Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Walk 233 -- Little Gruinard beach to Poolewe

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 334 days. Rosemary was 65 years and 111 days.
Weather: A lot of sun. There was a cool wind, but it remained dry.
Location: Little Gruinard Beach to Poolewe.
Distance: 13½ miles.
Total distance: 2149½ miles.
Terrain: All road walking.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.220, Inverianvie River. No.221, Little Gruinard River. No.222, Allt Bad an Ling. No.224, River Ewe.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.199 & 200 at Little Gruinard Beach. Nos. 201 & 202 in Poolewe.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We towed our caravan to Gairloch, all the way from Malvern taking two full days to do so. We set up last night on a caravan site in the village. This morning we drove to Poolewe where we parked the car near a bus stop. Then we caught the bus, which only runs four times a week, to Little Gruinard Beach.
At the end, we ended the Walk at our car. We had our caramel shortbread, but saved the tea until we got back to the caravan as it wasn’t far.

At the beginning of this Walk we could have marched a few yards along Little Gruinard Beach before reaching the first of two rivers. Colin did so, but I didn’t because of my leg. Until this morning there was nothing whatever the matter with either of my legs. But as I came out of the caravan this morning to walk over to the shower block, my left leg suddenly gave way! It was extremely painful, and I couldn’t walk on it at all. Naturally we were both very worried and upset. We just couldn’t understand what had happened. Perhaps I had laid on it wrong in my bed last night, but my caravan bunk is quite comfortable and I slept well. I had been sitting in the car for two days as Colin drove the 600 miles to get up here, but we had frequent stops when I always got out and walked up and down for a stretch.
I massaged the leg and rubbed ‘Powergel’ into the muscles. I took painkillers and tried walking up and down. But it just kept giving way sending painful shocks up and down the sciatic nerve. I was determined to do the Walk. We hadn’t driven all the way up here for nothing, and our accommodation at the lighthouse (in a couple of days) was already booked so it was essential to keep to our schedule. So I picked up my trekking sticks and we drove to Poolewe to catch the bus as planned.
I used the trekking sticks as crutches at first and walking was quite painful. That is why I didn’t go down on to the beach, it was too uneven and getting down the wooden steps would have been difficult. I knew today’s Walk was entirely on roads, and I thought I could cope with that kind of surface. As the day progressed, and I had stretched the muscles and got the blood flowing, the pain eased and I ended the day with just a dull ache. I didn’t have to take any more painkillers after this morning. There was little traffic on the road but it did increase a bit this afternoon.
Two rivers exit on to Little Gruinard Beach, and we crossed both of them on the road bridges. We noticed that the trees up here are still bare of any foliage, whereas at home, six hundred miles further south, everything is beginning to look quite green. But the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t really all that cold, so we didn’t really mind.
On some of the conifer trees we saw what looked like pink flowers appearing — though conifers don’t have flowers — but whatever they were, they were very pretty. (I don’t know much about botany, I expect you can guess!)
Through gaps in the trees we could see the mountains we had bypassed on previous Walks. This is wild country up here! We saw some red deer, but we didn’t manage to photograph them because they were a long way away and were well camouflaged. They wouldn’t have made a good picture.
We had been concerned about the weather in Scotland before we came up, wondering if we may have to cancel the trip. Only a week ago this part of Scotland was labouring under ice, snow and gale force winds! But fortunately things have calmed down and warmed up a bit over the past few days. We were reminded of this by the salt/grit piles at frequent intervals by the side of the road. I expect they needed to make constant use of them during the winter season.
The rocks are very interesting in this part of the British Isles. Observing some of them from a distance, they actually look like the flowing lava they once were — beautiful! Glancing back we could still see Gruinard Island, and shuddered at its grisly past.
Colin doesn’t like walking on roads, so he took a different path whenever he had the chance.
I stuck to the tarmac, though the pain in my leg was already easing. The trekking sticks were a great help, I relied on them heavily today.

