Thursday, April 08, 2010

Walk 234 -- Poolewe to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Ages: Colin was 67 years and 335 days. Rosemary was 65 years and 112 days.
Weather: A little rain at first, but soon brightening. A cool wind, but we were mostly protected from it by the hills.
Location: Poolewe to Rua Reidh Lighthouse.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 2162 miles.
Terrain: Road-walking for the first few miles. Then a rough path which kept disappearing. It was very swampy in places, and we had a number of streams to ford. The last two miles were very steep, following sheep tracks on the top of cliffs. It was very difficult at the end of the Walk when we were tired.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.225, Lochboor Burn. No.226, Allt na Leth-chreige. (And lots of streams!)
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 Gairloch. This morning we packed minimalist overnight stuff in our rucksacks, and caught the weekly bus from the bus shelter just outside the caravan site to Poolewe – we were the only passengers. We alighted at the exact spot where we ended yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we came to Rua Reide Lighthouse which is an Outdoor Centre – cum – Hostel – cum – B&B. We had previously booked an en-suite room with dinner and breakfast.

My leg was a little tender at the beginning of the day, but by the end it was completely back to normal. So we didn’t worry about it any more. I still used my trekking sticks because I knew this Walk would get more and more tricky as we went along.
We began the Walk along a quiet road as far as a hamlet called Midtown. It was raining when we started from the gate by the gardens we had walked across yesterday at the end of the last Walk.
There were several information boards about the importance of Loch Ewe for shipping during the Second World War — it is such a huge natural harbour, and housed so many ships it had to be heavily defended. We were told about gun emplacements near Cove, the corner of the peninsula we shall miss out. There was an unusual double stone bridge across the first of many streams we had to cross today.

We were amused about a notice advertising “Waterside self-catering accommodation” because it was sited in front of a derelict roofless building! (The building they were talking about was actually behind us, but it didn’t look like that from the way we approached it.) I think we’ll stick to our caravan.
We could see along the length of Loch Ewe, and also across it to where we walked yesterday. We passed the ‘back’ of Inverewe Gardens, but all we could see were trees. It didn’t look anything special from this side, but we know it is very nice in there because we visited it on a previous holiday — when we were still walking round the Isle of Sheppey, I think. My, that seems a long time ago! We’ve been doing this coastal walking forever, haven’t we?
We came to a seat near a waterfall which was behind a bush. It had just about stopped raining by then, so we sat down and ate our pies. We didn’t stay long because the wind was still cold.
We continued northwards along the road which took us up quite high affording us magnificent views in all directions. Ahead and to our right was the shimmering loch.
Behind were inland brooding mountains which we won’t have to climb!
To our left were rocky outcrops.
Then ahead we could see the hamlet of Midtown in the distance.

We passed a little dam and a weir that could be closed off if need be. This area is so remote, the locals rely on these burns for their water supply and so need to be able to control the flow.
We came into Midtown where a meandering river led us into the village. This is where we had to turn off the road which leads all the way to Cove at the entrance to Loch Ewe. It is a dead end, and there is no way to walk across the end of the peninsula from Cove to Rua Reidh (which can be spelt fourteen different ways!)
Our route led at a diagonal across the peninsula, and Midtown was our last bit of civilisation for the next eight miles. A footpath was clearly marked on the map, except for the last mile or so, and I had previously rung the ladies who run the accommodation at Rua Reidh to ask if it actually exists. They replied that it did — sort-of! It is quite swampy, can disappear at times, and there are numerous streams to cross which should be okay if they are not in full spate. It should be possible for experienced hikers to get through without difficulty. We only hoped they were right, but there has been a lot of rain in these parts lately!

We came to a weird post box with a dial in its front. We were standing there trying to puzzle out what it meant when a lady came along to post a letter. She said she didn’t understand it either, she just knew there was one collection a day from the box. She lived further up the road, so we walked with her and chatted. She said it was “a long way” to the lighthouse. She told us she had done it once some time ago, but never again. All she can remember was putting her foot in a swamp and getting it wet!
We turned off the coast road by a chapel and walked up a lane towards a farm. At the very last house we stopped and chatted to the owner who was in his garden. He told us there was a bothy near the cliff top if we didn’t get as far as the lighthouse tonight, but it would not be as comfortable — he said that as if he didn’t expect us to make it! We carried on through the farm, then we were out on the moors.
The path we were following was not clear at all, but we did our best to follow what we thought was the way. We lost it completely a couple of times, but we soon found it again. We made good use of the compass, and knew the path stayed more or less on the flat following the line of hills to our left.
The views were stupendous, and the sun came out which cheered us up no end. However, the wind remained cold which didn’t encourage us to hang about.

We found a grassy mound which was dry enough to sit on and have our lunch. But it had to be on a bit of a knoll because everywhere was so swampy, and we didn’t succeed in getting out of the wind. We ate quickly, admiring the magnificent views across Loch Ewe.
We soon carried on, crossing a number of streams using stepping stones. They were all quite narrow and shallow, none of them were difficult. It was very boggy in places, now that was more problematic. We ‘escaped’ with great sucking sounds as we lifted our feet up, it was quite fun! Neither of us got water in our boots, though we had a few near-misses.
We were fascinated to find tadpoles swimming about in several of the puddles. Then we came across some frogspawn which was green because it was covered in algae.

