172. Carsaig to Ardfern

Today was going to be another tough day, not only because I was planning to go ‘off-road’ again but an awful lot of rain was forecast to arrive.

As I awoke, I was surprised not to hear the pitter-patter of rain falling on my tent. My tent is a North West Westwind and is orange in colour, which makes it quite bright inside and difficult to know what the weather is doing outside. I need not have worried, the cloud cover was very high in the sky and it was a lovely still and tranquil morning. The midges had not risen fully yet and I was able to brew a cup of coffee before I set off.

Today required a bit of thought because I needed to catch two buses and this meant thinking about bus timetables again. My best solution was to drive to Lochgilphead, about 11 miles away, and park there. Then get the 7:25 #425 bus back to Carsaig ( which is less than a mile away from Tayvallich) where my walk would start. I would then walk to Ardfern and catch one of the afternoon #423 buses back to Lochgilphead and my car. There was ample free parking in Lochgilphead and before I knew it I was on the bus back to Carsaig. Speaking to the bus driver he said today was going to be a washout, but didn’t know when the rain would arrive.

I set off from Carsaig along a well made dirt track, which later became a forest road. The road climbed steeply, twisting and turning. The walk was interesting mainly because this forest road was predominantly through deciduous trees, with oaks, birch, alder, beech, ash and elm. This was the Knapdale Forest and one of the classic areas of Scotlands ancient natural woodland.

I made good time along the track and after a few hours reached Ardnoe Point. The vista was magnificent, with the Paps of Jura to the south and now receding into the distance; and now the high hills of Mull becoming visible. The bulk of Cruach Scarba on the Isle of Scarba now dominated the view west, together with a plethora of small islands. I could also look north across Loch Crinan to the area where I would be walking in the next few hours, it did  not look particularly inviting with its dense vegetation obscuring signs of tracks and paths.

I drop down from the forest road to the small village of Crinan. I make my way through a car park and pick up a footpath leading to a road running down to the start of Crinan canal, which connects with Ardrishaig 8.5 miles to the east. I begin walking along the tow path towards Bellanoch. At Bellanoch there is a swing bridge where the road  crosses the canal and heads north in a straight across the low-lying Nature Reserve of the Moine Mhor. As I walk along the road the rain begins, not a deluge, just incessant, it will be with me for the next 6 hours! I turn west down a private road heading to the privately owned Duntrune Castle. I have been looking for a convenient place to get up high and onto the high ground. I spy a farm track, which soon peters out. I change into my walking boots which I have carrying in my rucksack. Immediately as I  climb the bracken slopes my boots begin leaking. The plan is to stay on the high ground, avoiding as much of the bracken and bog as possible – easier said than done!

Although the weather was closing in I still have good visibility. I used my 1:25,000 map and followed the old stone walls to navigate my way across the high knobbly ground of bracken, bog and ‘turks-head’ grass. After locating the isolated Loch Michean, I headed further north looking for a fire-break leading into a large forested area. I managed to find the fire-break and even though the area has been deforested and reforested over the fire break I had felt the old hardcore track beneath my feet. I emerged onto a very wide forested road which led me further north.

Looking back at Carsaig
Looking across to Cruach Scarba with the distant hills of Mull on the right from Ardnoe Point
Looking across Loch Crinan to the afternoons walk
Crinan village
Start/End of the Crinan Canal
Artist studio on the Crinan Canal
Turning off point Bellanoch
Looking across the River Add and the Moine Mhor
Approaching Dunture Castle
Looking back at my route with Loch Michean just visible.
Heading north into the forest along an old fire break

I continued along the forest road north-west towards Ormaig. Here I made a big effort to visit the cup and ring marked rocks which were situated a few hundred metres up a small climb. Although I am soaking wet and my feet hurt, the detour is well worthwhile. There is a well maintained path up to the markings and the vegetation around the exposed ice-scoured rock slab  has been cleared. This prehistoric rock art is considered to be from 4000 years BC, that’s almost a thousand years before the Pyramids! It’s an impressive sight, but does require some effort to get to.

I followed the forest road past the house of Ormaig heading north up to a loch, where I knew the road will end, which would mean negotiating some 400m of forest. However, this presented no problem as the large mature pines had lost most of their lower branches, ripped off over the years by passing deer. After crossing a small burn and a stone wall I emerged onto an atv track below the slopes of Creag nan Fitheach. This track took me around the hill to join the busy A816 – the Oban Road. From my high vantage point I could look down on Loch Craignish and the village of Ardfern. The remaining couple of miles weree along the A816, before turning off down the Ardfern road.

