Ages: Colin was 68 years and 55 days. Rosemary was 65 years and 197 days.
Weather: Blue sky. Black sky. Hot sun. Pelting rain. Windy and warm. Roll of thunder!
Location: The Corran Ferry to Duror.
Distance: 13 miles.
Total distance: 2424 miles.
Terrain: Busy roads. Newly tarmacked cycleway. Private road. Overgrown track. Boggy path. Rough ground. Got lost. Thro’ someone’s garden! Minor road. Mostly flat.
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.285, Abhainn Righ. No.286, Loch Leven. Plus numerous streams.
Kissing gates: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
How we got there and back: We were travelling in Scotland, staying in our caravan. Yesterday we moved the caravan from Resipole to Barcaldine. This morning we drove to Duror and parked by the village school which is now closed for the Summer holidays. We intended to catch a bus, but a car stopped and offered us a lift. They dropped us off underneath Ballachulish Bridge, so we climbed up the steps and caught a bus the rest of the way to the Corran Ferry.
At the end, we came to our car in Duror. It had just about stopped raining, so we flapped our capes in the wind whilst partaking of tea and caramel shortcake. Then we returned to our caravan in Barcaldine.
We started today’s Walk on the ferry ramp, as if we’d just crossed over from Corran. The first part of the Walk was along the main road which comes from the South to Fort William, so it was very busy. But we were relieved to find there was a pavement as far as Ballachulish Bridge, which was where we turned off it anyway.
We were on the South-East side of the Great Glen rift, and so felt we were really out of the Highlands now. Despite the many dwellings and the busy road — hardly the isolated areas we had been walking through in the far North — we still found wild orchids in the grass alongside the pavement.
We noticed some houses away to our right as the road left the side of the loch. They looked a bit odd because their chimneys were separate to the houses. Colin was convinced the homes were only half built, that’s why they looked like that (we didn’t have time to go over there and look more closely) but I didn’t agree. I thought the separate chimneys had some purpose, possibly a cottage-industry of some kind?
The weather didn’t seem to agree with itself either. Looking ahead the sky was blue and everywhere was bathed in hot sunshine, so hot we had to wear sunhats to gain any degree of comfort. Looking back, towards Ben Nevis, the sky was black! The contrast was startling, and we guessed we would be in for some ‘interesting’ weather later.
So it proved to be, it was — on with the sunhat, off with the sunhat, on with the cape, off with the cape, on with the sunhat, etc. for most of the Walk.
The road turned eastward and regained the lochside by the village of Onich. From there we had wonderful views of Loch Leven, right up to Ballachulish Bridge where we intended crossing the loch. It looked idyllic in the sun, but jets suddenly screamed overhead which made me jump out of my skin!
Onich is a tiny settlement with a corrugated iron village hall and not much else. Squashed between the mountains and the sea, it has the A82 main road to the Highlands running bang through the middle of it. The road is extremely busy, especially in the summer, because there is simply no alternative route. It is also a narrow and twisting road, where overtaking is nigh-on impossible for miles. The day we walked through the village there were roadwork traffic lights which only compounded the problem. We passed a lot of home-made notices with the desperate message “Demand A82 upgrade”.
Nearing North Ballachulish, we came to a church where a number of children arrived as we passed, driven there by their parents. Many of the children were wearing red sweat-shirts. It was the beginning of the Scottish school summer holiday, and it was mid-morning. The pastor greeted them before leading them into the church, but the kids were too excited for it to be a church service they were attending. We thought it must be some kind of holiday activity, probably with a Christian moral at the end of the day. All good stuff!
Further on we passed a house with a notice on the gate which read, “Watch out Poodles about!” Several poodles were playing in the garden, and they all started barking when they noticed us walking by. One raced down to the gate and attempted to climb over, barking all the time. What a cacophony!
We turned South again to cross Ballachulish Bridge. We passed two workers who were speaking some foreign language we couldn’t place, so we assumed they were from eastern Europe. They were apparently busy clearing up, but there didn’t seem to be anything for them to clear up! We wondered if their jobs were strictly necessary, or if this was an exercise in political correctness by the local council in employing the requisite number of foreign workers.
The bridge is up high, and the views from it are stupendous. (Even the new sewage works was scenic!) We looked West towards the Morven peninsula where we had so recently been walking, and East towards Glencoe.
This part of Scotland is popular with tourists, and we could see why. The Pass of Glencoe, which we have crossed many times towing our caravan, is very dramatic. But it is inland, so we won’t be walking over it.
Over the other side of the bridge, we stepped off the road into a wood where we came across a memorial to one James Stewart, or ‘James of the Glens’. James Stewart was executed in 1752 for the murder of Colin Campbell, but he was almost certainly innocent. There are a variety of tales explaining the motive for this murder, but really it was a clash between the two clans. Colin Campbell had just alighted from the Ballachulish ferry across Loch Leven and was making his way towards Duror to collect taxes (always an unpopular job) when he was shot by an unknown gunman. James Stewart, who claimed he was several miles away at the time of the murder, was arrested and put on trial. The judge and most of the jurors were Campbells, and so keen were they that somebody should hang for this dastardly deed, that they found him guilty even though there was absolutely no evidence against him. So he was hung, and apparently his body was left to rot on the gibbet for eighteen months as a ‘lesson’ to any other Stewart who may be thinking of further bloodshed. This murder was the inspiration behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel ‘Kidnapped’.
We were reading this history on a board near the memorial, but it was under trees and the midges became intolerable. So we hurriedly descended some steps down to the road which goes underneath the bridge, the road that leads to Oban. By the river we managed to shake the midges off — they didn’t like the gentle breeze blowing along the loch. We were stopped by a woman, obviously a tourist, who asked us if we knew which mountain was Ben Nevis. We pointed out which mountain it was behind, and she seemed disappointed when we told her how much further on it was.
