180. Ardgour to Locheilside

It rained most of the night, but I was really hoping that when I came to packing away the tent, the rain would cease. False hope i’m afraid, the rain increased and in 10 minutes of putting the tent away my last dry walking clothes were soaked. I ended up throwing the half-dismantled tent into the back of the car.

Crap weather aside, today would be unique in that I would use a combination of public transport (train, bus & ferry) to get to the start of my walk. I’m pretty sure I have never combined all three means of transport in a single section before. I would also begin walking in, what I’ve always referred to as Ardgour, which is actually just one of a number of districts (including Morvern, Ardnamurchan, Sunart and Moidart) that make up a very wild and rugged area of Western Scotland. The area also has a fine collection of mountains, often ignored by the masses, because of the absence of Munro’s.

I park up at the small Locheilside station. A brief respite in the rain allows me to rearrange the my half-dis-assembled tent and also to find some clothes that are not already soaking. I catch the 7:00 train from Mallaig into Fort William and then walk the short distance to the bus stop where I catch the 7:50 #44 bus to Corran Ferry. At Corran Ferry I utilise the frequent ferry service across Loch Linnhe to Ardgour. The ferry is run by the Highland council and is free to foot passengers and pedal cycles.

At Ardgour I begin the long walk north along the A861 single-track road which hugs the Loch Linnhe shoreline. For almost 30 minutes there is no rain and I begin to think I could be in for a dry spell. Wrong! It starts to rain incessantly for the next 5 hours. Even though the weather could be better, I enjoy the peace and quiet of the road where I can relax and think without having to jump onto the verge every few minutes. As I approach Fort William from the opposite side of Loch Linnhe, I can see a large cruise ship is docked in the middle of the loch. This is the MS Black Watch, a Fred Olsen owned vessel and currently on a 8 day cruise around the northern tip of Scotland before returning to Leith.

The Corran Ferry heading back across Loch Linnhe
Crushed Rock caused by movement along the Great Glen Fault at Rubha Dearg
Crossing the River Scaddle at Inverscaddle
MS Black Watch at Fort William

At Camasnagaul I pass a small jetty that a passenger ferry service operates across the loch to Fort William. Initially I had planned to make use of this ferry service, but my planning had bypassed this service entirely. I now enter Loch Eil, an eastern extension of Loch Linnhe. I can see and hear the wood processing yard a short distance across the loch at Corpach. As I near the head of Locheil, the rain briefly stops for 10 minutes. However, as I pass under the railway bridge and join the busy A830, normal service is resumed. I have another 2.5 miles of walking along the road to the rail station at Locheilside.

Camasnagaul ferry jetty
Looking across Loch Eil during a brief respite in the rain

On reflection these three days have not been particularly enjoyable, however, this trip was really about clocking up some miles, 60+ of them. It would have been nice to have had some views, but the lasting memory would be of rain…lots of it.

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23781

Distance today =   23.5 miles
Total distance =  3063 miles

179. Corran Ferry to Lochielside

I was hoping for better weather today, but unfortunately I did not get it. The forecasted showers simply merged into one long one! Besides the weather I was a bit concerned with the lack of any footpath alongside the A82 for the first 4 miles after Corran Ferry. In the end, although it was very very busy I had a reasonable verge for most of the way. However, there were a couple of sections which required great care, especially as there was no verge and little protection from vehicles passing in both directions. I did think of the extravagancies of certain sections of the NCN 78 along which I walked yesterday which had the path width 4m wide for some distance. The A82 really does need a simple footpath for this section of road.

Anyway, I caught the 7:50 #44 bus from Fort William to Corran Ferry, where I got off the bus and started walking back up the A82. The first 4 miles went quite quick as I was totally focused on getting to the start of the footpath further up the road. Through the vegetation i managed to get the occasional glimpses across Loch Linnhe to Ardgour, although the cloud was well down and it continued to rain. Eventually I reached the footpath and made progress into Fort William itself. I regarded reaching Fort William as one of my milestones and I thought I would celebrate by getting some lunch in Morrison’s cafe. While I was eating my lunch I came up with the idea of getting the train to my destination, Locheilside station, and then walking back to Fort William. This meant that I would not have to wait about 1.5hrs at Locheilside for a train back to Fort William. As luck would have it a train was leaving for Mallaig in 30 minutes, plenty of time to finish my lunch. The train was packed with tourists, standing room only.

