It’s the last week of May, and I’m back in Scotland. Taking up a great deal of room in my car, and clanking ominously every time I turn a corner, is a monstrously heavy, folding bike.
I bought the bike to avoid double-walking. Alan Palin, another coastal walker, suggested it. Get a bike, he told me. The worst that can happen is you end up pushing it uphill and freewheeling downhill, but without a bike you’d have to walk the whole way, anyway. So you can’t lose.
You can’t lose. Unless, of course you fall off. I haven’t ridden a bike for 30 years.
Anyway, I won’t have to use the bike today, because my plan this morning is to park in a village called Kilberry, from where I will catch the bus to get to the starting point for today’s walk. Then, all I have to do is walk back to my car.
Unfortunately, I had great trouble finding accommodation this week, and ended up staying a good 30 miles away from where I wanted to be. My drive to Kilberry, therefore, is a long one. Much longer – it turns out – than I anticipated.
After following a single-track road for what seems like forever, I meet the bus head-on just outside Kilberry village. In fact, I am forced to pull off the road to allow the bus to go past. Since there are only two buses a day – both coinciding with the school run – this is a DISASTER.
Now I either face a day of double-walking, or… uh,oh… or, I could use the bike. The incredibly heavy, terribly unstable, clanking Monster of a bike.
Hmmm. I was planning a 16 mile walk today. I’m happy enough to walk that distance, but I’m really not sure about riding or, as seems very likely, pushing the Monster for 16 miles at the end of the day.
As a compromise, I drive back to the half-way point – a place called Torinturk – and heave the Monster out of the boot of my car. It takes me at least 10 minutes to persuade the thing to unfold itself. Then I chain it up and stash it behind a tree.
It actually looks deceptively attractive, standing among the grass and bluebells.
I drive back to the main road and park in a layby just outside Tarbert. Today’s walk should be, theoretically, an easy walk along a quiet road. But the Monster is playing on my mind, and I can’t stop feeling very uneasy and anxious about the whole venture.
Leaving the main road behind, my quiet road soon narrows to a single lane.
It’s still early. Not yet 9am. I pass a golf course, where a man is mowing the greens, and reach the B8024 turnoff. A heavy lumber truck thunders past.
In fact, the B8024 seems well maintained, perhaps because of the demands of the forestry industry. A sign mentions the ‘Strategic Timber Network’.
It’s a pretty road, running down the western side of West Loch. Bluebells are nearly over in England, but here they line the verges, and the trees are just beginning to bud into full leaf.
I pass a standing stone. There are plenty of these in Scotland and it’s not uncommon to see them. This one is fenced off, which is unusual.
A landowner has placed a couple of warning signs at the bottom of their driveway. ‘No large trucks’ and ‘please close gate.’ Love the way they’ve taken the trouble to carve the letters into the wood, instead of just painting them on.
I was worrying about timber lorries, but I don’t meet any. The largest thing to pass me is an Open Reach van. So they definitely have WiFi out here, then?
The road turns away from the loch, and trees give way to open grassland. Here the road is lined by a high deer fence. Whether this is supposed to keep the deer in, or out, isn’t clear. Through the wire I can see ruined cottages.
The landscape is a mixture of forested hills and grazing fields, with very few buildings in sight. Very attractive.
I’m back in a forested area now, with a mixture of conifers (yuck) and lots of much more attractive native trees. A Forestry Commission sign bears the name ‘Achaglachgach’. How do you pronounce that? Sounds like a gargle.
It doesn’t take me long to reach Torinturk – less than an hour and a half. I’ve been walking quickly due to my anxiety about the bike ride ahead. Oh dear.
Time to unchain the Monster. It’s well hidden – in fact, I can’t see the bike at all. Maybe someone has stolen it?
No such luck. There it is.
After a moment’s hesitation, I decide to leave my rucksack behind because I feel more stable on my bike without that extra weight across my shoulders. I leave a note too, just in case anybody finds my pack. “If found, please leave alone. I’m coming back!”
Funnily enough, I quite enjoy the bike ride back to the car. Yes, I have to push the bike up the steep hills. (Actually, to be honest, I have to push the bike up every hill!) But free-wheeling down the hills is exhilarating and thrilling.
