[This walk was completed on Monday, the 15th April, 2019]
It’s a dull and windy day. I park near a farm at a place called Achateny, and walk along to where the public road stops, at a place called Fascadale. From there I follow a farm track, and then a path (of sorts), until I reach the spot where I ended yesterday’s walk.
I’m back at the lonely little cove of Port Eigin-aig.
I avoided taking photographs on the way out because, technically, my walk really begins NOW. After a brief rest, and a quick drink and snack, I turn round and head back.
Back through the deer fence that guards the top of the slope down to the shore…
… and then along the track until it forks. The right fork would take me back along yesterday’s route, to the abandoned village of Glendrian. But, today I’m taking the left fork and retracing this morning’s journey, back to Fascadale and then to Achateny.
Look how clear the track looks at this point.
But the route soon dwindles to a faint suggestion – a greener stripe of grass, running through the old remnants of a logged forest.
But it is still a definite path at this point, and I even come across the occasional marker pole…
… until the path fizzles out completely. Luckily, having walked across here this morning, I know where I’m supposed to be heading. I need to walk towards the corner of the deer fence, where I can pass through a metal gate.
I trudge across uneven ground. Coarse grass grows among the upturned clods formed by uprooted tree-stumps, and I try to avoid stepping into the numerous boggy pits that have been created by the logging process. Make my way, slowly and carefully, towards the gate.
Beyond the gate, there is a vague track to start with. Good. I don’t remember following a track this morning, but this must be the right way.
I’m walking down a long, wide valley, surrounded by low hills. In the dull light of this dull day, the landscape is almost monochrome. Like a sepia print. Muted shades of brown and grey. Although I walked along here this morning, nothing seems familiar – or rather, it all seems monotonously the same, with no feature to focus on.
Check my Garmin, and realise the track is leading me the wrong way. Oh dear!
I know I must stick close to the northern slope of the valley, but now I realise this track is taking me up the southern slopes. I trudge across the boggy base of the valley to reach the area where I know the path lies. Is that a marker post in the distance? Yes. (It’s on a low ridge in the center of the photo below.) At last, a landmark I can aim for.
What a desolate place! The wind blows strong in my face, while the terrain is uneven and boggy underfoot. It’s as if the landscape resents my presence and is trying to obstruct my progress. I feel like Frodo Baggins, trudging through Mordor.
The whole valley is surprisingly empty of wildlife too. No deer in the distance. No rabbits on the slopes. No birds in the sky. Eerie.
As I approach the marker post, a path becomes clearer for a while.
But it soon fizzles out again. I keep checking my Garmin for reassurance.
I stumble over another marker post. It’s not one I noticed on they way out, and I only find it by accident. Lying flat on the ground.
I spot a path that seems to climb up the ridge of hills bordering the valley to the north, and decide to follow it. I know I’m going off the supposed route, but it’s a relief to be walking on higher, and firmer ground.
When I reach the top of the ridge, I’m rewarded by a hazy view over the sea, with the outlines of grey islands in the distance. Check my map. Muck and Rum, I think. Shame about the haze.
The path fizzles out again. It might have been a deer track, I suppose, although I’ve yet to see any deer. Now I’ve reached a flat, stone ledge with steep, rocky slopes on either side. No obvious way forward, so I better head down.
Before I leave the ridge, I look down into the valley and back along the way I’ve come. What a bleak landscape this is. I balance against the wind, and take some photographs.
I climb down the slope carefully, sidestepping most of the way. It’s steep and uneven, and I don’t want to twist an ankle. (I’ve got my personal locator beacon with me, just in case, but it occurs to me I’ve not yet received formal notification that it’s been registered with the Coastguard Agency.)
On my way down, I think I’ve spotted some figures walking down one of the hills further along the valley. When I’m safely at the bottom of the slope, I stop and look again. Yes. Definitely some walkers, and they’re coming towards me.
Usually, I’m very happy walking on my own, but this empty landscape has filled me with vague anxiety. Other walkers! I shift my trajectory so as to intercept their progress. As they get nearer, I see it’s a couple with a child of about 7 or 8 years old.
I try not to greet them too effusively, not wanting to appear like a crazy woman, but I’m so glad to see other human beings. They tell me they started their walk at the end of the public road, at Fascadale, and they’re heading for Port Eigin-aig. Other members of their party have parked on the Sanna road and are walking through Glendrian (the route I walked yesterday) to meet them at the cove. Their plan is to continue on and swap cars.
If only I’d had the luxury of two cars! It wouldn’t have taken me two whole days to walk this section!
They advise me not to follow the route they’ve just taken, because that’s not where the path runs. I advise them not to go up the slope I’ve just come down, because that’s not where the path runs either. We discuss the invisible path and the inconsistent marker posts.
They notice my Garmin and ask me to check they’re really on the right route now. Yes, I tell them. This IS where the path is supposed to run. I point along an imaginary line. The woman turns to her husband and says she thought she was right, and seems justifiably pleased with her map-reading skills.
