I have a cunning plan for this afternoon. Instead of relying on the monstrous bike, I’m going to catch the bus that runs along the road to Achnamara. All I have to do is park somewhere along its route. Bellanoch seems a good place.
Bellanoch is on the Crinan canal and consists of a couple of rows of houses and a marina…
…and, most importantly, a bus stop. The stop has a beautiful view over the canal, which is very wide at this point.
BUT, I can’t find anywhere to park. The good citizens of Bellanoch have covered their grassy verges in rocks, to prevent people like me parking there. (I don’t blame them, but it’s a nuisance.) And the marina has a private car park controlled by a barrier.
I end up driving nearly a mile up the road, where I park in a passing-place off a narrow side road. (In my defence, it’s a pretty large passing-place, and there’s one other car parked there already, so I don’t feel too guilty.)
Luckily, I still have plenty of time to walk back to Bellanoch and catch the bus. It arrives late, and I’m the only passenger.
The bus only goes as far as Achnamara, where it turns round. I get off and start hiking down the road.
Achnamara is near the end of a small loch, a short estuary branching off from Loch Sween. The road curves to form a semicircle around the top of the water.
This is the last I’ll see of the sea today. To negotiate my way around to the next part of the coast, I have to head inland.
Although Achnamara isn’t a large place, there is considerably more traffic along this stretch of road, and I have to keep my ears open for the sound of speeding cars. It’s a pretty walk, all the same, with the bluebells in full bloom despite the fact it’s nearly the end of May.
The bluebells in England have just about finished. I’m getting a second chance to enjoy them.
Branching off the main road are forestry tracks. I see a couple bouncing down one on mountain bikes. Oh, those tracks look inviting – much better than road-walking – but none of them are going in the direction I want to follow.
But, is that really correct? I see an interesting track off to my left, consult the map, and realise I could have walked around a small peninsula. Oh, what a shame. That would have in keeping with my rule number two, and much nicer than following the road.
Oh dear. I’m becoming lazy sticking to tarmac, when I could be finding alternative routes closer to the shore.
I check the map again, and find a series of trails with the magical name of “The Ardnoe and Faerie Isles Cycle Routes”. Tracing a route, I realise I should be able to walk along the trails up through woodland, around a small lake (Loch Coille-Bharr), and then back to the main road. If all the paths join up. (Sometimes the OS maps in Scotland are a little unclear about this important point!)
Well, I’m in no hurry, and the worst that can happen is I have to turn back. I decide to give the Ardnoe and Faerie Isles routes a go. Certainly this one looks like a wide, easy track for walking.
After walking uphill, and through a logging area, the track splits, and I take the right fork, hoping it’s the correct way. The route enters a forest with a greater variety of native trees, and becomes more overgrown…
…before dwindling to the status of a path. I soon reach Loch Coille-Bharr, where I disturb a flapping heron, and send coots into a frenzy of neck-bobbing. Occasional green walking posts suggest this is a special route.
I spot a sign, and am surprised to find information about beavers. Beavers? Ah, I’d heard about the experiments to reintroduce them into the wild. Interesting.
It’s dark among the trees, the midges are dancing about, and I’ve still got a fair way to walk. So I don’t linger too long to look for beavers. In any case, the path soon joins a track and my view over the loch is obscured by trees.
Further along, and another information sign. This tells me that the valley in front was once the site of an extensive settlement, long since abandoned.
You can still see the remains of buildings among the grass, and are invited to go and explore. I look at the clouds of midges, and decide to keep walking.
This morning I had a close encounter with midges, and picked up a few bites, so this afternoon I’ve doused myself in Smidge. It seems to be working… but I don’t want to push my luck.
The track takes me to a road (the B8025) and a forestry car park. Oh, and look, another camper van. What a wonderful place to park for the night. Yes, I definitely want one of those.
I realise there’s a woodland walk running roughly parallel to the road, so I follow it. I’m going downhill steadily now.
Loch Coille-Bharr is still on my right. On the far side of the water, a couple of children are playing with their father on a landing stage, but I can’t get a good photograph through the trees.