But I’m not used to cycling. By the time I get back to the car, my backside is completely numb.
I drive back to Torinturk and pick up my rucksack. Now, filled with confidence, I’m happy to walk a little further. Maybe not all the way to Kilberry, which is still 9.5 miles away, according to this stone marker.
But, instead of facing a cycle ride at the END of my walk, why don’t I get it over with at the beginning? Great idea!
So, I fold the Monster in half again – despite it putting up stiff resistance – heave the thing back into the car, and drive on along the road. I find a convenient parking place and cycle back to Torinturk, where I persuade the Monster to straighten out again, before throwing it into a ditch.
I don’t usually enjoy road walking, but this is a lovely walk. A post-office van trundles past. Love those vans.
I’m back near the shore again, with the water of West Loch showing blue between the trees.
I reach a place with a ‘slipway’ marked on my map. And, there actually is a slipway. It doesn’t look very well used.
Although there isn’t much developement along the road, I do come across the occasional house. Some have been sympathetically converted into lovely residences. I wonder if they’re all holiday homes, or do people live here permanently?
It’s a beautiful day – bright, still and clear. There are a few ships moored along the loch, but not many.
I pass Dunmore House. Looks like a castle. Oh dear, what happened to the roof?
At this point, the road turns away from the loch and heads inland again. Another Open Reach van passes me. Crikey. Those things get everywhere.
Now here is an interesting-looking track. Looks like an old green lane. I wonder if it might be possible to follow it and walk closer to the shore?
Tempting. But, when I trace the track on the map, it appears to come to a dead-end at a farm house. Shame. I decide to stick to the road.
Some of the land along the side of the road is up for sale. I see several signs on different plots. I wonder if the land comes with planning permission?
A driveway to my right displays a series of interesting signs. ‘Artists Studio’, ‘Personal Retreat’, ‘Holistic Therapy’. In other words, a bit of almost everything and anything. Diversification? Entrepreneurship? Or desperation?
The road goes on. Over bridges. Through lovely woodland. I hadn’t expected so many trees, or such a variety of native species. Ash, oak, sycamore, silver birch… and many I can’t identify.
I come to an area where the fences are in poor condition and there’s a faded notice on a board. ‘Sheep and their lambs on this road’ and ‘Please slow down!’ Really? I couldn’t go much slower.
There they are. Not actually on the road at the moment, but watching me from the field to the side.
I pass a little walled cemetery on my right. Such a common sight in Scotland. I wonder if there was once a church close by?
There’s a plaintive bleating from the field on my left. A little lost lamb. It goes on and on, with no answering call from its mother. I look around. No sign of an adult. The lamb sees me and comes running towards me – uh, oh. I can’t help you, little one. And please stay away from the road.
I walk on hurriedly and luckily the lamb stops following me. There are sheep farther along the road, busily munching grass. Perhaps one of them is the lamb’s mother?
Onwards, round a corner, and there’s water ahead. It’s not West Loch anymore, but open sea. Yes! I’m making progress.
I check my watch and am surprised to see it’s nearly 5pm. Where has the time gone? My car is only a mile down the road, but Kilberry is still 5.5 miles away.
Perhaps I should carry on and reach Kilberry as planned? There’s still plenty of daylight left. But, my heart sinks at the thought. It’s not just the extra miles of walking, but all the extra hassle of driving back and picking up the Monster, driving on and finding somewhere to park, getting the Monster out again…
Onwards. More land for sale. ‘Outline planning permission’ and a ‘Serviced Plot’. That must mean electricity and mains water, and maybe drains too.
I pass quite a few houses now, although there’s no village marked on my map. Perhaps the council are quietly allowing a new residential area to develop here?
I reach the place where a side road turns off to somewhere called Ardpatrick. There’s a phone box, a post box, an information sign, and more land for sale. But that’s about all.
My car is parked a little further up on the verge. I’ve already decided not to try to make it all the way to Kilberry, although that means I’ll have to rethink my plans for tomorrow. Oh dear. I remember that ahead of me, beyond Kilberry, is a section of road without any buses at all…
… but, what am I worrying about? I don’t need buses. I’ve got The Monster!
Miles walked today = 14 miles
Miles cycled today = 14 miles (but some of these were walked too!)
Total around coast of Britain = 3,738.5 miles