Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: Argyll

An irritating week around Argyll and Lochaber

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Sometimes, my trips to Scotland do not work out how I want them to do. Even with all the watching of the progress of the jet stream, that was how it was in 2003. Unlike 2002, I brought my week in Scotland forward from the end of August to the end of July. It would have been a week earlier but I did not want to clash with someone else’s holiday plans. Putting your work first can have its drawbacks.

In hindsight, waiting an extra week would have been the better outcome because I returned home with sights of sunshine on Lakeland Fells. Further visits to Cumbria in an effort to dispel any irritation but it took a Summer Bank Holiday weekend around Fort William to truly put my poor run of luck behind me.

My journey from home to Oban still was made in hope and it took me around by Edinburgh where I spent a little while before continuing on my way. The cause was my inability to catch an onward connection in Glasgow because of the late running of an earlier train.

The following day came dull and eventually turned to rain but I fitted in a walk from Oban to Taynuilt by way of Glen Lonan before the dampness arrived. My lot was road walking but it still got me out into Scottish countryside so it was a good start. The wet evening allowed for some shopping around Oban and maybe some thoughts of what I would do next.

For what turned out to be the best day of the week, I returned to Taynuilt for an out an back walk along the shores of Loch Etive. Unlike the previous November’s stroll with mates from Edinburgh, I was set to continue beyond Glen Noe to reach the foot of Glen Kinglass and go a little further along before starting to retrace my steps again. The day was sunny so I was making photos with what I thought to be a full complement of colour camera film. What I later found is that not all the allocation came with me so I was left with a shortage during the best time of the day. In spite of this irritation, it is the utter peace of my turning point that stays with me as much as the sights that I saw. There have been further return visits since then with August 2014 being the most recent one. That photographic oversight has been well overshadowed since then and the lesson has not been forgotten.

What I did next now sounds a bit foolish given what I knew about the need for northward movement of the jet stream. Instead of finding somewhere else to be around Argyll, I continued north to Lochaber for what turned out to be a series of soakings. Any efforts to make contact with a friend in Edinburgh regarding alternative arrangements proved fruitless so I stayed a few nights in Banavie instead. Being a few miles away from Fort William meant that the any poor fortune with a spell of wet weather resulted in my needing to dry out afterwards. You hardly can have enough clothes with you when this happens repeatedly.

Still, the rain cleared enough on my arrival in Lochaber to allow me to head into Glen Nevis to find the path leading to Cow Hill that became the basis for a longer walk. Friday was drier if devoid of sunshine yet I returned to Kinlochleven for another taste of the West Highland Way. This time, my course took me north through Lairig Mor to Glen Nevis. Even without a sunny day, the scenery was stunning and seeing it again became an excuse for my return around a month later. Though the trail is a popular one and the location is among its high points, this was a quiet day to be sampling it with hardly a soul passing the way. That might have had something to do with the weather of that week.

Saturday saw me head into Glen Nevis again. This time, I caught the bus to get me there faster and I pottered in beyond the car park. My lot was boggy ground and heavy rain showers but the surroundings would have looked stunning in better weather. Constant hope continued to drive me in spite of my poor fortune so any glimmer of sunshine on the way back to Fort William was enough to see me reach for my camera.

Thinking about this disappointing episode now makes me realise that my attentions veered elsewhere and that some of these spots need revisiting. A walk taking in Cow Hill in pleasant weather would complement one going deeper into Glen Nevis than I ever have gone before. Maybe I should not be devoid of inspiration for future explorations on a longer stay in Fort William after all. Other possibilities come to mind but I will restrain myself here in case I repeat those described elsewhere.

Travel Arrangements

Train travel from Macclesfield to Oban, from Taynuilt to Oban and from Fort William to Macclesfield. Coach service 918 from Oban to Fort William. Bus service 44 from Fort William to Kinlochleven.

Starting independent touring of Scotland

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Prior to August 2001, my outings in Scotland were day trips or I set off with someone else. A conference in Aberdeen was attended with a university colleague and an annual trip to Highland Perthshire was with a university group. Then, there was a few days in August 1999 when I showed my brother some of the sights that I had seen on day trips and a few more with them.

A Family Outing

That last outing began from Edinburgh and took us to Fort William where we spent a night before exploring Glen Nevis the next day. Our late afternoon arrival meant that there was some time for a stroll along by Fort William’s shore after an evening meal at the Ben Nevis Bar. The town turns its back to the sea so it was up what lay across Loch Linnhe to assuage any lack of scenic glamour despite overcast skies lying overhead.

