Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walk 223 -- Scourie to Kylesku

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 48 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 190 days.
Weather: Sunny and very hot, but a cooling wind in exposed places. ‘Fair-weather’ cloud later.
Location: Scourie to Kylesku.
Distance: 13 miles.
Total distance: 2039 miles.
Terrain: Rough path round a headland for the first three miles — very undulating and boggy in places. A lot of road — not much traffic but what there was came fast. Two miles of ‘old road’ in the middle — it was a trifle further but it has been turned into a very pleasant walking track. We missed out a hill by going that way!
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.197, Allt an t-Srathain where the old road joined up to the main road again. No. 198, Duartmore Burn further down. No.199, Caolas Cumhann at Kylesku which we crossed on a spectacular bridge.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.193 on the ‘old road’ track.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in our caravan in Scourie. There are no buses south of Scourie, not even a school bus, so we had no choice but to thumb a lift. This morning Colin took the car down to Kylesku and parked it at a picnic area just beyond the bridge. There was not much traffic, but eventually a lady stopped and took him as far as a salmon farm where she worked. He soon got a second lift — it was the wife of the teacher who had given us a lift on Monday! We started the Walk at the caravan.
At the end, we got straight into the car again and drove back to the caravan to have a proper pot of tea — far tastier than tea bags!

Scourie is a small hamlet with a beach, an hotel, a shop and a camping/caravan site. We had been staying on the caravan site for three days when I drew Colin’s attention to a notice outside the hotel which read “Real Ales”. He was adamant that it wasn’t in the “Good Beer Guide”, but then he looked it up and found that it was! He was even more pleased to find that it sold several local beers which he liked. He muttered some excuse for his folly — that he hadn’t been in a CAMRA pub since Thurso and wasn’t expecting to find one until we got to Ullapool, etc. Even in this wild and remote part of the country, people like their ales!
We also found two memorials in Scourie. One was the ubiquitous War Memorial where, as always, we read evidence that whole families were wiped out in useless fighting amongst nations. What was it all for? Two Elliots, two MacKays, three Morrisons and three Rosses — apart from a Macleod, MacRae, Munro, Sinclair and Thomson — all from this tiny village in the First World War. Did anybody come back? What a waste of young lives!
The other memorial was to honour General Hugh MacKay, third chieftain of the Scowry branch of MacKay, and Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in Scotland, 1689 – 1690. Only a year — he was killed in 1692 — and this memorial stone was not put up until 2000, more than three hundred years later!
We started today’s Walk from the caravan on the site. We walked along a dodgy path at the top of the beach, where Colin photographed some oystercatchers, until we came to a cemetery at the far end. We bypassed this and strode out towards the headland. We had wonderful views in all directions, especially of Handa Island which was now more or less behind us.
We were not on an official path, but the going was in better shape than the Tarbet to Scourie path we had negotiated two days ago. There was a sketch map on the wall in the caravan site office showing a path around this bit of coast, but nothing is marked on the OS map so we were taking a bit of a gamble.
We had short grass under our feet, the sun was shining and it was warm. We walked uphill and down, uphill and down, following the coast but avoiding rock outcrops and bogs. Colin found lots of wading birds to photograph on the small stony beaches.

