Day 162-163 Fixing Phone

Monday 14 & Tuesday 15 September 2015

Rest Days

Cally’s, Elgin & Maggie’s, Glasgow

Thank goodness for kind folk (who are now friends) who put me up when I keep turning up like a bad penny! 

I managed to smash the screen on my phone last week and, based on my total reliance on my phone to organise my trip, write my blog and stay in touch, I desperately needed to get it fixed. The earliest appointment I could get to repair it was Tuesday afternoon in Glasgow, hence I hatched a plan to drop in on Cally in Elgin for a couple of nights and then head to Maggie’s in Glasgow. Without their help I would have been really stuck and I can’t thank them enough. 

It seems to have been a bit of a theme of my trip in Scotland – 3 safe houses in Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow where friends have welcomed me whenever I’ve been necky and asked to stay. I now realise how much of a help that has been for me mentally, knowing there was a way out if I needed it. 

Needless to say I was really well looked after and entertained for 2.5 days – more than I deserved. 

On Monday night at Cally’s I found the anthem for the Scottish part of my trip. In the words of Dougie MacLean (from Caledonia)

     “Caledonia you’re calling me and           now I’m going home” 

Me and Maggie enjoying the live music in the Blackfriars pub, Glasgow

Day 149 Wild Camping at the Ring of Brightwater

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Kinloch Hourn to Sandaig

16.5 miles

Wild camp at Lower Sandaig beach

Twice I was woken up in the night by the sound of scratching on the carpet. I knew it was a mouse and the second time I was quick enough with my head torch to catch it (no electricity remember as the generator turns off overnight). The cheeky thing didn’t even feel the need to scarper so we had a face-off until he finally walked away, totally unhurried.  

A beautiful still morning at Kinloch Hourn
 The sun was out in the morning and the midges were out, although they only bothered you if you stood still. Following a hearty breakfast I set off and immediately had a steep climb out of Kinloch Hourn on the Drover’s track to Corran. The young Frenchman who also stayed in the B&B was just behind me so I waited and we walked together until our paths split.  

Pierre walking up the hill out of Kinloch Hourn
 He is from the Alps but is walking the Cape Wrath Trail because he was looking for something hardcore.  

What a view down the valley
 The views were outstanding, particularly through the gaps in the peaks down to Loch Hourn.  

Loch Hourn – I walked along there yesterday!
 The weather was closing in though and before 10am my waterproofs were on and i had 5 minutes of rain followed by 15 minutes surrounded by fog. The waterproofs came off and then the whole thing was repeated a short while later. Waterproofs were on and off for the rest of the morning.  

There’s a mountain behind me, honest
 The 9 mile walk through the mountainous landscape and then down Glen Arnisdale to Corran was wonderful. It felt really remote and, even though I have not scaled any peaks, I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the landscape. In some ways it’s more like people would have done in the past: picked their way from A to B around the mountains rather than climbing then. It certainly has developed an appeal with me.  

Gleann Dubh Lochain
  
stunning, and steep, scenery
 
I arrived in Corran, on the North shore of Loch Hourn, in time to walk to the last house, where the shed has been converted into Sheena’s Tea Hut. I love places like this and I settled down next to the wood burner to dry off while I enjoyed soup, a pot of tea and a cake. Perfect.  

Sheena’s tea hut, Corran
 The weather was clearing up for the afternoon and the rest of my day was a road walk. I was heading for Glenelg and could have walked through the mountains instead of along the coast road, but I didn’t because 1) I’m doing a coastal walk, 2) I would have missed Sheena’s Tea Hut, and, most importantly, 3) I wanted to visit the Ring of Brightwater.  

The town of Arnisdale has a huge mountain rising out the back of it
 My only preparation for this trek across Knoydart and Kintail was to read The Ring Of Brightwater by Gavin Maxwell. I knew his house, Camusfearna, had been in this area and by studying the map it was easy to work out where it had been. Now that I was so close I became determined to make my own little pilgrimage to see where the otters had lived. So it was only fitting that on the long road walk alongside Loch Hourn I should finally see an otter playing in the water. I have been looking all the way down the West coast and this was my first sighting since Shetland.  

