A first encounter with Kerrera and Loch Etive3rd March 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)