Thursday, May 13, 2010

Walk 245 -- Tornapress to Strome Ferry

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 5 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 147 days.
Weather:  Very windy and cold at the start, but it did die down later.  Dull with occasional showers.
Location:  Tornapress to Strome Ferry.
Distance:  10½ miles.
Total distance:  2264 miles.
Terrain:  Roads and forestry tracks.  No path for one mile in the middle, which took us 3 hours to walk!  Up a steep rockface, across open ground which was boggy in places, and through trees occasionally.  We thought we saw a ‘path’ sometimes but we kept losing it.  We came down through a mossy wood, and it got steeper and steeper.  We eventually reached the ‘beach’, but it was all rocks because the tide was right in.  It was a nightmare!
Tide:  Coming in, unfortunately.
Rivers:  No.249, Allt ant-Stratha Fhuair.  No.250, Abhainn Cumhang à Ghlinne.  No. 251, Reraig Burn.  + a few streams.
Ferries:  No.17, Strome Ferry.  (It closed in 1970, but we counted it because it seemed ridiculous to walk sixteen miles round the loch for the sake of a third of a mile of water, which used to be a ferry anyway!)
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  Nos.213 just out of Achintraid.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None, because we ploughed on through rough country despite there being no path.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan at Reraig.  We had hired a second car locally which we left in Lochcarron last night.  This morning we drove to Lochcarron, then took both cars on to North Strome where we parked our own car near the castle.  Then we drove the hire car to Tornapress and parked it next to the river where we finished yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we came to our car parked near Strome Castle.  It was very late and we were extremely tired.  Neither of us felt very well.  Towards the end of the Walk Colin had gone on, and he handed me a cup of tea as I passed the car!  With tea in hand, we strolled the few yards down to the ferry slipway.  As for the non-existent ferry itself, we pretended.  After consuming caramel shortcake and another cup of tea, we drove to Tornapress to pick up the hire car.  Then we drove both cars back to our caravan in Reraig.