Looking back across Loch Hourn towards Barrisdale Bay
 
Sandaig islands with Skye in the background
 The sun came out late afternoon and I was enjoying my walk in this beautiful land. Sixteen miles today was a lot and by the time I arrived at Upper Sandaig I was weary. But I had to walk the extra mile down through the Eileanreach Estate to Lower Sandaig. This area is now all part of a timber harvesting programme, providing wood pulp to the world, and so the landscape is littered with tree stumps. Needless to say the path on the map didn’t exist and I fought my way down the slopes, including a stream crossing balancing on small rocks. (Thank goodness for walking poles.) 

Sandaig Islands
 And there it was, the ring of brightwater.  

The Ring Of Brightwater
 There were other people there (as it turns out there’s an easier route from the road if I’d walked a bit further on) who had also come to see the memorials to Gavin Maxwell and Edal the otter. The house called Camusfearna no longer exists (it burned down). There was, however,  a rope bridge across the burn so naturally I had to cross it.  

…even with my pack on!
 As I walked around this overgrown place I suddenly had a brainwave – why don’t I just camp here? It was after 4pm, I was tired of walks and had nowhere to to stay. Perfect. I found a flat spot where the grass wasn’t too overgrown and pitched my tent, right by the beach.  

perfect pitch
 The people were leaving and I had the place to myself. First thing was a bath in the burn; very cold but refreshing. Second thing was to make my dinner – past followed by chocolate and green tea. Third thing was to light a fire to enjoy the fading evening sunlight and keep the midges away. It took me about an hour but I eventually managed to get a roaring fire. I am not experienced in lighting fires from scratch and I had no paper or kindling so I was pleased I managed to do it. What a wonderful evening sat on a great big log on a deserted and beautiful beach listening to the roar of the fire and the ebbing sea, feeling the heat of the flames and watching the sun disappear over the mountains of Skye. Perfect.  

perfect location for dinner
 I finally experienced an amazing wild camp. I went to bed utterly content and stinking of smoke. 

  

Day 148 A Short walk to Kinloch Hourn

Monday 31 August 2015

Barisdale to Kinloch Hourn

7 miles

Kinloch Hourn Farmhouse B&B

I was up early as I had planned to walk 15 miles today and, as it has been 6 weeks since I last walked with a full pack, that’s biting off quite a lot, particularly with the difficult terrain. 

It was a calm, still morning and quite muggy so the midges were out. So long as I kept walking they weren’t enough of a bother to require long sleeves and a head net. I left the bothy before the Czech guys surfaced.  

The view back to Barisdale Bothy
 The tide was in and Barrisdale Bay looked utterly tranquil and totally beautiful. The stillness of the water made for some wonderful reflections, even on a cloudy day.  

Loch Hourn looking spectacular
 The water was stunningly clear and I was so mesmerised that I walked past the clearly marked path I was supposed to take. Fortunately I only walked about 50m too far before I reached the edge of the loch.  

Looking back at Barisdale with Ladhar Bheinn just visible high on the right
 I just about managed to see Ladhar Beinn poking through the clouds before I turned the corner to walk along the side of Loch Hourn.  

Another stunning view of Loch Hourn
 The path was easy to follow, a bit up and down, wet and boggy with plenty of stream crossings. Fortunately I am wearing gaiters and my boots, being new, are as waterproof as they can be, so my feet didn’t get too wet. I met a couple of people on the way and they all had wet feet. At least I now know it is a common problem when hiking in Scotland; everyone suffers and no one can dry their boots out.  

Looking along Loch Hourn to the sea
 The cloud seemed to be getting lower even though the weather forecast had been good. I was walking slowly, only about 2 miles per hour. This was a combination of difficult terrain, an extra heavy pack (extra food and water for the wilderness) and being unfit for walking after 6 weeks off. As it transpired I took just over 3 hours 15 minutes to walk the 7 miles to Kinloch Hourn and the guide book time is 4 hours so it is slow going around here.  

Clouds over Loch Hourn
 It is certainly a lot warmer and muggier than when I was last in Scotland. This made for a very sweaty walk today, and also explains the sudden, en masse, appearance of the midges.  

