came to settle here and carried out many improvements to the land. However, this was to no avail as they were in turn evicted from Oronsay in 1868 to permit large-scale sheep farming.
The total sheep population of Drimnin estate in 1794 was about 750 but by 1850 this had increased to 2500. These farms themselves suffered very quickly from competition with cheap wool imported from Australia; between 1864 and 1870 the price of wool dropped by 50%.
In 1824, Inniemore, Mungosdail, Barr and Ardantiobairt were purchased by Miss Christina Stewart of Edinburgh. She hardly ever visited the property and commenced the first large-scale evictions in Morvern, there being some 135 people living in these villages at that time. The following is the story of Mary of Inniemore:
"The day of flitting came, it was necessary to depart. The hissing of the fire of the hearth as they were drowning it reached my heart. We could not get even a bothy in the country, therefore we had nothing for it but the face the land of strangers (Lowlands). My mother-in-law was then alive, weak and lame, and was carried by my husband on his back. I followed with an infant at my breast and the other children. Our neighbours carried the little furniture that remained to use. We sat for a time on Knock nan Carn to take a last look: the houses were already stripped and the bleat of the ‘big sheep’ (Cheviots) was on the mountain".
Although the road to Doirlinn is said to have been built as a poor relief project in 1880, the OS 6" map surveyed in 1872 clearly shows the route on its present line, so the work is likely to have been the improvement of the existing road. Further evidence lies in the existence of an Inn at Doirlinn between 1841 and 1872, and there having formerly been a ferry between Doirlinn and Glenborrodale across Loch Sunart. This Inn is said to have served as a drovers' change-house until about 1880, for cattle crossing from Glenborrodale. If this is the case the droves may well have followed this road to Morvern's cattle sales, or to the Bunavullin ferry and thence onwards to the cattle markets on Mull.
The series of cast-iron mileposts along the road from Drimnin to Doirlinn may date back to when the road was improved in 1880. They were made by Smith, Patterson and Co of Pioneer Foundry, Blaydon-on-Tyne, the firm being in existence between 1870 and 1954. We are not sure how many of these remain, at least one of the seven originally installed is known to have disappeared.
These routes are also reputed to have been coffin roads. The medieval parish church of Killlintag (Cill Leuntaig), dedicated to St Fintan, was located near Mungosdail just to the east of Bunavullin. The burial ground is still marked on current OS maps, but the church is reduced to its foundations. It was replaced in 1780 by a new building at Fernish to the south. This was itself superceded by the mission church built in 1892 for the western side of Morvern parish - this former Church of Scotland building can be seen in our picture gallery. Additionally, a Roman Catholic church, the Chapel of St Columba, was built in 1837 at Drimnin. However, the graves to the south of the chapel are modern.
The track from Ardantiobart to Bunavullin is clearly marked on all the OS mapping since the 6" first edition maps were surveyed in the 1870s. Interestingly, by the time of the OS 1" third edition map surveyed in 1905, a spur runs from the track (NM5853) down to Druim na Cracaig where the later Fernish churches were built.
St Columba's Stone (NM 5945 5428) provides evidence for the former use of the track from Loch Teacuis as a coffin or kirk road. It is said to have been one of a series of stones marking this hill track, and it lies on the highest point of the route giving its name to the hill to the north - Crois Bheinn (Cross Peak). The stone has a cross on each side and measures 0.61m by 0.51m. Its site is marked on the OS 1:25,000 Explorer 383.
Further evidence for a series of stones marking the route has been found on a 1:10000 map with two stones marked near where the right of way leaves the forest before reaching St Columba's Stone and another two stones marked beside fords (NM 591 541 and NM 585 534) within the forest. This route between Drimnin and Barr is also said to have seen use as a post-track - the post being left beneath a rock at the pass between the forest and Coire Buidhe. So whether the stones in the forestry date from the track's use as a coffin route or were placed to aid the postal service we are not certain. Any photos or further information relating to the stones would be much appreciated.