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 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 118 Pilgrimage to Iona

Saturday 1 August 2015

Tobermory to Craignure, driving anti-clockwise around Mull

Driving tour, 4 miles walked

Craignure Bunkhouse

Sharing a room with 5 strangers meant I woke early. Unsurprisingly the sky was dark grey and it was pouring with rain but I decided to get going anyway. I wanted to visit Iona and had decided to drive a long, circuitous route around Mull to get there.  

Sheep stranded at high tide
 The drive along the South side of Loch Na Keal and then around Loch Scridain was on a road that pretty much bordered each loch. I kept my eyes peeled for otters but no such luck. I saw lots of herons and a few other birds but not a lot else. I think most of the wildlife was sheltering from the bad weather.  

The view along the Ardmeanach coastline
 The drive was scenic, with water on one side and mountains on the other. I couldn’t see Ben More, Mull’s Munro, through the clag but it was nice driving the windy, up and down roads. I was reminded of the Lake District, which I think was because of the trees. On any other day there would also be stunning views to Coll and Tiree.  

Waterfalls everywhere coming off the mountains…in summer!
 I arrived at Fionnphort, the tip of Ross of Mull, in time for the 9.55 am ferry across the Sound of Iona. 

Looking out of the ferry window to Iona
 The sky was very dark and the short 10 minute crossing was surprisingly rough. Having seen the influence of St Columba in Lindisfarne and around N Scotland I thought I ought to visit the island where his legend started.  

That’s a very dark sky over Iona!
 St Columba was from Ireland but arrived on Iona and founded the Iona Abbey in 563. This small island still attracts pilgrims and has its own Christian community (the Iona Community) who fervently believe in pacifism and go on peace marches so I didn’t mention I am ex-RAF. 

The sea around Iona has some fantastic colours: green through to black. It is pretty impressive, as is the sound the sea makes. Some people say it’s all quite spiritual; I thought the water was quite shallow and sandy, hence the wonderful green colour, and the large amounts of seaweed accounted for the darkness.  

The sun came out and look at the colour of the sea
  
Upon arriving on Iona I walked through the ruins of the old nunnery. I was fascinated to learn that buildings like this often had a carving of a naked woman with her legs apart, called a Sheena-Na-Gig, to ward off evil. Fortunately this carving was worn away so no eyes can be offended! (The information board was more graphic.)
The Sheena-Na-Gig at the Nunnery
 The sky was so black that I went into the Heritage Centre next and enjoyed an hour reading about Iona’s history while the rain bucketed down. I emerged into a flash flood along the road, but I was dry. That was £2.50 well spent! 

The Iona Nunnery
 I was going to go to the Abbey next but all of a sudden there was blue sky and sunshine so instead I walked across the island to the West side (it’s a good 15 minute walk from one side of the island to the other) to the famous St Columba’s Bay. First I had to cross the Iona golf course – definitely not worth a trip to play on this course! 

Approaching St Columba’s Bay across Iona’s golf course
 St Columba’s Bay was quite nice. I think I was expecting too much and have seen too many great beaches to be blown away by it. It’s mostly a stony beach with some white sand and the sea has lots of rocks and seaweed in it. The sound of the sea is supposed to be amazing?! 

St Columba’s Bay
 Just a bit further on from St Columba’s Bay is Port Ban, a smaller bay and this one has beautiful white sand and the sea looks amazing.  

Port Ban
 There was a woman in swimming but I didn’t feel like it. Although the view was wonderful, the sea had a lot is seaweed in it and the burn running into it was red with iron and that gave the sea a reddish tinge. Beautiful to look at but it didn’t call me for a swim.  

Port Ban
 After sitting on a high rock overlooking Port Ban for an hour I walked back across the saturated golf course and headed for the Abbey. It was early afternoon and more people were arriving with every ferry; it reminded me of my trip to Lindisfarne.  

The red burn running down to Port Ban
 The Abbey is the main draw on Iona and also houses people on Iona Community courses. It is not the original Abbey that St Columba founded in 563 but is the 1900s version. It is still clearly a place that is venerated by many people but I was just interested in the history, not the spirituality. 

Iona’s Abbey
  Just as I was thinking I’d had enough I saw a ferry coming in so I hurried down to the quayside to get on it. This time the water was calmer and I could see the sand beneath and some fantastic hues of green and blue.   