We were puzzled when we passed a place-name sign reading “Second Coast”.
What an odd name? And there wasn’t even a hamlet there, we hadn’t passed any buildings since we had started the Walk. Where was First Coast anyhow?
That question was soon answered about a quarter of a mile down the road when we came to the “First Coast” sign which was equally without any hint of habitation around it.

The only thing we did notice about the area between the two signs was a patch of pink polyanthus on a bank — not wild primroses, you understand, but garden flowers.
Now somebody had planted those, but that’s not a village warranting a place-name.

And then we saw the seals! That did cheer me up and helped me forget about how difficult I was finding the walking today. The seals were basking on rocks below us.
Their problem was that the tide was coming in and covering the rocks where they had made themselves so comfortable. They seemed very reluctant to give in, perhaps they knew that the tide was almost at its highest and were hoping it wouldn’t quite swamp them if they sat tight.
We came to a wooden post which told us there was a cave down below — this cave was also marked on the map. But I was in no fit state to clamber down over rocks, and Colin couldn’t be bothered. (He had been counting caterpillars since we left Little Gruinard Beach, that was the extent of his boredom.) However, on the ‘cave’ post he noticed the most gorgeous golden beetle. Neither of us have ever seen one like it before, we thought it must be the ‘golden eagle’ of beetles!
As we neared the hamlet of Laide we met our first human being since leaving the bus, so we stopped for a chat. He was local, an old man of 85, and he had a lovely dog with him. He was very friendly, and told us chattily all about his ‘rescue’ dog. When we left him we crossed a little bridge to where there was an electric meter, and sat on a rock to eat our pasties. Then we went to the village shop — and discovered it had a bench outside where we would have been much more comfortable! We bought some sweets which had the immediate effect of raising my blood sugar level. I began to feel a lot better, and much more that I could cope with the Walk. We also went to the butcher’s shop where we bought some pies for tomorrow, and some meat which we carried in our rucksacks until we got back to the caravan.
We followed the main road straight towards Aultbea, cutting off the next peninsula because there is no path round it.
About a mile out of Laide we passed an open gateway. A notice told us it was Laide Wood, a community project, and we were invited to visit and say what we thought about it. So we looked inside, and found what looked more like a wasteland than a wood. We assumed this was part of an initiative to clear Scotland of non-native conifer plantations which had been planted for their timber, and replace them with a mixture of native broadleaves, Scots pine and juniper in the interests of biodiversity. But there was nothing to explain that in Laide Wood, and we couldn’t make out whether they were going to plant the native trees once all the ground was cleared or let them self-seed.
Another mile further on we came to a viewpoint. It was slightly off-road, and even I struggled up the short path on my ‘crutches’ to look at the view. That was magnificent, but despite a fancy stone plinth the map which was supposed to explain to us what we were looking at was missing.
We found some frogspawn in a roadside ditch and felt it was a sign of early Spring.
As we trudged on we both began thinking the same thing — that we hoped there would be some public loos in Aultbea. I was confident because ‘PC’ was clearly marked on the map. The road on which we were walking was very open, the occasional vehicle was too frequent to be ‘safe’, and the surrounding countryside was fenced in making it difficult to hide behind a rock.
Colin saw something ahead, and became convinced it was a pair of “portaloos”, probably because he wanted it to be so. The more I pooh-poohed his fantasy the more he became convinced that it was two black “portaloos” — until we got near enough to see that it was, in fact, two large black drums, containing we knew not what, sitting on palettes behind a fence! We both laughed then, and I teased him about his “portaloos” for a long time afterwards.
On reaching Aultbea we turned into the village because we could walk round a triangle of roads nearer the sea. A car parked outside one of the houses had the inscription “Powered by fairy dust” emblazoned across its boot! (This is probably a reflection of the fact that petrol prices are rising daily at the moment, and on top of that there has been a hike in the tax on fuels.)