Next morning after breakfast, we parked in the Braveheart car park before setting off for a stroll along the road through Glen Nevis. The pace was to be a gentle one and I have no recollection of there being much road traffic as we went as far as the Water of Nevis car park. Though this was before I took up hill walking, my brother asked about how long it would take to walk up and down Ben Nevis. Seven of eight hours came the reply and I wonder at the naivety of our deciding against the proposition on the basis of the time we had. Nowadays, I would be thinking in terms of experience, conditions and equipment and that also would be the order on which I would base my decision.

The attentions of midges meant that we did not linger too long around the Water of Nevis. Also, we wisely did not proceed further along and the presence of a disturbing sign would have made sure of that. It was a few years later when I finally went a little beyond it and I maintained control of my ambitions even with the equipment and experience gained in the meantime. This is wild country that commands respect and is not something for a spur of the moment decision of a casual tourist.

We retraced our steps with a stop at a cafe so there was no rush in our movements. On returning to our car, we set off for Oban. Skies had been grey overhead all day but they now were to darken and bring rain. Scotland was to show its less favourable side that evening. Nevertheless, we still sought food that evening and pottered about Oban too. The rain must have passed sufficiently to allow this. We also figured out what to do the next day: a tour of Mull and Iona.

The weather next morning showed that we were not to see Scotland under sunny skies. Still, we crossed to Mull by ferry before catching a coach to Fionnphort with the driver providing commentary laden with dry wit. A mention of the once regular arrival of wet newspapers onto the island at Grass Point remains in my memory and does the description of the, at times single track, road as the island’s answer to England’s M6.

Once at Fionnphort, we crossed to Iona in dry conditions. Skies remained grey but were strolling Baile Mòr without any wetting. We also visit the restored abbey buildings so we would have been under cover for a time too. Still, it was good to have respite while we were there and we reversed our outbound travel to get back to Oban again.

From Oban, we headed to Balloch where we stayed the night. Sadly, we arrived too late to walk along the shore of Loch Lomond in daylight. In any case, we would have some of it while in the way there. Next morning, we continued to Stranraer where we crossed to Ireland and I got a short stay over there before returning to Edinburgh again.

Going Solo

Because of starting a new job in England and having to move home, there was no Scottish touring in 2000. Though it remains the wettest year on record across Britain, my recollections of the summer are not in agreement with the statistic. The autumn that year was another story and I soon learned not to cycle the five or six miles to work in Cheshire rain.

Being lonesome after life in Edinburgh, I resolved to return from time to time and it is something that I still do. There was a weekend visit in November 2000 when I stayed with a friend up there. That became a regular feature for a few years and it was to another friend that I came to stay in August 2001. That was to be a jumping off point for another tour of Scotland, travelling solo this time around.

After arriving in Edinburgh on Monday afternoon and spending the night there, I headed off to Skye on Monday afternoon after spending the morning sorting out my accommodation arrangements. After the sunshine of the previous evening, it was under grey skies that I set off on a Scottish Citylink coach to Fort William. On the way there, we were to pass through heavy rain but it was drier if still grey when I reached Fort William. Bright skies were to persist for the onward journey to Portree though there was a sense of stormy conditions whenever any showers came our way.

The Quiraing from near Staffin, Trotternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Eilean Flodigarry, Trotternish, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The following day could not be more different for it came fabulously sunny. Having not been there before, I chose to head for the Trotternish by bus as far as Culnacnoc. From there I trotted along the road as far as Flodigarry and lots of little places like Staffin and Brogaig were passed on the way. Though the road walking left me footsore, there was next to no traffic so I could soak in my surroundings. The gorgeous weather and scenery also meant that my Canon EOS 300 got plenty of use and I made sure that I had enough film this time around. It made a good introduction to the place and I returned to Portree by bus.

After another night on Skye, I caught the bus to Armadale where I caught a ferry to Mallaig. Memories of any sights of Knoydart and the Small Isles are lost to me know but there was some sunshine. Skies were greyer around Mallaig and I travelled from there to Glenfinnan on the Jacobite steam train, a rather expensive endeavour to me at the time. Photography was limited by the sun but I still got a stroll to the shore of Loch Shiel, albeit pulling a heavy trolley bag after me. From Glenfinnan, I got to Fort William on a more ordinary train before catching a Scottish Citylink coach to Oban where I stayed the night.