As we walked further north we got closer to the line of hills, and found that they sheltered us from the wind. The Walk was getting more and more pleasant. We passed small lochans to the left and to the right. Sometimes we walked through little woods which were quite pretty. Every time we thought we had lost the path, there it was again a bit further on. We didn’t panic!
In one little wood we passed through, Colin noticed a big bird’s nest high in a tree — and I mean big! He was convinced it was a sea eagle’s nest, but look as we might we couldn’t see any activity in or around it — probably because the birds were keeping away while we were there. So we moved on so as not to be a disturbance for too long. We learnt later, when we mentioned it to the ladies at the lighthouse, that it was indeed a sea eagle’s nest and is well documented. The conservation people wanted to put a webcam in it, but they didn’t because the local people objected — said leave them be.
We found ourselves on the ‘beach’ of quite a large lochan. That was okay because we knew where we were by looking at the map.
But from there we had our greatest difficulty in finding the path again. We scouted around for ages, and eventually Colin called out, “I think this is it!” He was right, we were quite relieved! As the way rose higher it became more and more obvious, and we didn’t lose it again.

We came to a fence, and there were grazing sheep behind it. We were puzzled as to how they got there, for there is no road or track within miles of where we were. Only the path we had been following, and we couldn’t see how sheep had been herded along there. We were rising all the time, and could see the sea at the end of the peninsula. We knew we were not all that far from our destination, or so we kidded ourselves. It seemed to take an awful long time to get there.
The path became more of a track, but we were puzzled now as to how any vehicle could possibly get there — unless it had dropped from the sky!

Suddenly we came across the bothy. We had hardly noticed it until we were almost on top of the shack as it is tucked into the side of the hill. It is made of local stone, so it blended in. We had to have a look inside (it was unoccupied). It is very basic but would provide an excellent shelter if the weather turned nasty. We noted a row of empty whisky bottles along the mantelpiece!
It was already half past five, and Colin began to get anxious about his dinner which was due to be served in the lighthouse at seven o’clock. We had a mile and a quarter to go — admittedly there was no path from now on and a lot of close contours on the map — surely we have enough time? He wanted to rush off without even looking over the cliffs at the beach of Camas Mòr which was only about fifty yards further on. I pointed out that we had never been here before and never likely to come again, and I insisted on walking up to a stone we could see with a plaque on it.
It turned out to be a memorial to an ex-Grand Prix driver and his son —
then he was interested when he found that out. The inscription reads: Robert MacGregor Innes Ireland, Scotland’s first Grand Prix winner, One of life’s rich characters, 12.6.1930 – 23.10.1993, Also his son Jamie, 3.12.1971 – 9.8.1992. So his son had only been eighteen when he died, that’s sad. Come to think of it, even Robert was younger than both of us!
Our instructions from the ladies at the lighthouse were not to go down on to the beach — but we had realised that through looking at the map. We should keep as near to the clifftops as we dared whilst making our way westwards towards the lighthouse. We had a very steep climb at first, almost hands and knees, then we had to get across a gully. I was very glad of my sticks! We were following sheep tracks some of the time, and nothing at all the rest of the time. At least it wasn’t swampy anymore.
Colin’s boot began to rub, the first time he has ever complained about that. He sat down and removed it at one point, but he couldn’t find anything inside it. It was the back of his heel which was getting tender. I said it sounded like a blister beginning to form, but he wouldn’t have it. He put his boot on again and we carried on.

Every time we topped a ridge there was another one ahead. We’d descend the gully in between, then climb up hoping to see the lighthouse as we got to the top — but all we saw was more ridges.

It seemed to go on forever, it was getting late and Colin was despairing about his dinner! We were beginning to lose the light, and we thought we wouldn’t want to get stuck out on these clifftops in the dark. Where
was the lighthouse? Had someone spirited it away?
Then we saw the top of it! It was already seven o’clock — dinner time! We descended to the lighthouse road — it had been a tough end to the Walk when we were so tired. But we had done it! The ‘sliding’ rocks by the side of the road were quite spectacular, but we decided to look at them properly in the morning. We washed our boots and sticks in a stream before entering the lighthouse accommodation building.
That ended Walk no.234, we shall pick up Walk no.235 next time at Rua Reidh Lighthouse. It was ten past seven, so the Walk had taken nine hours and forty minutes. What a welcome we received! (Even though we were ten minutes late for dinner.) I was helped off with my boots despite the fact they were already serving up the meal to other guests — none of whom had walked there like we had! We were served a wonderful home-cooked dinner, and then I soaked in a nice warm bath. The only thing was that the water was pooh-brown — but that was the peat in it, not the dirt from my body!! In fact this water is quite potable, and was in the water jugs on the table at dinner. It tasted good, we just had to drink it with our eyes shut, that’s all! Our hostesses were friendly and helpful. They were very interested in our Trek, how we had fared on the path across the swamps from Poolewe, and had plenty of advice and information about our future Walks past the Torridon Mountains. We soon went to bed in our comfortable en-suite room.

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