A cross in the primary school playground
  Once back on Mull I headed a bit further South to look at a couple of beaches shown on my map. I had been told the beaches at Ross of Mull were fantastic so I diverted to take a look and this one was rather nice. Behind the beach was Machair grassland, which is a protected habitat and gives the beach a sheltered feel thanks to the grassland and dunes.  
A beautiful beach – Ardalanish Bay with views South to Colonsay, Islay and Jura
  I think the beaches on the West coast of Arisaig, Ardnamurchan and Mull are all quite similar, it’s just that some are bigger and more remote. 
Looking the other way along Ardalanish beach
  The cloud was coming back as I drove across the Island, along Glen More to Craignure. I would definitely like to come back to Mull. I reckon this would be a great island to walk around and perhaps then I would see some of the wildlife that eluded me this time, including otters, red deer and eagles.  

The majestic Glen More
 Craignure Bunkhouse was a nice surprise as it was modern, clean and hospitable, and I was able to do some much needed laundry. I was sharing a room with 2 old ladies, Jean and Rosemary, as well as another lady. Two French girls turned up late having missed their bus connecting so, in the absence of the warden, we found them some bedding and fixed them up in our room for the night as we couldn’t just turf them out. 

Jean and Rosemary were a hoot and Jean was telling stories late into the night. She has been hostelling for 61 years (she’s 77 years old) and seems to take all her holidays in hostels, sometimes with her children and grandchildren as well. She was a fascinating lady. I fell asleep to her stories and woke up to her snoring!

Around the Southern part of Mull (and Iona) many of the locals have put out ‘scarecrows’. These were two of the best.  

A sunbather on the way to St Columba’s Beach
The Bunessan police have a sense of humour

Day 125 Mull of Galloway and Luce Bay

Saturday 8 August 2015

Stranraer to Wigtown

Driving tour, 3 mile walk

Ali’s house, Edinburgh

I woke to a beautiful sunny day and packed up quickly to make the most of the early morning. My first stop was the Mull of Galloway, the Southern tip of The Rhins and Scotland’s most Southerly point. I parked the car and walked to the tip. Wow. It was glorious, and there was no one around so I got it all to myself – the quiet, the light, the creeping warmth of the sun. How lucky am I? 

Looking across the Ireland from Mull of Galloway
  
the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway
 As I was leaving I spotted a strange round tower in a field that had steps all around it. I always have to climb these things, just for the hell of it.  
what is this?
 I began the long drive around Luce Bay (I think they named it after me). It was a lovely drive and Luce Sands looked like a lovely big beach. 

The Rhins East coastline, bordering Luce Bay
On the East side of the bay I stopped in Port William, a pretty little town full of the same terraced houses I’d seen going up the East coast of Scotland. Killantrae Burn flowed through the town and right past the old piggery and abattoir. Although no longer used for that purpose, it’s history was celebrated by filling the yard with plastic pigs. I quite liked it.  

the Old Piggery at Port William
 There was a wonderful statue of a man looking across the sea to Ireland.  

“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stop and stare?” W.H.Davies
 Just after Monreith I stopped to look at a memorial by the side of the road. It was an otter and celebrated the author Gavin Maxwell who was from the area and had kept pet otters. 

Gavin Maxwell’s otter
an otter with a view of Monreith Beach
At the eastern end of Luce Bay, just before Burrow Head, is St Ninian’s Cave. I parked up and walked the mile or so down Physgill Glen to a small beach with a cave at one end. This was apparently the place where Scotland’s first saint retreated to pray and reflect. It is clearly still a pilgrim site as there were many crosses, carvings and prayers on the walls. Quite an amazing place. 

St Ninian’s Cave
prayer offerings all around St Ninian’s Cave
Next stop was the Isle of Whithorn. It’s not actually an Isle but a small town at the end of a natural inlet. 

the Isle of Whithorn
On the headland is the remains of St Ninian’s Chapel. St Ninian was the first Christian missionary to come to Scotland around 400AD. For centuries, Isle of Whithorn was the landing place for pilgrims coming from Wales, France, Spain, Ireland and Scandinavia. 