We got to the public loos, only to find them locked! A notice apologised for the inconvenience (I’ll say!) but the pipes burst during the recent icy weather so they were temporarily out of order. “We’ll just have to go to the pub!” said I, making for the hotel opposite. “I don’t want to go in there!” replied Colin, “they don’t sell real ale, only keg!” Well, I wanted a drink, the loo and a sit-down, so I strode in and ordered myself a glass of cider. “You can do what you like!” I’d thrown back at my grumpy husband, “but I’m going in here!” He meekly followed me and ordered a glass of ‘keg’! (Sssh! Don’t tell his CAMRA friends!)
We both felt a lot better after that, I was distinctly more comfortable and Colin was distinctly less disgruntled. Afterwards we sat on the beach at the bottom of the hotel steps, in glorious sunshine and out of the wind, to eat our lunch. We left Aultbea and returned to the main road past a chapel. The road took us uphill from where we had a glorious view across the loch and of the island in the middle.
We were now walking along the shores of Loch Ewe. This loch was of great strategic importance during the Second World War, for it is a natural deep-water sea loch that links to the Atlantic Ocean. So it was used as a naval base for refuelling ships. It was said that so many ships docked in Loch Ewe it was possible to walk from one side of the loch to the other without getting your feet wet! (Well, we’re planning on doing that over the next two days, but we’re going to walk round.)
During the War, military personnel outnumbered the local population by 3 to 1.
Altogether 481 merchant ships and over 100 naval escort vessels left Loch Ewe for Russia in a total of 19 Arctic convoys to provide vital supplies to Murmansk and Archangel. Many of them never came back, and there is a memorial to those who lost their lives at Cove — near the entrance to Loch Ewe. We remembered seeing this memorial on a previous holiday some years back, but unfortunately we shall miss it out on our next Walk on that side of the loch because Cove is at a dead end.
We passed the entrance to the oil refuelling depot, which looks as if it is still used although there were no ships in the loch. A notice told us bluntly to “keep out”! As we climbed higher we noticed that the oil tanks had been housed within an ancient fort — perhaps they thought the stoutly built walls would afford them extra protection.
Higher still, we had wonderful views of the Torridon range of mountains ahead of us. That is probably the most mountainous region through which we will have to walk on the whole Trek, and we are approaching it fast! The road took us down low again, and we came across another old fort. No “keep out” notices here, so Colin wandered across a muddy field to have a closer look. I stayed on the road because I didn’t want to upset my leg which had calmed down to a dull and bearable ache. He didn’t find any notices about its history, which was a bit disappointing.
We passed a stream in which there were some lovely bright yellow flowers which were not quite open. We were not sure what they were, but they looked good. A little further on we passed the gateway of a garden shop which advertised ‘coastal plants’ for sale. Since we were right by the coast, we couldn’t see the sense in paying for something we could collect ourselves for free! I suppose it’s the same mind-set as in Malvern where you can buy bottled ‘Malvern Water’ at more than £1 a bottle in a supermarket situated less than fifty yards from a spring where you can collect as much as you like for free!
It was taking longer than we had anticipated to walk from Aultbea to Poolewe. Perhaps it was because I was slow with my gammy leg, though that was almost back to normal by mid-afternoon. We passed a couple of small lochs. Then we found a rock in the roadside grass where we were sheltered from the wind by trees, so we sat on it to eat our chocolate.
Later we passed Inverewe Gardens, a National Trust property which houses a lot of interesting plants, some sub-tropical! It is a very protected area tucked into the corner of Loch Ewe, and the Gulf Stream helps to keep the ice and snow away. We have visited it on a previous holiday and found it interesting, but expensive to get in.
At last! We started to descend a hill, and there were the houses of Poolewe peeping at us from between the trees! We were at the end of the loch. We walked a little along the top of the beach, and then crossed the River Ewe which seemed to be in full spate emptying itself into the loch. There was a tiny garden on our right with kissing gates at either end. It was a little short cut to the bus stop where our car was parked. That seemed a fitting end to our first Walk this season!

That ended Walk no.233, we shall pick up Walk no.234 next time by the bus stop in Poolewe. It was six o’clock, so the Walk had taken nine hours — much longer than it should have, but then this morning we were wondering whether we would be able to do it at all. We had our caramel shortbread, but saved the tea until we got back to the caravan as it wasn’t far.

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