Sampling Kintyre with Arran and Cowal in View14th July 2010
The Met Office weather forecast for my few days in Arran and Argyll displayed an ever improving trend with Saturday being among the best of the lot. Of course, weather trends can change and there wasn’t as much sun as predicted. However, that has its advantages because cloud shields you from the heat of the midday sun and that makes for more friendly conditions for walking. At times when I felt the full force of a strong sun, I was grateful for those times when under a cloudy shield.
That last Saturday in June got a cloudy start and it stayed like that for much of the day. Over time, breaks did appear in the cloudy cover that allowed the sun through until it took over around Tarbet, where my walk was set to end. The starting point for the hike was Claonaig so a ferry crossing was in order to get there from Lochranza, on the ferry that I saw the previous evening in fact.
Ironically for a part of modern day Ayrshire, Arran is closer to Argyll and may have been considered part of that part of the world in previous. That meant that the sailing on the small ferry only took around 30 minutes as opposed to around an hour for the bigger boat between Ardrossan and Brodick. Saying that, I can see the draw of civilisation result in a greater pull from the east that overwhelms any from the west. Well, the boat from Lochranza is a summer only affair while the Brodick one travels all year around.
Arran only grew a little smaller with the north-westward sea travel and it was unmissable from the shores of Kintyre as I started north along the Kintyre Way for Tarbert. The northernmost section of the long distance trail was to be my lot for the day with helpful mile posts counting down the distance that I had left to travel. That decreasing numerical trend told its own story in that the Kintyre Way should be walked in a southbound direction rather than reversing it as I was doing.
First, I had to make up the road towards Skipness with a sleepy atmosphere in the air. Tempting seats were to be found in places by the road and I topped up on food while resting on one of them. Though the predominant colouration was more steel grey in nature, I still enjoyed any glimpses of Arran from across the sea. These were captivating vistas on a day with more sun but they were still to blame for my going slower than usual. However, there was a long day ahead of me before I was to meet with a Scottish Citylink coach at Tarbert so there was no need to rush.
At the quiet collection of houses that is Skipness, I left tarmac to give my legs a blast of steep ascent up a gravel track. Unlike the day before, walking poles were with me to help and the assistance was well needed with my carrying everything around with me. From this point forward, I was on the route of the Tarbert to Skipness Walk as well as that of the Kintyre Way.
In order to meet up with the banks of Skipness River, that hard earned height gain was lost, not something that I found alluring after the earlier effort and in the knowledge that more ascent was ahead of me. Arran was lost from view with much forestry surrounding me, very much a feature of the route that I had chosen for myself.
Good progress was made and I began to go uphill again with the hills of Arran rising up over their lower counterparts on Kintyre. A longer lunch stop was made near Meall Donn, where I found a handy picnicking table at the end of the gravel track that I had been following. There was no real bother from midges either and the sun was finding a way through the clouds too though the effect wasn’t as strong as that observation might suggest.
After the midday stop, it was along a well defined path that I was following as it weaved around among the firebreaks in the forestry plantation. Though planted with trees, there was bog too with bridges placed over Allt Carn Chaluim to keep the wanderer on a raised bank throughout. Progress was slower than inspection of a map might suggest but Loch na Machrach Mòire came in its own good time anyway.
Once the loch was behind me, I left the forestry too to find myself among a boggy landscape replete with untidy rocky hummocks. Out of curiosity, I popped onto one of the nameless ones before returning to locate my belongings again before continuing along the path again to reach a piece of hill track brutality that was a recent addition to the landscape. For all the world, it looked as if a gravel track wide enough for two cars to pass each other had been gouged out of the hillside. Let’s hope that nature softens the unpleasant handiwork in its own good time but it too is easy to see why there is a campaign against such things in train in Scotland. Not only are they ascetically disturbing but they also can confuse the unwary by making maps out of date at the scoop of a large mechanical digger. There has to be better ways of enabling timer harvesting and the Forestry Commission should know better.
Very soon, I was back among conifers gain and the sun was making a better job of battling the clouds. That also meant that it started to feel hotter too as I began to come down from the none too heady heights that I had scaled. Any views of Arran were lost completely and it was those over Loch Fyne that replaced them. The Portavadie-Tarbet ferry was crossing beneath me as I made good any opportunities to look eastward to Cowal, a place on which I have designs of doing some exploration.
All the while, I was on the lookout for the path that would take me from the forestry track and drop me into Tarbert. It may have taken its time coming to me but it was welcome sight when it came. The subsequent stop for rest and sustenance might appear a kind of celebration but my eyes were drawn by the brightening surroundings and the growing semblance of the development of a wonderful summer’s evening, much like the opening of a beautiful flower.
The way down was to be very steep and I didn’t envy those who I had seen coming up against me earlier on in the afternoon. As I neared Tarbert Castle, the gradients eased so that easier walking became my lot with a quick diversion to a view point. While thankful for less taxing slopes, I was questioning the attentiveness of the waymarking but I filled in any lapses in signing without a blunder.
The castle was unavailable for photography due to ongoing restoration work so I continued onto the shoreside road in what is quite a pretty place with nicely presented and colourfully painted buildings. After asking directions in a shop where I bought some refreshments, I found the coach stop where my walk ended with plenty of time to spare.
Inverary was my my next port of call and I did some exploring before settling down for the night. Sunday was to turn rainy up there while other parts of the U.K. sweltered and England crashed out of the World Cup. If you had wanted to find a world away from that outcome, Scotland would have been more than forthcoming. There may have been occasional places where the sound of the vuvuzela could be heard but there they were many more where peace, quiet and stillness reigned supreme as I had discovered for myself.