There’s a house over there
  
I can almost see some mountain tops
 
I was tired when I reached Kinloch Hourn and found a tea room that I wasn’t expecting. What a joy. Tony offered me a bacon sandwich and I couldn’t refuse. I sat chatting with a couple who were walking the Cape Wrath Way (same as the Czechs), which is a seriously hardcore route that goes off-piste through the mountains, is not signposted and much of it doesn’t have paths. They had wild camped the last 7 nights. I am becoming resigned to the fact that I couldn’t do without washing for that long.  

Approaching Kinloch Hourn – there is a community nestled on the banks of the loch
 So it turns out the tea room is also a B&B. Perfect. I can afford it and 7 miles was enough on my 2nd day. Besides, it started raining again.  

Remote living

No roads to this house
 The next 8 miles is rough path so I decided to save that for the morning. I sat in the B&B admiring the view, updating my blog and chatting to Pierre (he’s French), another one doing the Cape Wrath Way and bemoaning the persistent wet feet, bog and lack of paths. A common theme! It rained and the midges came out – the worst I’d seen them. I was glad to be inside.  

Day 147 Loch to Loch across Knoydart

Sunday 30 August 2015

Inverie to Barisdale

8 miles

Barisdale Bothy

I had a lovely meal in the pub, which seems like it does good trade. It was time to leave when one of the locals – an odd chap – started boring me to death and then told me if I was coming back to Knoydart he would quite like a partner so the offer was there if I fancied living with him. It was difficult to refuse such a proposal from such a weirdo but somehow I managed to. I walked back to my tent in the dark and the rain. It rained all night on and off so I had unbroken sleep as it seemed like mini tornadoes kept engulfing the tent in strong wind and heavy rain. I thought it would be quiet at night in the middle of nowhere but how wrong I was; crashing waves, thundering waterfalls, howling wind, babbling burns and the pit-patter of heavy rain on the tent make for a noisy night! 

Water tumbling off the mountain – a common sight and sound
 The heavy rain didn’t stop until 10 am so I languished huddled in my sleeping bag. Fortunately the easy route to Barisdale is only 8 miles along a track so I had plenty of time. The poor weather meant I discounted taking the more scenic route that involved climbing Ladhar Beinn (thanks for the tips Rohan). I was glad I waited for the rain to subside because I didn’t get rained on for the rest of the day although it was very damp and, judging by which peaks I could see (not many!) the cloud base rarely lifted above about 600m. Oh well, I’ve come to expect it now.  

Looking back at Inverie Beach and North Morar across Loch Nevis
  
Inverie Bay and a bit of blue sky
 
On the bright side, I still had stunning views and the walk was so beautiful that I think I smiled the whole way. The first section followed a Land Rover track up the valley that holds the meandering Inverie River to Loch an Dubh-Lochain.  

someone wild camping by Loch an Dubh-Lochain
 Just as I exited a small wood there, on a hillock at a bend in the valley, was a memorial. It is certainly in a great spot even though it was put there by the hated Lord Brocket to commemorate his father.  

Lord Brocket’s Memorial as I came out of the trees
  
Looking at the memorial from the other side
 
From the loch the path became a track that was very wet and occasionally became a stream. Nonetheless, it was a path and it led up Mam Barrisdale, a 450m col.  

My route up Gleann an Dubh-Lochain (the path goes up the left and to the left of the peak)
 I still couldn’t see many of the mountains but the view back down the valley was amazing and over the other side turned out to be just as good.  

Looking back down the valley from Mam Barrisdale, Loch Nevis just visible in the distance
  
Looking ahead, Loch Hourn is down to the left
 

As I walked down into Barisdale (the map has spells it Barrisdale and the signpost Barisdale – I’ve no idea which is correct) there were great views back up Gleann Unndalain (debates on how to spell Glen as well!) and along Glen Barrisdale. I still couldn’t see Ladhar Bheinn.

The view up Glen Barrisdale
 There were some very strange large rocks on this slope; they looked almost like chopped tree trunks with  their curves and rings.  

