I’ve definitely reached the top of this hill now. The path begins to go down, straight towards a group of trees.
And then the route takes a sharp left turn and plunges down the hill. (It’s hard to get an impression of the steepness from the photo below, but you’ll have to take my word for it.) Mindful I have no phone signal, and the footpath is so unused it is barely visible, I come down the hill slowly – one foot at a time, and grateful to have my pole for support.
I’d studied my OS map carefully in advance, and hadn’t been anticipating such a steep slope at this point. Maybe my map-reading skills were much poorer than I believed? (Later, checking my Garmin track against the paper map, I realise there had been another subtle deviation to the route of the Kintyre Way. It wasn’t my map reading skills after all!)
A mile or so further along, and I come down onto a track. This is definitely Andy’s track, and I feel quietly comforted at knowing I’m now back on the same route as he took.
The track makes for easy walking and all is going well until… until it crosses into a field and… uh, oh. Cows!
The cows have some very young calves with them. The black matron, standing guard by the track, eyes me suspiciously.
I tell myself to be brave – I’m on the Kintyre Way after all, and have a right to be here – and I start to walk forward again.
I haven’t got much further along the track, when the black cow lowers her head and begins to come towards me.
I do what any sensible cow-fearing person would do at this stage. I head for the fence. Unfortunately, it’s a double fence. Fortunately, the second fence is the only one with barbed wire, and luckily that wire has pretty much rusted away.
Climbing over, I find myself in a boggy section of forest. The trees are wonderfully old and dripping with moss.
It doesn’t take me long to bypass the cow field, and I’m soon back on the track again. I look back at the gate out of the field (the gate I didn’t even try to go through) and the cows are still standing guard.
Ha ha. Fooled you!
Further along I spot a dead sheep carcass in the forest and decide to walk a little further before collapsing on the grassy verge. It’s time for another drink, snack and rest. At least this field only has sheep in it – along with nettles and thistles too. I spread my coat carefully on the ground.
After resting for half an hour, enjoying the sunshine, I get up and haven’t got very far when I spot a picnic bench. If only I’d known this was just around the corner!
The track has changed from gravel to grass and then deteriorates into a vague path. I climb over a stile and walk through a wooded area. Ahead is another stile and… and a big expanse of blue and light. That must be the sea! At last.
It’s really good to be overlooking the coast again. (Funny how my coastal walks can be definitely non-coastal for protracted periods!) But… what’s that island over there to the south. I get my maps out.
Oh. It’s Ireland!
This morning I’d been chatting to the bus driver about the 7.5 hour drive to Manchester, and how even Glasgow is nearly 3 hours away from the Mull of Kintyre by car. And yet, there is Ireland, so close you could almost swim over.
This next section of the walk is beautiful. But tough. First comes a steep, hard scramble up a hill. Great views from the top. A tiny boat makes its way over the placid ocean. Those island over there – looking north-west now – are they Islay and Jura?
This landscape is too steep for cattle, and I don’t see any sheep either. But I do see some goats. They have terrifically huge horns, and watch me with some curiosity, but don’t come anywhere near.
I reach the top of the slope and stop for a breather and to take photographs of the stunning views. Yes, that island over there is definitely Jura, with its distinctive humps. The Paps of Jura.
From here, the path plunges down the slope, twisting and winding, among grass and rocks, and occasional patches of slippery scree. Luckily blue posts mark the route, because the landscape is a jumble of rocky outcrops and steep drops. It’s quite terrifying in places.
And I am suddenly aware of my own vulnerability. No phone signal. A path that’s rarely walked (I haven’t met another walker all day – just a glimpse of the man in red – who might or might not have been a walker.)
Also, I realise I didn’t tell my family my route today. Just said I was walking the Mull of Kintyre – but I’ve been walking the Mull of Kintyre all week and mainly along roads. If I twist an ankle… or worse… I could be stuck here for days before anybody finds me. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Onwards. Carefully. I pick my way down the slope.
Below is a pretty beach. It’s nameless on my OS map, but is the site of a sailor’s grave.
I had planned to go down to visit the grave, but the path down isn’t clear, and I don’t want to take any chances on this unforgiving slope.
It’s a relief to reach the sheepfold. This is the point at which the path turns away from the coast and heads up the glen.
In fact, at this point, the terrifying path turns into an easy track. “Ballygroggan” says a sign. Is that the name of the beach?
I make my way up the track, up Innean Glen. I suppose it could be considered pretty, but I find all this open moorland rather bleak and intimidating.
At the top of the glen is yet more moorland. But with wonderful views of the hills ahead. And the blue Kintyre Way markers stretch ahead of me – a line of welcoming blue punctuation points.
I begin to get obsessed with the idea of midges. No, I didn’t put any spray on this morning. No, I forgot to put it in my rucksack too. And I know they like these boggy areas. Oh dear. And I’m too tired to run fast if they surround me.
A marker post tells me I’ve walked 96 miles along the Kintyre Way. (Actually, I haven’t really, because I haven’t followed the Kintyre Way in its frequent cross-country meanderings!) But, that 96 miles also means I’m only 4 miles away from Machrihanish.
4 miles!? Still four miles to go?! Check my watch. It’s 5pm already. I knew this walk would be a long one, but didn’t expect it to take me quite so long.
Now, at last, I’m definitely going downhill. There’s Machrihanish Bay ahead. The strange domed piece of land directly in front of me is… I check my map… a dun. A dun? What’s a dun? Dunno.
Only 3 miles to go now. No midges around me either. Yet.
Near the ‘dun’, I pass a wooden post with a metal box on top. The note stuck to the top invites you to leave comments in the book inside. I wrestle with the lid of the box, which is covered in flaky red rust, but can’t get it open.
A nearby signpost tells me Southend is 13 miles away. Lies! I’ve definitely walked farther than that, haven’t I?
And, finally, after miles of moorland tramping, I come to another farm. This is the first farm since I crossed the river at the bottom of Amod Hill. In fact, it’s the first building I’ve come across for miles.
The farm is called Ballygroggan. That explains the signpost I saw above the beach. And here is a proper road, at last, with a little car park and a picnic bench. I sit down and finish the rest of my water.
The road heads down the hill. My feet are sore on the tarmac, but at least I can now make rapid progress. The view of Jura is pretty spectacular.
In the surrounding fields are sheep, and inquisitive little lambs. Hello, number 22. You look like a cheeky chappie.
I arrive at the final mile-marker post. Only ONE mile to go. Hooray.
There is a smattering of houses along the road into Machrihanish. The evening light slants low from the west across the sea, and everything glows golden. I love this time of day.
Finally, coming down into a little cove, I can see the car park where I left my car this morning. And, there’s my car. Waiting patiently for me.
I stop to take a photograph of the marker of the finish (or the start) of the Kintyre Way. I feel a sense of achievement, as if I’ve really walked the entire 100 miles. Maybe some day I’ll come back and complete the sections I missed out?
But, for today, my walk is over. It’s the most challenging walk I’ve done so far in Scotland – on a par with north Cornwall in terms of terrifying and steep slopes. And, at long last, I’ve walked around the Mull of Kintyre… oh, no. Now that song is going around inside my head again!
High points = the amazing views over to Ireland and Jura
Low points = meeting cows with calves on the path
Miles walked today = 17.5 miles
Total around coast = 3,684.5 miles