It was the 21st June, and the longest day of the year, when I set off on the long drive back up to Scotland. I was on a lonely stretch of the A85, and only a couple of hours away from my destination, when I came across a motorcyclist in a ditch. The accident had only just happened.
Of course, I stopped. With no equipment, there is a limit to what a doctor can do when faced with an injured German man who can’t speak English. Luckily, apart from fractured ribs and a possible fractured upper arm, he didn’t appear to have any life threatening injuries. In fact, my biggest task was keeping well-meaning first-aiders from making things worse.
Eventually an ambulance and a helicopter arrived on the scene. There was some confusion as to whether to transport the injured man by road or by air, and I took the opportunity to slip away. I had been there for nearly 3 hours.
By the time I arrived in Benderloch it was gone 10pm and nearly dark. So, I made camp in a car park in the middle of the village – not an ideal spot, but I was too tired to find somewhere better.
At this latitude, the shortest night only lasts a few hours. By 4am it is bright daylight, and by 5am the dog walkers are out. So, I start my day’s walk at 7am – a very early hour for me (I’m not a morning person!) – and follow signs to the “Beach”.
I walk along paths and minor roads until I reach the shore. This beach has no name on my map, but is apparently called Tralee Beach.
Tralee Beach overlooks Ardmucknish Bay and, on this beautifully clear morning, I can see all the way across the Bay, and out to the islands of the Inner Hebrides.
The beach itself is mainly shingle, with heaps of decaying seaweed. Not easy underfoot, and it takes me some time to make my way to the top of the bay. On the other side is a rather grand building – Lochnell House.
As the tide goes out, a strip of sand appears below the shingle. I lay the first footprints of the day along the shore, and turn back to take photographs of my tracks. (This never stops being a thrill!)
Above the beach is an area of coarse grass, and beyond that is a ridge of dunes. I’m a little confused, because my map indicates there should be a road here, along with a couple of caravan parks.
I walk through the grass and climb up the dunes to check out the landscape. Oh yes, there’s the road, and one of the caravan sites.
At the end of the beach is a low, raised headland. According to the Core Paths map, there should be a path over this headland, but all I can see are rocks. Ah, there’s a gap. Is that the path?
It might be the path, or it might not, but I scramble up anyway, and reach the top. Here I find a track, leading to a deserted car park with a couple of ugly portacabins, and a pretty viewing area with seats.
Someone got here first. He is taking photographs across the bay.
I wait for him to move on, and then sit down and have a late breakfast… well, an early breakfast really. It’s not yet 8:00 am!
I was hoping to walk around the headland following the shore, but the route is barred by a fence.
So I head back along the track, and find a path leading off to the left. This takes me through a lovely wooded area, Tralee Woodland.
I walk past a lake dotted with waterlilies, and make my way back down to the shore. Now I’m standing on the edge of a marshy estuary. My map shows a track crossing via a ford… but I can see no sign of it.
After stomping around in the marsh for a few minutes, I give up, and return to solid ground. I follow a track, and then a road, and walk through a residential area.
This part of Benderloch is a mix of farmland and rather posh houses. Beside the driveway to a farm I spot a little cupboard, almost hidden behind a bush. I don’t want any free range eggs, but what else is in here…?
Ah. Peanuts, bird seed, and… chocolate rum and raisin fudge! Just what I need.
There’s a price list in the honesty box, but it does not mention fudge. I struggle with my conscience. How much is a small bag of fudge worth? Someone before me wrote in the notebook and left £1 for the fudge. I think that’s a bit mean, and I leave £1.50.
The fudge is delicious, and gives me a sugar high. Actually, I really need this energy boost. I didn’t get much sleep last night, and after such a long journey, followed by an early morning, I’m feeling a little jet lagged.
I reach a minor road. I intended to turn down here, to reach the area on the other side of the invisible ford, and then to walk through the grounds of Lochnell House. But, now I hesitate. The road goes down to a peninsula and is a dead-end.
According to my rules, I don’t have to walk down a peninsula served by a dead-end road. And Lochnell looks like a grand estate, where there might be fences and ‘private’ signs… or fields of cows.
What should I do?
In the end, I don’t turn off, but continue on along the road. Past a field of donkeys standing around a dead horse… a dead horse?
Oh no. A dead horse? I stop. Oh, thank goodness, the horse isn’t dead after all. I can see its chest moving. Whew!
Onwards. I reach a crossroads. The next left turn goes to the Isle of Eriska (lovely name), and it is also a dead-end…
… but somewhere down here is a Core Path. And that path should form a nice circuit, going through woodland, and bringing me back along a road by the shore.
The road to the Isle of Eriska is long and straight, with a right-angled kink in the middle. Very quiet. Just a few cars pass by.
I would like to walk off the road, but there is no easy route. Lochnell Estate owns much of the land around here, and it doesn’t look as if they encourage visitors. “No Public Access except by prior arrangement.” So much for Scotland’s famous Right to Roam.
The sight of these unfriendly signs makes me glad I didn’t try to find my way through the grounds of Lochnell House.
One thing that really irritates me about such signs is the euphemisms. “Deer culling in progress all year round.” Hah! I think you really mean “Deer hunting in progress all year round.” At least they don’t try to make out it’s a “nature reserve”, which is another favourite non-truth sign used by landowners.
Near the end of the road is a little car park for Shian Wood. This is where the Core Path starts.
The car park is empty. I stop to look at the map. Oh, I really do like this sign. “Resemble not the slimy snails, That with their filth record their trails…”
It’s rather a long-winded way of saying “take your rubbish home”, but it makes me smile.
The view from the car park is wonderful. I check my map. That’s another estuary, Loch Creran, below me. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I’ll be walking along the shore over on the far side.
I make a mental note of this beautiful place, because it would be a good spot to spend the night in the Beast. I really don’t want to camp in the middle of the village again.
Onwards. I follow the path and head into Shian Wood.
There is a well signed trail through the wood. In places there is a choice of forks – you can take the long route or the short route. I, of course, always take the long route.
Wow. The sight of a fallen tree is awe-inspiring. Such a huge network of roots anchoring the trunk into the earth, and yet the tree still manages to tumble. I wonder what storm brought it down? Or maybe it was just old?
In places the path has been diverted due to soil erosion. The earth is dry at the moment – it’s been a dry summer so far – but a series of wooden boardwalks would carry me above any muddy patches.
I follow the “long route” and begin to wonder why I haven’t reached the road yet. It should be just below me, somewhere.
Oh, here is another fallen tree. Look at that huge tangle of roots. Just like the other one I passed earlier. Oh, no, hang on…
… it’s the same tree I passed earlier! Oh dear. This is weird. I’m going round in circles.
[to be continued]
Route this morning: