Monday, May 17, 2010

Walk 248 -- Isle of Skye, via Armadale, to Mallaig + Knoydart

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 9 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 151 days.
Weather:  Rain at first, but it dried up turning sunny and quite warm.
Location:  The Isle of Skye, via Armadale, to Mallaig.
Distance:  8 miles + 4 miles ferry.
Total distance:  2303 miles.
Terrain:  All roads including a little ‘old roads’.  Slightly undulating.
Tide:  Out.
Rivers:  No.257, Allt à Mhuilinn.  + lots of streams.  No.258, the Sound of Sleat.
Ferries:  No.18, from Armadale, across the Sound of Sleat, to Mallaig.  Fare: £3.80 each.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  ‘The Old Forge’ at Inverie on Knoydart.  Since we were by-passing Knoydart by walking on the Isle of Skye, we counted this pub as being on our Walk.  We actually visited it a couple of days later.  A very disappointing experience.  They had two real ales, and both were bad!!  We had to send them back because they were undrinkable!  Added to that, the food was over-priced and they were playing canned ‘musik’!  Ugh!!!
‘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 our own car to Kyle of Lochalsh where we had left the hire car last night.  Then we drove both cars over the Skye Bridge and on to Armadale where we parked our own car by the ferry terminal.  Then we drove back in the hire car to the church where we finished yesterday’s Walk.  
At the end, we came to our car parked by the ferry terminal.  We watched a ferry go out towards Mallaig, then we had our tea and caramel shortbread.  (We didn’t actually catch the ferry because the logistics and expense of getting the cars back to the right places were too much to contemplate.  So once more we pretended!)  We drove back to the church where the hire car was parked, then drove both cars to Kyle of Lochalsh.  There we returned the hire car to the rental company.  Then we drove back to our caravan in our own car.  The next day we towed our caravan to Arisaig.

It was wet this morning, pelting rain which was not at all encouraging.  And I still felt rotten with this cold.  I’d really like just to go home!  But we got ourselves going, encouraged that it was a much shorter Walk today.
By the time we had got both cars in place, it was still raining heavily.  So we sat in the hire car at the beginning of the Walk and ate our pies.  I still felt bad with my cold, but I was determined to finish this Walk today and be done with it.  By the time we had eaten our pies it had almost stopped raining, though we did get pretty wet before it cleared up this afternoon.
There were bits of ‘old’ road we could walk on, but not the long stretches like yesterday.  Local landowners had blocked some of them with fences and gates, and that put me off because I was in no mood to climb over anything.  So we mostly resorted to ‘traffic-dodging’ on the modern road — actually it wasn’t very busy.
After Ornsay, the road went inland for a few miles.  We passed a small loch, one of many in this wild region.  As we sloped down towards the sea again we could see the remains of Knock Castle, but we didn’t go down to it.  Apparently it is a former stronghold of the MacDonald clan, and is currently in an advanced state of decay.
We came to a village and fancied our lunch, but it was still raining.  Then we saw a bus shelter, so we sat in that. 
Trouble was, a ‘man-with-strimmer’ was nearby making an irritating noise.  (It has become a standing joke that I am plagued by ‘man-with-strimmer’ whenever I sit down to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside — he seems to follow me all over the world!)  However, this man soon turned off his infernal machine and joined us for a chat.  I asked him if the people of Skye still felt they were living on an island since the Skye Bridge was built, and the answer was a very definite “Yes!”  But he was angry that catalogues, the internet, etc still charge at least £25 for delivery of goods because of their postcode, even though access is now easier than many remote parts of the mainland. 
He said a lot of people from the mainland had come to live on Skye since they dropped the toll on the bridge — he referred to them as “White Settlers”!  He also bemoaned the fact that many young people were leaving because they can’t find work locally.  His two daughters live in Glasgow and London.
We moved on as the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Immediately we both felt better about everything.  We noticed the flowers, and the unusual black sheep with white faces.  We passed a little well with a stone ‘hood’ and a marble statue of an angel, or something, at its entrance.  And we came across a redundant washing machine on the pavement outside a house!  That was extraordinary — we had no idea why it was there.
We came to a wood, and sat on tree stumps by a stream to eat our chocolate.  I still didn’t feel very well, I kept sneezing and was drained of energy.  I really should have been at home in bed!  But I wasn’t, so we stood up and carried on.
By then we were getting wonderful views across the Sound of Sleat towards Knoydart, and to Mallaig.  The road hugged the coast from there all the way to Armadale.  We stopped to read a plaque which told us the road from Broadford (where we had turned off the A87) to Armadale had been built between 1997 and 2009, and this final section had been officially opened by a local bigwig in November 2008.  So the road we had been walking on was very new.
It was the views and the sunshine which kept me going.  We could see Armadale long before we got there.  We watched a ferry coming in, and shortly afterwards dozens of cars passed us on the road going north.  The ferry was just going out — returning to Mallaig — as we arrived, but another one soon came in.  It is a busy crossing.
We had walked 2300miles from Bognor at that point, so we asked a lady to take a picture of us both with the ferry in the background.  She made a good job of it!  The expense and logistics of actually catching the ferry, leaving two cars and a caravan behind on this side, was just too much to contemplate.  So once more we pretended!