Is it a rock or a tree trunk?
 All of a sudden Barrisdale Bay came into view. The tide was out and I think the sand made it look even better. I had walked from the Loch of Heaven (Loch Nevis) to the Loch of Hell (Loch Hourn). Both are very beautiful and help to cut off and border the Knoydart peninsula.  

Barrisdale Bay in Loch Hourn
 There are no roads to Barisdale, but there are about 4 dwellings. I assume these people have boats, although I didn’t see any nearby. I did pass 4 people walking from Barisdale to Inverie and they were on a yachting holiday and had been dropped off to walk from Loch Hourn to Loch Nevis.  

A better view of Barrisdale Bay and Druim Fada mountains behind
 Barisdale Bothy was empty when I arrived at 3 pm after a very leisurely walk. It had two 6-person bunk rooms and a living room with a table and chairs, and a sink with running water. There was also a toilet and basin; provide your own toilet paper. As there was no one else there I was able to enjoy a strip wash and launder my smalls (I am a clean freak I’ve decided). Dinner was chicken massaman with potato and rice (British Army rations – thanks Chris), a cereal bar and a cup of green tea (no milk required). Yum. 

There was nothing to do, no phone signal or internet on Knoydart, and the midges were coming out so I settled for an early night and a bit of reading (am on to A Butcher’s Broom by Neil Gunn). At 8.30 two Czech guys arrived after walking from Shiel Bridge (where I hope to be in 3 days, albeit via a different route). They were soaked from the knees down and kept saying they couldn’t believe how boggy the land was and how difficult it was to walk with no paths. I sympathised!!!

Despite an early night I didn’t get much sleep as have a bit of a cold and was coughing a lot in the night.  

 

Day 122

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Campbeltown to Inveraray

Driving tour

Inveraray hostel

I left Campbeltown fairly early with a thought that I would get the ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. I was really early so I drove past the ferry terminal for a couple of miles to see the ruins of Skipness Castle.  

Skipness Castle
 By the time I had walked around the grounds of this 13th Century castle and dodged a tractor on the road back there was a long queue for the ferry and not enough space for my car. Oh well, I wasn’t sure about going to Arran anyway as I couldn’t find accommodation and I wanted to climb Goat Fell but the weather was terrible (as usual) so the views would have been non-existent. I reassessed and instead carried on driving back up to Tarbert and caught the ferry across Loch Fyne to Portavadie on the Cowal peninsula.  

Looking back at Tarbert from the ferry
 This is the heart of Argyll and there were plenty of clues that on any other day the scenery would be outstanding as there are 3 fingers to Cowal that are separated by 2 sea lochs, known as the long lochs. Then you have the lochs separating Cowal from Kintyre to the West, Inverclyde to the East, and the Isle of Bute to the South. No wonder Argyll and Bute has a longer coastline than the whole of France! There are hills, trees and water everywhere you look. If only there wasn’t so much rain and cloud! 

The Kyles of Bute and the Isle of Bute
 I drove up the West side of the Kyles of Bute and Loch Riddon, admiring the views whenever the clouds parted. I missed out the “middle finger” and drove around the top of Loch Striven and across to the Royal Burgh of Dunoon. Loch Striven was where Barnes Wallis’ bouncing bombs were tested. 

From Dunoon I got my first sight of Glasgow, across the Firth of Clyde, confirming that I was indeed heading to South Scotland now.  

Inverclyde across the Firth of Clyde
 Dunoon was the first place that looked like a “seaside town” since Fife on the East Coast. I was almost excited. It certainly looked like a town that was once a Victorian seaside destination, with its promenade, pier and big old buildings. I climbed up Castle Hill but the views weren’t great with such low cloud.  

Looking down on Dunoon from Castle Hill
 As I couldn’t really see much of the town I spent an hour in the rather fascinating Castle House Museum with its odd collections. On leaving the town I stopped for a quick coffee at one of the worst cafes I’ve been in – possibly a sign of the state of the town?