St Ninian’s Chapel, Isle of Whithorn
There is a huge witness cairn and the whole place had an incredible feel to it. 

the witness cairn
Just inland from the Isle of Whithorn was Whithorn so I diverted there to take a look. 

a beautiful archway leading to Whithorn Abbey

Here was Whithorn Priory, the earliest known Christian foundation in Scotland. It was established about 500AD by St Ninian, whose monastery became a site visited by the likes of Robert The Bruce and King James IV. He also built the Candida Casa, the little white church. So much history in one small corner of Scotland!
Whithorn Abbey
I finished my day with a quick stop in Wigtown; I had no idea this was Scotland’s National Book Town. So many book shops to choose from but I picked one and went in to buy a book. I came away with Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Brightwater, and John McNeillie’s Wigtown Ploughman
It was time for my road trip to come to an end and, as I was a long way from Inverness where I had hired my car, I had negotiated to drop it back at Heathrow Airport, which isn’t too far from home. That way I could visit home for a couple of weeks. I had decided to drive via Ali’s house in Edinburgh to collect my old tent and rucksack that she had been keeping for me. 

It was lovely to catch up with Ali and Morna again, and nice to spend the evening with friends before my long drive home tomorrow. 

that’s Northern Ireland I can see!

Day 124 The Ayrshire Coast

Friday 7 August

Balloch to The Rhins of Galloway

Driving tour

North Rhins campsite

Isabel fed me up and I particularly enjoyed her homemade muesli. I could have easily settled down for another few hours of chatting but she rightly set me on my way to find the next adventure. It was a fine day as I drove across the Erskine Bridge and along the River Clyde front to Port Glasgow and then Greenock.  

Port Glasgow
 It was lovely to stand in Greenock and look across to Dunoon – I got a better view of the place than when I’d been there thanks to the change in weather.  

Looking across the Mouth of the Clyde to Dunoon
 From Greenock/Gourock, right on the bend of the Clyde, there are ferries going across the Clyde to Helensburgh, or to Dunoon, or to Kilcreggan on the Rosneath Peninsula. I had other ideas however so I left the Clyde behind and turned South towards Largs.  

The Vikings have invaded Largs
 I passed through West Wemyss (there was one of these in Fife!) and got to admire the view across to the Isle of Bute. It wasn’t the most scintillating of drives but the sun was out so it was pleasant. 

Largs
I stopped in Largs to stretch my legs and look across to the 2 islands of Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae, and then carried on to Ardrossan.  

The Cumbraes; Goatfell on Arran in the background and in the middleground (just visible) is the tip of Bute
 After chatting to Isabel I had decided I would like to get the ferry to Bute and, ideally, to climb Goatfell as I expected some wonderful views that would take in  the Kintyre peninsula, the beautiful lochs and mountains of Argyll and Bute and Ayrshire. Unfortunately, I hadn’t banked on huge queues for the ferry, well it is holiday season I suppose.  

Prestwick beach (not an air traffic controller in sight!)
 I changed my plans and carried on South through Ayrshire, around the big sweep of Irvine Bay to Troon, Prestwick and Ayr. By now the sun was warm and the sky a deep blue, perfect weather for leaving the car behind. However, the road was next to the sea and the further I drove the better views I got so I carried on, and on, and on.  

Looking back up the Ayrshire coast
 At Girvan I stopped to stare at Ailsa Craig, the remains of a volcanic plug 10 miles out in the Irish Sea. It’s the place where the blue granite that is used to make all the world’s curling stones is quarried.  

Ailsa Craig
 I decided I might as well carry on to Stranraer and onto the “hammerhead” peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea and faces Belfast. Here I was sure I’d find a nice campsite.  

A roadside memorial to the Russian cruiser Varyag
 There was a big ferry in Loch Ryan, at Stranraer terminal, but the town seemed rather deserted. I carried on, straight across The Rhins Peninsula, to Portpatrick. It had clearly been a busy day by the seaside for lots of people and so unfortunately I was greeted by lots of detritus around the harbour and the town. It’s a quaint town and obviously a popular holiday destination. It was once the main port for ferried to Northern Ireland, until it was decided the shelter of Stranraer was preferable. I didn’t want to stay in Portpatrick so I decided to head back to Stranraer, get an early dinner, and hunt on the Internet for campsites. I stopped at Henry’s Bay House overlooking Loch Ryan for an early bird special. 

I found a nice little campsite in the middle of The Rhins. It was very sheltered (not that I required that tonight) with fire pits and looked lovely for families.  