My third visit to Mull took place next day and I left most of my luggage in safekeeping on the mainland while I made for Tobermory by ferry and bus. Sunshine was rather hazy but I still tried my luck with making some photos of Tobermory with somewhat pale skies. My long SLR photography lesson was only beginning so there was a lot left to learn. Returning to Oban by bus and ferry, I retrieved my luggage and caught the coach to Glasgow. Once there, I continued to Edinburgh on another.

This was the English and Welsh August bank holiday weekend so I stayed there until that Sunday. Saturday came grey so I went shopping for better walking footwear at Tiso and came away with a pair of Columbia trail shoes that I still have somewhere today. They complemented the pack of thick socks that I bought in Tobermory just the day before. It is amazing what sore feet cause you to do.

Sunday morning was spent around Edinburgh and it all felt autumnal. Any photos that I tried making then reflected that more than what I believed I was seeing at the time. It was later that I set to travelling south again and the bank holiday was to see me trying out my new footwear on a trail by Grindsbrook Clough near Edale in Derbyshire. An interest in countryside walking was beginning.

A mixture of good sense and a spot of recklessness

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

While I was thinking of keeping the stories of these two walks from June 2005 apart, I changed my mind and they now appear together, not only because they happened on the same weekend but also to illustrate that human nature does not always follow a trend of constant improvement.

The excursion came to pass at short notice given the possibility of some good weather. Oban’s tourist office sorted out my accommodation and I got to stay in the same place for three nights, something that never is a foregone conclusion for short notice bookings during the summer season. Recollections of how I got to Oban have been diminished by the passage of time but those of what else I did while there remain far more vividly.

2005-06-11: When Good Sense Prevailed

Duart Point, Isle of Mull, Scotland

In contrast to what I did on my last visit in 2014, my first visit in 1999 or my second in 2001, this was a more extensive stroll during the longest stretch of a day that I ever spent on Mull. The day started with a sunlit ferry crossing from Oban to Craignure. Once a bus got me from there to Salen, I could begin my walk.

What I had decided to do was to cross the island to the west coast at its narrowest point. That meant a road walk along the B8035 in the growing heat of the day. After a left turn at a crossroads, I was to pass Gruline where Lachlann MacQuarrie’s mausoleum is to be found.

Loch Ba & Na Bachdanan, Gruline, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Loch Ba & Sron nam Boc, Gruline, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Looking across Loch Ba towards Benmore Lodge, Gruline, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Beinn Talaidh, Isle of Mull, Scotland

My sights were on something more natural so I continued on my way. Near Knock Farm, I was to pick up a vehicle track that would lead me along the shores of Loch Bà. Cattle were loitering along the shoreline as I passed them. This was before where the vehicle track I was following was to split in two. All about me looked empty and wild.

One continues further along the shoreline before becoming a path at Gortenbuie. The path then continues towards Glen More by following Abhainn a Ghorten Bhuidhe uphill, crossing a bealach between Corra-bheinn and Bheinn à Mheadhain and dropping down into the aforementioned glen. The other track leaves the loch shore earlier and also becomes a path as it enters Glen Clachaig. It too gains height as it follows the River Clachaig before scaling the rest of the way to get to Carn Cul Righ Albainn. There then are two choices for the coming descent: a direct path into Glen More or a more gradual one leading towards Loch Beg.

All the above has been picked out from OS 1:25000 mapping. However, how things appear on the ground is a different matter. Just because a tempting dotted line appears do not mean that there is an obvious line of a path there for you to follow. In these cases, you make your way using your own navigation skills with little regard for following anyone else’s line and having a peek on Google Earth beforehand could forewarn you if that is what you want. Sometimes, there is a something about having a certain element of surprise ahead of you.

Beinn nan Gabhar as seen from Clachaig, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Bith-Bheinn, Maol Buidhe & Cruachan Dearg, Glen Clachaig, Isle of Mull, Scotland

A' Chioch as seen from Glen Clachaig, Isle of Mull, Scotland

What brought the lack of an obvious path to mind was my choice on that day in June 2005. Since going that way might bring a chance of seeing Ben More, the island’s only Munro and its highest point, I chose the track leading to Glen Clachaig and it looked promising for much of the way. Eventually though, the leading line petered out and I was left to my own devices. My decision then was to proceed as far into the glen as time allowed before turning back. It was when I got to glimpse something more lofty that was when I began to retrace my steps.

The way back to Salen largely followed the same route. The only deviation was a call to see the MacQuarrie Mausoleum, maintained by the National Trust for Scotland on behalf of National Trust for Australia where Lachlann MacQuarrie had been a governor. That led me under tree cover, a respite from the summer afternoon heat. After that, I returned to the B8035 where a passing motorist offered me a drive but I was intent on sticking with walking in the peace and quiet.