Cup and Ring prehistoric art at Ormaig
At Lochan Druim an Rathaid looking towards Creag nam Fitheach
Looking down across Loch Craignish to Ardfern
Perhaps the largest ever finger post pointing to Ardfern

I had about a 15 minute wait before the next #423 bus arrived which would take me back to Lochgilphead. I rewarded myself with a fish supper after getting off the bus. However, most of my gear was soaking wet and I decided that I would ditch my third day of walking, which was a short walk anyway. I drove back to Tayvallich and rested for a while. It was still raining as I packed the tent up and left.

 

Distance today =   22 miles
Total distance =    2919.5 miles

 

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171. Barnluasgan to Carsaig

I thought I would make use of the final week of school buses, as the end of June would see the start of the school holidays and many bus services do not run after this date.

The War Memorial at Barnluasgan

I’m heading to North Knapdale and will be camping at the Leachive Holiday Park, which at £8 / night is not bad. I drive through the night and park in Tayvallich. I catch the 8:03 #425 bus from Tayvallich for the short journey up the road to Barnluasgan. The bus is full of schoolchildren off to the secondary Academy at Lochgilphead. The driver and myself are the only adults on the bus. Listening to the children speak I get the impression that apart from one or two kids they are all English.

The weather is dry and sunny, but with a strong warm breeze. Todays walk will be a mixture of road walking and trail blazing along the western shore of this promontory; so I’ve brought my boots with me which I am carrying in my bag.

My first port of call is a few miles down the road, at a place called Arichonan (Conan’s shieling), and set well back from the road. In 1848, this place was the scene of defiance, anger and revolt against those attempting to carry out eviction notices on the tenants of the farmsteads, part of a much wider diaspora known as the Highland Clearances. Hundreds of fellow tenants gathered in support and beat off the evictors. Unfortunately, they returned with the full weight of the law. Following the resulting riot many people were sentenced to months in imprisonment in Inverary jail. I walk around the ruins, mindful of the poor state of repair the walls are in. The sheep fanks are new and were built by shepherds, using stone from the now vacant houses. I see the odd poignant reminder in the ruined house, a broken cast-iron fire surround – perhaps someones pride and joy from many years ago.

The view south from Arichonan towards the Caol Scotnish
Arichonan
Once someone’s pride and joy?

I continue down the road and walk alongside a narrow channel of water called Caol Scotnish, an offshoot from Loch Sween. I enter and walk through the picturesque village of Tayvallich with its fine selection of sailing boats within the natural harbour. I pass my parked car and take the opportunity to have an early lunch and a rest. I continue further down the road, which in fact is a cul-de-sac. I pass a turning for Danna Island, which is really just an island in name only. I did not fancy an out-and-back along the same road. Instead I am heading for Keils chapel at the end of the public road. Keils chapel is very similar to Kilmory chapel which I visited on my last trip to the area. The chapel also houses a fine collection of carved stones and grave slabs. I join a few visitors who are also visiting the chapel.

Tayvallich
Keils Chapel
The Rubha na Cille

For the adventurous, it is possible to continue south-west over rough ground along a thin sliver of land that juts out from the promontory and is called Rubha na Cille.  I am now donning my boots and will now complete my return journey back to Carsaig and Tayvallich over rough ground on the western side of the promontory. While walking down the road I had decided it may be a good idea to stay high on a series of high grassy ridges on my return leg. The ridge appeared to be free of bracken and would offer  great  all around views. I headed off through a few fields which were quickly consumed by high bracken. I started to climb and headed towards Barr an Lochain which had a trig at its summit. It provided a great viewpoint, except out to the east. I needed to get onto a higher parallel grassy ridge. I make my way over boggy ground and high bracken to the higher ridge and onto Dun Mor (112m). The viewpoint was brilliant with views west and south to Jura, the Paps are the closest yet. Looking east I can see across Loch Sween to Castle Sween. Northwest I can now see Scarba and Mull.

