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: Cowal Way

A look back at 2011

Monday, December 26th, 2011

For me, 2011 will have to be seen as one when work very much got in the way of hill wandering. Even if it did, I did get out on quite a few excursions over its course and some of them took me places where I hadn’t been before then. Also, there was a sense of unfinished business with a few of them and that always produces ideas for new trips into the outdoors.

January

January started out well with a few trips away. The first was to Wales when I walked from Roman Bridge station on the Conwy Valley railway line to Pen y Pass. A grey start became a glorious afternoon and repaid the nuisance of going through a forestry plantation where the right of way felt unwanted. Slipping on a branch into the wet didn’t help either but it soon forgotten with the pleasure granted soon afterwards. Sometimes, it is worth overcoming any ardour.

The January trip took me north to Fort William. This time, sunshine was in short supply and Fort William was so foggy that anyone would need to ask themselves why they had travelled overnight to get there as I did. Crewe was very foggy when I left it too so this was a general feature and not just a local Scottish one. Nevertheless, a trot down the banks of Loch Shiel was not fogbound and I was pencilling in plans for a return that have yet to be fulfilled. Glenfinnan saw a little sun too though it didn’t last but thoughts of explorations on a longer evening beguile. There’s thoughts of a shorter stroll around Cow Hill near Fort William that too could act as a lure yet.

The last weekend in January saw me use up a ferry booking that was a contingency for getting to Ireland during the pre-Christmas freeze of 2010 but got deferred so as to allow its cancellation and refund. That latter intention got set aside and¬† I got to have an enjoyable yomp around Howth Head near Dublin. There again was a quota in operation regarding the amount of sunshine but I got enough for photos of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island. It would have been nice to have kept it for rounding the headland itself but there was no detraction from my enjoyment apart from the need to return under cover street lights before it became too dark. Finding such a quiet haven so near Dublin was a pleasure and looking across Dublin drew my eyes to the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. From a previous escapade, I could pick out Great Sugarloaf near Kilmacanogue in County Wicklow. Viewing twinkling street lights from a quiet corner was a contrasting experience too. It’s amazing what Dubliners have on their doorstep.

February & March

The only trip away during these was one that took me to Oxford at the start of February. That certainly wasn’t a waste of a good day and I might be tempted to return again. In fact, it has me wondering about more urban walking destinations now that I recall it. Cambridge certainly has come to mind but there’s more than those with more humble destinations like Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Lancaster and Carlisle all coming to mind briefly once in a while over the last few years.

April, May & June

In another year, the good weather in February and March would have drawn me out in the countryside on a few weekends but 2011 was to see the next chance taken to await the start of April when I walked from Bollington back home while taking in the Kerridge ridge and the White Nancy. It may have been local but became an escape into peace in its own right. It was a reminder that there are places on my doorstep that needed frequenting more often.

It was to take until latter half of the Easter weekend for there to be another trip away from home. Then, it was a return to Llangollen after a gap of a number of years and this was to be my first trip there that involved an overnight stay in the town too. The peace of Easter Sunday evening wasn’t lost on me though it meant leaving the crowds of Llangollen after me and a commotion of bleating to die down once a large party had passed a flock of ewes and lambs. The paths that I was walking were being retraced rather than being trodden anew but that did nothing to detract from the fact that the everyday hurly burly felt a world away. That there was no need to rush home was a blessing too. The next day saw me wandering through countryside where I hadn’t been before and part of the North Berwyn Way for part of my walk. Not planning to cover too much in the way of distance meant that it was an unhurried hike and they always are best. Those who hang around Llangollen without exploring the surrounding countryside really are missing out even if that leaves it quiet for those of us fancying an escape from the frenzy of our working lives.

The Mayday bank holiday weekend immediately followed Easter this year and was extended by a royal wedding too. That encouraged me to head to Cowal for the weekend and it was a worthwhile venture too with three walks on two days. The first took me by the shores of Loch Long and Loch Goil while en route from Ardentinny to Carrick Castle. That was followed by another on the same day: a section of the Cowal Way from the shore of Loch Goil to Strachur. It was all good quiet replenishing fare for the spirit and in a part of the world that must get overlooked a lot as well.

The weather in May wasn’t so encouraging and June was a busy month for me too though it too had its interludes of sunshine. One of those drew me out early one Sunday morning on a cycle from my home around by Pott Shrigley. A January encounter from a few years back had me wondering if some photography when the rhododendron bushes were in flower might be worthwhile. However, I hadn’t bargained on the obscuring power of trees when they are in leaf so I am not so sure about the results evening if the sun was in the right part of the sky. Maybe a trot to the top of nearby Nab Head might end up being more productive.

