It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve returned to the Morvern Peninsula to continue my coastal walk. No cycling today – thank goodness – because I can catch the Thursday bus. It leaves from the Lochaline ferry terminal.
The bus is full of shoppers heading to Fort William for the day. The driver is happy to drop me off at the turnoff to Kingairloch, but I have to explain where that is and tell him where to stop. I am, of course, the only person getting off here. Literally in the middle of nowhere.
Last time I walked this road, the sun was shining and it was hot. Today, in mid February, the weather is quite different. Grey skies, with chilly drizzle in the air and mist over the hills.
At least there are no horseflies to bother me. I pull up my rain hood and set off along the road back to Lochaline. The first section is uphill and I soon warm up.
I’m surrounded by empty landscape. Only down in the valley is one little building, completely dwarfed by the steep slope above. That hill is called Beinn nam Beathrach and, at 582 metres, is almost a mountain. I can’t see the top because it is covered in cloud.
My road reaches a summit and flattens off. Ahead is a pine forest, nameless on my map.
What a lonely road. Only a couple of cars pass me. There are no other walkers and no cyclists either. Only sheep.
Past the forest, and the road loops around a bend, continuing downhill. A wet ribbon in the murky landscape. But, it seems brighter down there. Is that sunshine?
Off to my left is a track, which runs roughly parallel to the road for a mile or two. I had planned to leave the road and follow the track. But, on the way up in the bus, I’d noticed a herd of cows grazing on the track, and so I decided to stick to the tarmac.
That turns out to be a wise decision, because here they are. Guarding the track.
It’s definitely getting brighter ahead. Perhaps I’ll be walking in sunshine soon.
A nearby signpost displays a sticker that simply says “Yes”. The sticker is old and weather-faded, and I guess it must refer to the Scottish Referendum a few years ago.
Onwards. Definitely getting lighter ahead. Maybe I’ll see the sea soon.
One of the disappointing things about this road is that I am currently five or more miles inland, and there is no sight of the sea.
I stop by a rocky outcrop and balance my camera. Time for a self-portrait. Somebody once commented on how good I was at taking self-portraits using the timer on my Canon. Not today.
This is my first attempt. An i
nteresting boring photo of the road. But, where am I?
I try again. This time, I manage to get myself into the frame, but the focus is all wrong.
Third attempt. Oh dear, the camera seems to have slipped sideways, and the focus is still all wrong.
I give up. Onwards, down the road, and I pass a collection of cottages on my left. Uileann or Alltachonaich – my map gives both names. Lots of cows too.
Just past here, and another track leads off to the left. This one winds round in a long downhill loop, before returning and running parallel to the road again. It would be a bit of a detour… but I’m bored with road-walking and at least this track seems cow-free.
It turns out to be a lovely detour. The weather has cheered up, with some hazy sun coming through, although the sky still looks ominous. Love the colours of the winter landscape. Bright green, soft yellow and russet gold, with a variety of greys.
I cross over an old stone bridge. Seems an ancient track. I wonder if the main road once ran along this route?
The track widens into a broad green space, dominated by feeding troughs. Too high for sheep. Must be for cattle. Oh no!
Luckily the troughs are empty and there are no cows around at the moment. I hurry onwards.
The track continues, and the sun pops out for a few minutes. Safely away from the feeding troughs, I stop and sit down on a grassy bank. It’s gone 1pm and it’s definitely time for lunch.
I soon get cold, and rapidly finish my food. That’s the trouble with winter walking. Must keep moving to keep warm.
The track runs parallel to the road, and alongside a little river – the Abhainn a Ghlinne Ghil – before it finally fizzles out, and I join the tarmac again.
A couple of miles later I reach a car park for Rahoy Hills wildlife reserve, part of the Ardtornish Estate. It’s empty.
According to my OS map, there is a walking route from here that runs all the way back along a parallel valley, before passing close to the isolated building I noticed at the beginning of my walk, and eventually rejoining the main road. This walking route is not shown on the map in the carpark. Instead, it suggests a short walk to visit an abandoned settlement on the shore of Loch Arienas.
I mustn’t get sidetracked by other walks. Onwards. To Lochaline.
I cross over Acharn Bridge, a functional construction which carries the road. But I notice a much older bridge to my right, with a lovely stone span. I guess this was once the main route across the river, but is now only used as an access road and farm track.
Onwards. I walk past a collection of houses at a place called Claggan, only memorable for being one of the bus stops on the route to Lochaline. There is, of course, no sign of a bus stop. You have to know it stops here, I suppose.
I was going to take a track off to the left, and follow the River Aline down to the loch. But the track is covered in cattle. Oh dear.