Pitched at last
 Once I’d got my tent pitched I walked up the short hill to the Agnew Monument, from where I could admire the views in the setting sunshine.   

The Agnew Monument…
 
…built in 1850, paid for by locals, to commemorate the service of their politician, Sir Andrew Agnew. How times have changed!
A commanding view of Loch Ryan and Stranraer
 A lovely end to a very long day in the car.  

Sunset over the Irish Sea

Day 123 Climbing The Cobbler and Submarine Country

Thursday 6 August 2015

Inveraray to Balloch

Driving tour, 4 mile mountain walk

Isabel’s house (Morna’s mum)

I awoke to sunshine, which was a nice surprise. Everybody seemed to creep around the small youth hostel so I decided to walk back along Inveraray high street to find a nice breakfast in a small cafe/B&B. 

Looking back on Inveraray
  It gave me a chance to appreciate the views across Loch Fyne and the small Loch Shira, which is really just a bay of the huge Loch Fyne. 

Today seemed like a good day for a walk and I was itching to stretch my legs after a very long day of driving yesterday. I was surrounded by mountains but didn’t have an OS map of the area. Fortunately there was a map pinned to the wall in the youth hostel and so, after studying it for a while, I decided to head over to the tip of Loch Long and walk up The Cobbler (Ben Arthur). The map indicated a good path and, without a map, I was set to break one of my rules about walking without a back-up means of navigation so I determined that I would only walk to the top if it was a well trodden path. With a plan made I set off, driving back around the top of Loch Fyne and following the A83 back up Glen Kinglas, the main road following the same route as an old military road. I was still retracing yesterday’s route (but with some visibility today) until I reached the wonderfully named ‘Rest and be thankful’ viewing area at the high point between Glen Kinglas (leading to Loch Fyne) and Glen Croe (leading to Loch Long). What a beautiful spot and today I could admire the view that wasn’t visible yesterday. 

The road descended down Glen Croe, through Ardgartan Forest and in fact skirted around the mountain I intended to walk up, although I couldn’t see it through the trees. I reached Loch Long and stopped at the car park on the edge of Succoth, the town at the Northern tip of the Loch. There were lots of cars parked and people setting off hiking so I decided that, even though I was map-less, I would follow the well-marked path and not deviate from it. I knew where I was heading – to the top of The Cobbler and back – so it shouldn’t be difficult and there seemed to be plenty of other people with the same idea as me and making the most of a break in the bad weather.  

Looking down over the Ardgartan Forest to Loch Long
 What a wonderful climb up to the summit of Ben Arthur at 884m. The rocky top does look a little like a cobbler mending a shoe. 

“The Cobbler”
 Once I was above Ardgartan Forest the path followed a stream to the col between the 2 summits of The Cobbler and Beinn Narnain (926m). Tempting as it was to head for the higher peak, there was no well trodden path so without a map I stuck to my original plan. I passed lots of people on my walk up and down this mountain – no one passed me so I must still be pretty walk fit even after so long sat in a car.   

Looking ‘inland’ from The Cobbler, the clouds sweeping in
 There was a round route to the summit with steps going up and then a more difficult descent down the rocks. How typical that the weather should close in when I reached the top!  

at the top (honest)
 Still, the views on the way up were magnificent and I was enjoying the exercise.   

Looking down on the route I walked up (Succoth in the background)
 It took me just over 3 hours to complete my walk and so there was plenty of time for some more sightseeing when I arrived back at the car at 2pm.  

Loch Long
 I drove around the head of Loch Long, through Arrochar, and then took a wee road up and through Glen Douglas, crossing over the hills to Inverbeg on the shore of Loch Lomond. This was a stunningly beautiful drive. Although nothing is marked on the map I guess there’s some military bunkers here as there was a lot of security and megaphones were in operation. I am around the corner from Faslane after all. 
Loch Lomond
 After a few miles driving down the Western shore of Loch Lomond I cut back across Glen Fruich to Garelochhead and the Rosneath Peninsula – a tear drop between Loch Long and Gare Loch. This is Royal Navy country and I drove past Coulport and Faslane (one on each loch).  

Faslane Port on Gare Loch, the Rosneath Peninsula on the far shore
 The Rosneath peninsula is not very large but it was worth driving around to see the views looking South across the Firth of Clyde to Greenock and Dunoon. A great spot to shelter submarines.  