The path emerges at the Barnluasgan memorial. This is where the road to Achnamara branches off the B8025. I make a mental note of the spot, because this is where I want to begin tomorrow’s walk.
The rest of today’s walk is in the wrong direction, as far as the coast is concerned, and is simply aimed at getting me back to my car. I use a phrase for this type of diversion from the route. “Wasted walking.”
(Sadly, I’ve had to accept a great deal of “wasted walking” in this area of Scotland, where the public transport logistics are tortuous, and it is difficult to find a coastal path at the best of times.)
The B8025 isn’t very busy, but the few cars that use it are travelling very fast indeed. So, I’m glad to see another path running roughly parallel with the road. This one is tarmacked and signposted, and runs through an area of parkland next to a couple of small lochs. Here, I come across another one of those wee solo seats…
… only large enough for one person. Not very comfortable looking either. I’ve seen a few of these in Scotland and think they’re rather weird, but I guess they’re cheap and easy to make.
The area is pretty, and has been clearly landscaped to create a nature reserve and a walking area. A signpost promises me a Journey to the Edge of the World, and explains that this is Knapdale, an area with some of Scotland’s finest woodlands.
I agree, the woods around here have been amazing, and full of native trees – oaks, birches, ash, beech, sycamore… just wonderful.
The signpost points further down the path, and promises me “the most breathtaking views in Argyll“. I check my map, but unfortunately the breathtaking view appears to be a dead-end. I’m tempted, but it’s already 6:30pm. I’m worrying about whether I’ve parked my car safely, and I need to check into my new hotel…
Reluctantly, I turn off the path and climb back onto the road. It’s not a very pleasant walk for the next mile or so – why do cars go so fast? – but I survive.
There’s a little church off to the left, just above Bellanoch, and here I can leave the main road and follow a green lane down to the village.
Sadly, someone has used the lane for fly tipping. I’ve seen worse things dumped in the countryside, but it’s always a shame to see our open spaces abused in this way.
Down, past some little sheds, and I’m nearly back at the Crinan Canal. At this point, not only is the canal very wide, but it’s only separated from the sea loch on the other side by a thin strip of land. Looks more like a lake than a canal.
As I walk through Bellanoch, an enormous flatbed transporter lorry rumbles past. I wonder where that huge machine is heading? The roads here are narrow and difficult to navigate at the best of times. At least my car is safe down a side road.
I walk the next mile along the road, anxious now to get back to my car. The sun is low in the sky, and I’m constantly dodging traffic. It’s just gone 7pm.
As I approach the narrow turning to the side road where I’ve left my car, I get a shock. The huge transporter lorry is sitting at the end of the road. Not moving. How did it get there? The side road is a dead-end so the truck must have backed in. And my car is sitting in the passing place just a few yards away… oh, no!
Dreading what I might find, I hurry along. The driver of the truck is out on the flat-bed, hauling large straps around. “Sorry. Am I in your way?” I shout. (Oh, I do hate nasty confrontations.) “Not in my way, love,” he shouts back, implying that I’ve been in somebody’s way. “I’m going to be here for the next twenty minutes.”
I walk to the back of the lorry. What a shock. The passing place is crammed with a collection of machinery – including a digger truck and a tarmac spreader. The largest machine towers over my car, and is parked less than a foot away from my front bumper.
I suddenly realise what must have happened. They’ve been doing road works somewhere locally, and have parked their machines here at the end of the day, squeezing them into the space around my car. Now, the transporter lorry has arrived to pick them up.
He’s right about the 20 minutes. I watch in awe as he expertly backs the collection of machinery onto the truck, one after the other, some of it only fitting on the ramp with inches to spare. I think of my own recent and disastrous attempt at reversing, and feel ashamed.
While I wait, I sit and listen to The Archers on my car radio. I’m really becoming very middle-aged in my old age!
Today = am 7 miles + pm 6 miles = 13 miles in total
Total distance around coast = 3,789.5 miles
Route: morning in black, afternoon in red.