354am Southend to Machrihanish

It’s the last day of April. I catch the early bus from Machrihanish to Southend, a journey that involves one change and lasts nearly an hour.

It’s going to be a long walk today, and I’m feeling rather nervous. The official Kintyre Way website describes this section as “passing through wild and genuinely remote country where there is little shelter and no mobile phone signal”. Oh dear.

Luckily, the bus driver cheers me up with a stream of chat. He has a daughter who wants to go to music school in Cardiff, but he wants her to go to Manchester because it’s nearer – only 7 hours drive away! (A reminder that the Mull of Kintyre is really pretty far from anywhere.)

The first part of my walk leaves the road and loops down to the coast, along a track through a golf course.

01 track through golf course, Southend, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

A farmer who owns a nearby field apparently doesn’t want golfers retrieving their balls. Miserable git. There’s nothing in the field but grass.

02 no golfers allowed here, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I reach the coast and Dunaverty Rock, where there is a boat house and a slipway. A more friendly sign tells me “Visitors welcome.”

03 Dunaverty Bay and slip way, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Dunaverty Bay is very pretty and I walk along the sand, enjoying the calmness of the sea and the emptiness of the beach.

04 Dunaverty Bay and beach, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

At the far end of the beach is a small holiday park, and here I join the coast road again. There’s a weird house on the hill above me. Holiday flats? Looks rather institutional.

05 Keil, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

And then a few renovated cottages, and a line of tumbledown buildings. (You see a lot of ruined buildings in the Scottish countryside.)

06 ruined cottages, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I walk past a pretty cemetery, with great views of the headland of the Mull of Kintyre beyond.

07 cemetery, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

And can’t resist taking a short diversion to look at St Columba’s footprints…

08 sign to St Columba's footprints, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

… although the footprints themselves look very unrealistic, as if molded in concrete. But, on closer inspection, this print does seem to be set in genuine rock.

09 St Columba's footprint in stone, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

St Columba also has a cave nearby, but I don’t climb higher up the hill to take a look. My walk today is long enough.

I reach a place called Keil Point, with a car park. This is where the road turns inland. Ahead is another beautiful stretch of beach – Carskey Bay. It’s tempting to continue on along the sand, but I know I will soon come to a river and a dead-end.

10 Carskey Bay, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

So I turn inland along the road. It’s not exactly busy.

11 road up Gleann Breacairigh, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Oh dear. I spot a bull in a field. I’ve not come across many cows on my recent walks (I’m very nervous around cattle) and I hope my good luck isn’t about to change. I sidle past the bull, glad of the fence between us – although it does look rather flimsy.

12 bull, Ruth hiking, Mull of Kintyre

Soon I reach the turn off to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse. Now I need to make a decision, because there are several ways to tackle the next section.

13 turn off to Mull of Kintyre lighthouse, Ruth hiking in Scotland

The trouble with the Mull of Kintyre is that it isn’t a discreet point, or even a single headland. No, it’s a great, wide, lump of trackless ground with numerous separate peaks and troughs, and cut through by multiple streams and burns.

One coastal walker walked to the end of the lighthouse road and then tried to find a way across the Mull and up to Machrihanish following the coast. He warned me the land was really, really difficult underfoot and advised me not to attempt it.

Another coastal walker (Andy) found a track leading up from Carskey, a farm a mile or two down the road. I’ve studied the map, and think I can trace the track he walked along. But I chickened out from following in Andy’s footsteps because I wasn’t completely convinced I would find a way through.

The third option is to stick to the official Kintyre Way, and that is what I’ve decided to do.

So, I ignore the turn off to the lighthouse, and continue up the road. Past a barn where cows are standing safely behind grills, along with some very young calves. They stare at me suspiciously as I trudge past.

14 cows and calves in barn, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I soon come to a fork in the road and turn left towards… towards Dalsmeran? What? Where’s that?

15 sign to Dalsmeran, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I study my map. That’s another deceptive thing about Scottish signposts. You might think you were heading towards a village, but Dalsmeran is just a farm.

Onwards. I’m approaching Ormsary (yes, another farm) where there are more cattle in the fields. On my left is a herd of beef cows with young calves – some very young indeed.

16 cow farm, Ormsary, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I stop to strip off my fleece – I’m getting hot in the sunshine – and watch as a hugely overweight farmer drives up to the cattle on this quadbike. He inspects the newly born calves, talking to them with affection, but never gets off his vehicle. (I would have taken a photo of this enormous man, but it seems rather rude, especially when he gives me a friendly wave.)

Further along, I pass a herd of dairy cattle on my right.

17 dairy herd, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

I hope all these cows aren’t a bad omen!

I’m walking up one side of a river valley (called Gleann Breacairigh), and the road climbs gently. To my left, on the other side of the river, I can see Amod Hill, where I know the Kintyre Way doubles back on itself.

river valley.jpg

To try to avoid doubling back, I spend some time fruitlessly following a promising track, hoping to find a shortcut across the valley. Instead, I manage to end up on the driveway to a private house (or farm), and quickly turn back.