Greenock on the left and Dunoon on the right, from Rosneath
 Finally, I drove down the East shore of Gare Loch and stopped on the sea front in Helensburgh, once again facing across the Clyde to Greenock and Port Glasgow, and across the mouth of Gare Loch to Rosneath Point. It had been a fantastic drive cross-crossing between the lochs; there is so much water and beauty around Glasgow.  

The view towards Helensburgh from Rosneath Point
 It was late afternoon and my final stop was Morna’s mum’s house in Balloch. I headed out of Helensburgh via a quick stop to peer through the fence at Hill House, designed and built in 1902 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for the Blackie family. Unfortunately I had missed opening hours. 

I had a wonderful evening in the company of Isabel. I don’t think I have ever stayed in a cleaner house and she is a real inspiration for all the activities she gets up to in her eighties. It was lovely to be treated to good food and great company. 

Day 117 Ferry to Mull

Friday 31 July 2015

Lochaline to Tobermory

Driving tour, 3 mile walk

Tobermory Youth Hostel

I woke to the sound of rain thundering on the roof of the Dive Centre. I had done some handwashing the previous evening and none of it had dried in the damp weather. I draped it all around the car, ate some cereal and headed off to catch the early ferry from Lochaline to Fishnish on Mull. The ferry had a technical problem that meant the 4 cars waiting to board had to drive on and turn themselves around. No problem with only 4 cars but there was a longer queue when we got off at the other side. 

I had done no research on Mull and had only bought a rudimentary map yesterday. I was therefore in the unusual position of having no idea what to go and see, no idea of where I was going to stay and no plan. So I drove West to Tobermory, the main town. It has a pretty high street facing the harbour that is used for a well known children’s TV programme and so is now quite a well-visited place. It is pretty with all the buildings painted in bright colours.  

Tobermory
 It was still pouring with rain when I parked and went to the tourist information point to find some accommodation. I had thought I would camp but the forecast is terrible for the weekend so I was lucky to get availability in 2 hostels. 

The girls in the Dive Centre (the owners were out diving so I only saw their daughters) had recommended the Tobermory Bakery and the Chocolate Shop. I went to the Bakery for coffee and a croissant; very nice too. 

The man at the ferry terminal/tourist information had recommended a couple of walks and things to see. Mull has more forest than the rest of the West Coast and this seems to have attracted Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles. It would be amazing to see one of them. I didn’t know that Mull has lots of wildlife, including a large otter population. I guessed that Mull had lots of wildlife when I drove through the small coastal town of Salen and saw loads of birds right by the shore. There was even a road sign telling me to beware of otters running across the road. I got a great view of a buzzard that was sat pretty close and just looked at me.  

I love Highland Coos
 I drove to the NW corner, near Glengorm Castle (which is a hotel) and went for a walk.  

Glengorm Castle
 Past the Castle there is a set of standing stones (there are many around here) and further on there is some forest (possibly with Eagles) and the small Mingarry Loch.  

Glengorm standing stones
 There were lots of Highland Cattle wandering around, including calves and a bull, but they just looked at me through their wet shaggy fringes.  

Who’s the daddy?
 After half an hour I was soaked through but carried on to Loch Mingarry where I found a nature hide.  

Nature hide at Loch Mingarry
 I took shelter in it and spent almost an hour watching for wildlife. It was not as good as if I’d had binoculars; I think even the birds were hiding from the rain. I saw lots of herons fishing, a curlew, geese, a few gulls and Oystercatchers, but no Eagles or otters. Ah well.  

One of the views from the hide – searching the trees for eagles
 Back at the car I had more wet clothes to drape everywhere and so I drove off in my Chinese laundry. I spent a couple of hours driving a circular route that took in most of the West Coast of North Mull.  

The view(!) down the West Coast of Mull, well known for its fantastic scenery
 It is quite a dramatic coastline with some good cliffs and great views, particularly to Mull’s own set of small islands: Ulva, Gometra, the Treshnish Isles, Little Colonsay and Staffa.

Laggan Bay and the Sound of Ulva
 Unfortunately today was not a good day for views. I enjoyed the drive nonetheless and did see a rather angry looking waterfall that was quite impressive.  

I think all this rain has swelled the waterfall!
 I also stopped at Calgary Beach, with its beautiful sand and clear sea.  

