The west coast of Scotland was shaped by a drunken giant with an enormous pair of scissors and a sense of humour. A jagged series of mulls, peninsulas and inlets.
My walk today will take me part way around yet another peninsula, Knapdale. There’s a road some of the way down one side, and a road some of the way up the other – leaving a gap in the middle. My plan today is to walk until I close the gap.
I drive back to Achahoish (bless you) and park beside the church. It’s early, just after 9 am, and the hordes of churchgoers have not yet materialised, so I have the car park almost to myself.
My blister is padded, and my foot feels reasonably comfortable. I set off down the road.
Although Achahoish has very little infrastructure (no shop), it does have a fair number of houses scattered about, including some rather nice new developments. Many of them look like holiday homes. I wonder how many people live here permanently?
The road makes a lazy loop around the top of Loch Caolisport. I walk along beside the high wall of a country house, feeling slightly annoyed because the wall blocks my view towards the sea, and also blocks access to a standing stone, which is somewhere close by.
On the other side of a road is a farmyard.
It’s a beautiful day, with sheep and baby lambs in the fields.
And cows with baby calves too – but they’re safely behind a fence.
I see a group of walkers ahead of me. A family. With a couple of dogs. I rarely overtake anybody on my walks, but I soon catch up with this group. They ask me where I’m going and I explain I’m doing a circular walk to the end of the road, and then up the slope towards the Knap Point, returning by tracks through woodland.
They look rather impressed, and stand aside to let me pass. I stride ahead, feeling like a proper walker, until I remember that, with my waking pole and my limp, I probably just look like a slightly batty old lady.
I should really try to walk without a limp!
This is a lovely road. It’s following the shore now.
The houses are fewer along here, and bluebells line the verges. Hardly any traffic.
Now the shoreline breaks up into a series of small bays, with beaches of large boulders and an island just off the coast. I pull out my map. Eilean na h-Uamhaidh. Crikey. These Gaelic names are real tongue twisters.
I pass a sign to St Columba’s Cave. Another one! How many caves does this saint need? He’s already got one down near the Mull of Kintyre.
The cave is up the hill, somewhere, and I’m not sure how far from the road… tempting to go and have a look.. but I have a long walk planned today, and don’t want to push my luck with my blister. Onwards.
The road winds around beside the water, until I come to a collection of holiday homes. My map shows only a single building here – Ellary Farm – so I guess they’ve converted farm buildings into this mini holiday park.
At this point, the public road ends. But a private track continues, which should take me up and over the hill, and should eventually link to the public road on the other side of the peninsula.
The “Private” signs are a little off-putting. I hesitate…
… but then I remember Scotland has its famous Right to Roam, and I decide the signs only apply to traffic, and not to me! That doesn’t stop me feeling very anxious as I set off along the private road. I dislike confrontations and would hate to be challenged.
After a few hundred yards, the track branches into two. One branch leads towards Ellary House (I presume), the other heads up the hill. It has a gate across as a barrier to traffic, but the smaller pedestrian gate is unlocked and I take this as a positive sign.
The track climbs up the hill, going around the back of the house, which is invisible among the trees below me. It’s a relief to leave the manicured grounds behind, and to enter a valley of sheep fields. Here the track takes a sharp-angled turn, nearly doubling back on itself, and continues climbing.
Sheep fields? I can’t see any sheep, but I do spot something rather ominous on the track – are those cow splats? I think they are.
Oh, no. I hate walking close to cows. The splats look fresh too. And this walk was going sooo well. Oh dear. Well, I must be brave and carry on. Maybe they’re not cow splats at all, but just sheep with diarrhoea?
Near the top of the hill, I come to a bench, and the junction where a green lane branches off to the right. The green lane is going to provide my route home via the slope of the hill, and I’m reassured to see it looks well kept and well walked.
I sit on the bench for a while, have a drink and a snack, and admire the views over Loch Caolisport. Yesterday, I was walking along those beaches on the far side. Now I’m about to leave it behind.
Onwards, up the hill. No sign of any cows up here, thank goodness.
