Monday, September 14, 2009

Walk 227 -- Achmelvich to Polly More

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 129 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 271 days.
Weather: Brilliant sunshine and very warm. There was no wind whatsoever.
Location: Achmelvich to Polly More.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 2084 miles.
Terrain: A rough path over moorland, and an even rougher path through woodland. But mostly quiet road-walking. Very undulating.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: No.206, Allt Loch an Tuirc near Achmelvich. No.207, River Inver as we entered Lochinver. No.208, Culag River as we left Lochinver. No.209, River Kirkaig near Inverkirkaig.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.195 near the beginning of the Walk.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in our caravan at Achmelvich. This morning we drove to Ullapool where we picked up a second car which we had hired for a week. We drove both cars to Strath Polly where we had intended finishing today’s Walk, and left our own car parked there by the river. Then we drove back to the caravan in the hire car.
At the end, we got as far as Polly More, but couldn’t find our way across some stepping stones because they had been partially washed away. Time was getting on and we were tired. It was five miles by road to our car, it would have been two miles by footpath if we could have got across the river. So we decided to call it a day, and thumb a lift to Strath Polly. Very few cars, but eventually a pleasant young lady stopped — she had a van with only one passenger seat, so Colin had to sit on the floor in the back with two dogs! We had one cup of tea at Strath Polly, but it was a bit smelly there because of the fish farm. So we drove along to a picnic site we had passed on our Walk before we poured a second cup. There we were under trees, and found we were being eaten alive by the infamous Scottish midges! (The first time we have encountered them since we have been coastal walking in Scotland.) So we were very prompt in removing ourselves back to the caravan.

It is amazing weather! Two days ago we were wearing gloves and woolly hats for our Walk — today it was shirtsleeves and sunhats. It is hot like high summer, and the sun is very bright in a cloudless sky. Being September the sun is quite low, and too bright when it shines in our eyes. But otherwise, this sort of weather is great!
We left the caravan site and walked along the road for about a mile. We were alongside Loch Roe, and the views of the mountains all around us were magnificent. We turned down a side road which soon became a track.
We crossed over the river feeding into Loch Roe on a fairly substantial bridge.
We were glad we didn’t have to use an adjacent footbridge because the boards in it were all saggy — it reminded us of our experiences on a trek in Bolivia that we did back in 1993.
The track climbed the other side. I was still admiring the fantastic scenery on this beautiful day, and didn’t notice a tiny white arrow on a post showing the footpath leading off to the side. I was partway up the track leading to a property further up when I noticed Colin had stopped — he was waiting for me to come back and go the right way! So I made him take the lead. Then I saw a shrew dart across in front of my feet, but behind Colin so he didn’t see it before it had disappeared into the undergrowth. Quits!
A bit higher up we sat on a rock and ate our pies. It was lovely in the sunshine, we didn’t have to shelter from the wind. The path took us round in a big semi-circle, climbing all the time.
We went up a hill, beyond it was another to climb, and beyond that yet another. It seemed to go on and on like this.
It is a popular route, we met a number of hikers coming the other way. All remarked on the brilliant weather in their greeting.

At last we topped a hill and there wasn’t another one — instead we could see Lochinver below. We descended to Baddidarach, passing a few cottages and a tree house on the way. We weren’t sure whether we could walk along the loch-shore into Lochinver, it was only when we got down from the hills that we discovered that we couldn’t. We had to stick to the tarmacked lane which ran behind some buildings for about half a mile until it reached the main road.
We could see traffic crossing the river on a modern bridge, but we crossed on the old stone bridge which was just before it. We walked through Lochinver, past the “Best Pie Shop in the World” — so they told us — where we had bought our pies as we passed this morning when setting up this Walk. Well, we thought that was a bit of an over-statement. Nice enough pies, but nothing to write home about and very expensive!

We sat on a seafront bench near the war memorial to eat our lunch. Nice and warm, but we were directly facing the sun which shone very brightly into our eyes. We didn’t like that, and couldn’t find a bench facing a different way.