Back on the road again, I study the hill, and see something red making its way up the steep slope. Is that a walker on the Kintyre Way? If so, it will be the first proper hiker I’ve seen all day. The red dot is too far away to know for sure. It’s too small, in fact, to show up on the photograph below.

18 Amod Hill, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Next time I look, the red dot has disappeared. That was quick! It’s either a very fit walker, or maybe just another farmer on a quad bike.

I reach the driveway to Amod farm. Here the Kintyre Way turns off the road and heads down the drive to cross over the river via a bridge.

19 Amod farm, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

On the other side of the river, the Kintyre way turns off to the left, doubling back to follow the river bank down the valley for a mile or so.

20 banks of Abhainn Breacairigh, Ruth hiking the Kintyre Way

I come across a picnic bench. It’s only 11:30 in the morning, but I’ve been walking since 8:30, and missed breakfast because I had to get up early for the bus. Time for a rest, a drink, and a snack.

21 picnic spot, Kintyre Way, Ruth Livingstone hiking the Mull of Kintyre

Now the Kintyre Way leaves the river bank, and takes me through a field and up the lower slopes of Amod Hill. A sheep’s skull lurks in the grass… maybe another bad omen?

22 sheep's skull, Kintyre Way, Ruth climbing Amod Hill

When I check my Garmin, I realise the Way has been diverted slightly from its original course as shown on my OS map. If I’d continued along my earlier ‘short cut’, I would probably have lost the track completely and been thrown into a panic.

The field is large with few features, and no definite path is visible on the ground. Luckily, a series of signposts mark the course of the Kintyre Way, although it is sometimes hard to spot the next one.

23 Amod Hill, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Only 11 miles to go.

24 Kintyre Way, 11 mile marker, Ruth Livingstone

It’s a long steep climb. I do my usual trick to persuade my legs up the slope. Walk for 30 steps, rest for 30 seconds. Walk for 30 steps. Rest for 30 seconds. During the rests, I turn round and take photographs of the view below me.

25 view down from Amod Hill, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

As I get close to the top, the ground flattens out and I come across another picnic bench. Time for another drink and a rest…

26 picnic bench, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

… and a self-portrait.

27 self-portrait, Ruth Livingstone on the Kintyre Way, Amod Hill

When I set off again, and go over the rise at the top of the hill, I realise this wasn’t the top at all! There’s more climbing to do.

28 path following the fence, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

The path isn’t very clear underfoot, but I know all I have to do at this stage is follow, roughly, along the line of the fence. Easy peasy. What was I worrying about?

I look across at the neighbouring hill, which appears to have been scalped by logging activity. There I can see a track slanting down the slope. Is that Andy’s track? I think it might be.

29 Cnoc na Feudalach, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Meanwhile, I continue my slog up this slope. It may not be so relentlessly steep as it once was, but it undulates – sometimes going down and then going up again – and the ground is uneven underfoot, with hidden rabbit holes and boggy pools, so it’s hard to get into a steady walking rhythm.

It’s also hard to know when I’ve reached the “top”. I walk across open moorland and come across a fallen signpost. “Welcome to Largiebaan.” It instructs me to take my litter home (of course) and keep my dog on a lead (I wish I had a dog) and to beware of cliffs. Cliffs? Yes, I’ll stay away from those.

30 Largiebaan Wildlife Reserve, Ruth's coastal walk, Mull of Kintyre

Actually, I’m feeling very relaxed by now. This path is well signposted and has become relatively easy. In fact, to be honest, it’s getting a bit boring. (I’ve never found open moorland particularly exciting.)  And I’ve nearly reached the top of the hill, although it’s hard to tell because the slope is so gentle.

What was I worrying about?

[to be continued]

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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10 Responses to 354am Southend to Machrihanish

  1. Hi Ruth, I was planning to go and see this in Chatham tomorrow but not gonna happen, unfortunately. http://thedockyard.co.uk/whats-on/powerful-tides-400-years-chatham-sea/

  2. Barry Arnold says:

    Hi Ruth. The “block of flats is I believe Keil Hotel currently being restored. It was built just before World War II and was used as a hospital before Being opened as a hotel when the war ended.

    • Hi Barry. Thanks for the info. It certainly looks more like an old-fashioned hospital than a hotel. No doubt it will look much better once it’s been properly restored. Great place to stay.

      • Barry Arnold says:

        Ruth. It was closed in 1990 and the work has been a bit intermittent, there is some local pressure for it’demolition some calling it an eyesore!

  3. Hi there Ruth I find this fascinating. I’m miles behind you at Broughton in Furness having ‘started’ in Caernarfon. But I know I can check on your blogs for info on walks I’m planning. Now if only the trains ran on time or at all…

    • Hi Allan. You’re in a lovely part of the country, but a difficult one because of the lack of an official coastal path. Glad you find my posts helpful… of course, my way might not always be the best route, but I guess it gives you some guidance. Nice to meet another coastal walker. 😄 Best wishes and happy walking!

  4. theresagreen says:

    I’m still full of admiration for your intrepidness, but now find I can’t get Paul McCartney’s ‘Mull of Kintyre’ tune out of my head….

  5. Karen White says:

    The moorland may be boring walking but the views are lovely. I will have to do some research on St. Columba’s Footprints, sounds quite untriguing!

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