A mixture of good sense and a spot of recklessness7th March 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.