Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Walk 260 -- Barcaldine to Oban

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 59 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 201 days.
Weather:  Persistent rain most of the day.
Location:  Barcaldine to Oban.
Distance:  13½ miles.
Total distance:  2456 miles.
Terrain:  Cycle tracks.  Walking along very busy roads, sometimes with pavement but often without.  Path along old railway track.  Nearly all flat.
Tide:  In.
Rivers:  No.294, Dearg Abhainn.  No.295, Loch Etive.
Ferries:  None.
Piers:  None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.23, Bonawe Ironworks.  No. 24, Dunstaffnage Castle.  (We visited these on a very wet day in September because we didn’t have time on this trip.)
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan at Barcaldine.  This morning Colin drove to Oban and parked the car near Tesco.  He then caught a bus back to the caravan site.  Meanwhile I made the sandwiches.  We started our Walk from the caravan.
At the end, we finished our Walk near the bus station in Oban.  We had our tea and caramel shortcake, then returned to Barcaldine.
The next day we packed up and returned home to Malvern, taking two days to do so.

The caravan site on which we were staying in Barcaldine is situated in an old Victorian walled garden, so it was well protected from the gales which have been sweeping this part of Scotland over the past few days.  We exited the site this morning through a gateway in those walls, directly on to the cycle path where we had left it at the end of the last Walk.
We followed the cycle path on its wiggly route through the forest, it seemed ages before we came out on to the road.  I felt sure we’d walked twice as far as we would have done had we walked directly along the road, but at least we were away from the traffic!  Everything was very soggy, even the fine displays of foxgloves we passed on the route.

 Eventually we came out on the road, which we crossed and continued down the track of the old railway the other side.  But when we came to the SeaLife Centre the cycle path stopped.  The embankment of the old railway continued, but from thereon it was so overgrown as to be impossible to walk.  We had a good look at it, but it was quite inaccessible.

We were not best pleased, in fact we were hopping mad!  The road was busy, had no pavements, and it kept raining.  Visibility was poor, and although we wore high-vis vests over our kags, we didn’t feel entirely safe.  In fact it was HORRIBLE and we didn’t enjoy it one bit!  The most annoying thing was that the railway embankment continued in its entirety for the next three miles alongside the road between us and the water.
Even the bridges over streams were intact, but it had been allowed to overgrow.  All it would have needed was a few people with machetes for a couple of weeks to clear a decent footpath.  I’m sure they could have found volunteers amongst local walkers to do the job and keep costs down.  (We would have volunteered if it had been local to us.)  But nobody had.

We trudged on.  After about a mile we came across a twenty yard stretch of the railway embankment which had been cleared, and very nice it was too.  It was opposite some houses, so perhaps they had cleared the area so they could sit out with views over the loch.  Even the grass had been mown — luxury!  It had stopped raining momentarily, so we sat on this ‘lawn’ to eat our pies, away from the road at last.  But not for long — as soon as we stopped moving the midges found us, and they were dire!  So we had to move on pretty damn quick!

I had needed that rest, I was all in.  I hadn’t wanted to walk today because I was too tired and the weather was awful, but Colin had said, “Let’s get to Oban, and then go home!”  So I came, but I was finding it difficult to cope.  Further on we came to the entrance of a quarry where I found a bank to sit on for five minutes and rest my legs.  I was very tempted to catch a bus into Oban and call an end to our walking this session, but I didn’t.  Fortunately the midges didn’t find us because we were not near trees.

We bypassed the next peninsula because none of the roads which led into it accessed the shore (Additional Rule no.11).  As we entered the village of Benderloch (pavements at last!) we passed an extraordinary building.  It is called ‘Victory Hall’ and looked as if it had originally had some military purpose.  It seemed to be made of corrugated iron, but not quite.  It is obviously used as the village hall.  We were making for a picnic area just beyond the village but we were not looking forward to eating our sarnies in the rain.  Then we passed a café, and that was it!  We spent a pleasant hour in there eating toasties and — most important of all — DRINKING TEA!  I can’t describe how wonderful it was to smell the aroma of hot tea as the waitress brought the pot to our table.  Blow the picnic in the rain!