We sat on some steps by the river to eat our pies, and it spattered with rain while we did so. We then followed the road towards Oban — not so much traffic as the A82, but busy enough and it had no pavements. So it was on with the bright yellow visible vests.
We hadn’t gone far when we noticed a new cycleway going underneath the road, then continuing alongside between us and the loch. Where had that come from? And how could we get on to it? A bit further on there was a gap in the hedge, and we were able to join it. It was a relief to get off the road.
By the look of the tarmac, it must have been brand spanking new. A man came walking towards us, so Colin asked him if he knew how long the cycleway had been there. He replied, “No Eengleesh!” We laughed, shrugged our shoulders and walked on. Further on we sat on a rock to eat our sarnies.
Then it started to rain, in fact it poured! We half sheltered against a rocky wall as we struggled to put on capes and overtrousers as quickly as we could. The ‘No Eengleesh’ man came hurrying back while we were doing so. He had inadequate clothing and was therefore soaking wet, but he just grinned as he passed us. We trudged on through the storm which took about half an hour to abate.
The cycleway followed the line of a disused railway, so sometimes it would go through a rocky cutting. Mostly it was alongside the loch. We passed an ornamental gate put up by the National Cycle Network — it looked great! Occasionally there was access to the road, which was never far away. We were rejoicing in the fact that we didn’t have to walk along it dodging the traffic. In one of the gaps we spied a tinkers’ camp on the other side of the road, looking a bit soggy in all the wet.
A woman came walking towards us, and she was from Bradford so we were able to converse! She lives locally, and told us the cycleway has been open about twenty months. “It has transformed my life!” she said, “because I work in Glencoe and I don’t drive. It’s wonderful to be able to get away from the traffic like this! I usually catch the bus, but today I thought I’d walk.” We chatted for a while about the weather and suchlike, then we all went on our way.
We were disappointed to go round the next bend and find the cycleway came to an end! Through lovely ornamental gates, mind you, but an end nonetheless. We were spat out on to the road, and had no choice but to walk along traffic-dodging for the next mile.
At Kentallen the road led into a small bay and continued inland towards Oban. We took a private road which led off past a small beach and continued round the other side of the bay. The sun was hot, almost too hot by then. We crossed a small river, and sat on a wall in the shade to eat our apples. There was a tiny chapel opposite us.
The road was tarmacked, and as good as the cycleway to walk on — no traffic you see! It led us round the hill, then veered away from the lochside clinging to the bottom of the hill instead.
We came to a junction — one branch led to Ardsheal Farm and the other to Ardsheal Hotel. We chose the farm because we thought the hotel might be private, and because we weren’t sure if there was a through track from there. We were right, there wasn’t!
We passed a pond which was overlooked by a metal swan. Up on a knoll behind the pond we could see the hotel. The sun was burning bright, and there was no breeze once we were away from the lochside. It was getting very hot. We came to the farm where we stopped to chat to the farmer. He was moaning about the weather, “It’s too hot to put up this fence and too boggy to flatten the land!” he complained. He had two dogs with him, both huskies. One was old and very tame, the other was quite lively at ten months old. Colin made a fuss of them as he always does.
The road turned into a boggy track, but it was gravelled so we got the impression it was once a road, more important than it is now. There were lots of flowers about, especially wild orchids. We sat on a log to eat our chocolate, and took a last look backwards at Ben Nevis as we won’t see it again on this trek. Further on the track curved round, but we took a path leading straight on.
That was when it started to rain. In fact it poured, for hours and hours! The sudden change in the weather was unbelievable. It meant no more photos, cameras were safely stored away in plastic bags as we struggled into our wet-weather gear once more. It was a lovely path we were following, through trees with wild orchids everywhere. But there was no chance of any photography.
We came out on to the moors with the rain pelting down on us. Visibility was poor and a mean wind got up. It was right in our faces, making even breathing difficult. We could hardly see either. We came to the top at what should have been a fantastic viewpoint, but it was too wet and windy for either of us to take any notice. We went through a gate, and after that we couldn’t see a path. Colin was a little ahead of me, and started immediately down what he thought was the way. I felt he was veering too far to the right, but in that kind of weather I wasn’t going to argue. We got completely lost. When I caught up with him, I said we should be making for those houses way over there to the left. All traces of any kind of footpath had long since disappeared, so we strode out over rough ground which was extremely difficult. Somehow we managed to stay upright, but our legs ached with the effort. And we were very wet by then. It was with relief that we saw a gate leading into someone’s garden.
We opened the gate quietly, it was like stepping out of hell! We hoped to creep unobtrusively through the garden, down the drive and emerge on to a real road. But then we heard a knocking on the window of the house — we had been seen! The owner of the property seemed quite annoyed at first, but we stopped and apologised profusely. We explained that we had got lost on the moors in the storm, and couldn’t find a way out to the road. He calmed down then, in fact he became quite helpful in directing us on our way. I think he realised we were genuine, and meant no harm.
Once on the road, we went down to the shore and along the top of the beach. Cuil Bay should have been the climax of our Walk today, it should have been wonderful — but it wasn’t. It was just grey and wet. The road continued round to Duror School where our car was parked.
That ended Walk no.258, we shall pick up Walk no.259 next time by Duror School. It was quarter past six, so the Walk had taken us eight hours and twenty minutes. It had just about stopped raining as we arrived at the car, so we flapped our capes in the wind in an effort to get them at least partially dry whilst partaking of tea and caramel shortcake.
We returned to Cuil Bay in the car in order to take at least one photograph of this lovely place, but it was pouring again by then. The picture, taken from inside the car, turned out to be very grey. We had only enjoyed a slight pause in precipitation, so we returned to our caravan in Barcaldine.