The A82 – at one of its quieter moments
Approaching Fort William

I informed the guard that I needed to get off at Locheilside, as this is a request stop. The walk back along the busy A830, in the rain was just one long verg-hopping exercise. Although almost as busy as the A82, the traffic on the A830 was far faster because the road had a number of long straights. It was a relief to reach Corpach, which meant a footpath and getting onto quieter roads after crossing the railway tracks and Caledonian Canal. I was looking forward to walking over the recently refurbished Soldiers Bridge, which runs adjacent to the railway bridge as they cross the River Lochy. I finished the walk back in Fort William.

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23780

Locheilside Station
The large wood processing yard at Corpach – the destination of many of the logging trucks
The basin of the Caledonian Canal at Corpach
The Soldiers Bridge crossing the River Lochy at Caol
The Jacobite on it’s return journey from Mallaig

Distance today =  20 miles
Total distance =  3039.5 miles

 

 

 

 

178. Corran Ferry to Appin

Even though my planned three days promised rain each day, I simply had to put some miles on the clock as I have found that if you don’t keep the ball rolling it is always difficult to start again. My first day would have to be done in reverse as the bus timetables did not work in my favour and I would have begun walking very late in the day. Today was also the return to school for most of the children in Scotland. This meant, potentially, more bus services but there were local variations so I stuck with doing the walk in reverse.

Today would also see me leaving Argyll & Bute and passing into Lochaber, which is part of the greater Highland region. I will be in this region for some considerable time to come. The vast majority of the next three days will be cycle path and road walking, principally walking around Loch Linnhe and Locheil.

I drove to Appin and parked in the large community car park in the village. The bus stop was close-by and I caught the 10:03 #918 bus to Corran Ferry. When I got off the bus at Corran Ferry I immediately donned my water-proofs. The rain had not started yet, but when it did it would be in for the rest of the day. I began walking down the very busy A82. The cycle path with its large green stripe to demarcate the footpath from the road was quite generous and gave some reassurance. Just as I entered North Ballachulish the rain started, it was not a deluge just incessant. By the time I crossed the Ballachulish Bridge the visibility was very poor and it was difficult to see any of the high peaks around Glencoe. I crossed over the bridge admiring its solid box structure. I had driven over this bridge hundreds of times previously, but had never got a close look. At the southern side of the bridge and set back slightly from the road is a memorial  to the wrongly convicted and executed James Stewart (James of the Glen). On this spot in 1752, James of the Glen was hung for the so-called Appin Murder of Colin Campbell.

Amusing hay bales at Onich
Approaching the Balachulish Bridge

I descended some steps and joined the A828 next to the Ballachulish Hotel. I walked along the road a short distance and then re-joined the NCN78 which followed the route of the old Ballachulish Branch railway line which closed in 1966. With the vegetation and mist, it was difficult to pick out any views at all as the rain continued to fall. I passed through the village of Kentallen and managed to find a location for an igneous rock called Kentallenite (an olivine Monzonite) which is a type locality for the rock. It was quite difficult to see the pronounced minerals on the lichen covered rock. The NCN78 cycle-way criss-crosses the road a number of times until just south of Duror, here it dumps you back on the main road and for 2 miles you fend for yourself. I verge-hop for the 2 miles until the NCN re-appears. I pass quite close to the unique Castle Stalker prominent on its tiny island and then shortly through the old Appin Station with both platforms still in evidence. I finish the walk and drive north to set up my tent at a packed Glen Nevis campsite. Hopefully, tomorrow I will get just a few rain showers?

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23778

 

The memorial to James of the Glen
On the old Ballachulish branch line
Water tank at Kentallen
Kentallenite outcrop at Kentallen
Lagnaha camp site, where I camped previously
Amusing wood-art near Duror
Yes that is rain falling!
The northern island of Shuna across Loch Linnhe
Castle Stalker
The Jubilee Bridge at Appin

Distance today =  19 miles
Total distance =  3019.5 miles

 

177. Appin to Creagan Bridge

Today I had decided to scale back my route, as walking all the way to North Ballachulish was rather optimistic and more importantly the weather forecast had changed from a some rain to heavy rain all day! Walking a long distance in heavy rain is not particularly enjoyable, so I decided to cut short my day. So few photos and little narrative – sorry.

I had opted to do a short section around what is called the Appin Loop, following a minor road around a small promontory of land bounded by Loch Creran and The Lynn of Lorne.

The rain started bang on forecast at 07:00, just as I was packing up. I drove down to Creagan Bridge and caught a bus up to Appin. The rain was incessant when I began walking down the road towards Port Appin. Out of the gloom I could just make out the wooden Jubilee Bridge crossing the shallow Loch Laich; behind the bridge I could also make out the distinctive shape of Castle Stalker on its own small island. The walk along the road had me walking head down and just intent on covering the miles, the overcast rain filled skies offered little views and few photo opportunities.

