Sunday, May 16, 2010

Walk 247 -- Kyle of Lochalsh to the Isle of Skye

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 8 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 150 days.
Weather:  Mostly sunny, occasional light showers.  Breezy in exposed places.
Location:  Kyle of Lochalsh to the Isle of Skye.
Distance:  15 miles.
Total distance:  2291 miles.
Terrain:  The Skye Bridge near the start.  Then it was all roads, but we were able to walk on a lot of ‘old roads’ away from the traffic because the roads on Skye have recently been upgraded.  Slightly undulating.
Tide:  Out, coming in later.
Rivers:  No.255, Kyle Akin.  No.256, Abhainn Lusa.  + many 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 at Reraig, and we had hired a second car locally.  This morning we drove both cars to the Isle of Skye and parked our own car next to a church near Isleornsay.  We then drove the hire car back to the car park in Kyle of Lochalsh where we finished yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we came to our car parked by the church, overlooking Ornsay and the Sound of Sleat towards Knoydart.  We had tea and caramel shortcake, then returned to our caravan in Reraig.  We left the hire car parked in Kyle of Lochalsh.

I have Colin’s cold!  (He has more or less recovered from it now.)  I woke up this morning feeling really rotten and seemed to have no energy all day.  But we have to carry on because we have come so far and hired this expensive second car.
From the car park by the Leisure Centre in Kyle, we walked down to the traffic lights and turned right.  The road goes through a cutting on a rocky peninsula from where we had magnificent views in all directions.  Across the strait nestled the hamlet of Kyleakin.  Behind us stretched the mountain-rimmed water of  Loch Alsh.  Ahead of us we could see the beautiful curve of the Skye Bridge with the Cuillin mountain range in the background.  It was breathtaking!
The road first crosses a low bridge on to a rocky island.  Just before we rose up to the second bridge, the humpy one, we passed a lighthouse below.  On the main bridge a Japanese couple asked us to photograph them, so we did then asked them to return the favour.  
But the fellow zoomed in and cut our feet off, so I had to ask him to take the picture again.  Once more he played with the zoom, and I had to ask him to do it a third time.  I explained, with much gesticulation because his English was poor, that we wanted all of us in the photo, not just our faces.  Even then he couldn’t keep his fingers off the zoom, so I had to be satisfied with the third picture he took — I was exhausted by then!
The Skye Bridge was built in 1995, putting an end to long queues for the ferry between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin on the other side.  A toll was charged to pay for the bridge — after all, everyone had to pay for the ferry when it was in operation.  Fair enough, but the toll went up and up until it cost £11.40 to drive a car across.  It was the highest bridge toll in the world!  The bridge had long since been paid for, but still the toll remained at this high level.
Of course the locals objected.  They couldn’t afford these exorbitant fees to get off the island — and the tourists weren’t coming, plunging their economy into the doldrums.  They formed an association which organised peaceful protests, many of them refusing to pay as they drove across the bridge.  They were heavily fined, and some even went to prison for refusing to pay these fines.  Eventually they dressed in their full Scottish finery — kilts and all — and took their bagpipes on to the bridge (I didn’t say it was a silent protest, just a peaceful one!)  There they blocked the road to all vehicles and continued playing their bagpipes until the authorities gave in.  They won!  And now it is free to cross the bridge on to the island.
But is Skye now an island?  It is connected to the mainland by a bridge, so should we have to walk round it if we are to walk all of the coastline of mainland Britain?  We mulled over this question for many an hour, studying the maps and discussing what we should do.
There was another problem in the area — Knoydart.  Knoydart is on the mainland, but is completely cut off from the rest of Scotland by mountains.  There is a small network of roads around the village of Inverie, but there are no roads leading to it — all vehicles have to be taken there by ferry.  Knoydart is only accessible by ferry (usually from Mallaig) or by walking for two days across the mountains.  To go by road from Kyle of Lochalsh to Mallaig would involve a journey of well over a hundred miles inland!  There is simply no coastal path.