We walked round the harbour, but it looked very industrial. We were trying to find out if there was a footpath from there up into the woods behind — we were hoping for a bit of a shortcut, and to avoid using the road as much as possible. It was so difficult because we were blinded by the sun which seemed to be in our eyes all the time. The air must have been unusually clear today, because it is rare for us to be so troubled by the sun’s rays. We were both developing a headache because of it.
Then Colin found a broken footpath sign, which wasn’t much use, but at least we knew there was supposed to be a path off there. We climbed up behind the harbour sheds into the woods on what we were kidding ourselves was a real footpath — but ‘Scotland’ style (which means it isn’t really a path at all!)
It was lovely in the woods — it was cool and we were out of the sun. But it was very hilly and the ‘path’ was extremely uneven. We got totally lost! We crossed a footbridge, and a sign directed us to “pigglety….(something)” so we decided to go the other way. Wrong! That path disappeared on to a beach. So we turned round and followed “pigglety” steeply uphill until we came to a mainer path. There a sign pointing the way we had come said “higglety….(something)”! At that point we wondered if we would see a white rabbit next, or a little girl called Alice!
Right or left? We guessed at right, and passed several uprooted trees before coming to a ‘natural’ children’s playground. And there, on a board, was a map! So we got out on to the road at last. It hadn’t really been a short cut and we had wasted a lot of time.

The road south of Lochinver is a very minor affair, it is narrow and hilly. Mostly it was deserted, but we had to dodge the occasional vehicle which often came round those bends much too fast. We climbed to the hamlet of Strathan where we saw deer sitting nonchalantly in someone’s front garden.

On another mile to Inverkirkaig where the road took us back down to the seashore again. There we sat on a bench to eat our apples, but we had the same problem as at Lochinver — the relentless sun really hurt our eyes.
We saw a seal on the other side of the bay, but it was too far away and the light was all wrong to take any photos of it. We hadn’t been much by the sea up until now because this part of the shore is rocky and mostly inaccessible. But the scenery is stunning, especially on such a clear day as today.
We followed the river along to a picnic site. How we wished our car was parked there! (We were both beginning to feel we’d had enough for today.) But it wasn’t, so we crossed the bridge into the county of Ross & Cromarty — we were now officially out of the ‘Highland’ region!

We plodded on steeply up over the hills and steeply down again to the waterfront. Just to show that not all wildlife is beautiful, I photographed a big black slug we found on the road. Ugh!!

It seemed an age before we got to the stepping stones that are clearly marked in words on our brand new OS ‘Explorer’ map. On the other side of the river is clearly marked two miles of footpath leading to the fish farm where we parked our car earlier.
I was not happy. We were definitely in the right place, lots of natural features told us so. But there were no clear stepping stones across the river. The few stones that were there were too far apart and very slippery. Colin was having trouble, I would never have managed it. And that wretched sun was still in our eyes! (On a skiing holiday, once, I suffered temporarily from ‘snow-blindness’ and we did wonder if the reflection of the sun off the sea was having the same effect on us today.)
It was me who made the decision to curtail our Walk there and then. And it took another ten minutes to persuade Colin that we were both too tired to carry on today. We can’t get over the river — perhaps the tide is in too far covering the vital stepping stones. Can you see the path leading off the other side? I’ve looked through my telescope and I can’t see it at all. Does it exist? The ground is too rough to walk two miles over if it doesn’t. Time is getting on, and it’s five miles by road to our car. At last he conceded, he doesn’t give in easily!

That ended Walk no.227, we shall pick up Walk no.228 next time by the non-existent stepping stones at Polly More. It was twenty past five, so the Walk had taken six hours. We were still five miles (by road) short of where we had parked the car, so we decided to thumb a lift. It was twenty minutes before a vehicle came our way! It was a van driven by a very pleasant young lady who apologised that she only had one passenger seat. The back of the van seemed to be full of dogs, and that is where Colin sat! He was quite happy because he loves dogs, so we got back to our car at last.
We had a cup of tea as soon as we got there, but the air was a bit smelly because of the fish farm nearby. So we decided to go back to the pleasant riverside picnic site next to the county boundary notice for our second cup. That was a mistake, as it was now quite definitely evening and the midges had moved in under the trees! It was our first encounter with the infamous Scottish midges on the Round-Britain Walk, though we have experienced them before and know how unbearable they can be. We made a quick exit and fled back to the caravan at Achmelvich!

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