The stillness remains in my mind even now. Even with the supposed popularity of Ben More, I scarcely encountered another soul. Once the rush of ferry arrivals and departures has passed, everyone scatters to leave Mull in an unperturbed state. It is that which draws me to Scotland again and again for we all need to leave the buzz of modern life after us for a while.

Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

After a wait, the last bus of the day to Craignure facilitated my catching the last ferry of the day to Oban without any glitch. The evening was glorious and the lighthouse at the southern end of Lismore scarcely looked any better. The day had been good.

2005-06-12: A More Reckless Exploit

Even now, the first train of the day from Oban to Glasgow departs around midday. That means that any walking trips elsewhere in Lorn need to be shorter in duration if a return by train is to be executed. In hindsight, it ought to have been a day for Beinn Lora since that is not far from Connel. A bus trip to Benderloch and back would have been a possibility that would have made that work. In fact, it would have helped for a Sunday evening phone call to Ireland that would saved facing one with a grumpy and uptight father the next day. That difficulty thankfully passed quickly enough and I vowed never to phone the folks on the same day of the week ever again; if only I had hopped to avoiding the Sunday night habit before then.

Glen Strae, Stronmilchan, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

All that lay in the future as I left Lochawe train station to head along the A85 before turning onto the B8055 that itself would be left for a track leading into Glen Strae. Unlike the previous day, the weather was showery and soggy underfoot conditions were unavoidable. My encounter with those really started when I left the track to gain height on the way to Lairig Dhoireann. The track would have been a dead end affair anyway since it finishes near the head of the glen.

Loch Awe as seen from Lairig Dhoireann, Stronmilchan, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Though only around three to four kilometres in distance, the way up to Lairig Dhoireann was slow going. The ascent was steep and progress over damp ground in showery weather hardly is going to be rapid. Even with a 13:00 start from Lochawe station, it was around 17:00 when I finally reached the bealach. Because I had not stopped earlier, that placed me in something of quandary since there was now no guarantee that I would get back to Lochawe station in time for the last train to Oban.

Meall Beithe & Meall Garbh as seen from Lairig Dhoireann, Stronmilchan, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Faced with improving weather and beguiling scenery, I made the fateful decision to drop down to the floor of Glen Kinglass before continuing to the shore of Loch Etive at Inverkinglass and follow a familiar route to Taynuilt. The descent by the side of Allt Dhoireann took longer than I would have hoped due to the roughness of the ground. It did not help that I also had missed the landscape too when I was at the top because what I saw straight ahead of me was the hill beside which I would be going downhill. Even so, the exploit proved that there was some wisdom in my choice and gradients eased beyond Coire Dhoireann.

Meall Beithe, Glen Kinglass, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Meall Garbh, Glen Kinglass, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Beinn nan Aighenan, Glen Kinglass, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

Sticking with Allt Dhoireann most of the way down allowed me to shadow the line of the path that I otherwise would have been following if I had made the turn at a greater height. Impatience when trying to seek out a useful footbridge led me to do my own barefoot crossing and the water was well cold even of an evening in June. Taking off my socks and leaving on my boots would have worked better and I was to wet my socks anyway. That this wetting resulted my feet getting blistered but that outcome was one to be overlooked in light of my situation.

Beinn Eunaich, Glen Kinglass, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

There was some reassurance in reaching a solid vehicle track though it was to take its toll on my wet feet. Everywhere about me looked resplendent in the evening sunshine and I often stopped for photography whenever the resident midges allowed me. The way to Loch Etive took until around 20:00 so there no longer was any question of catching a train or coach back to Oban. The Taynuilt Hotel was now my objective.

Ben Cruachan, Argyll & Bute, Scotland

My location and my predicament put a stop to my phoning Ireland so I set off as best as I could. There might have been an offer of a lift at Inverkinglass but do you really want to be burdening complete strangers like that? At least, that was my thinking. With Ben Cruachan looming ahead of me and showing itself better than I ever have seen it, I continued my countdown of known landmarks in an effort to reassure myself. There were occasional photographic breaks too though my mind was focussed on other things.