From Dunoon I headed North around the end of Holy Loch and all along Loch Eck to reach the East side of Loch Fyne at Strachur. Holy Loch is so named because a ship carrying sacred Jerusalem soil bound for Glasgow Cathedral was wrecked here. It also has the distinction of being the training ground for the Cockleshell Heroes and was a Polaris Submarine base until 1992. 

Loch Eck

It was the addition of so many trees, along with so much water, that made this afternoon’s drive different and spectacular. There were still lots of hills and mountains, and I went over a few as I criss-crossed between lochs. I headed back East to Lochgoilhead and drove down the dead end road alongside Loch Goil to Carrick Castle, yet another castle on a loch; Scotland has so many!  

Carrick Castle on the shore of Loch Goil
 I didn’t fancy camping in the terrible weather and the only cheap accommodation I could find was the hostel at Inveraray. This meant driving back around the head of Loch Fyne, but it’s all so picturesque that it really wasn’t a chore. I particularly enjoyed driving over the A83 mountain pass called Rest And Be Thankful. I did indeed stop to admire the (obscured) view and was thankful for being in such a beautiful country. I was looking at 2 parallel roads: the A83 and an old military road cut into the hillside. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo. 

On the way back down Loch Fyne I passed the original Loch Fyne restaurant and oyster bar. It also had a seafood and deli shop that looked amazing.  

The original Loch Fyne restaurant
 Inveraray was a surprise. I had no idea I was staying in such a fine example of an 18th Century Scottish new town. It was designed by one architect as an estate village to house the workers on the Duke of Argyll’s estate. Inveraray Castle is a Georgian mansion house just on the edge of the town and is the seat of the Campbells.  

The main street in Inveraray
  
Inveraray Castle
 
On the top of Duniquaich hill, overlooking Inveraray is a monument that is a prominent landmark.  

Monument Hill
 The town itself also has a jail (now open to tourists), an excellent bell tower that is not part of the church, and a wonderful war memorial.   

Inveraray’s Bell Tower
 
The war memorial on the shore of Loch Fyne
 Inveraray is clearly a popular stop on the tourist trail and I quite liked it. I went for a nice dinner at The George Hotel and hung around to listen to the live band playing traditional Scottish music afterwards. It was a good evening.  

 

Day 146 Ferry to Inverie and the UK Mainland’s Remotest Pub

Saturday 29 August 2015

Mallaig to Inverie, Knoydart

Ferry, 3 miles walked

Inverie campsite

Not a bad night’s sleep on the floor of the ferry office. I was treated to tea and an apple turnover for breakfast while waiting for the ferry and chatting to the ferry drivers.  

Leaving Mallaig
 Heavy rain was forecast and it was coming in waves but fortunately the crossing was eventful. There were 2 Air Force officers from Lossiemouth on my ferry, heading to Inverie for the weekend. Oh those were the days! As the ferry approaches Inverie Bay, having crossed Loch Nevis (the Loch of Heaven), it passes a strange, and large, statue of a Madonna on the Rubha Raonuill headland.  

The Madonna of the Highlands?
 Inverie is a small town, population about 100, and the capital of Knoydart. I was impressed by the effort that has gone into the community, starting with the home-built ferry terminal building (a wooden hut) that is a welcoming sight on a rainy day. There were a line of land rovers parked outside it – I think everyone has one to get about the 7 miles of road around Inverie that is not connected to anywhere outside Knoydart. Truly remote. 

Inverie ferry terminal
 The Knoydart Foundation was set up and bought the land for the community in 1999. There is lots of information on the struggles with landowners in the Ranger’s office. The most notorious landowner was Lord Brocket, a Nazi sympathiser, and apparently Hitler was a visitor at Inverie House in 1937.  

Memorial to the Knoydart Land Raiders – a group of men who tried to wrest Knoydart from the landowner in 1948
 The rain was on and off all day but I managed to walk to the campsite and put my tent up without getting soaked. I did have to duck into the tea room to avoid one heavy shower on the way but that wasn’t a hardship.  

A beautiful spot to camp behind Inverie Beach
 I went on a short walk around the town and up the hill to the viewpoint.  