What a difference in the weather today!  Yesterday’s blue skies were exchanged for black clouds and occasional showers.  The wind was icy, even at low levels.  How glad we were that we weren’t crossing the mountain pass today!  We were so late back to the caravan yesterday, we didn’t get up particularly early this morning.  We had a problem with the caravan — the battery wouldn’t charge even though we had electric hookup, and it was running down.  That meant that a lot of things which make our caravan life comfortable wouldn’t work properly, like the pump to bring water to the taps and most of the lights.  Colin had a nasty cold and was feeling very miserable.  It was wet, windy and cold when we got up, I didn’t make the sandwiches last night as I was too tired — all in all we didn’t want to walk today and we both wished we were at home!
But we did go, because it had cost a bomb to hire the second car so we felt we had to make full use of it in as short a time as possible to justify the expense.  It was mid-morning before we left the caravan site and lunchtime before we had moved both cars to the right places so we could start the Walk.  It was bitterly cold by the river where we finished yesterday’s Walk, and the last thing either of us wanted to do was get out of that car and start walking!
We ate our pies in the car, then bravely got out to start the Walk.  It was most unpleasant.  We got to the end of the road and my nose began to bleed.  I often have nose bleeds, I have had them all my life, but this was a particularly severe one.  It was raining quite hard at the time, so I sheltered under some trees — but the nose bleed took ages to stop.  Colin just stood nearby feeling extremely grumpy because of his cold.  I was thinking — “what are we doing?  This is supposed to be fun!”
Then the weather calmed, my nose stopped bleeding, and Colin admitted he felt better out in the fresh air because he was not as stuffed up as he would have been indoors.   
We carried on.  We left behind the notice telling us the road to Applecross via Bealach na Ba was not advised for learner drivers, very large vehicles or caravans, and continued southwards along the road.  We were pleased we weren’t climbing up into the mountains today, the pass was covered with a thick grey cloud and looked awful.
We passed a curious dilapidated stone gateway that had obviously known better times.  I asked Colin to take my photo standing by it, and he nearly bit my head off because he didn’t want to remove his gloves — that’s how grumpy he was!  So I told him to s** off — and he did!  Oh dear!  Perhaps we shouldn’t have been out walking today, neither of us felt very well and we were just taking it out on each other.
I took the photo myself without anyone in it, then had to put my camera away in my rucksack as it started raining again.  I had to fish it out every time I wanted to take another picture, then put it away because I couldn’t risk it getting wet — it was a bit of a nuisance.  By the time I caught up with Colin he was a lot calmer.
After the hamlet of Kishorn, we turned off to walk a minor road through Ardarroch and Achintraid.  We passed a notice pinned to a post inviting all the village residents to someone’s 80th birthday party — obviously a close community and reading it gave us a nice feeling about the place.  We walked across a field called ‘The Dell’ which took us to the river.  There were stepping stones across, but we daren’t risk slipping on them so we walked up to the road bridge which was only a few yards upstream.
After we had left the village, we continued following the tarmacked road down towards the jetty without really thinking.  I realised almost straight away that we should have taken one of the tracks which led off earlier, and we didn’t have to retrace our steps far.  But Colin couldn’t help making sarcastic comments such as, “You’re supposed to be the navigator!” etc.  So I gave him the map with the words, “You do it then, if you’re so clever!”  Oh dear!  We were still at each other’s throats!  We really should have had a day’s rest, neither of us felt very well.
We entered Forestry Commission land, and followed a good forest track.  On the map it seemed this track followed the coast round for a couple of miles gradually rising up — then it came to a complete stop.  Just over a mile further on it started again and led down to Ardaneaskan.  We had no idea whether we could get across the rough country in between, but we were hoping we could.  Surely the two tracks would link up?
An old man loped towards us, heavily relying on his walking stick.  He seemed a bit confused, and we were quite concerned that he was out in the forest on his own and didn’t seem to know where he was.  We asked him if he was OK and he replied, “Could you tell my friends I’m walking slowly back to the car?”  He shuffled off towards the gate we had recently come through.  We must have walked about half a mile before we met his ‘friends’ — a middle-aged couple with a dog.  We were quite relieved when they admitted that the old man did belong to them.  They said they were local, so we asked them if we could get through to Ardaneaskan on this track.  The woman said she “thought so” but they both seemed a bit vague.  (It never ceases to amaze me just how little some people know about the area in which they live.)
We came across some tree stumps, so we sat on one each to eat our sandwiches.  We were sheltered from the wind in amongst the trees, and we kept getting glances of the view between them.  Further on we met another couple who were tourists like us.  We asked them if they knew whether we could get through to Ardaneaskan.  They referred to their home-made map, apparently drawn by the owner of the B&B where they were staying, and declared that the track was a dead end — though they did admit that they hadn’t actually walked to its end to see.  They were the last people we met on the whole of the Walk.
The track wound round, gradually going uphill.  It was a good track, wide and clear of undergrowth.  Surely it wouldn’t just stop?  It did!  We came to a big clearing — the grass had even been roughly mown in the not too distant past — and there was absolutely no way on!
We slumped on to the grass and opened up the map.  It really looked as if we would have to retrace our steps for several miles, then take a footpath over the mountain to get to Ardaneaskan.  But the couple we had met with the home-made map had been told that footpath was ‘closed’ (for reasons unknown) and their map had a big red cross drawn on it.  The next alternative was to return to Ardarroch and walk the whole way on the main road — not an option we wanted to consider.
We do not easily give in.  If only we could get above the trees, surely we could walk along the line of the contour until we were above Reraig cottage, then descend to the track there?  It was only about a mile away as the crow flies.  We looked at the trees — there was a cliff behind them!  Colin said, “I think people before us have pushed through these trees at the end and found a way up the cliff zigzag fashion.  I’m going to investigate!”
So he disappeared into the trees, and I sat playing with a caterpillar which had appeared next to me.  I kept repeating to myself, “I’m not going back!  I’m not going back!”
About ten minutes later Colin called to me.  “There is a cleft in the cliff and it’s not difficult to climb!  I’m sure people have done it before me, and there is a semblance of a path up here the way we want to go!  I’ll come down and help you up!”  (A complete change of attitude to his earlier grumpiness, I was relieved to note.)
So he did, and it was a lot easier than I had thought it would be because, as well as Colin’s helping hand, I had trees and bushes to grab hold of to haul myself up.  As we came out above the trees, we looked back and could see the forestry track far below.
We followed a ghost of a path over moorland and through woods.  We kept losing the ‘path’, finding it, then losing it again.  We weren’t at all sure whether it was really a path or that we were just imagining it.  Progress was slow because the way was uneven and occasionally boggy.
We had borrowed Paul’s GPS gizmo, but he had only given me a very short ‘lesson’ on how to use it and my short-term memory is rubbish these days.  (I’m much more at home with a map and a compass.)  We had been going a long time, so surely we must nearly be there? — above the end of the other track with which we were trying to join up.  I took a reading, and was dismayed to discover we were only half way.  What’s more, we were much higher up the hill than we wanted to be.
We didn’t want to go south at this point, it was too soon, but there were hills in the way to the east and we didn’t want to go any higher.  We carried on for a bit, losing the ‘path’ and finding what we thought was it continuously.  I looked up from the ground, and realised we could see the sea and a house beyond!  What’s more, a grassy glade seemed to lead down a valley towards it.  We thought we were home and dry!
But we weren’t!
With a lighter step we made our way down this grassy glade — it was further than we thought and the house and sea disappeared from view.  A stripy stone caught my eye, and Colin found a warty toad.  We entered a mossy wood which was absolutely beautiful.
Moss draped everything, and little brooks babbled beneath our feet.  Several times we thought we were on a ‘path’ walked by people before us, but we were kidding ourselves as they always disappeared almost as soon as we found them.

