Saturday, May 15, 2010

Walk 246 -- Strome Ferry to Kyle of Lochalsh

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 7 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 149 days.
Weather:  Sunny with occasional showers, some heavy.  A cold wind.
Location:  Strome Ferry to Kyle of Lochalsh.
Distance:  12 miles.
Total distance:  2276 miles.
Terrain:  A lot of roads.  A long walk through trees which was quite muddy in places.
Tide:  Out, coming in latterly.
Rivers:  No.252, Abhainn Strath Ascaig.  No.253, Allt à Muhuillin.  No.254, Allt Dhurinis.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  The Plockton Hotel where we had a pub lunch yesterday (and didn’t we deserve it!)  I drank Strongbow on draught.  Colin drank Isle of Skye ‘Young Pretender’ and Plockton ‘Starboard’.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  No.57 where we walked through the grounds of Duncraig Castle because the footbridge over the railway, marked on our new OS map, “went years ago” according to the young gardener we met.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan at Reraig, and we had hired a second car locally.  This morning we drove both cars to Kyle of Lochalsh, and left our own car in a car park there.  Then we drove the hire car, via our caravan site in Reraig, to Strome Ferry where we parked near the station.
At the end, we came to our car parked in Kyle of Lochalsh.  We ate some caramel shortcake, then drove the four miles to Reraig to make some ‘proper’ tea in our caravan.  Later we drove to Strome Ferry to pick up the hire car, and returned to the caravan.