A beautiful shelter with seats built at a viewpoint over Inverie Bay, North Morar across the water
 Knoydart has 3 Munros but there was no point in tackling one for the views today as they were invisible in the cloud. I settled in Britain’s remotest pub for the afternoon and evening and was joined by a bunch of musicians who were having a traditional music jam session with their accordions, flutes and whistles. There is a lovely feel about this small community; there clearly is a vibrant community here. Hydro electricity powers the town and they are keen on all things ‘green’ (the campsite has a compost toilet). There are some wondeful-looking tourist houses, with great views and hot tubs. I am content with my tent by the beach, although I won’t be taking advantage of the fire pits and ready-chopped wood as it’s unfortunately not dry enough to sit outside for the evening.  

Looking down on Inverie Beach
 Fortunately I phoned ahead to book dinner in The Old Forge pub as it gets very busy. For £4 I can get a shower here too. With 4 days in the wild coming up I think I’m going to take advantage. 

I wonder who lives here?

Day 121 Mull of Kintyre

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Oban to Campbeltown, Kintyre

Driving tour

Campbeltown Backpackers

I didn’t get to sleep until after 1 am as that’s when the bar downstairs closed. I did not enjoy being cramped in a small room with 5 blokes so was up very early after a poor night’s sleep. The room stank of sweaty men and I needed to get out of there. 

Guess what…it was raining. How unsurprising! My only plan was to get to the Mull of Kintyre. I had bought a road atlas yesterday as I’ve run out of maps; this means I am unlikely to be doing much walking now without OS maps to scrutinise for walks to do. Still, in this weather I’m happy just driving to be honest. 

The poor weather meant the views of the islands in the Firth of Lorn (Scarba, Lunga and the Garvellachs), and later across the Sound of Jura to the islands of Jura and Islay, were not what they could have been. 

 From Oban I drove down to Easdale, the town at the end of the Isle of Seil, which is attached to the mainland by the Clachan Bridge.  

The Clachan Bridge
 From Easdale there are views across the Sound of Insh to Insh Island and the Firth of Lorn to Mull.  

The dark coastline of the Wild West
 I didn’t bother stopping again until I reached Kilmartin, the main town in the beautiful Kilmartin Glen, which opens out onto Moine Mhor. This was a gem of a place with a great little museum giving an insight into the rich archaeological history that is visible all around this valley. There is a line of stone cairns running along the valley, standing stones, fort remains and various cup and ring marks that one could spend days looking at it all.  

The stone cairn at Kilmartin
 I think Kilmartin Glen and the raised peat bog of Moine Mhor have the largest concentration of historical places and monuments that I’ve seen.

I spent a couple of hours in the excellent little museum at Kilmartin, which also has a nice cafe. The Kilmartin church had some crosses that were similar to the Pictish crosses on the East coast, but Celtic.  

Moine Mhor
 I really enjoyed the drive across the Moine Mhor peat bog as it was such a different landscape – a wide open low lying area on the edge of the mountains. In the middle of the Mhor is a lump of rock with the remains of Dunadd Fort on top. This is the hill where St Columba came to anoint Aidan as first Christian king of Scotland in 574. So much history! 

The Dunadd Fort hill on Moine Mhor
 Next stop was Crinan and the entrance to the Crinan Canal. The road followed the canal for a bit and I was able to see a few of its 15 lochs and 7 bridges. The canal was built in 1801 and handily links the Sound of Jura with Loch Fyne, thus eliminating the need for boats to go all the way around the Mull of Kintyre. The canal is now part of the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail that goes from Oban to Helensburgh.  

Crinan Canal
 I drove on to Lochgilphead and across Knapdale to the pretty little town of Tarbert, at the entrance to the Kintyre peninsula.  

Tarbert
 It was raining quite hard by now but I stopped briefly to admire the harbour and, in particular, a couple of Loch Fyne skiffs that were moored up.  

Loch Fyne skiffs in the harbour
 From here I drove down the West side of Kintyre and could just about see across to Jura and Islay; the Paps of Jura were faintly visible through the rain and cloud.  

The paps of Jura are there somewhere!
 I thought I ought to check out the old RAF Machrihanish, which now serves as Campbeltown Airport. The road to the Mull of Kintyre skirts around the end of the runway. 