I passed Port Appin, where the ferry runs over the short distance to the Isle of Lismore and continued through the rain, not meeting a single person or car. By the time I reached a place called Rudha Garbh I was thoroughly soaked. After almost 3 hours of walking I was back on the A828 by which time the wind had got up as I followed the cycle track back up to Creagan Bridge.

Being retired I can pick my days when I walk and after two previous days of  glorious weather, todays washout was not a big disappointment.

A very wet Appin
A very wet view across the Jubilee Bridge to Castle Stalker
A very wet view of the path to the Jubilee Bridge
A very wet Port Appin
A very wet view of the road back to Creagan Bridge

 

Distance today =  10.5 miles
Total distance =  3000.5 miles

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176. Oban to Creagan Bridge

Today should be slightly easier than yesterday with no serious off-road sections planned. I should be walking predominantly on footpaths, cycle tracks, quiet roads and a bit of A85 verge hopping. It was a beautiful start to the day, with a full sunny day forecast. I hurried my breakfast down as the midge were out in force

I drove to and parked at Creagan Bridge and caught the 8:16 #405 bus to Oban. The bus was full of tourists and people going to work. When I arrived in Oban the place was very busy, even at this time of the morning. I could see a large cruise ship, The Aegean Odyssey, had anchored just off-shore and its three tender vessels were busy ferrying its passengers into Oban. I spend some time admiring printed copies of famous classical paintings hung on the exterior of the Oban chocolate company building. The paintings had been cleverly doctored to include a chocolate theme.

Tender vessel ferrying cruise liner passengers ashore at Oban
The Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck – entirely appropriate that a painting full of symbolism has been “re-mastered” with chocolates and a pussy-cat
Black Guillemote – Oban

I followed the coast road past the cathedral and lighthouse and onto Dunollie Castle. The road dropped down to a newly built estate of private housing at Ganavan Sands, at which there is a large car park and small sandy beach. I turn inland slightly up a newly constructed cycleway, part of the Caledonia Way or NCN78. A small rise in the path had a bizarre sign “CAUTION STEEP HILL”, how would one exercise caution going up a steep hill? The slope wasn’t even steep. The cycleway travelled across open moor down to the main A85 at Dunbeg. The road was very busy and I was grateful for the occasional protection of a footpath, however, that disappeared so I was forced to stay on the verge almost all the way to Connel.

Lighthouse and Dunollie Castle – Oban
Bizarre sign!
Approaching Connel Bridge

I have passed through Connel many times before and had only ever seen The Falls of Lora from a passing car, so I was looking forward to getting a closer look at this natural phenomena. This amazing sight is caused by a flowing/ebbing tide forcing its way up and down Loch Etive. Although the effect can be seen with a flowing tide, the best effects are when the tide ebbs, creating a height difference between the height of the water in the Loch and the sea. A volcanic extrusion, a sill, acts as an underwater barrage, obstructing the free flow of water. From the bridge I get a great view up and down the loch.

At the far side of the bridge I turn left and pass through a small estate of housing and pass onto a track that skirts around Oban Airport. The airport has some commercial flights, but is generally quiet. This is the closest I’ve been to the beach on this trip and I enjoy a mile of beach walking as far as the North Ledaig Holiday Park. I rejoin the cycleway up to Benderloch where I turn off down a minor road which takes me through Barravullin. I pass the impressive tower house of Barcaldine Castle, originally built in the early 17th century, it has now been converted into a B&B hotel.

As I emerge back on the main road, the A828, my left foot begins to ache again. I swap into the spare pair of trainers I had been carrying and it improves things for the first couple of miles at least. On my left is Loch Creran and I am walking on the well constructed Caledonian Cycleway,  part of which follows the route of the old Ballachulish branch line. I have wonderful views west and north and I can easily make out the giant  pinks scars of the Glensanda quarries on Morvern. The heat is now beginning to take its toll, but thankfully I soon reach the bridge and my car.

Falls of Lora – Connel Bridge
Heading north past Oban Airport
Barcaldine Castle
Heading north along the Caledonia Way cycle path
A Vardo at the Lagnaha campsite – available to sleep in

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23736

Distance today =  18.5 miles
Total distance =  2990 miles

 

 

 

175. Isle of Seil to Oban

Back for a three-day stint as I continue my route up the west coast  of Scotland. Due to the expensive cost of accommodation in and around Oban I decided to camp again, basing myself at the small campsite of Lagnaha, just north of Duror.