Looking back at Calgary Beach
 
A small shop made out of a boat on the edge of the beach
  Back in Tobermory I checked into the Youth Hostel on the High Street and went to the pub along the road. Just my luck they were short on chefs tonight so were no longer serving food when I went to order. A quick trip to Co-op and it was a pasta meal for me.  

 

Day 116 UK Mainland’s Most Westerly Point

Thursday 30 July 2015

Arisaig to Lochaline

Driving tour

Lochaline Dive Centre Hostel

Today was predicted to be the nicest day of the week and I had a long drive ahead of me, hopefully with some good views. 

First stop was the Prince’s Cairn at the head of Loch Nan Uamh. This was where Bonny Prince Charlie landed in Scotland, and from where he made his escape on a French ship. Clan Ranald had supported him and there is reputedly still some buried gold in the area, treasure rescued from the battle between the English and French ships (the French were sided with the Scottish Stuarts).  

The Prince’s Cairn, Loch Nan Uamh
 I took a slight detour to see Castle Tioram on the edge of Loch Moidart. This was once the main residence of the Clan Ranald Macdonalds. It is perched on a rock that can be reached across the sandy beach at low tide, facing the North and Aouth channels of Loch Moidart as they envelope Eilean Shona.  

Castle Tioram
 I drove through the village of Acharacle, which seemed to be right in the heart of holiday home country. There looked to be some good fishing rivers around here and Possibly some hunting as I saw a few deer antlers hung up on houses. I stopped at the tea room; one of the nicest tea rooms I’d been in. Like others in these small places it was a community-run facility and attached to the only shop-come-post office in the village. It does seem like the most enterprising villages set up tea rooms and the like (sometimes in their village halls) to take advantage of the passing tourist trade. It’s a great idea and provides me with much needed(?) coffee and cake.  

Acharacle Post Office and Tea Room
 The Point of Ardnamurchan is the most Westerly point of the UK mainland (27 miles further West than Land’s End) and today was a great day to visit. It is a long drive across the Ardnamurchan peninsula, which was once a volcano. Aerial photos show clear circles in the landscape and it is possible to see cone sheets caused by volcanic activity around Ben Hiant. Apparently these are world famous. They do look quite impressive.  

The world famous(!) cone sheets enveloping Ben Hiant
 Whilst waiting at some traffic lights just before the lighthouse (only set of traffic lights I’ve seen on these single track roads) I was able to watch some Red Deer munching the grass. They were not bothered by me in the slightest. 

Red Deer on Ardnamurchan
 I arrived at the Point just as the clouds parted and the sky became blue. Perfect timing for a trip to the top of the lighthouse to admire the amazing view. 

The Point of Ardnamurchan
  The old lighthouse keeper (he was on the keeper list before the lighthouse was automated in 1988) showed me around and loaned me his expensive binoculars. I could see the Small Isles, the tips of the Cuillins on Skye and out as far as Barra and South Uist of the Outer Hebrides.  

Looking at the Inner Hebrides (Eigg and Rum)

The Cuillins on Skye were visible
 There were several yachts in the sea as this seems to be a good place for sailing. I could also see a couple of Ardnamurchan beaches, including Sanna. Similar to Arisaig, the sand was white and there were lots of small rocks just off shore that become islands at high tide, but these beaches were bigger and more difficult to get to so would be less crowded.  

Sanna Bay
 Apparently there were lots of basking sharks right here by the rocks last year, but none so far this year. 

The beach at Sanna Bay had looked so nice that I drove around to Portuairk to admire the white sand and the lovely colour of the sea. I keep seeing so many kayaks around here – this seems to be a great coastline for sea kayaking.  

The white sand beaches just like Arisaig
 The drive back along the side of Loch Sunart was beautiful. 

Fantastic views of the mountains and islands
  I stopped briefly at Strontian (the town after which the element Strontium is named!) to get some fuel and then headed South across Morvern to the Sound of Mull. The clouds were closing in and I was glad I’d booked into a hostel for the night as the forecast was for very heavy rain. Lochaline Dive Centre was a very relaxed place – I didn’t even see the owners. I was too late for the shop, where I could have got food and tokens for the launderette. Instead it was toast and handwashing for me. Still, I had a bed for the night and was out of the rain. 