  We were amused by and in admiration of the two women at the next table who had in their charge two babies and four toddlers.  One of the toddlers was handicapped, cerebral palsy I think.  Yet they were beautifully behaved, and the two women coped fantastically with all their little idiosyncrasies.  It just shows how it can be done, even with tiny children such as these.  Children needn’t be a nuisance in a public place, they don’t need to be running about getting under people’s feet, and what a marvellous lesson in social etiquette these children were getting on a cold wet grey day in their school holidays!  These children all seemed happy and content, and we were amused by their questions and conversation.

Feeling enormously better, we continued our Walk through the village on a pavement.  When this ran out  Joy of Joys!  there was a path along the adjacent old railway so we didn’t have to walk on the road any more.  It was very pleasant — the rain had stopped temporarily and it was lovely to walk through the trees.  (We were too quick for the midges!)  I was pleased we hadn’t given in and caught the bus.

After about a mile we came to Oban Airport (which is very small) and there we got confused.  We couldn’t see where the cycle path continued.  We passed an ‘MOD property — keep out’ notice, and Colin went blundering on in his pig-headed way, not listening to reason at all.  (Perhaps he was cold, wet and tired too.)  Inevitably we ended up at a dead end, in a disused quarry actually.  Having established there was no way out except to climb the vertical quarry walls — this always takes a long time with Colin when he is thwarted — we retraced our steps and eventually found the cycle path we were looking for.

This led us to Connel Bridge, another metal wonder of engineering.  This bridge crosses the mouth of Loch Etive which flows down from Glencoe.  It was very wet and windy crossing it up high and out in the open like that!  We did it as quickly as we could (isn’t it supposed to be Summer?) trying to take photos of the view on the way.  I was ahead of Colin, and found a path which took us down underneath so we could photograph the whole bridge from there.

Bonawe Ironworks

About seven miles inland along the southern shore of Loch Etive lie the remains of Bonawe Ironworks.  (We didn’t have to visit it because it is more than a mile from the coast, but we did on a very wet day in September because we thought it might be interesting.  It wasn’t.)

This ironworks opened in 1753 and closed in 1876, more than a hundred years ago.  It boasts it is the most complete charcoal-fired ironworks in Britain, but we were struck by the fact that there is so very little of it left.  It seemed to be a series of empty sheds, and we had to use our imaginations a lot!  It produced mainly pig-iron, and is proud of the fact that it made numerous cannonballs during the Napoleonic Wars.  Most of the workers were charcoal-burners, using wood from the surrounding forests.  Only a handful of men worked the furnaces.

We were not terribly impressed — perhaps because it rained non-stop throughout our visit, and perhaps because a mere six weeks previously I had visited Blaenavon Ironworks in Wales.  (They are huge, and very well preserved — but not charcoal-fired.)  I was not interested in reading about blast furnaces because I have seen one tapped — in Consett in 1965.  And because I taught the workings of the blast furnace over and over again for the sixteen years I worked at Bognor Regis Comprehensive School.  My shoes leaked, my socks got wet, and I couldn’t drag Colin away from reading every single word on every single display board.  God!  I was miserable!

I did take three photos of our visit despite the rain, but somehow they got lost.  I must have deleted them accidentally.

After Connel Bridge we continued south.  We had a brief respite from the traffic along a loop called ‘Old Shore Road’, but after that it was dodge-the-traffic-in-the-rain for at least two miles.  It is a very busy road, and the traffic is so fast!  It was HORRIBLE!

Dunstaffnage  Castle

We bypassed Dunstaffnage Castle on that stretch of road because the lane that leads to it is a dead end.  But it is right on the coast, so we did visit it later on in September.  It was the same wet day we went to the ironworks, but the rain just about held off while we visited the ruins.