July

July saw a bumper crop of outings with the first taking me along sections of St. Cuthbert’s Way. That weekend started with a hike from Wooler to Kirk Yetholm whose length left me tired but with a feeling that I have made a real start on exploring the landscape though which I had passed. The next day saw me walk from St. Boswells to Melrose while taking in both Dryburgh Abbey and the Eildon Hills. Lastly, I got to spend a few hours around Melrose Abbey in the summer heat.

The Isle of Man was my next port of call with a walk along Raad ny Foillan from Port Erin to Port St. Mary and then to Castletown. Apart from single shower, I seemed to have managed to pick a single sunny day in the middle of an unsettled spell of weather. It was sunny weather too that drew me to castles and coastline about the Menai Strait. Apart from revisiting Caernarfon and its famous castle, there was Beaumaris Castle and a section of the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path to be savoured too. That weekend finished with a sunny crossing over the Menai Bridge. It was a contrast to the damp weekend spent in Ireland that preceded it. The last weekend in July saw me pass through mid Wales on the way to Gower. Conditions may not have been perfect or photography either along the Heart of Wales railway or in Gower but these first tastes may be followed later with more.

Remainder of the Year

Autumn had its sunnier interludes too but a busy working life limited my use of them to local cycles. One Saturday, I headed to Hare Hill and Alderley Edge and that has put an afternoon walk between the two into my mind as a future possibility. Others were similar and there were midday walks during a stretch when I worked from home too.

A few days booked away from work in December offered their chances too. The possibilities lined up in form of excursions to Church Stretton, Abergavenny and even Edinburgh. In the event, only the first of these happened and it was a pleasurable outing too with sleet showers doing nothing to dispel any sense of reverie. The leftovers can do for other occasions so I need not be annoyed that they didn’t happen. It’s better not to be greedy.

Looking to 2012

Some years can be more predictable than others, especially when it comes to working lives. There were a few for me when they came close but unpredictability is back again for me. 2012 looks to be a largely open book after a busy 2011 and a 2010 of two halves. Life away from work always is unpredictable so there’s no point attempting to see around all the corners.

On the hill wandering front, there aren’t any big plans for me in 2012 although there is a good number of ideas that are available for turning into real escapades. A little is needed for making that happen and that perhaps is one of the main lessons of 2011. If you cannot plan for an excursion and be ready to get away, then it just won’t happen. A ready supply of ideas and a ready rucksack might turn those ideas into outings and confront any desire for torpor on the way out the door.

A Weekend Around Cowal: Saturday

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

My Easter weekends often come in two halves: Friday and Saturday are always spent at home while Sunday and Monday see me go away somewhere. Sometimes, I extend the four day weekend with another to make my getaway longer. This year, that didn’t happen because of work commitments but I got to spend some time around Llangollen anyway and I already have told of that.

However, this year was rather unique in that we got two four day weekends in succession. In fact, many also took holidays on the three days between them and they got glorious weather too. That’s not to say that I was envious because, on Holy Saturday, I had got around to planning a trip away that sampled some of this over that extended Mayday bank holiday weekend.

While many were watching the Royal wedding on television, I was making my way up to Dunoon in Cowal. While crossing by ferry from Gourock to Dunoon, I’d have been forgiven for thinking that I might have made a foolish choice because sunshine over Cheshire had been left for grey skies over the Clyde. However, I was anything but put off by this and I seem to remember being rather hopeful that brighter skies were to come my way on subsequent days.

From Ardentinny to Loch Goil

Next morning, my faith was rewarded with blue skies and sunshine. What was missing was warmth but you cannot expect everything in the months of April or May. The short bus ride to Ardentinny sheltered me from that chill, leaving me to admire the views northwest from Holy Loch and wonder if it would have been better to have walked as far as Sandbank before taking the bus around Holy Loch and up the coast to the starting point for my first walk of the day; there were two.

Finart Bay, Ardentinny, Argyll, Scotland

On getting off the bus, I soon found my way away from the road to a useful path that escorted me away from tarmac. The road may not have been that busy but it usually is better to enjoy the glorious sunshine without having to remain alert to the passage of motorised traffic. The steep wooded sides of Stronchullin Hill were close at hand as I passed behind houses to make my way towards Finart Bay. While rounding that, I was able to look towards the remains of Glenfinart House and part of the glen surrounding it. Until it became the victim of a fire in 1968, it was a hotel but now only the tower remains with a caravan site surrounding it. It seems a pity that a nice looking house would meet this end.