Over the top of the hill… and I gasp because it’s so unexpected… I come to a broad, open valley with two gleaming lochs, surrounded by gentle hills. There are lily pads on the water, the buds of the flowers yet to appear, and a sense of light and endless open space.
There’s not a manmade structure in sight – apart from the track. It’s a delightful and beautiful surprise. A secret valley.
Further along, between the two lochs, is a bench. Now, this will make a good spot for my picnic lunch when I return, as long as the midges behave. I see a few dancing around, but I covered myself in Smidge this morning and that – along with the sunlight and the breeze – seem to keep the pack away.
I begin to climb the hill on the far side of the valley, and meet a little lamb on the track. It’s torn between curiosity and fear – runs off, then turns back for another look.
Eventually, it bounds off to one side, into the ferns, bleating for its mother.
Onwards, I’ve nearly reached the top of the hill, From there it will be 2 mile downhill saunter, following the track, until I reach the public road that runs beside the far shore. When I reach the road, I’m simply going to turn round and retrace my steps.
But… oh, no! What’s that on the ridge ahead? Yes, it’s a cow. A big one.
I walk forward slowly along the track. The cow watches me, gives a moo, and is joined by several others. They have young calves with them. I stop walking.
On either side of the track the ground is rough, and covered with ferns, long grasses, along with the occasional rock. If I really had to, I could turn off to my right and climb the slope and find a way around the cows. But it wouldn’t be easy. And then I’d have to repeat the detour on the way back.
I stare up at the cows. Move! They stare back and don’t budge. It’s a stand-off at the pass!
Well, I’ve nearly reached my planned end-point and, despite my blister, I’ve not done badly today. I can cover the extra 2 miles tomorrow, easily. I give the cows one last glare, and turn back.
The secret valley really is beautiful. I walk down to take a closer look at one of the lochs (it’s very muddy) and then sit on the nearby bench and eat my lunch.
The midges stay away. It’s really a perfect place. Then, onwards, back down the hill. A last chance to enjoy great views over Loch Caolisport…
… and here’s the other bench, and the place where the green lane branches off to my left.
I enjoy the first section of the lane. It’s overhung with trees, and I walk through a shady tunnel, dappled with light. Then I’m out onto open countryside, where bluebells compete with ferns, and a delicious scent fills the air. (I can’t work out if the fragrance is coming from the bluebells or the ferns, or both.)
After traversing the slope, the track dips down through trees and shrubs.
It would really be a perfect way to end the walk… if it wasn’t for the mud. There’s not much of it but, where there are patches of gloopy stuff, it is very thick indeed. Unpleasant.
I’ve drawn level with the top of Loch Caolisport, and here are more ferns and bluebells, while down there is that wonderful stretch of sand.
Down goes the path, past waterfalls and through little fords, where I pick my way through patches of mud, until I reach the road.
Now, if only I’d brought The Monster and left it waiting for me here… I could cycle back to the car instead of walking the final three miles. Oh well, too late now.
At this point, I realise I’ve lost my hat. I can remember the breeze trying to lift it off my head, and so I was carrying it tucked under my arm. I must have dropped it while I was traversing one of the muddy sections.
I half-contemplate turning back. I’m fond of the hat, only the second one I’ve had since I left my first one on a beach somewhere on the south coast of England. But I’ve brought another hat with me on this trip. A lovely wide-brimmed Australian bush hat (although it’s actually made in England!). Maybe it’s time to ditch the old one anyway.
It seems a long, three-mile slog down the road to get back to my car. If only I’d brought the Monster… but then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy these lovely bluebells.
I reach the church, where the enormous hordes of churchgoers must have come and gone, because the car park is otherwise empty. The Monster stares at me, reproachfully, from the boot.
Don’t worry, you horrible bike, I will definitely need to use you tomorrow.
Low points = cows at the pass, mud on the green lane, and losing my old hat.
High points = finding the Secret Valley, and discovering the adhesive padding I bought from the pharmacist yesterday is truly wonderful, amazing stuff, and much better than Compeed.
Cows v Ruth = one nil, to the cows.
Walked today = 10 miles
Total distance around coast = 3,768 miles