Monday, July 05, 2010

Walk 259 -- Duror to Barcaldine

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 58 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 200 days.
Weather:  Heavy showers interspersed with fine intervals.  Warm.
Location:  Duror to Barcaldine.
Distance:  18½ miles.
Total distance:  2442½ miles.
Terrain:  Busy roads.  Quiet roads. ‘Old’ roads.  ‘Old’ railway tracks.  Cycle tracks.  Slightly undulating.
Tide:  In, going out.
Rivers:  No.287, River Duror.  No.288, Salachan Burn.  No.289, Glenstockdale Burn.  No. 290, Loch Laich.  No.291, An Iola.  No.292, Loch Creran.  No.293, Abhainn Teithil.
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 Barcaldine.  This morning we caught a bus right outside the caravan site, and alighted in Duror by the school.
At the end, we arrived back at the caravan in Barcaldine.  We had real tea (and caramel shortcake) in the caravan.
We didn’t use the car at all.

We had to walk on a busy road for the first five miles of this Walk, and we didn’t like it.  The grass verge was thin and uneven, so it was on with the bright yellow visible vests and stride out — leaping into the undergrowth every time a vehicle came belting towards us.  The most dangerous times were on straight bits of the road because we never knew if vehicles approaching from behind were overtaking each other and therefore one would be on our side of the road.  We had one or two near-misses at great speed.  We wouldn’t have stood a chance had they hit us!

The frustrating thing was that running parallel to us along the shore was a disused railway line.  Even a stone bridge over one of the many burns was intact.  But parts of the track were so overgrown it would have been impossible to hack our way through even if we did have a machete to hand.   
And parts of it ran through people’s private gardens which even Scotland’s liberal open access laws gave us no right to go barging through.  It was difficult to persuade Colin of this fact — he always takes longer to accept that we simply cannot get through.

Occasionally there was a bit of ‘old road’ where road-straightening had taken place, but this too was usually overgrown.  The first bit we tried — me quite reluctantly — was OK to start with.  We got on to it all right, but when it ran out amongst weeds and brambles we had to climb over a barbed wire fence and then scramble through a deep ditch, which fortunately was dry.  Then we noticed that if we’d suffered the weeds and brambles for just a few yards more, there was no fence and no ditch barring our way back on to the road!

The second bit we tried was similar.  We got on to it OK, and sat on rocks further along to eat our pies.  At least we were off the road to do this.  When it ran out amongst weeds and brambles we saw there was again a deep ditch between us and the road.  This one had a couple of old washing machines in it!  Colin suggested we battle on through the weeds this time, so we did and walked straight out on to the road — no ditch.  We laughed with relief!

It was the same story the third time.  Colin scrambled through the ditch at the far end, then looked at it from the other side and saw where there was a way through with no ditch.  He guided me along to it, but unfortunately I lost my balance on a steep slope — not hurt in the fall, thank goodness.

The fourth bit of ‘old road’ was still a road because it was access to a couple of dwellings.  This one was a pleasure to walk!  We had one more mile of the busy road before we were able to turn off on to the cycle track which was laid down on the next bit of the disused railway — at last!  It was great to be away from that busy road, though we’d had some lovely views across the loch along the way.

We came to a ‘station’ where we sat on concrete blocks to eat our sarnies.  Further on we knew we had to take a footpath leading off the cycleway, and I would have missed the turning because I was looking for it going off to the right.  We were up on an embankment, and Colin spotted it going off to the left, dropping immediately down before going through a bridge underneath us.  I would have needed a high-strength magnifying glass to see that detail on the map.

We passed a memorial bench to a young man of nineteen who died last year.  It didn’t say why he had died, but it struck us that he was a year younger than Jamie, our eldest grandson.  The path led alongside the embankment for a short distance, then across a little bridge over a river.  After that it branched out on to a boardwalk across the saltmarsh towards a long wooden footbridge over the main river.
Just as we got out into the open, the wind blew and the rain poured on our heads!  It was with difficulty that we stayed on our feet over those slippery boards, and up on the long flimsy bridge.  As soon as we got to the shelter of the bushes the other side, it all stopped and the sun came out!  (Do you think Someone-Up-There had it in for us?)
A notice told us that the long footbridge we had just used was erected in 1898 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  It was built to shorten the walk to the Free Church from Portnacroish, and later was used for access to the Oban to Ballachulish railway line, the one that is now a cycleway — in parts.

We passed a bird hide before we came out on to the lane.  We didn’t think it was much good because the footpath went right in front of it!  What’s the point of hiding yourself away so you don’t spook the birds you want to watch when, at any moment, a noisy party of hikers are likely to walk right in front of you?

The location of this hide is only beaten by one we know in Pagham Harbour (we shall pass it right at the end of this mammoth Trek) which has a busy road passing in front of it!

From there we followed a twisty lane, up and down, to Port Appin where frequent ferry boats leave for the island of Lismore.  We had lovely views across the loch, of Castle Stalker with it’s long history of battle and murder, and of a small lighthouse on one of the rocky outcrops.

In Port Appin we went down the dead-end road to the ferry terminal to use the toilet — now that we are in more built-up areas, finding a suitable bush is not so easy!  We were very tired, and we still had a long way to go.  So we stopped at a shop which sold teas, and sat outside between showers to sup it.  It revived us enormously, it’s amazing what a short rest and a cup of tea can do!