Today we had a much happier Walk!  The weather was much improved and so was our mood.  Yesterday we had a complete rest, and also a very nice pub lunch in Plockton.  Colin still had his cold, but he was feeling a lot better.  I had calmed down after the trauma of coping with the difficult terrain on the last Walk.  Best of all, we had stopped blaming each other!  We decided to put it all behind us and carry on with the Trek.
We started at the ferry slipway next to the station.  It looked pretty deserted today — little did we guess that it would be busy again in less than two years due to a major landslip blocking the road from Lochcarron to Plockton.   
A single line runs through the station these days though obviously a double line ran through originally.  The further unused platform is now high in weeds.
We passed the Old Post Office and the Stationmaster’s House, both now private residences. Those were the days!  Far from employing a man whose sole job was to look after this one station — and to house him — you can’t even buy a ticket at Strome Ferry Station these days.  The place was completely deserted.
We walked up the zigzag road to the main road, but we only had to walk half a mile along it before we turned off at the next junction.  In the village of Achmore, where we passed a derelict bus shelter, we turned right on to a lane which led along the north side of a small river.  We were hoping we could cross the river on a footbridge which was marked on the map, but we couldn’t find said bridge.  We came to a ford, but it was too deep for us to wade across without taking our boots off, and we didn’t want to do that.  We scrutinised the map much more carefully and realised we should be the other side of the house which was in front of us.  The only way we could do this was to walk through their garden, and when we did we found the bridge.
A notice on each end of the bridge announced  THIS STRUCTURE IS UNSAFE.  It was a wooden bridge, but the wood was obviously rotten and there were several planks missing.  Now we have trekked in Bolivia where we had to cross wooden bridges in a worse state than this one, and they were often high up over raging torrents, not a tiny slow-flowing river like this.  So we didn’t do the sensible thing like going back to Achmore and crossing on the road bridge (that would have added at least two miles to our Walk).  We just nipped across the rotten bridge one at a time, and came to no harm.  You have to take some risks in life!
On the other side we got a bit lost.  First we took a wrong path and had to backtrack.  We followed a ‘ghost’ of a path, paddled across a shallow stream, passed through thousands of wild irises not yet in flower, skirted round huge gorse bushes which were in flower, and sat in a field to eat our pies. 
Finally we had to go through yet another private garden to get on to the road running along the south side of the river.  We concluded that the path, though clearly marked on the map, was not well used!
We followed the road for two miles — it was only a narrow lane with minimal traffic.  It ran through woods along the side of a hill, and we kept catching glimpses of the loch through the trees. 
We were looking to the other side of the loch and trying to work out where we had hiked on the last two Walks.  We could also see along the loch towards Plockton.
We turned off on to a woodland path which led us downhill towards the loch.  It was a very pleasant path though a bit boggy in places.  We were surrounded by beautiful tall trees, we began to feel quite small!  According to the map, we should have followed the path round the back of Duncraig Castle to a footbridge over the railway where we could get on to the beach.  But we ended up in front of the building.  
It is not a real castle, just a Victorian-style manor house that had seen better days.  It looked tatty, but was obviously occupied.  Attached to the main building was a two-storey block of 60s-style classrooms which were utterly derelict!  We guessed Duncraig Castle used to be a boarding school until recently but, like so many of these small private schools, had gone under.  Many of them couldn’t afford the computer technology needed to keep them in competition.
We tried to get round the back of the building, but there were only gardens, no paths leading off the way we thought we should be going.  There were chickens in an enclosure and a Porsch Carrera parked behind some wrought iron gates — we wondered what sort of an establishment it was. 
Then we came across a young man laying turfs in the garden.  We asked him about the footbridge across the railway, and he said it had “gone years ago”!  (That’s OS maps in Scotland for you!)  He suggested we followed the drive down, and we should come across a footpath which he thought led through to Plockton.  He also told us that the building was used for many years as a girls’ school specialising in Domestic Science.  Now the owners are looking for planning permission to demolish the derelict classrooms and remove the multiple fire escapes which are so ugly.  Then they will do up the main building and turn it into an upmarket B&B — though how their guests are supposed to escape if the building catches fire remains a mystery!
So we walked down the drive and found it led to a private station on the railway line — just for Duncraig Castle as no one else can access it.  Sure enough, a footpath led off and passed a lagoon.  There we came across a lovely seat, just right for the two of us to sit on and have our lunch.  While we were doing so, a train stopped at the station and the driver waved when he saw us.  No one got off or on.
The path led on through the woods, and it was soon joined by another path near an odd chimney and a swing in the trees.  Next we passed some derelict cottages, and we wondered what sort of industry went on there in yesteryear.  The path continued under the railway, then alongside it above the beach.  We had spectacular views of Plockton, a very pretty village on the lochside.  But we were going to bypass it today because it was a dead end.  We spent a lot of time there yesterday, having a pub lunch followed by an amble round the village.  It is a most beautiful place.
We met a young couple going the other way, the only people we saw on the whole of that pleasant path.  There were boardwalks round the end of the inlet which kept our boots free from mud.  Then we were led up on to the Plockton road.  There we found a seat with glorious views along the inlet to Plockton, so we sat on it for a while and ate our apples.
The rest of the Walk was on roads, which we found rather tedious at times.  We crossed over the railway by Plockton Station and saw hikers waiting for a train there.  At the hamlet of Diùrnis we crossed the river on a tall road bridge before turning right. 
There was a footbridge further down which was marked on the map, but we no longer trust maps!  We had reached that state of tiredness when we weren’t prepared to risk going for a footbridge which might not be there.  Further on, in the hamlet of Drumbuie, we sat on a rock and ate our chocolate.
The road then led us high over the moors for about a mile.  The gorse was flowering so brightly in patches it almost hurt our eyes to look at it!  We left behind Loch Carron, and were treated with views ahead to Skye.  
The Cuillin mountains rose in misty loftiness ahead of us, and we could see the Skye Bridge in the distance.  Zooming in on it with our cameras, we could see it is a very ‘humpy’ bridge — presumably so that quite tall boats can sail underneath it without the expense and inconvenience of working a lifting or swing bridge.
We had long since ‘lost’ the coast and the railway, but as we descended from the moors they both came sweeping round to meet us — well almost.  In the long grass on the verge we found a couple of slow worms entwined around each other.  They didn’t slither away as we stood over them, in fact they took not a blind bit of notice of us.  So we left them to their amorous activities — hopefully it resulted in the slither of tiny legless lizards later in the year!
At last we reached Kyle of Lochalsh where we turned on to a pleasant path through a nice little dell.  Much better than the road, but it was there we first heard a burglar alarm going off.  The noise went on and on, increasing in volume as we approached the car park by the Leisure Centre.  All the local birds were spooked by it, not just us.  They were singing frantically all around us — even a cuckoo was cuckooing its heart out!  We felt sorry for the people living around.  It was beginning to get to me, driving me mad! 
We reached our car, and realised it was the burglar alarm at the Leisure Centre that was ringing.  People were scurrying around looking for someone with a key.  As we opened the car door, it stopped.  Silence!  Bliss!  Relief!

That ended Walk no.246, we shall pick up Walk no.247 next time in Kyle of Lochalsh.  It was half past five, so the Walk had taken eight hours.  We ate some caramel shortcake, then drove the four miles to Reraig to make some ‘proper’ tea in our caravan.  Later we drove to Strome Ferry to pick up the hire car, and drove both cars back to the caravan.

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