Not too long into my hike, I reached the way into the Ardentinny and Glenfinart part of the Forestry Commission’s Argyll Forest. There were some folk about but the place was far from being overrun. Signs of car camping were there to be seen and I suspect that the overnight campers were in no rush to move away on such a lovely morning and who’d blame them? I must admit to lingering a little myself as I perused a useful sign showing the various circular walks that are available to visitors to this conifer plantation.

After dallying for those moments, I set off uphill on a track by Stronvochlan. Insofar as I remember it now, I resisted the temptation to pick up any paths that lead away from the track so as to stick with the (nearly) straight and not so narrow. Looking at the map again as I write this, I spot another path that takes a more direct route than the roundabout one that I took. However, there are times when shortcuts can take longer I otherwise cannot recall why I didn’t take that route. In any case, it wasn’t as if I was short of time anyway so taking longer over the stroll wasn’t going to be an issue and it’s better not be rushing things anyway. I go out among hills to leave the hurly burly of life after me, not to bring that along as well.

Looking up Loch Long while walking from Ardentinny to Carrick Castle, Argyll, Scotland

While following vehicle tracks through conifer plantations wouldn’t strike some as being all that appealing, I wasn’t bothered. There weren’t many folk passing the way so peaceful solitude was easily gained and views weren’t obstructed all of the way either. In fact, looking behind as I rested while going uphill gained me views towards surrounding hills like Beinn Ruadh. Those over Loch Long weren’t all obstructed either or recent harvesting operations opened them out even more. These came in very handy for checking progress, something that I tend to do all the time while I am on a walk anyway.

Progress assessment always is easier if you landmarks that are marked on your map and there was one that was to be unmissable: an electricity line that crosses Loch Long. While I do have reservations about sending power lines through hill country, they can act as useful handrails and the way that this one crossed a sea loch amazed me. After all, I am wondering how they managed to set it in place in the first place and then there’s matter of the effects of strong winds on an unsupported span extending over a distance of around one kilometre. After that, there’s the matter of pylons sticking out from hillsides like stalks, ever seeming to be in perpetually frozen motion over the undulations of the landscape.

It was after passing under that long span that the track that I was following was to reach its end according to my O.S. map. However, I never got to seeing if it did so because I picked up a well constructed path leading to Carrick Castle. That meant height loss too and it wasn’t that gradual in the initial stages. At the same time, I was turning from Loch Long into Loch Goil and it wasn’t done without views of the small hill across the water from me, Clach Beinn and its wooded slopes. My path mat have cut the corner that is Rubha nan Eoin but taking the turn still took its time. There was no rush though so level ground could come in its own good time.

Looking up Loch Goil on the approach to Carrick Castle, Argyll, Scotland
Carrick Castle, Loch Goil, Argyll, Scotland

Reaching that more level terrain took me out of the forestry and I was among fields again. Carrick Castle was well in view at this stage as I passed the low fingers of land that are Roin Diomhan and Ardnahien. Loch Goil and the steep-sided hills that surrounded it were looking resplendent in the bright sunshine too. Enjoying that scenery occupied my mind and allowed progress to come when it did rather than hurrying the experience. In fact, my return to tarmac didn’t take long to come and, though Dunoon was not so far down the coast from me, the atmosphere had the tranquillity more like that of a far flung Scottish island than somewhere not all that far away from the bustle of Scotland’s central belt.

Rather than walking up the narrow road from Carrick Castle towards Lochgoilhead, I lingered at the former and awaiting a bus. What I had in mind was to walk along part of the Cowal Way to Strachur (or Clachan Strachur as it appears on my O.S. Explorer map). In hindsight, I might have done the right thing in spending a few hours around Carrick Castle because the bus ride to Ardroy Outdoor Centre convinced me that walking along a narrow undulating coastal single track road wouldn’t have been the best of experiences with motorised traffic about.

Staying at Carrick Castle also allowed more time for soaking in the views as the occasional sailing boat glided on the surface of the loch. The castle itself is privately owned and rusted scaffolding is sufficient evidence of an unfinished restoration. It served me as a reminder of other similar projects that did get completed, Duart Castle on Mull and Eilean dona Castle in Lochalsh are but two of them. Not many were passing the way though there was one family party around for a little while before they headed away again. Later, a few folk collected to set up seating for a community event.