I watch them walk away, and think they’re brave to attempt this walk without a navigation aid. In this featureless countryside, I’m grateful for the reassurance of my Garmin.
Onwards. I turn to face into the wind. It’s blowing stronger now, as if trying to prevent me from ever getting out of this valley.
To my right is a smear of water. Lochan Dubh. I’d been looking forward to reaching this little lake earlier, but found it very disappointing. There is no way you could describe it as attractive. More like a puddle than an loch.
The route hugs the slope of the hill, and I now see definite signs of a path. Here’s another fallen marker post. And, oh YES, there’s the sea ahead!
I see a cairn on the slope above, and climb up to reach it. What a wonderful sight! There’s the shore, and Fascadale, below me, and I can see the farm track.
I head down the slope, full of confidence. This morning, I couldn’t find a definite path up here, and had to scramble up a steep and muddy slope. Now, I think I can see a faint path in the grass. This must be the right way.
The slope gets steeper and steeper. The ‘path’ looks more and more like a sheep track and splits into multiple branches. I check my Garmin. Yes, I’m sure the official route is somewhere along here… somewhere…
I head for the glade of silver birch trees and, to my relief, find a track.
The track leads down to the river, and I recognise this place from my walk this morning. Now, all I have to do is ford the river, cross that field, go up the track on the other side, and I’ll soon be back on the public road.
But… but… look at those cows! One group is standing by the feeding trough, while another groups is very close to the ford. And they’ve got some very young calves with them.
This morning, all the cattle were congregated round the feeding troughs. So I skirted around the troughs (getting very muddy in the process) to get to the ford.
Now, as I approach the river crossing, the cows near the water begin to stand up. One starts to come towards me, and makes bellowing noises. Oh, dear. I really, really hate cows.
I back away, and decide to follow the river towards the shore, where I find a shallow spot to splash across, and arrive on the pebbly beach. A shingle bank now separates me from the herd.
I make my way, carefully and slowly, over the unstable shingle.
The cows around the trough raise their heads and watch my progress. I reach the end of the beach, and now have not choice but to make my wobbly way up the shingle bank, and back into the field. But, luckily, the cows seem to have lost interest in me.
Up the track I walk, while looking over my shoulder every few minutes to check the cows aren’t following. I’m relieved when I finally reach the gate near the end of the farm track. There’s the road, just ahead, with a couple of cars parked near the end of the tarmac.
It’s only a couple of miles back to where I left my car earlier this morning. The walk along the road seemed quite pleasant then. Now the murky haze has washed all the colour from the landscape, and the wind is blowing furiously in my face.
I look across fields towards the sea. It’s tempting to climb one of the gates and head down to the shore… but I know the green ‘field’ will turn out to be more like a green swamp. And there might be cows lurking somewhere.
The road goes on. I walk through groves of tangled silver birch, past little waterfalls.
Ah, there are the cows. They look miserable in the cold wind and maybe wish they were back in their warm barn. I watch the little calves stumbling around. So sweet, when seen from a distance and when I’m safely behind a fence!
The cattle are an interesting colour. The mature females are various shades of mottled grey, while many of the calves are a red/brown colour. [Later, I look up native cattle breeds on the Country Life website, and I think these may be a hybrid breed called Blue Grey. If so, they’re quite rare.]
Further along, the road twists and bends. A farm vehicle sneaks up behind me – I can barely here anything in the roaring wind. I pass grazing sheep…
… and watch the farm vehicle turn into Achateny. In fact, Achateny isn’t really a village, or even a hamlet. It seems to be just a collection of farm buildings.
I’m parked on a flat piece of verge near the farm. My plan was to continue walking along the road, which bends to the right past Achateny, and heads inland up the base of a shallow river valley. (In fact, I left my Monster of a bike a couple of miles further along the road, planning to freewheel back down to my car.)
But I can’t resist getting out of the blasting wind for a few moments. Such a relief to open my car door, and slide into a calm and comfortable seat.
I sit and eat my few remaining snacks. Once I turn the corner in the road, I tell myself, the wind won’t be full in my face. It will be gusting sideways. Come on. You can do it.
But I watch the grasses bending under the whipping wind, and just can’t face getting out of the car again. So, I drive back slowly up the road, and for a moment I think the Monster has really been stolen. It’s no longer propped against the road sign, where I left it. It’s gone! Don’t know whether to be relieved or upset.
Oh, there it is! Not stolen after all. The wind has blown it over, and it’s lying flat on its side in the long grass.
Reflections: This was a strange day. The landscape was terrifyingly empty, and I can’t say I really enjoyed the walk. It seemed much longer than 8 miles. But I was glad to have navigated the route safely and to have completed it.
Later, I learnt more about the history of Blue Grey cattle on the Slow Foods website.
Miles walked today = 8 miles (only 4 in the right direction!)
Total around coast = 4,106 miles
Route: (way out in black, way back in red)