We continued along the lane with added strength, up and down, twisting this way and that.  We passed cows in their fields (Highland variety, of course!), flowery meadows, mountains, woods and streams — the vistas were heavenly.
Sometimes it rained on us and sometimes it didn’t, the sun would come out leaving misty wisps on the hills, and rainbows.  But every time we caught a glimpse of the water, it wasn’t the SEA!  It was a sea-loch, yes, but we could always see the other side so it didn’t look or feel like the sea.
We began to long for surf, long sandy beaches and seaside towns with fun and floss.  We never thought we’d tire of Highland scenery, but that day we did!  Thinking back now it seems ungrateful, but that is how we felt on that day.

I said we would find somewhere to sit and eat our apples when we reached the road junction with another lane.  And as we turned the corner to that junction, we came across a memorial seat to Anne Harris who loved this place until she died, aged 80.  Thank you Anne!  (Perhaps Him-Up-There took pity on us after nearly blowing us away on that footbridge earlier!)

Further on we chatted to a man with a strimmer.  He told us how to get on to the old railway track at Creagan (that is where we rejoin the main road), he said there was no need to walk on the road to Creagan Bridge.  If we start on the cycle track opposite the point where the lane hits the main road, then turn right through a gate to a caravan site, we should be able to follow the old railway track all the way to the bridge.  We thanked him for his advice, and moved on.

We realised we were directly opposite our caravan site which was less than a mile away as the crow flies.  But that was across the loch where the site is hidden away in woods and enclosed within the walls of a Victorian kitchen garden.  We had to walk another five miles to get there on dry land.
It was a long straight road that we were walking, and we were frequently rained on.  Hiking this west coast of Scotland is a bit like walking round a jigsaw puzzle, and reminded us of Essex though here it is more scenic.  But we were tired, and the road never seemed to end.  I went into ‘route-march’ mode with my sticks, it was the only way I could cope.

We reached the main road at last, crossed it and sat on the white-painted stones at the beginning of the cycle track to eat our chocolate.  We didn’t stay long — midges!  Some cyclists passed on the main road and waved to us.  We noted that they didn’t use the newly tarmacked cycle track which would have kept them out of danger on the roads.  We climbed up on to the old railway embankment, and turned right off the cycle track as had been our instructions by the strimmer man.  But the gate was so tied up with string we couldn’t open it, so we had to climb over.
A notice about the holiday park looked very tatty, and the first field we crossed was quite neglected.  The track wasn’t bad though, and it got considerably better after the second gate where we managed to untie the string.  We passed a number of chalets, some of which were occupied by holidaymakers.  There was a good track down to the road from there which we didn’t take — perhaps we should have.

We came immediately to Creagan Station which is quite well preserved.  We were intrigued by the remains of a Victorian water fountain on one of the walls.  The Victorians were so good at that sort of thing, nowadays such an item would just be vandalised.

The track deteriorated, but we persevered.  Obviously nobody is foolhardy enough to walk this way anymore — except us!  Suddenly we came to a deep gully that had been cut straight across the embankment, probably by the landowner.
It was as if he was saying, “Nobody’s going to put a cycleway, or even a footpath, across my land!”  Yet this thin strip of land isn’t used for anything else, so what’s the objection?  I was all for going back, but Colin managed to scramble down and up the other side.  He disappeared further along the track, then came back and said it was OK.  So he had to come back to my side in order to help me down and up — I’ve been no good on steep slopes ever since I broke my legs in 1999.

The track was in surprisingly good shape considering its neglect.  It went through a rocky cutting which was quite exciting really.  It was fairly narrow, and we could imagine steam trains chuffing through.
But then we came to a ‘sticky’ end at the roundabout built in 1998/9 when the new bridge was constructed across Loch Creagan.  It was built without any regard for the track along the embankment, so we were faced with mounds of earth and a very steep drop through small trees and thorny bushes.  We were distinctly dishevelled by the time we reached the roundabout — we ought to know better at our age! 
But the bridge was fantastic!  We remembered touring this area some years back, and thinking it was a shame we had to drive several miles on narrow twisting roads to get round the top of the loch when this railway bridge was lying derelict here.  Obviously other people thought the same, and in 1998 a £4million project was started to rebuild the bridge for a road.  It was officially opened in June 1999, and mighty glad were we that it was there because it cut out nigh on five extra miles!  We were treated to spectacular light beams from behind the clouds as we crossed over.

Then we felt the gods were really on our side, for the rest of our route was a newly tarmacked cycleway through the woods all the way to our caravan site.  We didn’t have to go on the road at all.  That was really nice, because it was difficult to concentrate on things like traffic-dodging in our tired state.  The weather was more settled this evening, so no more rain.  Our only problem was the midges — we had to keep moving!

The track took us through rocky cuttings and past swarms of foxgloves flowering in all their glory.  The light was fading as it was getting late, and we were relieved to reach our walled garden before it got completely dark.

That ended Walk no.259, we shall pick up Walk no.260 next time at the caravan site near Barcaldine.  It was twenty-five past eight, so the Walk had taken us eleven hours!  But we had nowhere further to go.  We entered the caravan, put on the kettle, and were soon drinking real tea and eating caramel shortcake.

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