Inverliver was passed and someone else asked me if I was OK at Glennoe. This time, there was an extra confirmation added but I kept going. Declining light was a concern now but the time of year kept things going for longer. Inverawe House was passed and the River Awe crossed to shorten the distance into Taynuilt even more. The hotel was reached at 10:50 and a taxi summoned from Connel. That meant a forty-five minute wait but that passed too. Before too long, I was back in Oban in spite of a suspected deer encounter. The next morning was to see me collect my things for departure and the evening repaired Irish family relations. It had been a lesson-ridden few days.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Oban. Return ferry trip between Oban and Mull with return bus journey from Craignure to Salen, all on Saturday. Train journey from Oban to Loch Awe followed by taxi from Taynuilt to Oban on Sunday.

A first encounter with Kerrera and Loch Etive

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

While writing a recent missive recalling a weekend spent around Oban in August 2014, I got to thinking that some retrospective postings on even earlier trips might be in order while details can be recalled from my memory. The last few years have been testing and such stress and strain is sure to affect what gets embedded in one’s memory. Also, life is such that some memories overwrite others. Since I do not keep a diary, writing things down on here is a way of preserving things for my own personal posterity if nothing else. It would be a bonus if others enjoyed reading them too.

With the above in mind, I started to mull over what could be added from the time before this blog existed. Various tours around Scotland from the early years of this century (even now that that feels strange to read back to myself but so much is changing at the moment) came to mind. There also is a June 2005 trip to Lorn and Mull that could be related and this entry takes us back to November 2002 when I spent a grey weekend around Oban that took in both Kerrera and Loch Etive.

The weekend was pre-planned and I was asked to come along with four or five others. When I got to surveying the weather forecast in the days prior to our escapade, I was prompted to ask if we still were going ahead with the trip. In normal circumstances, any sighting prospect of a storm would have me staying at home. In this case, other minds were made up so we were going come what may.

2002-11-01

Having got as far as Edinburgh the day before, there was an early start to get to Oban by train. This my first introduction to that part of the West Highland railway and it was not showing at its best. Rail had closed in any views and it was to take until the August 2003 before I saw the surrounding scenery at anything approaching its best.

When we reached Oban, we made for Jeremy Inglis Hostel in the town centre where we left most of our belongings. This was to be our base for the next three nights and we left it to explore Kerrera on our first afternoon. We walked from Oban to the ferry crossing point near Gallanach. Once there, we needed to turn a board around so its white side was showing in order to summon the ferry because the ferryman lived on the island. In the summer, such action is not needed as I found on my return in 2008.

The boat soon came to pick us up and we got across the Sound of Kerrera without any drama. Once there, we largely had the place to ourselves apart from year round residents and a few folk marking out a hill running course. After crossing the island, we followed a track toward the island’s southern point. Views towards Mull were limited by the weather though it remained largely dry. The walk was pleasant and we got as far as the ruins of Gylen Castle before we began to shadow the Sound of Kerrera. There was a cafe stop too so we were not that hurried. It did nothing to stop us reaching the ferry crossing point again.

The weather failed when we reached the mainland again and one of the biggest soakings of my life was set in train as we returned to Oban. No one escaped and even the sailing gear worn by one of our number was not enough to ward off the onslaught. The group that reached the hostel need the services of a drying room but I cannot there being one and we improvised anyway. Still, it did not stop us enjoying a meal at a nearby restaurant that night.

2002-11-02

After the previous day’s soaking, it was a relief to enjoy a dry if persistently grey day. Again, there was an early start since we were after the first train departure of the day from Oban. The selected route was one of my own devising and did nothing overly dramatic at the request of other members of the group. They seemed to reckon that my developing hill wandering habit might involve many steep-sided and high hills, an overestimation if ever there was one.

When we got to Taynuilt, we pottered on towards its Roman Catholic church before going along a lane that passed Bonawe Ironworks, an Historic Scotland site. We continued towards the train line only to pick up path leading to Inverawe House. That was my first encounter with a scary bridge over the River Awe and we dawdled about the smokery before joining the road for a little while.

Then, we got on to a forestry track was to lead us to the shore of Loch Etive and it would done so more directly if a misunderstanding had not caused me to lead us in the wrong direction for a while. the clue was in the fact that we were going uphill so there was nothing for it but to turn back and correct our course. That someone had a grumpy knee made the choice more inevitable.

Loch Etive as seen in November 2002, Taynuilt, Argyl, Scotland

Once on the correct track, we set off as far as Glennoe before we decided to turn back after stalling for a while. What stunned us was the speed at which our man with the dodgy knee was travelling. It seemed as if the joint had only two speeds, stopped and fast walking pace. It all meant that we were back in Taynuilt with time to spare. A visit to a cafe resulted and the train was not missed. That night, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at The Gathering restaurant before retiring to bed for the night.