I catch the early morning 8:58 #418 bus to Clachan Bridge on the Isle of Seil. The forecast is turning out to be correct, with a gentle breeze and blue skies with no clouds to hide a very fierce sun. Today will be a mixture of road walking and a couple of off-road sections which I am not entirely sure about.

Track on the way to Beinn Mhor

I set off down the B844, but as soon as I reach Clachan farm I turn off west along a good farm track which meanders north and takes me closer to the Marilyn Beinn Mhor (194m), which I intend to climb. I leave the track as it begins to head south again and negotiate a short section of bracken before reaching the trig point at the summit. Although the height is quite modest, the views from the top are magnificent. I look north to pick out the hills of Morvern and Ardgour and the pink scars of the granite quarries at Glensanda, the high tops of Mull are all clear; I can also look down on the Isle of Seil and pick out my route from two weeks ago. Cruach Scarba is still dominant to the south and to the north-east, the Munros of the Ben Cruachan group are all visible. I head due east of the summit making a descent down to the B844 road; the road is busy but vehicle speeds are being kept to a safe limit.

On the summit of Beinn Mhor looking north to Morvern & Ardgour, with Kerrera in the foreground
Looking south over the Isle of Seil, with Cruach Scarba in the distance
Looking North East towards the Ben Cruachan group
Hairy friend I met at Kilmore. Scottish Deerhound or Irish Wolfhound? Or even Lurcher?

I arrive at the small hamlet of Kilinver which has a small church and a few houses. I take refuge in the church, seeking shelter from the strong morning sun and thankful for the cool and peaceful place to eat my lunch.

I soon join the A816, which is very busy with speeding motorists. The road hugs the shore of Loch Feochan, which I must walk around the head of. I am fortunate to have trees lining the road to give me shade from the midday sun. I enter Kilmore, another small hamlet with just a few houses, a village hall and a bus stop. Shortly after leaving Kilmore I begin looking for a track that will take me west cross-country to cul-de-sac road at Lerags. I walk over a small hill and look down on the hamlet of Lerags. I can see next to the farm what appears to be a ruined church and graveyard called  An Tobar. I meet Liam Griffin, who lives, works and owns the land on which the church and burial ground stand. This is the church of St. Bride the Virgin Lorn and the burial ground of MacDougall chiefs. Liam and the Friends of Kilbride have done a tremendous job in clearing the site, revealing and preserving an important site of historic significance. However, the work is not complete and will require a significant investment hopefully forthcoming from Lottery or Historic Environment Scotland. If you are down that way, the site is well worth a visit.

http://www.friendsofkilbride.scot

Looking down on Kilbride Farm with church and burial ground
Church of St Bride the Virgin in Lorn

I set off down the road and get no more than 200m before I pass a small herd of Swaledale sheep in a paddock. One of the rams has got its horns well and truly tangled and stuck in some wire fencing. The sheep appears to have been in that position for a while, out in the sun and no access to water. I return to Liam’s farm and ask him who owns the sheep. Liam pops down the road to check the situation out; he meets one of the locals who has a set of bolt-cutters in his truck who quickly jumps over the fence, cuts the wire and releases the sheep. Job done, nothing more to see, move along please!

Entangled Swaledale in fencing

I continued down the road as far as Lerags Farm and turned off the tarmac road onto a farm track. I was trying to cut up the steep hillside, but after a couple of attempts I was getting nowhere; the bracken and the gorse was just too dense. I finally managed to find an old sheep track, which although overgrown with vegetation I managed to force my way through onto the open hillside. I was aiming for a tiny loch, Lochan Tri-Chrioch, at the corner of the forest, which would lead to a bealach and track down to Gallanach Farm. Well at least that was the plan, in actual fact the bracken had totally overgrown any track that was there. I had to beat my way through the head height bracken down over steep ground to a private road which ultimately lead to the public road. The demarcation between both roads was marked by a large locked gate. After carefully searching I was able to find a wooden pedestrian gate that was purposely disguised  and hidden behind a large waste bin, which I had to push aside. Obviously, they don’t want people coming onto their land.

Looking north towards Oban
Tough walking above Gallanach farm

The rest of the walk back to Oban was along the narrow and busy coastal road along the Sound of Kerrara, passing the ferry point for the short journey across to Kerrara and then into Oban.

