Walk: Coille Mhor, Balmacara, Highland
A beautiful five mile woodland walk on the north-west coast of Scotland that comes alive with wildflowers, lichen, and trees in spring
Coille Mhòr – the great wood – is a haven for beautiful flowers. Bluebells grow beneath the tree canopies, alongside the distinctive bluish-purple petals of common dog violet. Robert Herrick paid homage to the latter in his poem To Violets: “Welcome, maids of honour, You doe bring in the spring; And wait upon her.”
The zing of spring is powerful here. Pure air provides ideal conditions for an impressive range of lichens that grow en masse upon the old oaks of Coille Mhòr’s lower slopes. Higher up, birch, rowan, alder and ash thrive, and the forest is also home to mammals including badgers, pine martens and visiting otters.
Coille Mhòr walk
5 miles | 3 hours | moderate
1. Gateway to gorse
From the Balmacara Square car park, head uphill, turning right at a bend to follow the footpath to Achnahinich. The land here is part of a crofting estate managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Keep to the wide track as it runs uphill, flanked by gorse.
2. Birch woods
Cross a footbridge over a stream and go through the kissing gate on the left, entering a birch forest that is thick with hanging lichens. Cross a second footbridge, then pull uphill to a more level and open stretch. Look for the pretty pointed green leaves of grass of Parnassus, which flowers later in the year, before returning to the birch woods.
Enter stands of eared willow and birch. Follow the path and cross a footbridge, rising to a big oak tree; its trunk is richly carpeted with slender mouse-tail moss that thrives in the moist environment.
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Walk on to cross another burn, where you can see common dog violet flowering from April to June. The prefix ‘dog’ means it lacks scent. A little further on there are great views over the wood to the Glenelg peninsula and Skye.
3. Wood-lined Loch
Stout footwear is beneficial as you cross moorland on a good path overlooking Loch Achaidh na h-Inich and, in the distance, the Applecross and Torridon mountains. In late summer, look out for the bright sulphur-yellow flowers of bog asphodel.
Follow the path through the woods to the loch and a road, before retracing your steps.
Coille Mhor map
Fergal is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland on foot and by bike.