Stick to the road. Another half mile, or so, and I will come to another bridge. This one has no name, but I can see it ahead.
I notice movement in the field to my left. Cows? No. Deer. I’m used to deer in the area where I used to live, but these deer are much bigger and more impressive looking.
Does the farmer knows they’re eating his grass?
I reach the bridge over the River Aline. What a great view. Looks like sunshine on those hills.
The Morvern Peninsula covers 250 square miles, but only has a population of 300 people. It is really empty countryside and there are few roads around, so this is actually the first proper road junction I’ve come across since the start of my walk. It seems a major landmark.
I check my map. Kinlochteagus must be a significant village. No. My map shows only a couple of houses at the bottom of Loch Teagus.
Three miles to Lochaline. I must say, I find the next mile of the road very tedious. Firstly, I’m going uphill again for some reason. Secondly, it’s turned very windy, and the I’m fighting against a minor gale. Thirdly, there are some very noisy dogs in a nearby cottage and I find their aggressive barking somewhat unnerving.
It’s funny how there’s always a part of a walk that seems more of a struggle than it should do. I battle the wind to the top of the hill. Here’s another turn off, the second in two miles, and this one is to a place called Ardtornish.
To where? Ardtornish? Where’s that? Because I was hoping to turn off to a place called Achranich (written in prominent large letters on my map). I check again, and finally spot Ardtornish, close by (written in much smaller letters on the map).
Really! Navigating in Scotland is very confusing when the place names on the map don’t coincide with the place names on the signposts. This is the turnoff I want, after all.
I walk down the little road, and spot a tower through the trees. That must be Kinlochaline Castle. It looks like Rapunzel’s tower.
Past farm and holiday cottages, and I spot Loch Aline below me. Finally, I’m back beside the water! Back on the coastal route.
The penny suddenly drops. I’d been pronouncing Lochaline, incorrectly, as LockaLEEN. Clearly, the village is named after the loch and I should be saying LockAYEleen. No wonder I was getting funny looks from the locals.
A track winds along the western shore of the loch. I was worrying that it might be a private estate road, with locked gates and notices telling me to keep out…
…but then I spot a sign on a gatepost. “Walkers welcome.” Ah. That’s lovely. Thank you.
Then I spot another castle, standing at the top of the loch, with several towers visible above the trees. Hard to tell how old it is, but obviously in good repair. Maybe it’s a Victorian copy of a castle? Anyway, it looks magical in the evening light.
Evening light? Yes, it’s quarter to four, and the sun sets early in Scotland. Onwards.
This is probably the easiest part of today’s trek. I’m near the water, the track is flat, the ground is firm underfoot – but kinder than tarmac – and it hasn’t rained yet. What a lovely walk.
I walk past the a little harbour and marina. Unexpected, because they’re not shown on my map. The light is too poor for decent photography, but it is very picturesque.
The harbour is served by a shed, which is also, apparently, a restaurant. The place looks shut and there is nobody around.
I’ve passed several places today that claim to serve food, including a café at the ferry port. All were closed. I guess it is off season, but all these closed places give the area a desolate feel.
Further on and I come to an information board telling me about the silica mine still operating nearby. Originally started during the war to make high-quality glass for periscopes and gunsights, the silica is still mined for glass production. Apparently the sandstone cliffs here contain some of the purest silica in the world.
The next section of the track has a firm surface. And what is this blue box? A “light switch”? Yes. You can light up the walkway if you need to. I guess it’s a health and safety feature for people who use the harbour.
Ah, there’s the mine. I was wondering where it had got to. Very quiet and with no activity now. Maybe everybody has gone home?
I walk past the industrial structures, and under the covered conveyer belt. I guess they use ships to ferry the silica away.
Only a few yards further, and I’m back at my starting point, the ferry port, where a ferry is just docking. It provides a regular service to the Isle of Mull.
One day, I would like to walk round Mull, but I’ve decided to stick to the mainland for the moment. Scotland is so vast… if I get distracted by the islands I’ll never make it up to Cape Wrath.
Oh, Cape Wrath. The thought makes me nervous. I’ve still got so far to go, and the toughest parts of Scotland are yet to come.
But, today, my walk is over. It’s time to head back to the Lochaline Hotel, where I’m booked in for a few days. Not really a hotel, more a pub with rooms. It’s warm, comfortable, provides huge plates of food in the evening…
…and my bedroom window looks over the Sound of Mull. Perfect.
I’m met by the landlady in a state of excitement. They’ve just had a delivery for me. It turns out to be card and chocolates from my lovely daughters, who thought I needed cheering up on Valentine’s Day.
Miles walked today = 12.5 miles
Total around coast = 3,972 miles