2002-11-03

The next morning started well so I was lured out from the hostel to make a few photos in the sunshine. Seeing Kerrera in the winter sunshine was a compensation for the previous few days and I pottered up to MacCaig’s Tower too before I returned to take some breakfast. Though others had designs on hiring bikes for an afternoon cycle, I needed to leave around midday to start my journey south. Before that, there was more time for strolling around by the Corran Esplanade before we stopped for tea at either the Oban Bay Hotel or The Lancaster Hotel. My recollection of how the entrance looked makes it more likely to have been the latter but I cannot be sure.

From there, I left to catch a coach to Glasgow. All the while, the weather had been changing for the worse and it was to be a gloomy afternoon in Oban. With only one train departure that day, the others had to wait until around 18:00 and they found the time long. With November being in the low season in Scotland, there was no place to hire a bike that Sunday anyway and it was just as well with the weather that arrived.

The place that I had seen were to lure me back time and again. Now, I wonder if a longer stay is in order. July 2003 saw a visit to Scotland that was divided between Oban and Fort William. Only for well-founded doubts about the weather and the vagaries of arranging accommodation, I should have stayed in Oban for the whole trip. Now, I can see that another visit to Kerrera is in order and travelling to Cuan or Ellenabeich would allow for respective ferry crossings to Seil, Luing or Easedale. Sometimes, looking back can take you forward.

Travel Arrangements

Train journey from Macclesfield to Edinburgh on Thursday. Train journey from Edinburgh to Oban with a change at Glasgow Queen Street on Friday morning. Local passenger ferry to and from Kerrera on Friday afternoon. Return train journey between Oban and Taynuilt on Saturday. Scottish Citylink service 976 from Oban to Glasgow followed by train journey from Glasgow to Macclesfield on Sunday. (It was the year of Operation Princess when Virgin introduced its Voyager trains and they got overfilled at the outset because they were too small for how we all used them. On this journey, there was need to leave one for another at Stockport because of how full it got and I met a work colleague in a vestibule of the second Voyager and that ironically had started from Edinburgh. Those teething troubles are just a memory now.)

A weekend for revisiting old haunts

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Since I came over to Britain from Ireland, Oban has seen me a good times. Many of these have been recounted in a posting on here dating from 2008. There was to be another during July 2011 but work meant that it had to be abandoned and I ended up dividing what was left of the weekend between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders instead. So, the return that came to pass around the Summer Bank Holiday weekend in August 2014 was not before time.

My choice of extending a bank holiday weekend to ensure a getaway happened more than once in 2016 and the reasons for doing so in 2014 were little different. Then, my father was still with us so my limited allocation of annual leave needed careful management so I got over to Ireland often enough. In 2016, it was the work pertaining to the deceased man’s estate that needed oversight so the restrictions were similar.

Often, bank holiday weekend weather can be a let-down though it can come good too. In 2003, a trip to Lochaber over the equivalent weekend made up for the disappointing week split between there and Lorn at the end of the preceding July. A hike along the West Highland Way between Kinlochleven and Fort William was enjoyed in stunning weather and the following day saw one between Spean Bridge and Fort William via the Commando Memorial, Gairlochy, Loch Arkaig, the Caledonian Canal and Banavie. The one in 2007 saw me walk along the Rob Roy Way between Drymen and Callander with an overnight stop in Aberfoyle. Then, I based myself in Aberdeen for the one in 2010 and got the most from uneven weather with even a visit to Braemar included.

The trip to Lorn took place with even more mixed weather in the forecasts. Even so, the need for a getaway must have trumped any concerns about experiencing a washout. The portents were not good with there being a heavy rain shower in Glasgow and similar bursts of the same further north. Still, Oban was rain-free when I arrived so the walk from the train station to the hotel where I was staying was a dry one.

2014-08-30

It might seem very odd to some but it is often when I go somewhere that I start planning what I am going to do there. The cause this time was the variability in the predicted weather situation. Figuring which from Saturday or Sunday was the better day to go for a longer hike proved challenging. According to forecasts, Saturday was to be better but Sunday offered more. Such is the trouble with the changeability of our maritime weather that one thing can be expected while another comes to pass in reality. It reminds me of a summertime bank holiday weekend in Ireland when everyone was teased with the prospect of a sunny few days only for a stormy deluge to arrive. Even with modern weather system modelling, conditions continue to turn out differently from what we thought they were going to be.