There were rocky islands offshore, and small lochans inland — we had to steer an uneven path between them.
One lochan was covered with water lilies in flower, very pretty!
In the distance we could see the rock stack called “The Old Man of Stoer” — we hope to get there when we return to Scotland in September.
The path became more difficult, well it wasn’t really a path at all. The hills became steeper and higher, the ‘path’ less obvious.
We noted that there was a lot of rubbish on the rocky beaches. Mostly it was fishing nets, but there was also a lot of plastic, car tyres and even a hard hat!
Eventually we sat on a knoll overlooking yet another rocky beach, and took stock whilst eating a slice of quiche each. We decided not to go round the next headland as it was taking too long, the way was getting too steep and we were running out of “umph”! So we turned up a valley, which proved to be quite boggy, to get back on to the road. We passed a profusion of wild flowers on the way, many of which were orchids of different types and colours. They were quite small, but looked absolutely exquisite when we studied them up close. I spent some time photographing them in the sunshine, making full use of my macro-lens.
There was a school at the top, we waved to the kids in the playground.
It was somewhat surreal that we felt we had been walking in the middle of nowhere for the last three hours, yet here was a SCHOOL full of excited children!
We crossed a bog below the school, which wasn’t easy, then scrambled up a very steep bank to the road.
There we sat on a bench to eat our sarnies.
We felt disheartened because we had been walking for three and a half hours, and although we had actually walked three miles over difficult ground we hadn’t even progressed a mile along the road from Scourie!
That was obviously not good enough, we were going to have to get a move on.
There followed about four miles of road-walking. We tried to keep up a pace, but it was difficult because it was so HOT! (Not a comment you expect to make about north-west Scotland!) The wind had died, the sun beat down and we had to keep pausing in the shade to cool off. At least we had both brought extra water today, and weren’t in danger of running out.
There was no habitation and the scenery was fantastic — all rocks, lochs and flowers. Traffic was sparse, but when it did come it was FAST. We had to be alert all the time. We passed a side road which led off to a place called Badcall — looking at the map I think there are only a couple of dwellings there — but we didn’t take it because it didn’t actually reach the sea (additional rule no.11).
There seemed to be a lot of uphill and not much downhill — I’m sure that was our imagination, but we did spend a lot more time walking uphill because we were hot.

We came to a nature reserve which we accessed by turning on to a narrow road which wasn’t signposted. It was a relief to get away from the main road! We had visited this nature reserve yesterday on our day off because Colin thought we might see otters there.
had sat on a rock overlooking a magnificent view while Colin hacked his way down over mega-rough ground to investigate movement he had seen in the loch below. He had so been hoping it was otters, but it turned out to be seals — we have become quite blasé about seals, we have seen so many.
Today we both sat on the rock to eat our cereal bars. We couldn’t see any movement in the water at all, then we realised that the rock islands in the loch were covered in seals basking in the sun!

We followed the lane further down, and began to realise that it was a remnant of the ‘old road’. It must have been a good many years ago that the main road was diverted on to a shorter route cutting through the rock because this section of ‘old road’ had become overgrown and hence was quite narrow.
There were still rusty old ‘passing place’ notices poking out of the undergrowth, and a speed limit notice. The lane took us along by a loch where there was a low wall. It was very pleasant, and cooler than the main road. It was “away-from-it-all” and it saved us climbing a hill too.

We almost reached the sea when we had to turn back up a hill and rejoin the main road. We could see the huge bank of rubble on which it was built. That detour was the most pleasant part of the whole Walk.

We plodded on, we still had a number of miles to do. It began to cloud over very thinly which gave us welcome relief from the beating sun. A couple of miles of boring road amongst stunning scenery brought us to the Duartmore Bridge.
We saw two fishermen in a boat on the river, and seals in the water under the bridge. (As we approached Colin was hoping they would be otters, but they weren’t.) We crossed the bridge and went up into the forest.
We stopped in a layby further on to eat our chocolate, but we didn’t stay long. Under the trees were dozens of horse-flies which drove us out! Neither of us got stung, though they liked Colin better than me.
We walked on quickly to shake them off. It was a few more miles yet — we were getting weary. More rocks, more lochs, more orchids — this Walk certainly had scenery to die for!

Then we topped a rise, came to a viewpoint and there was the Kylesku Bridge below. We couldn’t see our car yet, but we knew it was there just beyond the bridge.
We still had a couple of miles of twisty road over rocky islands to cover.
Boats in the water, that looks a bit more like civilisation!
Just before the bridge is a cairn with a plaque set into it. On it was written:
10TH APRIL 1993
The security of these top secret operations was
guarded by the local people of this district who
knew so much and talked so little
Underneath was an etching of the submarines in the river, followed by the names of all those who had trained in this area and subsequently perished.
Kylesku Bridge is spectacular, it is built as a curve between two rock islands. It was constructed in 1984, and replaced a ferry which had been there since the 19th century. We crossed this magnificent piece of engineering.
Colin wanted to see otters in the river — Oh! How he wanted to see otters! But they were seals again.
That ended Walk no.223, we shall pick up Walk no.224 next time just south of the Kylesku Bridge. It was quarter to seven, so the Walk had taken eight and three quarter hours. Our car was parked at a viewpoint just below the bridge, so we got straight into it and drove back to the caravan to have a proper pot of tea — far tastier than tea bags!

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