Kintyre felt like the Wild West to me. It definitely had a really remote feeling and the drive to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse was single track, up and down, with a couple of gates to open on the way. Kintyre was the heart of the Dalriada Kingdom, started by the Gaelic speaking Scotti tribe from Ireland around 300AD. 

More rugged coastline
  I was surprised to see a couple of very remote houses; I wonder who lives out here and how they do their shopping? Once I arrived at the final, locked gate it was time to abandon the car and walk down the steep hill towards the lighthouse. I didn’t bother going all the way down and gave up about halfway, after about 4 hairpin bends. Despite the grey day I could see Northern Ireland really clearly; it’s much closer than I thought.  

The Mull of Kintyre, Northern Ireland in the distance
 I wended my way across to Campbeltown via Southend and the road that hugs the rugged coastline.  

The view along the Southern coast of Kintyre
 I stopped on the Southern bit to look at Keil Caves, once inhabited, and to see the footprints in a rock. Apparently these belong to St Columba and signify the spot where he landed in Argyll when he came from Ireland to bring Christianity to the Picts.  

One of the Keil caves
  
St Columba’s footprints
 
I arrived in Campbeltown early evening and made my way to the Campbeltown backpackers. It works on an honesty payment system (put the fee in an envelope and post it in a box) and there were only 2 of us staying the night, me and a journalist who works in the town but is waiting for a house. Unbelievably this guy came from Fairfield, about 5 miles from where I am from, on the outskirts of Birmingham. Shame I didn’t like him! He did recommend the Ardshiel Hotel for a nice dinner. Their whisky bar looked amazing…if you like whisky!  

How many whiskies?
 I learnt that Campbeltown used to have 17 whisky distilleries and Paul McCartney used to have a place here (hence the song). These days the town looks a little rundown.  

 

Day 120 Ferries, Bridges and Castles around Loch Linnhe

Monday 3 August 2015

Craignure, Mull to Oban, Argyll and Bute

Driving tour

Corran House Hostel

It was raining again when I left the bunkhouse and headed just down the road to the Fishnish ferry terminal. I think this is the smallest and quietest ferry terminal on Mull and so I was in one of only 4 cars to board the ferry to Lochaline.  

Fantastic roads right on the edge of Loch Linnhe, driving through the rain
 Back on the mainland I was once again in the Highlands for a short time as I headed up the West side of Loch Linnhe to Corran. Here I could get a ferry across the Loch, thus avoiding a 40 mile drive around the Loch, via Fort William. What a bonus to arrive and drive straight on board the packed ferry without having to queue.  

The Corran Ferry across Loch Linnhe
 The first of 3 bridges for today was the magnificent Ballachulish Bridge spanning the point where Lochs Linnhe and Leven meet.  

Ballachulish Bridge
 A bit further along the coast there were good views of Castle Stalker, a Clan Campbell residence, marooned on a small island at high tide. The best views were from a well-positioned cafe so naturally I took full advantage and took a break. 

Castle Stalker
 Next up was Creagan Bridge, across Loch Creran and then finally Connel Bridge, which took me out of the Highlands and back into Argyll and Bute.  

Looking back at the Connel Bridge from Dunbeg
 As I approached Oban I stopped at Dunstaffnage Castle for a quick look at one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland. Built on a promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorn it has a great strategic position and is supposedly where the Stone of Destiny was brought from Ireland (later the Stone of Scone). It was once the seat of power for the rulers of Dalriada, the ancient Gaelic Kingdom that included much of Western Scotland and a bit of Northern Ireland.  

Dunstaffnage Castle
 As I approached Oban the sun started to come out for the evening and I could have camped but I’d already booked a hostel to escape the bad weather. I drove around Oban and along the front towards Dunollie Castle, the capital of the Kingdom of Lorn and the seat of the Clan Macdougall Chief, Lord of the Isles.  

Dunollie Castle, Oban
 By the castle is a huge rock that is known as the dog stone. Folklore says this is where the Celtic mythological giant Fingal tethered his dog Bran.  