The slope downwards got steeper — I was glad I had my walking poles.  We looked on it as a challenge at first, but then got increasingly alarmed as it became more vertical than horizontal.  We only coped because of the trees we could hang on to.  We progressed extremely slowly.
At last we reached sea level  only to find we were far short of our intended destination, Reraig Cottage, and that the ‘beach’ was rocky.  If the tide had been out we would have been okay, but it was right in unfortunately.  We couldn’t wait for it to go out because it would have been dark by then.
The only way on was to rock-scramble along the ‘beach’ until we came to a footbridge with a track the other side.  I began to panic — I didn’t think I could cope.  I was terrified that the rocks would be slippery.  With my lack of 3D vision I do not see things in the exact place that they are, and I find it difficult to assess depth.  It was a nightmare!
Colin was brilliant at helping and encouraging me.  The potential for breaking a limb was very high, and I was really frightened.  I used my poles to find out how far my next ‘step’ was away, then I had to keep passing them to Colin when I needed my hands to haul me over rocks.  It took a long and anxious time, but we did it!  It was with a great sigh of relief that we eventually reached the footbridge and crossed over to the track.
That one mile from the forest clearing to the footbridge had taken us THREE HOURS!  Almost immediately Colin reverted to his previous grumpy self, laying the blame at my door “because you’re the navigator”.  According to him it was all my fault that it had gone so terribly wrong — I think it was his way of letting off steam after a very anxious time.  But I was still in a state of shock and felt like screaming!  I couldn’t let him carry on the blame-game, so I shouted nonsense loudly every time he opened his mouth to make it obvious that I would not listen to him.
Eventually he got the message, and shut up!  We sat on a wall and ate our bars of chocolate in disgruntled silence — we both felt better then.
We still had three miles to go, first of all on a track and then on a tarmacked lane.  I had thought, “At least it will be flat!” but it wasn’t — I was wrong again.  Towards the end we had to climb a b****y great hill!  Well, the rain had long-since stopped, and the scenery was good — lovely views across and along Loch Carron.  We also passed the occasional house, so we began to feel we were back in civilisation.
With only about half a mile to go, Colin walked on (by mutual agreement) to make the tea from the flask in the back of the car.  So when I arrived at the car he handed me a very welcome cup of tea!  He was a lot calmer by then, and so was I.  We walked the hundred yards or so down to the ferry slipway with cups of tea in hand.
We passed the remains of Strome Castle, and read the sad tale of how it was besieged in 1602.  The MacDonalds were inside and the Mackenzies were outside.  Some ‘silly women’ from the MacDonald clan left the castle under cover of darkness to draw water from the well.  But they were frightened and couldn’t see what they were doing anyway, and they mistakenly poured this water into the gunpowder vat instead of the water barrel.  The MacDonald men ‘cursed them loudly’, and this was overheard by a Mackenzie prisoner who subsequently escaped and told the rest of his clan what had happened.  So the MacDonalds surrendered, and the Mackenzies blew up the castle.  It has remained in ruins ever since, and there is not much of it left 400 years later.  War is always so pointless, isn’t it?  It’s usually about one man’s ego, and it’s always the ordinary people that suffer, not the politicians.
The ferry at Strome closed in 1970 when the 16 mile road around the loch was completed.  Both of the ferry boats now lie wrecked somewhere on the shores of Loch Carron.  A temporary ferry operated during October 2008 because loose rocks made local roads unsafe.  We were not prepared to walk 16 miles for the sake of crossing a third of a mile of water, so we put in place Additional Rule No.13, and pretended to cross on the ferry to Strome.

That ended Walk no.245, we shall pick up Walk no.246 next time by Strome Ferry Station on the South side of Loch Carron..  It was twenty-five past nine, so the Walk had taken nine hours!!  It was very late and we were extremely tired.  Neither of us felt very well.  We strolled back to the car, and after consuming caramel shortcake and another cup of tea we drove to Tornapress to pick up the hire car.  Then we drove both cars back to our caravan in Reraig.
We had both been seriously frightened by our experiences today.  We realised that we must concede to age to a certain degree, and not put ourselves in such a precarious position again despite our determination to complete this Trek one day and get back to Bognor Regis.  So we put in place a new rule:  While we are still in Scotland, where the footpath infrastructure is primitive and unmapped for the most part, we will only walk along way-marked footpaths, tracks or tarmacked roads in the interests of safety.  No more vague footpaths nor walking across rough country.

It has taken more than two years for me to get around to writing up this Walk for the journal and blog — I am seriously behind.  In December 2011 there was a big landslip on the road which leads around Loch Carron, which meant an 140 mile detour for the people of the village of Lochcarron to get to Plockton on the other side.  Most importantly, the children who live in the Lochcarron area go to school in Plockton.
So the ferry had to be reinstated.  But the old ferry boats were derelict and past hope.  A ferry boat was borrowed from the Gleneig to Skye route, but that could only take a maximum of six cars at a time.  Even that came to grief in March 2012 when the engine cut out and it grounded on rocks near the northern slipway.  The railway still ran freely past the landslip, so rubber mats were laid down later that month to allow cars to drive along the railway line!  The trains still run at infrequent intervals, so a timetable was introduced as to when the railway was open to cars and when it was closed.
We felt completely justified with our decision not to walk the sixteen miles round the loch, but to pretend we had taken the ferry!

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