That ended Walk no.248, we shall pick up Walk no.249 next time by the ferry terminal in Mallaig.  It was quarter to four, so the Walk had taken us four and a half hours.  Our car was in the car park there, so we had our tea and caramel shortcake.  Then we drove back to the church where the hire car was parked and drove both cars to Kyle of Lochalsh.  There we returned the hire car to the rental company.  Then we drove back to our caravan in our own car. 
The next day we towed our caravan all the way round by road, via Fort William, to Arisaig.  It was a long way — I’m glad we didn’t have to walk it!

Since we had missed out Knoydart, and it is on the coast of mainland Britain, I thought I’d better include it in the journal.  The following week we spent a day there, crossing on the ferry from Mallaig.  We had been wanting to go there for years, especially to visit the ‘Old Forge’, the most remote pub on mainland Britain, which boasts it is full of local music, good food and real ales. 
We drove to Mallaig from our caravan site in Arisaig nice and early, parked and bought our ferry tickets.  The trip over to Inverie was great fun, and we met some interesting people to talk to on the boat.  One group of hikers were just starting a two-week holiday where they planned to walk from Knoydart to Cape Wrath, but generally taking a more inland and mountainous route than we had done.
As we approached Inverie we noticed a large statue of the Virgin Mary high up on the mountain-side.  I believe the more remote areas of Scotland were barely touched by the Reformation and remain basically Catholic to this day.
We landed in the village — so far so good.  We looked at a cairn on the green which told us about the ‘Seven Men of Knoydart’ who tried to claim back their families’ crofts taken from their ancestors so cruelly during the infamous 19th century Highland ‘Clearances’.  In 1852 the four hundred residents of Knoydart were told to leave, and most of them did sail to Canada to begin new lives from scratch.  But  about sixty residents refused to go, so they were physically thrown out and their homes torched.  The plaque reads:
In 1948, near this cairn, the Seven Men of Knoydart staked claims to secure a place to live and work.
For over a century Highlanders had been forced to use land raids to gain a foothold where their forebears lived.
Their struggle should inspire each new generation of Scots to gain such rights by just laws.
History will judge harshly the oppressive laws that have led to the virtual extinction of a unique culture from this beautiful place.
The seven men are named as Henry MacAskill, Archie MacDonald, Jack McHardy, Duncan MacPhail, Donald MacPhee, Sandy MacPhee, William Quinn & Archie MacDougall, assisted by Father Colin Macpherson.  (Surely that’s nine men?)  What they don’t tell you is that this land raid was a failure.  Lord Brocket, the absentee landlord, still had enormous power despite his rumoured Nazi sympathies so soon after the War.  He successfully put an appeal to the Court of Session in Edinburgh who ruled in his favour.  The seven men quietly gave up and left after only a few days.  But in 1997 the residents were more successful by legal means.  They bought out their absentee landlord and formed the Knoydart Foundation, a charitable trust.  The Foundation works on behalf of the community, now numbering about a hundred residents, and is completely self-sustaining.
We were taking in this history when it started to rain.  So we called in at the famous pub that was supposed to be so good.  Only two beers were on, one was Old Speckled Hen which you can get anywhere, and is not a favourite with either of us.  The other was a local beer, but when it was pulled the glass was full of dregs!  It tasted horrible!  So Colin took it back in true CAMRA fashion.  He was told it “hadn’t settled yet” but would be all right later on when it had.  Now Colin knows a thing or two about real ale, and he knew there was no way that beer was going to be all right later on — it was very definitely bad!
Very dischuffed, we went for a walk.  The rain pelted down even harder.  For a place that has only ten miles of paved road leading nowhere, there was an awful lot of traffic we had to keep leaping into the muddy verges to avoid.
Feeling quite miserable, we returned to the pub for lunch.  The food was tasty but expensive, and there wasn’t much of it on our plates.  We were left feeling hungry, and felt we got pretty poor value for money.  The beer was still ‘settling’ — actually, it was off though they wouldn’t admit it.  In the end they gave Colin some bottled beer instead of his money back.  And we had been forced to listen to canned music, the usual trash, all the while we were eating — this for a pub that prides itself on its real music.
At last it stopped raining, so we left the pub in disgust.  We went for a walk in the other direction, trying to keep off the roads.  It was with relief that we watched the ferry-boat return to pick us up at 3pm.
It rained most of the way back.  It was a longer journey back to Mallaig because we went via Tarbet to pick up some hikers who had walked there along the shores of Loch Morar from Bracara.  The rain got too much to sit outside, and the windows were steamed up inside with all the wet people in there, so the journey back to Mallaig was a bit of a drag.
Yes, Inverie is a very pretty place, and quite unique in its isolation.  But we felt that the day had been an expensive disappointment.  We had been looking forward to it for years, and it was way below expectations.  We shan’t ever go again, not even in fine weather.  It was the ‘Old Forge’ pub which let us down so badly.  It is supposed to be the hub of the community, but it will have to get its act together if it is to attract the visitors the community needs to remain financially viable.

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