Fingal’s dog stone
 I thought Oban was quite a good looking and busy town based around a port and sheltered by islands. For the best view I walked up the hill at the back of the town to McCaig’s Tower, a circular wall built to resemble the Colosseum.  

McCaig’s Tower on the hill overlooking Oban
 A ridiculous folly but it’s a great view point to watch the sun setting over Oban Bay.  

Sun setting over Oban Bay
 The hostel I was staying in was packed and I was sharing a cramped 6-person room with 5 blokes. I definitely should have camped! I decided to go for a nice meal to forget about the cramped, smelly room that awaited and so I splashed out on a good restaurant. The thing about being in my own is that places can often just fit me in without a reservation. I got lucky at Ee-Usk on the North Pier and had a lovely seafood dinner.  

 

Day 145 The Jacobite Steam Train

Friday 28 August 2015

Trains from Glasgow to Mallaig

Knoydart Ferry Office

I was up early after a comfortable night on Maggie’s sofa. Due to a technical hitch with the shower I had my first bath in ages and then it was a dash across Glasgow City centre to Queens Street train station. Maggie even provided me with a packed lunch, I was feeling very well looked after. 

The train to Fort William was running late and was packed full, although no one sat next to me and I don’t even smell at this point! I sat back and enjoyed the scenery as we headed up some amazing valleys and seemed to be following a bit of the West Highland Way. In spite of the usual low cloud I’ve become used to in Scotland that does its best to obscure the views, the journey was picturesque and the train’s trolley dolly was excellent in pointing out landmarks if she came past you at the right time. 

Although the train went all the way to Mallaig I disembarked at Fort William in order to catch the Jacobite steam train that runs twice a day from Fort William to Mallaig. This is the same one that I had watched go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the one that Harry Potter catches to Hogwarts.  

Ready to board The Jacobite steam train at Fort William
 What a treat. The scenery was stunning and the sights and sounds of the steam and the train whistle made it a fun trip. This time I was the one waving from the train at all the spectators as we rode over the viaduct.  

The view from the Glenfinnan Viaduct
 I arrived in Mallaig and went straight to the ferry ticket office as I had a notion I’d catch the last ferry to Knoydart and camp there (there are no campsites in Mallaig). Unfortunately the ferry was fully booked, but fortunately the man in the office very kindly offered me the chance to sleep in the office (a bit like a portacabin) overnight. Bonus. Somewhere dry, warm, with a toilet, a kettle and wifi for the night. I didn’t need persuading. This gesture is a good example of Highland friendliness towards strangers. I was left to make myself at home and given the keys to lock the door. I merely have to open the office up for the boat skipper in the morning!

It was nice to be back in a familiar town and I headed to the Clachain Inn for some dinner (my 3rd time in this pub so I must be a regular). My overriding impression of the day was a good feeling to be coming back to the Highlands. I really like it up here; the people, the scenery and the wildlife.  

Heading over the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Day 144 Heading back up North

Thursday 27 August 2015

Train to Glasgow

Maggie’s flat, Renfrew

It was a 5 hour train trip from London Euston up to Glasgow Central. I should have tried to doze but instead filled my time with watching the World Athletics Championships streamed into my iPhone and bits of the Eurohockey. Oh, and I also looked out of the window!

Maggie picked me up from Glasgow station and drove us back to her flat in Renfrew. I met Maggie when camping in Northumberland and she said to contact her when I passed by Glasgow…so I did! It was lovely to meet her again and she very kindly put me up for the night and arranged to take me out in Glasgow. 

I spent a fabulous evening with Maggie and Allan. We went to the Hilton for fillet steak (delicious!) and then afterwards to a pub called Lebiwskis Pop Up (?) where there is a Thursday night jam session. Allan and Maggie were excellent hosts and great company, and I was very appreciative of Allan treating me to such a wonderful dinner. The live music topped off a lovely evening and I thought the musicians were very good, particularly Kenny on the keyboard (he bought me a drink) and Big Paul on the guitar. This was a jam session for rock musicians of a certain vintage, a pretty good vintage by the sound of it! 

Members of the Independence band on stage