Coming to the conclusion that it was Saturday that was offer more dry weather, I was tempted to try doing too much. Thoughts of a short walk up Beinn Lora proved a tempting prelude to a later out and back walk along the shore of Loch Etive. Though sorely tempted, better sense prevailed and I stuck with the Loch Etive stroll. Having to cut down ambitions due to time limitations became a familiar refrain in 2016 too because adding an extra day to my Austrian and Norwegian trips would have allowed for so much additional satisfaction.

As it happened, the day in question got a damp start so it was just as well that I had curtailed my plans. It was raining well while I awaited boarding time for the train that would carry me to Taynuilt. This was to be a busy departure and it was easy to think that this was the end of the summer season in Scotland for the train was full of holiday makers returning to their homes. Hopefully, they got a lot from their respective getaways.

It was at a quiet Taynuilt that I disembarked. In my experience, this is the sort of sleepy place where you never see any sign of excitement and the season of the year does not change that. You might expect the quiet of a grey if dry day in November and it was thus in 2002 when I first passed here with some friends from Edinburgh. The lack of sunshine did nothing to dispel the scenic magic thanks to the bright autumnal foliage that was on display. Nevertheless, I fancied the idea of seeing the place in bright sunshine so much that another visit followed in July 2003.

It was the latter trot that I reprised in August 2014 and I made sure that I had enough storage for any photos. The encounter in 2003 was blighted by a my not bringing enough colour film with me so I certainly was not going to skimp on SD cards. There may have been a changeover from analogue to digital in the world of photography but some lessons remain as relevant as ever. Having enough battery life is even more important these days given how computerised cameras have become.

Even with year round peace and quiet, there was what felt like an end of season feel to the occasion. It all might have been in my head after seeing so many leaving Oban on the train but the presence of occasional rain added to whatever melancholy was in my mind.

The route from the train station was one that I knew well. It took me past the Historic Scotland managed Bonawe Iron Works and I left the track after Bonawe House to cross fields and a scary bridge over the River Awe to reach Inverawe House, where there is a smokery. That was left behind me for a while as I joined the old military road. Between this and the turn off onto a forestry track, I made a phone call to my father to clear that task out of the way for a few days.

Once on the forestry track, a little care was needed because I led my friends astray on that November 2002 outing. Greater familiarity has its uses so no navigational blunder resulted. The grey skies ensured that photography was stalled for it was the stretch of track leading to Glennoe where I made the error of using up too much colour film.

Beyond Glennoe, the scenery grew more interesting as the weather improved enough to allow photos to be made. Hills still were shrouded under heavy skies as I passed Inverliver and its bay. Inverkinglass was next and the improvement continued. This was as far as I was going so I took a little break for a spot of lunch before retracing my steps. In 2003, I had done so just beyond Ardmaddy and a lad outside one of the huts there probably wondered why I turned to go back on myself. Aside from needing to get back to Oban again, it seemed too adventurous to continue as far as Glen Etive.

That was just as well because I foolishly undertook a walk in June 2005 that was to end with my arriving at Taynuilt Hotel ten minutes before closing time and looking for the phone number of a taxi firm. The main folly was starting out from Loch Awe train station too late in the day for a hike that took me up Glen Strae to reach Lairig Dhoireann before dropping into Glen Kinglass and heading for the familiar shores of Loch Etive. A bunch of lads in a Landrover that saw me wandering along the track asked me if was alright and one lady around Glennoe asked me if I really was OK. Any prospect of reaching Taynuilt in time for catching a train or bus back to Oban had to be discounted and it was just as well that I had long hours of daylight. Nevertheless, there were compensations from walking on a glorious evening and I got to my lodgings without much incident aside from the taxi meeting with a deer coming against us. Defusing a grumpy father next day was another price of my adventurous episode and I never rang on the same day of the week again afterwards; always phoning on a Sunday causes trouble on the one occasion that you cannot do so.

There was no such drama in 2014 and the weather had improved so much that I was left looking behind me much of the time. Beinn Trilleachan was catching the light much better than Ben Starav or the hills around Glen Etive. It was enough to make the sight an entrancing one as I drew myself away. The return to Taynuilt was a timely, peaceful and pleasant affair. There was no need to call on the services of a taxi this time around though I cannot recall with confidence if it was a bus or a train got me back to Oban again, such have been the travails of life. Faded recollections appear to suggest that it was by train though you have to watch for mixing of memories between different trips.

