Saturday, September 19, 2009

Walk 231 -- Ullapool to Dundonnell

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 134 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 276 days.
Weather: Bright at first, but windy when up high. Then showers developed which became increasingly ferocious.
Location: Ullapool to Dundonnell.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 2125 miles.
Terrain: We pretended to catch a ferry across Loch Broom. We climbed a steep stony track and sat in our hire-car to eat pasties because it was raining by then. We continued down a narrow road with virtually no traffic, then along a main road where we were able to walk along a greensward.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.217, Dundonnell River near Dundonnell House — we couldn’t take a short cut over a footbridge because it was in someone’s private garden.
Ferries: No.17 across Loch Broom from Ullapool to Altnaharrie — which we pretended to take because it closed “a couple of years ago”.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in our caravan in Ardmair, and we had hired a car locally so we had two. This morning we drove both cars to Dundonnell where we parked our own car in a layby. Then we drove the hire-car to the nearest point we could to Altnaharrie and parked it just off this very narrow road. We walked down a steep and stony track to the jetty just across the loch from Ullapool.
At the end, we ended the Walk at the car parked in a layby in Dundonnell. After tea and biscuits, we drove up the narrow road to fetch the hire-car. Then we drove both cars back to our caravan in Ardmair.

The half-mile ferry across Loch Broom from Ullapool to Altnaharrie closed ‘a couple of years ago’. So we pretended to take it, and started our Walk on the jetty at Altnaharrie. Ullapool looked beautiful across the loch from where we were standing — except for the big blue tent and the sound of thumping drums. Yes, the music festival was still in full swing! The noise was even quite loud from where we stood, and completely incongruous to the magnificent vistas we were enjoying.
At Altnaharrie there is a little wooden jetty, and a big white house which, we assumed, used to be the Ferry House. Somebody must live there now for there were three cars on its driveway. At the jetty itself were several boats and a stone shed with a grass roof. The track leading away was very steep and stony, and it seemed to take us a long time to get up to the top. The views improved as we ascended, but the repetitive thumping of the ‘musik’ didn’t seem to get any less. I felt a wave of sympathy for all the inhabitants of Ullapool — apparently this was due to continue for four days!
As we neared the top of the hill we came across a big green caterpillar. Colin hadn’t brought his camera today, so I took three photos of it. He was very scathing of my efforts, declaring they were ‘out of focus’! But they were all crystal clear, I chose this one as the best of the three. I don’t know why he was like that today, he seems to think, sometimes, that I’m incapable of wildlife photography — just because I haven’t got an SLR camera.
As we went over the brow of the hill we lost the sound of thumping drums, and were both heartily relieved. I photographed some recent peat cutting, which still goes on in these rural parts of Scotland. Then it started to rain, which was a bit nasty in the wind. We had left our rucksacks in the car because we were about to walk back past it, so I had nothing to protect my camera from the rain except my hands. But they sufficed for the short distance involved.
We went through a gate on to a tarmacked lane. A notice on the gate told us, in six languages, that there was no ferry at Altnaharrie — just so’s you know! Another notice nearby told us that CCTV was in operation due to sheep rustling! We saw this same notice in at least two other places. Apparently the stealing of whole flocks of sheep is an increasing problem in our modern age, and obviously the local farmer had suffered here. They used to hang people for stealing sheep, didn’t they?
The wind and rain weren’t very pleasant, so when we reached the hire-car which we had parked just up the road, we sat inside and ate our pasties. By that time it had stopped raining and it turned quite nice — except for the wind. We took our rucksacks when we left this time.
At the gate behind us we had the choice of turning right or left. If we had turned right, it would have taken us nearer the sea. BUT — the lane goes downhill for three miles to the settlement of Badrallach. Beyond there the lane turns into a track for about a mile, followed by four miles of mountain footpath which seems to get more and more faint on the map. The contours are very close together for most of the way, and we have experienced such a footpath between Achiltibuie and Ardmair. We suspected that the going would be far from easy! It ends up in the settlement of Scoraig which is a completely isolated community. The only way to get there by land is along the footpath just described. However, there is a jetty, and it is possible to get there by boat from Badluarach across the loch, though no regular ferry. We would have had to negotiate with a local fisherman.
But we decided that there was a limit to how far we would interpret “nearest safe path to the coast” and called the path to Scoraig a dead end, which it is. So we turned left. This took us inland, but only until we had crossed the Dundonnell River. Then we would turn towards the coast once again. To illustrate just how isolated these communities are, the only traffic we encountered along the lane the entire time we were walking it was a Post van making its way towards Badrallach. Later the same Post van came back.
As we walked down the hill, we were more sheltered from the wind and it was quite pleasant, for a short while. We had sweeping views across the next loch to Dundonnell, and we could see our car from quite early on. We came to some trees which completely sheltered us from the wind, bliss! It was the wind that was making us cold, here we were quite warm. So we sat on big stones and ate our lunch.
As we were finishing our repast, it started to rain hard. That was the pattern of the day — prolonged heavy showers interspersed by bright periods. I put my camera away and we both donned overtrousers. I didn’t take that many photos after that because I had to stop, heave my rucksack off my back, get my camera out of its waterproof bag and then be very careful not to let the rain get on it every time I wanted to take a picture! I daren’t leave it out as the rain would start again very suddenly. We were both mighty glad of our new kags — the water just rolled off and there was absolutely no condensation, so we were quite comfortable.
We got down to the bottom of the hill near the river, but we still had to walk for over a mile in the wrong direction before we came to the first bridge. We passed some majestic-looking trees which looked as if they had been there a long time. We wondered if it was some kind of avenue planted several centuries ago. Some of the trees were missing, just a stump left. One of these was covered in toadstools.
The first bridge marked on the map is a footbridge, but we couldn’t use it because it is enclosed in a private garden behind high fences. So we had to walk further upstream to where the lane crossed the river on an old stone bridge which is quite beautiful. This added an extra half-mile to our hike. We sat on a stone near the bridge and ate our chocolate as it had stopped raining momentarily.
Soon we were out on the main road, and walked back the way we had just come except we were now on the other side of the river. This main road bit proved to be a lot longer than we had anticipated. There was little traffic, but what there was came fast — much too fast. Fortunately there was a greensward we could walk on which wasn’t too lumpy, so we didn’t have to walk on the actual road much.
Most of the traffic seemed to be speciality cars. No less than three Lotuses came towards us and sped past while we were tramping that stretch of road. Lots of Classic cars came from behind and sped ahead of us. All going fast, and many quite noisily. The wind got up and it rained really hard, it was most unpleasant especially when we got away from the shelter of the trees. We were so glad of our new wet-weather gear which was fantastic — really kept us dry!
We reached the Dundonnell Hotel, and there were the Lotuses and Classic cars lined up in the car park. Colin spoke to one of the drivers who told him they were part of a weekend rally based there. While he was talking another car came in and conked out! Several of them pushed it into a parking space — I think they wanted to get out of the rain quickly and into the bar!
The petrol station at Dundonnell was closed, but their toilet was open which was a relief! Our car was parked about a hundred yards up the road.
That ended Walk no.231, we shall pick up Walk no.232 at the layby just beyond the Dundonnell Hotel. It was twenty to five, so the Walk had taken five hours ten minutes. We had our tea and biscuits before we drove up almost to Altnaharrie to fetch the hire-car. From there we each drove a car back to our caravan in Ardmair.

No comments: