Loch Arkaig is another of the many east-west lochs the glaciers scoured across the Western Highlands. Near its eastern end is the hamlet of Achnacarry, at its western end is the even smaller settlement of Strathan. Between them lies the narrow and fairly tortuous single track road that makes its way for a dozen miles along Loch Arkaig's northern shore.
The gateway to Loch Arkaig, symbolically at least, is the Commando Memorial, just off the A82 a mile or so north of Spean Bridge. The memorial commemorates the use made of the area, and Achnacarry in particular, as a training ground by the Commandos between 1942 and 1945.
From its junction with the A82, the B8004 goes downhill to Gairlochy, close to the southern tip of Loch Lochy, and then crosses the Caledonian Canal (and the line of the Great Glen Way) at a lock. On the far side of the valley you join the road coming up from Corpach, now single track, and then twist your way north alongside the lower part of Loch Lochy.
Keep a lookout for signs to Achnacarry and the Clan Cameron Museum on your left. The excellent museum is a place of pilgrimage for members of Clan Cameron from around the world, and provides a fascinating insight into an important part of the story of Lochaber for the rest of us. It can be found close to Achnacarry Castle, the clan seat of the Camerons, which served as the Commando Basic Training Centre from early 1942. During the training centre's active life some 25,000 men were trained here, making the most of the remote mountainous country on both sides of Loch Arkaig.
A little further, at Clunes, the road takes a sharp left turn away from Loch Lochy and heads through the Mile Dorcha, or Dark Mile towards Loch Arkaig itself. This is a deeply wooded section of road in a valley, flanked by walls and trees carrying a tremendous thickness of moss. At its far end is the parking area for the Eas Chia-aig: spectacular waterfalls cascading down the north side of the valley and well worth exploring.
Beyond the waterfalls the road straightens before emerging at the end of Loch Arkaig itself. The loch is less known and less visited than otherwise similar lochs like Mullardoch or Monar, or its northern neighbour Loch Quoich. The reason is fairly simply: though Loch Arkaig is surrounded by mountains, only one breaks the 3,000ft barrier, and that is most easily climbed from elsewhere. The eastern end of the loch is popular for watersports, but as you head west it rapidly becomes much more remote. The loch itself is extremely deep and is unusual in the area, having never been dammed or developed for hydroelectric power.
Apart from its wildness and innate beauty, there is anther reason why you might want to reach the western end of Loch Arkaig. Surprising though it may seem until you look at a map, it is one of the best ways of walking into Knoydart. The only easy way into Knoydart is by boat to Inverie. And the most popular route on foot is from the road end at Kinloch Hourn along Loch Hourn to Barrisdale Bay. But from Strathan, just beyond the end of Loch Arkaig, a track leads up Glen Dessary, emerging eight miles later at the wild and very lonely eastern end of Loch Nevis.
Easy to overlook next to the track and half a mile beyond the end of the road is Tigh nan Saighdearan, the slight remains of a Jacobite-era (and very small) government barracks built to control this important route across the Western Highlands. Another point of interest is an ancient burial ground located on the north shore of Loch Arkaig about a mile and a half short of its western end at Murlaggan.
Loch Arkaig's other claim to fame is as the alleged hiding place of a consignment of gold landed by the French at Arisaig for the Jacobites in 1746. This was hidden somewhere near Loch Arkaig, and the hiding place, it is said, has never been found.