Walk: How far to the Fossil Tree?

[MacCulloch's Fossil Tree]

At the remote western tip of the Ardmeanach Peninsula, the imprint of a 50 million year-old, fossilised tree is engraved into towering cliffs. The base of the trunk has miraculously survived the waves from countless storms, turned to charcoal by the heat of the surrounding lava before it cooled into basalt. Goats eke out an existence on boulder beaches, grazing on seaweed washed up by the tide and using nearby caves as natural shelters; fresh water is abundant thanks to waterfalls thundering down the cliffs from the slopes of Bearraich above. The final mile to the tree is quite an adventure. An increasingly rough and exposed path leads suddenly to a steep ladder descending to a tidal beach section, so you have to time your arrival here carefully. The rest of the walk has less dramatic scenery, but crosses easier terrain with plenty of historic interest: ruined townships, an iron age fort, a remote bothy and old schoolhouse are the legacy of tough island life. The National Trust (which owns the land) has produced an excellent leaflet detailing things to look out for (we picked this up from their visitor centre on Iona, but they may also be available at the car park at the start). Their estimates of six hours and ten miles for the round trip were a bit optimistic. But whatever the real distance, it's worth the trek.

[Spectacular coastal scenery on approach to the Fossil Tree]

Name: Walk: How far to the Fossil Tree? ★★★☆☆
Length: 19 km / 12 miles
Ascent: 470 metres
Points of interest: Scobull School; Coffin cairns; Salachry & Culliemore ruined townships; waterfall near Tavool House; Burg Bothy; Dun Bhuirg; Fossil Tree & nearby coastline, waterfalls & caves
Start / finish: Car park on track just south-west of Tiroran (last half mile to car park is unsurfaced and potholed), G.R.: NM 478276 ///office.jumped.continues

Route: Car park - Scobull School - Coffin cairns - Salachry & Culliemore ruined townships - Tavool House - Burg Bothy - Dun Bhuirg - ladder to boulder beach & Fossil Tree - return by outward route.
Terrain: Good track with some steep sections to Burg Bothy, then increasingly rough path. Exposed descent by ladder to beach, then bouldery shoreline for last half mile to Fossil Tree. The section after the ladder (and some of the basalt rock formations just before it) is tidal - aim for about half tide or better.
Wildlife today: Wild goats on shoreline near Fossil Tree, buzzards and other birds of prey throughout, possible mink sighting near Tavool House, enormous crabs and small fish in rock pools.
Weather today: Mixture of cloudy periods, sunshine and rain showers, temperature in mid teens.

[A rusty ladder accesses the far, tidal section - not for those afraid of heights!]


Route credit: National Trust for Scotland

[Scobull School - local pupils used to walk barefoot for several miles to get to classes here]

[The Coffin cairns - each representing a generation of the local MacGillivray family]

[Good views towards Bearraich (in the cloud) and the tip of the peninsula from the high-level track approach]

[Start of the descent to Tavool House]

[Waterfall just before Tavool House]

[Tavool House - once the main estate house, now an outdoor centre]

[The track runs through attractive woodland on route to Burg]

[Burg Bothy]

[Path towards Dun Bhuirg]

[Dun Bhuirg - an iron age roundhouse with a more recent memorial to a local lass]

[Descending beyond Dun Bhuirg to the shoreline]

[View back along the coast]

[The path becomes gradually rougher and the scenery more dramatic as you continue west]

[The path passes underneath forbidding cliffs]

[Basalt rock formations on the shore]

[This fan probably used to encircle another fossilised tree - the formation is covered at high tide]

[Navigating the boulderfield en route to the Fossil Tree]

[The path ends abruptly at a ladder down to the final beach section]

[Descending the ladder]

[Feral goats survive on seaweed washed up by the tide]

[Feral goats]

[Mother and kid]

[Spectacular scenery on the final section]

[A pair of waterfalls plunge down the cliffs here - goats use the cave (right) as a shelter]

[Waterfall and cave]

[Waterfall]

[Goats lead the way around the final headland]

[Having a chat]

[MacCulloch's Fossil Tree]

[Remains of the trunk - the wood inside turned to charcoal by surrounding lava 50-million years ago]

[Basalt columns near the tree]

[Plenty of snails in the rock pools...]

[View out to sea]

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