My route north
Heading north
The view south from Dun Mor

Looking back along the coast I can see that I could have beaten my way along the shore line, close by, but walking higher along the ridge has been the best option and given excellent views. I head for the derelict ruined farmstead of Barbreack apparently worked until the 1950’s.

I continue along the knobbly ridge to Barr na h-lolaire (109m). Here I must make a decision, to seek out a track further north or drop down steeply to the shoreline below and continue onto Carsaig along the coast. I descend to the shoreline and continue over grass and rocks to Aoran nam Buth, here I turn up a grassy field. The field soon disappears into a thicket and bracken. I now have to battle my way through tall bracken and dense bushes. I am very close to Carsaig. Bizarrely I hear the sound of bagpipes playing! I eventually burst out of the vegetation onto the shoreline close to the cemetery and walk back to my car at Tayvallich.

Dropping down to the shoreline
Approaching Carsaig
Evidence of a Time-Lord at Carsaig

My left foot is sore again, but I think I should be ok for tomorrows walk.

Distance today =   20 miles
Total distance =    2897.5 miles

170. Kilmory to Barnluasgan

Hexi-lodge

I get up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am to pack my gear up and clean the pod. The pod or Hexi-lodge, as the owners call it, is not a bad doss. Located on the shore, it has been built to a high standard and is both warm and dry. It has power points, microwave, kettle, heater, toaster, crockery and cutlery. The shape maybe odd with its Witches Hat roof and Hobbit-level windows, but it was a better alternative than camping especially with the amount of rain I had.

I must now drive 25 miles further north to begin my next walk section. On the early drive around I come across two Pine Martens on the road, one of them skips along in front of me for about 30 metres before jumping into the roadside vegetation. It’s the first time I have ever seen a Pine Marten and one so close up.

Public road end near Kilmorly
Kilmory chapel
Carved stones inside the chapel

Today will be a case of biking and walking – pushing my bike up a section of road which is not serviced by public transport. I park at the Knapdale Scottish Beaver Centre car park at Barnluasgan. I begin the cycle ride south to the end of the public road near Kilmory and where I walked to yesterday. The cycle ride is ok, relatively flat and only a couple of get off and push sections. However, I do need to do something about the saddle-sore aspects of doing this amount of cycling over the last couple of days. At the end of the public road I turn and begin the long walk back, pushing the bike in front of me. I suspect there will be many more occasions in the future where I must do this.

Carved stones

My first port of call is the small hamlet of Kilmory close to the public road end. It has a ruined chapel which contain a large and amazing collection of Christian and medieval carved stones from the church and burial ground. The chapel was re-roofed in 1934 to house and protect the stones. There is something like 34 stones and are certainly worth the long trek down to this remote part of Knapdale.

Castle Sween
Cool gates
Safe harbour in a Loch Sween

I continue along the road and enter Loch Sween. Across the small expanse of water I can see the low-lying inhabited and tidal Island of Danna, connected by a small causeway to the mainland. I pass the 12th century ruins of Castle Sween, which sits above a local holiday park. At this point the rain starts, not heavy, but persistent. The walk back is uneventful and my mood and humour is diminished as the rain intensifies. By the time I reach the small village of Achnamara, I am soaking wet. I decide to cancel a planned 2 mile circular walk around a small promontory close to Achnamara. The weather, fatigue and sore feet made the decision for me. Back at the Beaver visitor centre the rain was very heavy. Fortunately, I was able to get changed into dry clothes in the visitor centre. The walk and bike ride had taken about 6 hours.

 

 

 

Achnamara high street

 

 

 

 

 

 

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=23673

Distance today =   14.5 miles
Total distance =    2877.5 miles

 

 

 

169. Port Ban to Kilmory

I awake at 6:30 and my immediate thoughts turn to my left foot pad. I feel that the swelling has subsided, but it is still tender when I put my weight on it, but it should be ok. I decide to wear my trainers today as my route will be over roads and good tracks.

Today is also a tricky section because the last 2.5 miles is over a private estate track that links two public roads. Getting transport to either send of the public road would involve a detour of thirty-nine miles! So today I will be using my bike, first by walking to the end of the walk, while pushing my bike along. Once I reach the end of the walk I will then cycle back to the start. It sounds silly, but I have few options in the absence of public transport. Because I had already planned to do the walk this way, yesterday, when I drove through Achahoish I left my bike hidden behind some trees. This would save me having to push the bike at least part of the way.

