365am Crinan to Kilmartin

I catch the bus to Cairnbaan – or as close to Cairnbaan as I can get – and walk the rest of the way along a beautiful lane, shaded by trees and lined by bluebells and buttercups.

01 lane near Crinan Canal, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I walk past the Cairnbaan Hotel where I’ve been staying. Every night they leave a printed letter on the bed, warning guests to keep the windows closed because of the “wee beasties”. This worked fine, until there was a fire alarm at midnight, and we were all eaten alive in the car park while waiting for the all clear!

02 Cairnbaan Hotel, Crinan canal, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I can’t help feeling the midges triggered the fire alarm deliberately. Pay back for keeping the windows closed.

At breakfast, a few days ago, the waitress asked if I’d met Paul Merton, who was staying here overnight while making a program about Scotland. Oh, no. I was really disappointed I hadn’t… until I realised it wasn’t Paul Merton the comedian she was talking about, but Paul Murton the documentary maker.

In fact, I had seen him in the bar, but didn’t realise he was anyone special.

The hotel is in an idyllic spot, overlooking the Crinan Canal. A couple of ships are entering the lock, and I stop to watch their progress, and to snap a few photographs.

03 loch at Cairnbaan, Ruth hiking along the Crinan Canal

The other end of the lock is crossed by a swing bridge. It takes some heavy traffic. I hold my breath as an enormous sheep-carrying lorry manoeuvres onto the bridge.

04 truck crossing over the swing bridge, Cairnbaan, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I’m not following the main road, but sticking to this side of the canal, where there’s a quiet lane which doubles as a cycletrack.

05 path along the Crinan Canal, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Only a few cars come down here. The speed limit is 10 mph.

06 10mph speed limit, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Yesterday when I walked along the canal it was evening, and there were hardly any boats to be seen. Today is different. Here’s another lovely ship making its way through the locks.

07 sailing ship, Crinan Canal, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I stop at a wide basin to watch more ships navigating their way up the canal. There are 15 locks in total along this 9 miles of waterway, and each lock takes time to pass through. It’s slow progress, but I guess the effort is worth it, because the Crinan Canal creates a safe short cut between the Firth of Clyde and the Atlantic.

08 ship in lock, Crinan Canal, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

There must be some sort of system for deciding which ship has right of way. Despite the busyness of the canal, I don’t see any arguments or disagreements. Everyone seems very polite and friendly.

09 Ruth hiking up the Crinan Canal, Argyll, Scotland

The landscape to my right opens out onto a wide, flat plain. A sign tells me I’m walking along the edge of the Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve. It looks pretty featureless and boring to me, but I gather it’s an important area of raised bog, full of peat, which merges into salt marsh at the Loch Crinan end.

10 Moine Mhor National Nature Reserve, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Onwards. I’m approaching Bellanoch. A hefty blue boat is tied up at a wharf, more of a working barge, despite the sailing mast, than a pleasure ship.

11 Bellanoch bridge, Crinan Canal, Ruth Livingstone

There’s the bridge I ‘m looking for. It is going to take me away from the canal and northwards across the salt marsh, heading for Kilmartin.

12 Moine Mhor and bridge, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I parked my car near this bridge yesterday and ended my walk here. So, despite having walked nearly three miles already, today’s walk is about to officially begin.

There’s not much to say about this next part of the walk. The road crosses over the marsh, and then through woodland. Only a few cars overtake me, but they are going much too fast. The road is very straight. Very long.

13 long straight road across Moine Mhor, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

After a couple of miles I come to a crossroads, where I turn left because that should take me closer to the shore.

14 crossroads, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Large signs warn me it’s a weak road. Good job I don’t weigh more than 18 tons, then.

weak road.jpg

I can still feel my blister, although it’s much better, and I try not to limp. The sun has gone and the day is dull, but it’s a pleasant walk along this weak road. I stop to take photographs of bluebells among the trees.

15 bluebell woods, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Ahead, looking dull in the poor light, is the castle I saw yesterday from across the water. Duntrune Castle. From this angle it looks disappointingly like a large house, and not a romantic ruin after all.

16 to Duntrune Castle, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

There’s an intermittent roaring noise to my left. Soon I discover the cause of the racket – an orange digger. Some sort of quarry? It looks like a very small-scale operation. A one-man job.

17 quarry, near Crinan Ferry, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I reach a T junction, where I could turn left towards Crinan Ferry. What’s that? A ferry? I check my map… but the real ferry must be long gone, and Crinan Ferry is now an isolated hamlet along a dead-end road.