When the bus came, the driver took a break and his camera was pressed into service for a few photos in the fine weather. Patiently, I waited for him to get back to his bus before boarding it for that short trip up the coast, not that my request seemed to impress him that much if I sensed it correctly. Nevertheless, the journey was far from unpleasant and didn’t take long on a road well shaded by tree cover.

From Loch Goil to Strachur

Once off the bus, I needed to get my bearings. There have been times when this process hasn’t been too successful and some blundering resulted before I set things to rights. It was for that reason that I took my time with the task. There was a Cowal Way waymarker but its partner was absent and this informed me that good map reading was going to come into its own so as to keep things under control.

After satisfying myself regarding the direction to be taken, I set off towards Lettermay and then into the forestry plantation that hugs the hill of Cruach nam Miseag. Height was gained with views over Lochgoilhead opening out before me every time I looked behind me as I shadowed Lettermay Burn. Even Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler, started to raise its head from behind the hills lining Loch Goil. the strength of the sun was unmissable at this point though it wasn’t to feel like that for all of the walk.

Looking at the course of the Cowal Way, I was surprised to see it eschew forestry tracks to shadow the burn more closely. However, that brought me an experience reminiscent of a Welsh outing in January with trees getting in my way. It left me wondering at the sense of the routing and caused me to cross the burn to reach a promising track that lay over there. When that veered uphill and away from the burn that was my navigational handrail, I decided that a return to the route shown on the map was in order.

Sruth Ban & Cowal Way, Lochgoilhead, Argyll, Scotland

This was clearer than earlier though there were soft conditions underfoot at times. In time, I left the trees behind me to really gain height on the approach to Curra Lochain. This really was when height began to be gained and steeply too. Marker posts also started to appear and it occurred to me that these might be waymarkers for the trail that I had been following after a fashion.

Curra Lochain, Strachur, Argyll, Scotland

Taking my time and not letting the vistas that lay behind me unadmired, I scaled the slopes by what now was know as Sruth Ban and passed its waterfalls as I did so. Once the lochan was reached after crossing a stile and negotiated a tricky section of path, it was the force of the wind that could not be ignored. A passing hill wanderer was coming the other way and we shared a few word before each continued to our own destinations. Though I was watching time, there were no restrictions on opportunities to take in the splendour of what surrounded me.

Marker posts and map guided me back among trees again. Because the vehicle track that I was seeking didn’t reveal itself so clearly to I was reach it in a less tidy manner than might have been ideal. Part of exploring anywhere would seem to be correcting one’s little directional slippages even if that involves going down to a burn and back up again. On re-examining the map as I write these words, I could have continued following my line of travel and reached the track later on and lower down but I like to resolve any uncertainties as soon as I can.

Beinn Lochain, Strachur, Argyll, Scotland

Once on the intended track, it was a matter of keeping an eye on any junctions so as not to go astray. As my legs were feeling the effects of the descent, the sun was leaving places in shadow. There were occasions for refuelling stops too because it was looking as if I was going to make my bus back to Dunoon. Time was being managed rather than its being the cause of rushing.

Road near Strachurmore, Strachur, Argyll, Scotland

Crossing over a bridge over Cab Riogan got me onto a single track tarmac road whose surface was far from smooth until I stopped being surrounded by trees. There was a sighting of curious sign for Scottish and Southern Electric. Had they both the forests with an eye on future wind-powered electricity generation? While that would have been an ominous note, the peace and quiet of the evening allowed me not to dwell on the prospect.

Tiring limbs carried me into Strachur with time to spare before the bus was due. That gave me time to mill around the spot a little. There might have been temptations to heading down the A815 to Strachur Bay and the shore of Loch Fyne. Realising that I had done a lot in one day with two different walks, I contented myself with resting a while and looked forward to seeing the countryside through which I was to be taken back to Dunoon in the declining light.

Travel Arrangements:

Travel from Macclesfield to Gourock by train with changes in Kidsgrove, Crewe and Glasgow followed by ferry from Gourock to Dunoon. Buses around Cowal included 480 between Dunoon and Hunter’s Quay, 485 from Hunter’s Quay to Ardentinny, 484 from Carrick Castle to Ardroy Outdoor Centre, 486 from Strachur to Dunoon.


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