Landcatch Fish Farm at Ormsary
Looking across Loch Caolisport to Point of Knap

I set off from the camp site quite early and continued up the B8024. The weather this morning was fresh with a stiff breeze blowing in off the Sound of Jura. My North Face “hedgehogs” were just the thing my feet needed after yesterdays exertions, as I hardly felt a twinge in my feet. The road was very quiet with just the odd car passing. The elevated position from the road gave me an excellent view of Jura, although the tops of the Paps were still in cloud. I passed many ruined cottages and wondered if their occupants were victims of The Clearances. I had read that this area of Knapdale was particularly affected by forced eviction.

The grave of M. Blue
I have a surreal moment close to Ormsary

I pass the large Landcatch Fish farm near Ormsary, which is the largest provider of Salmon ova and smolts (juvenile fish) to the salmon fish industry. I pass an old burial ground with its ruined chapel, a common sight in this rural locations. Most of the stones are obscured by overgrown vegetation. At most burial grounds, there is a plaque on the gate entrance advising that the graveyard contains a Commonwealth War Grave, I see that there is such a plaque. I find the grave of M. Blue. I see that he died in 1919 and thought he may have died from long-term injuries. [please refer to the postscript at the end of the trip report]

Looking across Loch Caolisport to Ellary House
St Columba’s cave

I have now entered Loch Caolisport and must pass around the head of the loch and down towards The Point of Knap. As I approach Achahoish I locate my bicycle which I had hidden yesterday on my drive down. It’s still there and I begin to push the bike as I walk through the small hamlet of Achahoish. It’s not too difficult pushing the bike and I soon develop a technique of resting my hand on the saddle and steering the bike along from there. The weather begins to change and the showers arrive.

Looking out over Ellary House

I’m walking along the public road which ends at Ellary House, I make good time and the feet are in good shape. Before I get to the end of the road I visit St Columba’s Cave ( probably one of many). As caves go it’s quite impressive, it has a makeshift altar with various artefacts scattered about. I could not see down into a “chokey” hole, but it did not look that inviting, I suspect only the “bogey-man” lived down there! There was even a granny-annex cave which also went back a fair distance.

High on the Estate track between public roads
Looking south towards the Point of Knap

I continue on to Ellary House. I meet an elderly couple who are staying in one of the Estate cottages. They tell me they were given  a key to unlock the gates in order to drive over the top towards Castle Sween – the route I would be following. The private road is in good condition, but very steep in the early stages. A 4×4 passes me as push my bike up to about a height of 137m. I pass a couple of small lochs before slowly descending to the start of the public road at Ballimore (just a single house) which is close by the small hamlet of Kilmory.

The end of the public road at Balimore near Kilmory

I can now employ the same strategy on tomorrow’s route from this point i.e. Ride – walk/push bike, as the closest public transport is much further up the road at Achnamara. I turn around and begin to peddle back to Port Ban. I need to only get off and push on a couple of steep bits and I make the journey back in just under 3 hours. The on/off showers which had been with me for the walk down have now become more persistent and I am thoroughly soaked by the time I get back to the holiday park.

[PS]I’m slightly curious about M Blue’s grave and his death in 1919. I search on the Commonwealth War Grave Commissions website where a range of search’s can be made. I find M Blue’s details, from the Grave Registration Report I can see that he was transferred from the Scots Guards to the Labour Corps; he died in Dykebar Hospital Paisley (then a World War 1 hospital), his father was listed as living at Barravullin by Lochgilphead; but what caught my eye was M Blue’s date of death – 25th February 1918. However, the Grave Register and the date on his headstone gives his date of death as 25th February 1919. In the scheme of things, it does not mean much, but I felt I needed to draw this anomaly to the CWGC, who openly encourage any amendment. I have therefore sent an email and are awaiting a reply.

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=23670

Distance today =   18 miles
Total distance =    2863 miles

 

 

168. Tarbert West Loch to Port Ban

I’m back for a further three days of walking, but this trip has been quite difficult to plan because of the logistics around public transport and the difficulty of the geography of Knapdale.

I have based myself at Port Ban holiday park and opted for another wooden pod or Hexilodge. The pod was not a great deal more than a tent and because the weather was forecast to be ‘unsettled’ I needed somewhere to dry my stuff, should the inevitable deluge begin.