So, I turn right, and then first left, ignoring signs that tell me I’m walking along a “Private Road”.

18 private road to Duntrune, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

At this point, I’m back near the shore of Loch Crinan and following the curve of the bay. It’s the closest I’m going to get to the sea all day, and I was hoping to walk along the beach… but… oh dear! That’s not sand. That’s mud. Definitely mud.

19 Duntrune Castle, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

So my beach turns out to be a messy expanse of gleaming mud. I feel a little cheated, because my OS map definitely indicates sand. Oh well, I better stick to the road.

On the other side of the bay is a white building. Ah, I recognise it. That’s the Crinan Hotel where I stopped for a cold drink yesterday. And, next to it, is the mouth of the Crinan Canal.

20 Loch Crinan, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I come to a cottage where a track leads off to the right. I know I could carry straight on along the road and reach Duntrune Castle, but the road is a dead-end, the castle appears to be more private house than ruin, and the ‘private’ signs have put me off. So, I turn right along the track.

Today is another one of those frustrating days, where I’m forced to walk tantalising close to the shore, but without sight of the sea. (I’ve studied the map closely and decided the coastal landscape is just too rugged and difficult for me to attempt without the help of a path or a track.)

Now I’m heading in a northward direction, towards Kilmartin. It’s a good track and easy to follow, although I feel increasingly nervous about meeting cattle along the route.

21 Farm track, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I pass feeding troughs, and areas of dried mud bearing cattle hoof imprints, but luckily no live beasts.

After a mile I come to a little cottage, Kilchoan Lodge, I think. And another orange digger.

22 cottage, Ruth hiking through Argyll

Here the track meets a narrow lane, and I turn left. The lane is soon barred by a gate, and a sign says “PATH ONLY”. I walk through and carry on.

23 path only, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

This is a lovely walk, despite the absence of the sea, which is nearly two miles away on the other side of a mass of high ground. More gates to navigate, and occasional half-hidden cottages among the trees.

24 Tayness cottage, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

The gateposts are marked with a sign that seems to suggest I’m hiking along a recognised long distance walking route. But the symbol is unfamiliar, and my map doesn’t help. It’s a mystery.

25 walk symbol, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

The road winds down towards a valley. I’m surrounded by a mix of woodland and farmland, and cross over cattle grids.

26 Tayness, near Kilmartin, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

Round the next bend, and I realise I’m feeling tired and hungry. It’s gone 2pm. Definitely time for lunch. Luckily, here’s a handy bench beside the track.

27 resting spot, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

The view is wonderful. That’s Kilmartin Glen below me, a long valley running south to north, with fields of sheep and – oh, yes, I knew they’d be somewhere – cows too. Beyond I can just see traffic moving along the main road

28 cattle in fields, Ruth hiking to Kilmartin, Argyll

While I’m sitting eating my lunch on my handy bench, a man comes down a track from some house hidden further up the hill. He apologises for disturbing me, but wants to look inside the “bench” for some post that should have been delivered.

I jump up, feeling a little foolish. My bench is actually his letter box!

Onwards, down the road, and into the valley. Shame about the dull weather, because my photographs of these views should be spectacular.

29 road to Slockavullin. Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

As I approach a proper road, I come across two Open Reach vans. I see so many of these vans racing around this remote rural landscape, I’ve been intrigued. How many broadband connections are needed out here? What do these vans actually do all day? Now I discover the answer.

30 openreach vans, Ruth hiking in Argyll

One of the vans has its back doors open. Inside is a collection of tools and equipment, and a stove and seats. The kettle is on and the two drivers are having a snack – although I’m not sure if it’s a late lunch or an early tea. A black dog lolls about.

So, that’s what they do all day.

Onwards. I turn left along the road and reach the village of Slockavullin. Here’s a funny house. A shed, really. But built over a stream. I wonder if it gets damp – or even flooded – during the long, wet Scottish winters?

31 built over a stream, Ruth's coastal walk, Scotland

I reach the end of the road. From here I pick up a footpath which runs beside a field and behind a few scattered houses. I’m heading downhill and further into the valley.

[to be continued…]

About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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12 Responses to 365am Crinan to Kilmartin

  1. coaststomper says:

    Looks like your mystery symbol is the Dalreida Heritatpge walk according to Gillian’s Walks https://gillianswalks.com/2016/06/18/crinan-canal/

  2. jcombe says:

    The Crinan canal looks beautiful, looking forward to this part of the ckastr. But that house at the end, good grief what a place to build a house! I liked your funny story of sitting on that man’s postbox, I’m glad he didn’t mind.