Approaching Oban

NB: I also publish all my Scottish Blog entries on the excellent Scottish Hills website, I use the same narrative, but larger photos and a few extra ones. They can be found here:

http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=23730

Distance today =  20 miles
Total distance =  2971.5 miles

 

174. Kilmelford to Isle of Seil

I quickly get a brew going and eat my cereals as the midge are about! I am forced to keep on the move – eating and drinking! I pack up the tent and literally just throw it into the back of the car. I then drive around to the Isle of Seil and park at the Clachan Bridge just opposite the Tigh-an Truish Inn – the house of the trousers. Once a secret meeting place to wear a kilt, when the post-Culloden restrictions were rigorously enforced.

I have 30 minutes before the #418 bus will take me to Kilmore, where I will catch another bus, the #423,  which will take further down the A816 to Kilmelford where I finished yesterdays walk. I am pestered by the midge as I wait for the bus, fortunately I am joined by a couple, who get their fair share of attention from the little b*!*ers.

I had removed my gel pad from my left foot as I was having second thoughts on how effective it was on relieving the pressure on the ball of the foot. I found that walking in my North face Hedgehogs was much more comfortable than walking in my boots, which I was carrying in my bag for any off-road rough bits.

Looking down Loch Melfort

I set off from Kilmelford along the very quiet lochside road that runs 5 miles to the farmstead  at Degnish. The weather was lovely and warm and sunny. There was little wind with the odd cloud in the sky, which meant the sun was not that fierce. The yachts anchored in the tranquil  Loch Melfort provided a beautiful picture postcard image.

Loch Melfort with Cruach Scarba in the distance

Only a couple of cars passed me as I made my way down the road, which rose steeply as i passed onto the Kilchoan Estate. Just short of Degnish I took an upland path that rose steadily over the slopes of Dun Cruitagain. As I gained height, some patchy rain showers arrived, but not heavy enough to warrant putting my jacket on. The upland track was easy walking and the only obstacle was a small herd of Luing cattle with a bull and calves in tow. I carefully made my way around them, but they were not interested in me. At the Bealach Gaoithe, I had a good view of the route ahead. In the immediate foreground I would be passing through the Armaddy Estate, where the terrain looked very complicated with numerous small hills and lumps, hiding quarries long since overgrown. In the far distance I could see Mull, now even closer. I could make out one of the hills I climbed 5 years ago, Dun na Ghaoithe with its long winding ridge leading to radio mast. I could also make out for the first time, across the Firth of Lorne, the hills of Ardgour or more precisely Morvern. To my left I can also see the Isle of Seil across the narrow Sound of Seil. Shortly after leaving the bealach I failed to notice the Wishing Tree, a tree with many coins embedded in it denoting someone’s wish. I must have been concentrating on the route ahead to have missed this.

Looking north over the Armaddy Estate

I make my way through the complex estate roads and eventually arrived on the tarmac estate road that came from Armaddy Castle. I eventually join up with the public road which took me around to the Clachan Bridge. The bridge was designed by John Stevenson (and not Thomas Telford as is sometimes quoted), built in 1793 it is also referred to as the Bridge over the Atlantic. Standing on the bridge it is easy to see how the narrow channel makes Seil an Island.

The Clachan Bridge, Seil Island
The narrow channel between Mainland and Island

I carry on down the busy B844 carrying traffic to Ellenabeich. When I arrive at the small village of Balvicar I continue straight on taking the road towards the Luing ferry. A car stops and a chap offers me a lift, which I politely decline, explaining I was only going as far as the nearby church and then walking over the slopes of Barr Mor. Looking down from Barr Mor I can see the extraordinary and dramatic landscape that has made this island and others close by so unique. There are known as the Slate Islands and Ellenabeich, where I am heading to was once the centre of a huge slate industry in the early to mid 19th century. I drop down to the road and walk into Ellenabeich. This slate village has certainly embraced its industrial heritage and has become a very popular tourist attraction. It is difficult to see on the ground where all the quarrying took place, until seen from the air as the following YouTube footage shows:-

Looking towards Easdale
Heading towards Ellenabeich
Slate workers cottages, Ellenabeich
Ellenabeich
Gift shops and brewery, Ellenabeich

I thought of another centre of slate production, Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales and how different the two sites are. I think one of the factors is that the spoil waste has been levelled at Easdale, whereas at Blaenau it is still very much on show.

I had planned to beat my way over rough ground back to the car at Clachan bridge, but because of my sore left foot opted to retrace my steps back along the road.

Distance today =  16.5 miles
Total distance =  2951.5 miles

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