I am 220 miles, and a little over 3 hours, passed the border of Scotland. I've been driving through the beautiful Highlands, steep roads, ancient culture and rain. I drive right through the town of Fort William (the "Capital" of the Highlands, and I'm heading towards Mallaig on the A830. I've been on the Road to the Isles (A830) for a little over 30 minutes and I know I'm just about to see the Lochailort Inn and the Polnish Chapel a little further ahead.
The trees sweep over the Bens' (mountains) to the side, and a drop down to a sea loch on the other side of the road. You can see why this area has been selected to feature in so many Hollywood films.
Lochailort is a small village that lies on the edge of the Loch "Ailort" (pronounced Aisle-ort), which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. All that is here is an Inn, railway station, a small church and a 19th Century house. A ring road (A861) heads down towards Strontian on Ardnamurchan, and back round a little closer to Fort William.
Apart from the absolutely stunning scenery, Lochailort has one of the area's most notable landmarks. "Our Lady of the Braes" Roman Catholic Church, affectionately known as the Polnish Chapel. The chapel was finished in 1874, but has been abandoned since 1964 except for being used in film. The classic 1983 film Local Hero, where an American oil company sends a representative to purchase an entire village where they want to build a refinery. Things don't go as expected, and the American ends up staying and living on the beach in a little hut!
Now-a-days, you can still walk right up to the church via the cattle gate, but you cannot enter the chapel due to safety reasons. You will see that the slate from the roof has started falling to the ground. The windows are still in immaculate condition, and if you look closely, you can see the details in the writing on the glass.
If you do want to take a walk from the road and venture up to the church, I do recommend parking across the road in the pull-in view area. Please be careful when crossing the road, as this is an extremely fast and busy road. Luckily, you can hear traffic coming from a mile or two in distance!
The Lochailort Inn offers so much more than just a place for a break. The hotel is situated directly on the Road to the Isles, with great views, reasonable priced accommodation and great food. The inn was known to exist from the 1650's, although there is only recorded information from the 1870's, then rebuilt in the early 1990's in the same manner as the original.
In the 1890's, there were several bothies (small houses) built to house the 2000 navvies who were building the West Highland Railway Line (designed and built by Sir Robert McAlpine). In 1901, construction was complete and the West Highland Railway was opened to the public to ease the travel of the 43 miles from Fort William to Mallaig.
During the summer months (normally from April to September), there is a Steam Train which runs the 43 miles distance from Fort William to Mallaig. This is the famous Jacobite Steam Train. With pipers waiting at each station to "blow the tourists away" with their enchanting sounds.
On the other side of the loch is Inverailort House. This started out as a farmhouse in the 1700's, and in 1875 extended and refurbished to a shooting lodge. Further extensions took place in 1891 to bring the house to the beauty it is today.
In the late 19th Century, Lady Cameron was a keen photographer. She took many photographs of the house and local area. It was unfortunate that most of the glass plates were lost or destroyed when the house was taken over by the military.
During the second world war the military used the house as a base for training operations. With such a remote location, the military could move about the area freely and with little difficulty, using the surrounding mountains and waters as resistance training areas. The army moved out of the house on 20th August 1942 and it was then taken over by the Royal Navy when it became known as HMS Lochailort, and used for the training of naval cadets to be officers. The Royal Novay moved out in January 1945.
Thankfully, a lot of the photographs from the late 19th Century were saved and published during this time.
Today the area is as breath-taking as it has always been. Clear water, rustling trees, the inn, the chapel... I visit this area at least 3 times a year, whilst camping in a near-by village called Arisaig. Personally, if I had the money I would buy the old chapel and refurbish it into a holiday home. The views from the place are amazing, and I bet it would be so popular. The only problem is who to get in contact over it!
Definitely a place to visit. Take your time - Stop and stare. How often will you get such clear air?