    I’m currently in Scotland myself walking more of the coast. I’ve successfully rounded Cape Wrath now. Also for the first time met another round Britain coastal walker (Jane Allen) who is staying at the same campsite as me, though she has temporarily stopped due to a tendon injury. Victory walk 17-18 is what you need to search if you want to follow her progress too (Jane) or victorywalk.uk. We are both staying at Sango Sands in Durness at the moment. She has walked from Portsmouth to Durness so far, via the East coast.

    • Oh, wow, another all-in-one-go coastal walker. I really admire those who do that, although I think you enjoy it more if you do it our way! I’m wondering how you tackled Cape Wrath, because I know there aren’t many paths around there. Did you go over the rough ground near the shore?

      • jcombe says:

        I’m planning a “special” post on my blog about how to tackle Cape Wrath (I basically did it all in one day, but it needs preparation the day before to leave your car at the nearest point to the path).

        I took the ferry over from near Durness (the first one is around 9am), then walked along the road/track that leads to the lighthouse. This is only used by the mini buses that take tourists to the lighthouse (technically, it’s a public road but most of the public have no way to get a vehicle on it!). From the lighthouse (it has a cafe) I retraced my steps about 1 mile (to the point exactly north of where “Old Shielings” is marked on the map south of the road). Then I followed the trackless moorland (not too wet this summer) due south to the top end of the river valley ahead (Allt na Clais Leobairnich), about 1 mile. Then I followed the top of the deep valley it is in, on the south side, to the cliff top.

        From here I was able to follow the cliff tops along the coast (a sort of path, or gravelly areas for most of the way, but some rough walking too), and it was drier. At the river Keisgaig there is a steep descent (best to zig-zag to get down) and I could climb over the river via the rocks. It was less steep up the other side. As I approached Sandwood Bay there is a tiny stream at the north end of the bay (NOT Amhainn Strath Chailleach, a smaller one just a bit north of that), and I could follow the edge of that down to the sands at Sandwood Bay. The river I just mentioned was not a problem to wade through on the beach (no more than knee deep), then follow the sands south.

        From Sandwood Bay there is a good path / track back to the car park at Blairmore, it is wide enough to almost be a road in places). I had left my (hire) car there the previous day (and was glad to see it was still there!) The car park is owned by the John Muir Trust who provide a toilet block and fresh water tap there too. It is free but they invite donations – there do not appear to be any restrictions about overnight parking (I think quite a few people camp out at Sandwood anyway, so must be quite common).

        It is I think just over 24 miles to do it in one go. I had considered splitting it (but the second day south from the lighthouse is still a pain to arrange) I saw that Rosemary and Colin had done it that way in a single day (see http://leftatbognor.blogspot.com/2009/06/walk-219-keoldale-via-cape-wrath-to.html) and decided if they can do it in their mid-60s then I should be able to too! I set off about 9:45am (problems with the ferries!) and finished at about 8:45pm, so only really practical to do like this in the summer. In that part of Scotland last week, sunset was around 10:15pm. As I see you discovered, they get more daylight than us in Scotland at this time of year!

        All in all it was a really fun walk and felt like a bit of an adventure!

  3. Mike Norman says:

    Bad luck with the “beach” – it’s unlike the OS to be inaccurate. Couldn’t help looking it up; strangely although the 1:25000 map shows it as sand, the 1:50000 map shows it as mud. You’d think both maps would be derived from the same set of information.

    • Hi Mike. I’ve just checked the OS view on Bing Maps and you are absolutely right. I wonder if the 1:50000 data is more up to date. One thing I’ve learned on my coastal walk is that the coast is in a constant state of flux.

      • Mike Norman says:

        I suspect you’re right about the timing thing as the maps in the different series get updated at different times and as you say coastal features we assume to be fairly permanent do change quicker than we might think. A good giveaway on that front is place names. For example I’ve long thought it’s about time Grand-Over-Sands was renamed Grange-Over-Marsh and Wells-Next-The-Sea was renamed Wells-Some-Considerable-Distance-From-The-Sea. (Also Weston-Super-Mare should be Weston-Average-Mare and Great Yarmouth should be Yarmouth but that’s for different reasons.)

  4. Karen White says:

    It does look lovely, especially the canal part. It would be nice to walk the full nine miles of canal. I had a smile at the suggestions for updated place names – and another smile at the ‘post box / bench’ incident.

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