A waterfall of burning chocolate cascades over my chin. What a shock!
Silly me. The outside of my vacuum flask felt cold, but I should have realised the contents would be hot. That’s the whole point of a vacuum flask! How stupid to have burnt my mouth. (My lips will remain sore and crusty for the rest of the week.)
Shaken, I continue along the forestry road, which mercifully begins to slant downhill. But I know the footpath turns off to the left shortly, and watch out for the sign. A rusted box invites me to leave comments about the Kintyre Way. Yes, of course…
But, when I open the box, the book inside is floating in several inches of water and has turned to mulch. A shame. Apparently nothing stops the Scottish rain.
I had been worrying about the state of the path once I left the forestry track, but it looks fine. In fact, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to create a raised walkway.
Although sometimes the ground is muddy underfoot, it certainly isn’t as boggy as I feared. I didn’t really need my great, clumpy, leather boots after all.
I pass a 6 mile marker post.
The other side of the post tells me I’ve walked 94 miles… well, I would have if I was coming the other way along the Kintyre Way.
You might think they would put the mileage the other way round, so that you knew how many miles you had to go, rather than telling you how many miles you’d actually done.
Onwards. The path runs along a wide corridor between regimented plantations of fir trees.
I cross a logging road. In the distance I see flattened tracts of logged ground. I feel a mix of gratitude to the Forestry Commission for allowing access to their land, and resentment at the scars they leave on the landscape.
At least there are no cattle here. No sheep either, to my surprise. But I do come across plenty of rabbits, see a fox slinking across the path, and startle a couple of young deer. The deer bound away, and I only manage to catch one blurry shot.
The path has joined a track, and I’m pleased to say I continue to make quick progress on a gentle downhill slope. I pass a 7 mile marker, and an old sheep pen. This is easy walking.
Now, lower down, I leave the soulless pine plantations behind, and the track winds through a woodland of proper native trees, with moss-covered trunks and gnarly branches.
To my left is a little river. I decide the bank is a perfect place for a picnic, and pick my way through a patch of bramble to sit on a soft clump of grass. What a great lunchtime view.
Normally I only take a water bottle with me on my treks, but today I decided a warm drink would be a good idea – after all, it is February and I am in Scotland. Carefully, I try my vacuum flask again. Oh good, the hot chocolate has cooled from boiling to medium-tepid. It’s tasty and comforting.
But I soon begin to feel cold and hurry to finish my snacks. Time to get walking again.
The landscape begins to change from woodland to arable. The track curves round and I get a sudden view of the sea – at last. And… that island over there must be Arran. Misty and mysterious. My old friend.
I’m approaching Skipness. The track drops down to the village – straight and steep. It makes for a dramatic view.
There’s not much to do in Skipness. Behind me, somewhere, is a castle – but I don’t look at my map and so I don’t realise this until later. As far as I can see, there is only one village shop / post office, now closed, and a village school – which also looks closed.
There is a bus stop too, but I’m much too early for the afternoon bus. Two hours too early to be exact! Coming down from the forest turned out to be much quicker than climbing up, and I had nothing to worry about.
I decide to walk along the road to Claonaig. The bus stops there too.
It’s a wonderful road, twisting along close to the shore, and with fantastic views over towards Arran – where I can see snow on the mountains. (The photographs don’t do the view justice. It really was beautiful.)
Beside the road, the snowdrops are out.
I cross over a cattle grid, walk past a ruined tower (a watch tower?)…
… and always there’s Arran to look at.
A couple of cars pass me by, but the road is very quiet. There are no other walkers. In fact, I don’t meet a single walker all day.
After a while, I find a handy rock, perch my camera on it, and take a self-portrait.
Ahead of me, the shore of Kintyre curves around and I feel a twinge of excitement at the thought of tomorrow’s walk. I’m looking forward to it already.
To be honest, I was feeling rather nervous about walking in Scotland in February. The days are still relatively short, the weather can be dodgy, and there are long distances between the villages – but I’ve really enjoyed today.
I reach a concrete ramp, and realised I’ve reached the ferry terminal at Claonaig. In the summer, ferries shuttle between here and Arran. But in the winter the terminal is unused, and the very-infrequent ferry lands at Tarbert instead. I’ve no idea why the route is diverted.
Anyway, I’d been looking forward to reaching the terminal, but in reality it is completely underwhelming. Yes, that ugly green box is the toilet (now locked) and the bus shelter is where you wait for the ferry to arrive.
I had been planning to wait for the bus here, but it is a very dispiriting place and in the middle of nowhere, so I carry on walking along the road.
It’s a single track road with passing places. I try to imagine the ferry traffic leaving and arriving – could be chaotic. I follow the tarmac as it swings inland to the village of Claonaig. Perhaps I’ll find a café or a village shop?
But, no. There’s nothing here really. Just a road junction with a post box outside a village hall, and a few houses. The village hall is in the process of being converted into a private house.
A sign tells me that the route off to the left is the scenic route to Campbeltown and the Mull of Kintyre. It follows the coast, and it’s the road I’ll be walking down tomorrow.
I walk further along the main road, looking for a bus stop with a shelter, and maybe a seat, but there’s no sign of one. Disappointed, I turn back to the junction and wait beside the post box. There’s nowhere to sit.
With an hour to wait for the bus, I soon get cold standing about. And so I decide to walk a little further along the coast road. My map shows a car park about a mile or so away. It would be a good place to start my walk tomorrow.
So I head along the coast road, over a bridge and up a hill. Near the top, I stop to take a photo looking back at Claonaig. Somehow, knowing there is a ferry port here, I had expected the village to be much larger.
And, of course, I can’t help taking some more photos of Arran.
Over the brow of the hill, I lose sight of the sea. The road dips down and I walk towards a black and white pole. The car park must be a little further on, but I suddenly get nervous about missing the bus, and I decide the marker pole is a good place to end my walk today.
I turn round and clomp back towards Claonaig. My boots are heavy on my feet and I feel suddenly tired. I’ve walked further today than I intended.
The bus arrives dead on time. The driver sees me standing by the post box, slows down, and raises his eyebrows. Do I want to get on? No. I let the bus go past, knowing it will turn around at Skipness and I can catch it on its return. Twenty minutes later, as the light fades and the wind grows colder, I regret this decision.
It’s a relief when the bus returns. The driver turns out to be English. I’m his only passenger.
Low point: burning my mouth with hot chocolate.
High points: walking through empty landscape without meeting a soul.
Walked today = 15 miles
Total around coast = 3,610 miles