Using the ‘rules’ we have made up for this trek, we found a brilliant way of solving the problems of both the Skye Bridge and Knoydart.  Additional rule no.5 states:  An island connected by a bridge is part of the mainland and must be walked around.  So we had to cross the bridge on to Skye.  Additional rule no.2 states:  We do not have to walk down a dead end which involves retracing our steps if we don’t want to.  So when we get to the junction with the A851, a mere six miles away, we can turn left on to it because the road continuing towards Portree and the rest of Skye is effectively a dead end and we would have to retrace our steps for miles to get back to that junction.  Main rule no.5 states:  If there is a ferry which crosses a river or an estuary, we may use it.  If we count the Sound of Sleat as an estuary, then we can use the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig.
In addition (as if we needed any other excuse!) we had just made up a rule which states:  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.  So we didn’t have to walk for two days across the mountains, sleeping in a bothy on the way, to get to Inverie.  And if we did do it, we would still have had to catch a much longer ferry to Mallaig — so that idea was a non-starter.  As for walking over a hundred miles along roads to get to Mallaig……!……?
There was the remains of a redundant petrol station just across the bridge where we found a wooden seat.  So we sat on it to eat our pies.  Then it was a long boring walk along a main road for six miles to the junction where we could turn off.  I wasn’t feeling at all well with my wretched cold.  Crossing the bridge was the highlight of the whole Walk, all the rest was drudgery — but perhaps feeling so under the weather made me feel like that.  I now knew why Colin had been so tetchy on the Walk before last!
The views were lovely, but I was feeling too gruesome to appreciate them.  The road had been upgraded in the recent past, and stretches of ‘old road’ made a good footpath away from the traffic — when they weren’t overgrown with gorse bushes.  The road seemed to go on forever.  I hated it and wished I was at home, unusual for me on a Walk.  I wondered if I would be able to complete the full fifteen miles because I felt so drained of energy.
We sat on a rock to eat our sarnies, but I still didn’t feel any better.  At last we reached the junction, and by that time I was seriously considering packing it in.  But I didn’t, I thought I would walk another mile or so before giving in.  We didn’t know what we were going to do about reaching either of the cars if I did stop — thumb a lift I suppose.  So I kept on marching, one foot in front of the other — left! right! left! right!
I began to feel brighter!  The wave of awfulness which had been engulfing me started to melt away.  This road was quieter than the road we had turned off, and it went high up on the moors.  It had been upgraded too, but much more recently and long stretches of the ‘old road’ were still in place relatively free of gorse bushes, potholes and other such hazards.  It was good to be away from the traffic, sometimes the real road seemed quite remote from where we were.
I started to take an interest in my surroundings.  The Cuillins rose awesomely to the west, we weren’t far away from those forbidding mountains now.  
 Knoydart was away to the east in all its magnificent mysteriousness.  It looked quite beautiful!
We admired the bridges built of local stone which spanned the many streams we crossed.  They were like works of Art! 
We came across a clump of horsetails, at least I think that’s what they were, which looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine up there on the moors.
I insisted we stopped for a rest.  We sat on a rock and I ate my chocolate.  Colin said it was “far too early” because we still had a good many miles to go.  But it was just what I needed.  When we got up I seemed to have got my second wind.  I didn’t stop after that all the way to the car.  My pace quickened, and for the last mile I marched along counting my steps.  Silly, really, but it helped me to focus.
The views were spectacular towards the end of the Walk.  The rocky peninsula and the island of Ornsay reminded us of Drumbeg far to the north. 
We came to the little church at Isleornsay where our car was waiting in the car park.  Knoydart looked forbidding across the water, we were glad we were bypassing it.

That ended Walk no.247, we shall pick up Walk no.248 next time by the church at Isleornsay.  It was ten to seven, so the Walk had taken seven hours forty minutes.   We had tea and caramel shortcake, then returned directly to our caravan in Reraig.  We left the hire car parked in Kyle of Lochalsh from where we’ll pick it up tomorrow as we drive through.

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