A weekend for revisiting old haunts1st March 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.
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 to offer more dry weather, I was tempted to try doing too much. Thoughts of a short walk to the top of 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 as the train was full of holidaymakers 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 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. The 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 Land Rover that saw me wandering along the track asked me if was all right 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 the 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.
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 were 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. Something that does 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, clouds were 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 the 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.
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 the 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 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.
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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