The first days walking was quite straightforward and simply involved driving to Port Ban overnight and then catching the 08:00 #447 bus to Tarbert. Some of the bus services in these neck of the woods only run during school term time; which means that come 1st July public transport will not be available, well not until August.

I had driven up to Port Ban in my new ‘second-hand’ car which I had purchased a few weeks before. Unfortunately, I had had to say goodbye to my old faithful Avensis that I had bought from new in 2004 and had accumulated some 253,000 miles! There were few places in the British Isles that this car had not conveyed me to.

Standing Stone near Torinturk
Wild Yellow Iris

I left my car at the holiday park and walked up to the main road to catch the bus. The driver and myself  were the only adults on the bus, as the bus was almost filled with school children we picked up on the way. I got dropped off at Tarbert Golf Club, which meant I had to walk half a mile to the West Loch hotel and then retrace my steps.

The early morning weather was very overcast and muggy which was forecast to clear up later in the day. Because my route would involve some off-road walking I was wearing my boots (the ones that gave me problems walking around the Mull of Kintyre). I thought I had solved the problem this time by ensuring they were laced up tight and by wearing additional pairs of socks – but I hadn’t solved the problem!

Painting of Ardpatrick House
Visitors book in shed at Ardpatrick Point

I was following a quiet single track road, the B8024 for most of the way back to Port Ban. Unfortunately, there were few views on offer as the summer vegetation and leaf coverage was with me for the first couple of hours. I passed a solitary Standing Stone, one of many I would see throughout the rest of the day. I passed through the small hamlet of Torinturk where the road rejoined the loch shore. At Dunmore I met and spoke to a local gent (the first of many conversations that day); some forty minutes later I moved on further down the road and got into another conversation with a local gent. The last 400m had taken almost an hour to cover. But it was nice to meet and chat with people along the way.

At Ardpatrick Point with Gigha in the far distance.
The shed at Ardpatrick Point
Islay bound Cal Mac ferry passing Ardpatrick Point

I was now heading for the road that turned off for Ardpatrick, down which I would pass onto the Ardpatrick Estate. This cul-de sac road actually leads towards Ardpatrick Point. The first thing I noticed as I walked along the road, was that virtually every gate into a  field I passed had a “Plot for Sale” sign attached, along with the size of the plot in hectares. I pass a discrete distance from Ardpatrick House and am puzzled to come across a coloured painting from 1859 depicting the House on a large board. I spoke to one local gent, working in his garden, who said that the Estate owner was a developer who was unsuccessfully trying to sell off parcels of the estate. The local also advised that although I could get out to Ardpatrick Point I could not go further north because of the impenetrable vegetation. I already knew that the terrain north was going to be tough going and was rather apprehensive about having to have to retrace my route back the way I came.

Emerging from the jungle at Ceann an t-sailein
The secluded beach at Ceann an t-sailein
Fishing hut at Ceann an t-sailein

I now headed north, avoiding as best I could high bracken, thickets and bog. I started following fence-lines which gave some help in navigating through the jungle. The walking underfoot was difficult with heather, bog and rocky terrain. Eventually I arrived at a secluded beach called Ceann an t-sailein. I still had another mile of difficult walking, but eventually picked up the road again just west of Gorten Lodge. However, the tough terrain had taken its toll and the pad of my left foot was very painful and difficult to walk on. I soon came to a church where I sought shelter to rest my legs and get some shade from the afternoon sun, which was scorching. I knew I would have to leave the peaceful and cool church in favour of the three miles of road work back to Port Ban.

A little further up the road, the afternoon #447 bus stopped next to me. It was the same driver who I had chatted to that morning. He asked if I was ok, as the bus was going to Port Ban before turning around returning to Tarbert. He stopped again on his return trip and we chatted awhile in the late afternoon sun on a very quiet country road.

Kilberry Inn

By the time I entered the small hamlet of Kilberry my left foot was quite painful, I resisted the temptation to go into the Kilberry Inn for a quick pint. I had planned to visit the Kilberry sculptured stones and then continued along the shoreline, but fatigue and my painful foot meant the carved stones would have to wait for another day.

As I wrote this report in the wooden pod that night, it was touch and go whether I could walk the following day, as the pad on my left foot was quite swollen. The walk had taken a gruelling 9 hours.

 

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=23668

Distance today =   21 miles
Total distance =    2845 miles