2014-08-31

When Sunday morning came, sunlit blue skies reigned over Oban. This looked like it would become the better day of the weekend and the walk from my hotel to the Caledonian Macbrayne ferry terminal granted me delightful views of Oban Bay, Kerrera and more distant hills of Mull. Others had the same idea so the first sailing of the day from Oban to Mull was not an underused affair. Staying on deck granted me sunlit views all the way and the scenery of the island of Lismore, up Loch Linnhe and along the steep coast of Morvern.

Mull looked a cloudier place so I was left wondering if my choice was misguided. Nevertheless, sunshine was to visit the island and I was not to be left feeling forlorn. When we docked, there buses waiting to ferry folk around the island. Tobermory and Fionnphort were among the available island destinations. Some no doubt would have had designs on a visit to Iona like I did with my brother in 1999.

What I had in mind was something less taxing than even that. The inspiration also came from 1999 when I undertook a day trip to Mull from Edinburgh. Then, my stroll passed Torosay Castle while on the way to Duart Point. That not only has magical views along the Sound of Mull and up Loch Linnhe but it also is the site of a restored castle that has been known to star in the occasional feature film, possibly because of its fairytale appearance. Though I left the mainland under cloudy skies, things were to cheer up on Mull to the point that some photos were made with my Ricoh compact camera.

Like its forbear, this walk also took along the road through Craignure and it was not far to the track leading to Torosay Castle that gave me respite from road walking. The little railway that shadows the track no longer runs like it did on the day of my first visit. All was peaceful with the sun breaking through to liven up any views of the Sound of Mull. Passing the castle, I got to the road again and struck on for the junction where I would meet with the minor road leading to Duart Castle. While on that single track road, views across Duart Bay opened out as much as those leading the eye towards Morvern. The way to the castle felt longer than it was and it was plain that part of it was surrounded by scaffolding, the closer I came.

Unlike the previous visit, I did not rush away from Duart Point. In fact, I dallied quite a while and could do so thanks to my having more time than on that day trip from Edinburgh. With the way that the sun was ducking behind clouds, it was just as well for the hoped-for photos would need patience. The scaffolding meant that I would have to choose any vantage point carefully and there was one by the coastline that did the job perfectly when the sun shone. There were clear views towards Lismore island and its nearby lighthouse with Loch Linnhe stretching into the distance surrounded by an array of lofty mountains. All was idyllic, exactly the antidote to the frenzy of modern living.

On my return to Craignure, I simply retraced my steps like I did the day before. Though I did wonder whether to go around by Torosay Castle again, reversing a walk grants you different sights and more photo opportunities. What did not catch your eye on a first pass could get its chance on a second. Being able to relax helps too and I was in Craignure well before my return ferry crossing. Though it might have been tempting to stay longer, cloud was gathering as if to draw the curtains on what had delighted me. Its takeover of the sky had its uses for I could get something to eat on boat without feeling guilty that I was rejecting any chances to be further delighted. The cloud was carrying rain in any case as I found after I had returned to the hotel for the evening. That late arrival made for quite a special day.

Future Possibilities

Trips away often don’t end after their return journey. This one was recalled for how quiet the train from Oban to Glasgow was, a complete contrast to the equivalent departure only two days earlier. That is how I remember the journey for the way south from Glasgow scarcely registers at all. It must have been fairly routine then.

Recollections of pleasant experiences often allow a momentary escape from present travails. The ones described here make me wonder if I should write up that November 2002 trip before it falls prey to overwriting by something else life puts my way. The same probably applies to its counterpart from June 2005 and more especially because it features a cautionary tale that ought to be explored in more depth.

Pleasant memories of old are all well and good but there needs to be a constant supply of new ones as well. That often inspires me to plan new trips. Beinn Lora should be worth exploring and there also is Lismore. Walking all the way from Taynuilt to Glen Etive and even Glen Coe is another idea. A (very) long day should allow its completion in one go and I was left wondering if the Mountain Bothies Association had a bothy at the head of Loch Etive but it seems that they do not. There is one at Cadderlie on the opposite side of loch from where I usually thread in case that route takes my fancy. If I really get adventurous, there is a hill track that would take you from Bridge of Orchy to Inverkinglass. Having already learned a lesson or two from a previous long hike in the area, this might be one for better planning and even some wild camping. A longer stint on Mull also appeals and I have been known to ponder staying overnight on the island in order to savour more of what is there. This is a part of the world where I should try to spend more time in spite of other distractions. Possibilities await.

Travel Arrangements

Return train journey between Macclesfield and Oban. Train journey from Oban to Taynuilt followed by a return on Scottish Citylink coach service 976. Return sailing from Oban to Mull.


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