 

Day 113 Inland to Fort William and out to Arisaig

Monday 27 July 2015

Ardelve to Mallaig

Driving Tour

Silversands Campsite, Arisaig

It rained all night and was still raining in the morning, with no sign of a let up. I packed away and went across the road to Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a random shop in this tiny village that’s not even a through route to anywhere. What a great place; run by a German couple who have built a bread oven and make great bread. I bought 2 (German style) chocolate croissants for breakfast and a multi seed heavy load. Good job I’m not walking as I don’t think I could manage the extra weight! 

Manuela’s Wee German Bakery
  
Manuela at work
 
I stopped to admire Eilean Donan Castle, which is handily placed where 3 lochs (Alsh, Long and Duich) meet. I didn’t pay to go in as something told me it wouldn’t be worth the price. It is spectacular looking on a small island, surrounded by mountains. 

Eilean Donan Castle
 It was built in 1214 by the Mackenzies, destroyed in the Jacobite Rebellion, and rebuilt in the early 1900s. By 9.30 the car park was full and there were 4 coaches. Time to leave.  

A fine looking castle
 Today’s drive was long but through the heart of the mountains taking in Glenshiel and part of the Great Glen along the way, as well as a few lochs.  

The view down Strath Croe
 The theme today was the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and it was a tour of various monuments, starting with the Macrae War Memorial on a small hillock looking down Strath Croe.  

The Macrae War Memorial
 I drove past the 5 sisters of Kintail and craned my neck to see the tops through the windscreen and the cloud.  

Mountains in Gleb Shiel
 Just before Fort William is Spean Bridge and by the roadside, with great views, is the Commando Memorial. Not just a memorial, there is an area of remembrance and an area for the scattering of ashes. A proper band of brothers.  

The Commando Memorial
 I wasn’t overly impressed by Fort William; I expected a bit more from the outdoor pursuit capital of Scotland. I spent an hour or so in the West Highland Museum mainly learning about the Jacobite Rebellion, the last attempt to put the Stuarts back on the British throne. Bonny Prince Charlie’s army was finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 (the battle that let to the building of Fort George near Inverness). 

My final memorial for today was the Glenfinnan Monument prominently posed at the end of Loch Shiel. It was erected in 1815 to mark the place where Bonny Prince Charlie supposedly raised his Royal Standard to begin the Jacobite uprising in 1745.  

The Glenfinnan Monument and Loch Shiel
 From the viewpoint one can also get a good view, in the other direction, of the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This magnificent structure carries the railway line from Fort William to Mallaig and was apparently featured in the Harry Potter films.  

The Glenfinnan Viaduct
 I was there at just the right time to watch the twice daily steam train pass over it. Lots of people had clearly made a point of coming to see the train go over the viaduct; I assume several were Harry Potter fans.  

Is Harry Potter on that train?
 It was late afternoon when I arrived at Arisaig and stopped at the information centre. I learnt that Arisaig was the centre for SOE training during WW2. Seemingly its location, being difficult to get to across the ‘rough bounds’, made it ideal for secret training. Plus there were enough large houses that could be requisitioned. 

The Arisaig coastline is stunning. Completely different to all the other places I’ve seen, with lots of rocks offshore that look like tiny islands. At low tide they are mostly all accessible across the sand. And what a colour the sand is! The whitest sand I’ve seen in the UK, nowhere else have I seen the same colour sand. Shetland came closest. The views were too many and too varied to do it justice with a photo. It is opposite the Small Isles of the Inner Hebrides: Eigg, Rum and Muck. Yet again I was wowed.  

Arisaig
 There are about 6 campsites here, right on the coast, and I only found one with space for my small tent. Fortunately it was just fine as I would rather have facilities than wild camp, although I saw several tents pitched along the coast in all sorts of places.  

Arisaig, with Eigg in the distance
 Arisaig was gearing up for its Highland Games on Wednesday so on the spur of the moment I thought I’d stay here to watch them and take a trip to the Small Isles tomorrow. It will be nice to stay here a couple of nights.  

 I drove to Mallaig early evening to take a look at this final town on the Morar peninsula. Ferries operate from here to the Small Isles, Knoydart and Skye. I had a nice dinner in The Clachain pub and took advantage of the very slow wifi.  

The beach behind my tent, with views to Eigg and Rum
  
The bays are shallow with rocks that are marooned at high tide