Sunday, September 20, 2009

Walk 232 -- Dundonnell to Little Gruinard Beach

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 135 days. Rosemary was 64 years and 277 days.
Weather: There was a cold wind. Sometimes it was sunny and sometimes it was grey. Occasional drizzle.
Location: Dundonnell to Little Gruinard Beach.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 2136 miles.
Terrain: We walked beside a main road all day, with occasional but fast traffic. There was a greensward most of the way. Undulating.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.218, Allt Airdeasaidh at Ardessie where there was a rather nice waterfall. No.219, Gruinard River at Gruinard.
Ferries: None.
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 Little Gruinard Beach where we parked our own car opposite the beach. Then we drove the hire-car back to the layby at Dundonnell where we ended the walk yesterday.
At the end, we ended the Walk at our own car. After tea and biscuits, we drove back to Dundonnell to pick up the hire-car. We drove both cars back to Ullapool where we returned the hire-car because our week was up. After visiting the Morefield Hotel, we drove back to our caravan at Ardmair.
The weather deteriorated during the night, and it turned extremely windy. The caravan was bouncing about so much it was frightening. So we decided enough was enough, and headed for home the next day. We made an overnight stop in Callander, near Stirling.

We had stunning views all the way on today’s Walk! This really is a lovely part of Scotland. But there was a cold wind, so we walked in full wind-proof gear, which really is our waterproof gear with thermals underneath.
Very early into the Walk we came to a stone shed and discovered we could get completely out of the wind if we crouched behind it. So we sat there and ate our slices of quiche (no pies today). We idly watched a flock of sheep on a mountain path the other side of the loch — they were all in a line, that’s what caught the eye. We wondered if they were on the path to Scoraig, but then realised we weren’t far enough along the loch. They weren’t on any real path at all but they seemed to be coping with the rough terrain OK. Probably a lot more easily than I would have coped with it!
The sky looked grim, so we put on our overtrousers before we left the shelter of the stone shed. Soon we had to take them off again because it got too hot to wear them. We wished the weather would make up its mind! But we weren’t really fussed because everywhere we looked it was all so magnificent. If it wasn’t for the fact we were walking along a main road, everything would have been perfect! But even then we had a greensward most of the way so we didn’t have to do much traffic-dodging, and it was soft underfoot.
Further along we passed a brewery, and Colin got very excited. He wanted to know all about it, but there were no notices announcing it was there — obviously a private concern. All we could see were beer casks tantalising behind the gorse bushes.
We passed a B&B, and discovered we could once more get out of the wind if we crouched by their side fence. So we sat there and ate our lunch.

Opposite, on the other side of the loch, we could see the road over the top from Altnaharrie, and the tiny settlement of Badrallach along the loch-shore. That is as far as the road goes on the northern shore of the loch.

We passed a waterfall which we hadn’t noticed when driving past earlier to set up the Walk. It was really very nice. People walk miles and/or pay good money to see falls as good as these, but no one seems to notice these ones. Cars shoot past, as we did, and fail to look from side to side. We appreciated them, anyway!
We passed a fish farm, probably salmon, and then came to a caravan site which said it was closed. However there were two vans parked up in there — I wonder if they had electric hookup!
At Badcaul we passed a lane which continued along the loch-shore to Badluarach. That is the hamlet opposite the isolated community of Scoraig, and from where the inhabitants of Scoraig board a boat to cross the loch and get home. Do they have the usual services over there — electricity, running water and a phone? How are these things connected when they are so cut off?
The road to Badluarach is a dead end, so we didn’t take it. Our road climbed the hill and short-cutted the headland. As we ascended we had wonderful views of the mountains all around, and also of Scoraig. I did wonder about the people who live over there, they must like isolation. I don’t like crowds or cities, but I couldn’t live cut off like that either.
We slowly climbed, and the wind got colder the higher we got. We started down the other side and could see the sea ahead. We could now see Gruinard Island which has a grisly history which (thank goodness!) we didn’t find out about until later. During the Second World War, experiments in biological warfare were carried out on Gruinard Island. The British wanted to know what the effects would be if they blew anthrax spores about amongst the enemy! (The fact that they even considered such a terrible deed makes me feel sick to the core! I’m ashamed to be British when I read about such things!) So they tethered some sheep to a post on Gruinard Island, and let off anthrax ‘bombs’ at measured distances from them. The sheep dutifully died — horribly! — and their contaminated bodies were later burned on the island to avoid the risk of spreading the disease further afield. It was concluded that anthrax could thoroughly pollute German cities, rendering them uninhabitable for decades. The only measure of common sense in this whole sordid affair, which was TOP SECRET, was that it was subsequently decided not to use this type of weapon on humans even if they were our enemy.
But it was realised that the soil on the island was now highly toxic. The island and the sea surrounding it was put strictly off-limits. Nothing was done for the next forty years during which time the War was long since over and nearly two new generations had grown up. It was 1981 before newspapers started talking about Gruinard Island and people began to call for its decontamination. As a protest, sealed packets of soil — reputed to have come from the island — were left in public places; but only the one left at Porton Down contained anthrax bacilli. In 1986, bowing to public pressure, the authorities officially began a decontamination process by spraying the island with formaldehyde diluted with seawater. This continued for four years, and a flock of sheep (yes, poor old sheep again!) were left to graze on the island to see if any of them died. In 1990, the island was declared officially “safe” though many professors doubt whether it will ever be so. As of October 2007, there have been no cases of anthrax among the island flock — but that is only two years!!
I wouldn’t walk there. The island is less than a mile offshore — that’s close enough for me!
I began to feel very tired, so much so I wondered if I would make it to the car. We still had a few miles to go. I put it down to the fact that we had been walking on four consecutive days, I didn’t know then that I had a medical condition which made me feel ‘sluggish’. We had been doing concentrated walking because we were paying for the hire-car by the day, and it seemed such a waste of money if we didn’t use it. When we get to more populated areas we can revert to using public transport again, or even have half a chance of traffic passing us if we need to hitch a lift. Colin made valiant efforts to boost my spirits, but I just wanted to lie down and sleep!
We got down to beach level, and there was a beautiful sandy beach — the first we have seen for ages! But it was behind a barbed wire fence and we couldn’t get to it — frustration! It was still very windy even down there, the wind was coming in from the sea. We found a gateway where we stopped, intending to eat our apples. But I couldn’t find my lunch bag in my rucksack, and realised I must have left it in the undergrowth when we stopped for lunch. That really was the final straw! I had no apple nor chocolate. Colin kindly shared his apple with me, but I felt very low.We carried on, walking through a wood and then through a magnificent gorge. If only I didn’t feel so tired! It was spectacular, as was the fast-flowing river with huge boulders in it.
We were in the Gruinard Estate and there were a lot of notices stuck to trees and fences. There was to be “no fishing”, though nailed to the same tree was a notice telling us there was parking for fishermen! There was to be “no camping”, and another notice told us “the enclosed area has been fenced with the assistance of a Forestry Commission grant for the purpose of allowing the natural regeneration of the many different seedlings in the area”. I wonder if that had anything to do with the miserable history of Gruinard Island, less than a mile away.
We stopped again in the wood and Colin shared his chocolate with me — isn’t he kind? After that I felt a lot better, it boosted my energy levels temporarily.
It kept raining, but we kept going.
We crossed the Gruinard River, passed some more amazing rocks, and eventually came out above a lovely sandy beach — Little Gruinard Beach. Our car was parked in the little car park opposite.
Despite my weariness, I just had to go down on to the sands and feel the grains between my fingers!
That ended Walk no.232, we shall pick up Walk no.233 in the little car park opposite Little Gruinard Beach. It was five o’clock, so the Walk had taken six hours. We had our tea and biscuits, then drove back to Dundonnell to pick up the hire-car. On the way we stopped at the spot where we’d had lunch. I scrabbled about in the undergrowth where I’d been sitting and found my lunch bag, apple and soggy bar of chocolate complete! We drove both cars back to Ullapool where we returned the hire-car because our week’s hire was up. After visiting the Morefield Hotel for a snifter, we returned to our caravan at Ardmair.
We had been planning to move on to Gairloch the next day and do a couple more Walks, but the weather deteriorated during the night and it turned extremely windy. The caravan was bouncing about so much it was frightening. So we decided enough was enough, and headed for home instead. We made an overnight stop in Callander, near Stirling, driving on to Malvern the day after.

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