Hailed as ‘The Mighty Stronghold of the MacDougalls’, the castle was built in the thirteenth century to guard the seaward approach from the Firth of Lorn to the Pass of Brander.  Other claims to fame are that it was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1309, and that it became the temporary prison of Flora MacDonald in 1746.

Today the castle overlooks a marina full of leisure yachts — such is the changing of times! There is no roof over anything, but some of the walls have stood the test of time.  We found a ‘floating’ fireplace and a skull and crossbones.  I managed to take a few pictures before the rain teemed down again.

We sat in a bus shelter above Dunbeg to eat our apples.  There was no cycle path notice from the main road there leading us into the village, but we learned later that there should have been.  So we carried on down the main road.  Our only saving grace was that from there on there was a pavement all the way to Oban, so we didn’t have to traffic-dodge any more.  We were following our brand-new-very-expensive Ordnance Survey walking map which told us there was a track leading off about a mile down the road which twisted its way across the hills to Ganavan Bay.  But in reality that track did not exist!  Once more the Ordnance Survey had let us down!  We could see the tarmacked cycleway wending its way to Ganavan Bay over there, but between us and that track was a pathless swamp!

It was raining cats and dogs by then, coming down really hard.  So we put into practice Additional Rule no.14, and marched straight down into Oban.  The only photo I took (from under Colin’s umbrella) was of the cemetery we passed — because it was so vast!  On reaching the waterfront at Oban, we marched straight through to the bus station, and thence to our car.  We were wet, cold and miserable, but we had made it!

That ended Walk no.260, we shall pick up Walk no.261 next time in the free car park near Oban bus station.  It was twenty to seven, so the Walk had taken us eight and three-quarter hours.  We had our tea and caramel shortcake, then returned to Barcaldine.

The next day we packed up and returned home to Malvern, taking two days to do so.


We both felt we had been ‘cheated’ out of the last part of the Walk into Oban.  We explored the village of Dunbeg by car, and discovered where the cycleway left the village.  There was absolutely no sign on the main road directing us to it, and the Ordnance Survey map shows the beginning of that track ending in a swamp a good half mile from the track leading down to Ganavan Bay.  So when we returned to the area in September we parked once more in Oban and caught the bus to Dunbeg, alighting at the very bus stop where we had sheltered to eat our apples.  It was a glorious sunny day, and we felt much more buoyant than we had on the original Walk.

Down in the village a notice on the gate warned us of steep gradients, but the whole cycleway was tarmacked so that didn’t hold any fears for us.
We passed some Highland cows as the path twisted and turned past the swamp, through the hills, and ended up in a sports’ ground by Ganavan Bay.

There is a nice beach down there, the first we had passed for ages.
Also quite a bit of new-build — some under scaffolding but a whole row finished and lived-in.  We didn’t like them much, we thought they looked too stark and white.
There is also an RAF memorial stone just above the beach.  There must have been RAF activity here during the War.

We now had a road to follow, all the way along the coast to Oban.  We caught glimpses of the sea through the trees, and looked back at the cliffs we hadn’t walked over because there was no path.
We could see islands further out, and a lighthouse shimmering on one of them.  We passed a tent on a piece of derelict land — a bit of wild camping there!  (I’m glad we no longer sleep in a tent — the caravan is warm, comfortable and has an indoor toilet!)

High on the cliff lies Dunollie Castle, an ivy-clad ruin these days.  There has been a fort on the site since the 6th century, but the castle wasn’t built until the 13th.  It was owned and lived in by the MacDougall clan who still own the site.  The family moved out into a nearby manor house in the 18th century.  Apparently the Gaelic language was first brought to shore at this point — the present day Scots, of course, originally hailed from Ireland routing the original inhabitants of Scotland, the Picts (Painted Ones).  Hence the Scottish Gallic and Irish Gaelic are very similar languages.  Whatever happened to the Picts?

Another thing of interest about this place is that the passage between the mainland and the island of Kerrera is narrow and fairly shallow by Dunollie Castle.  In the time of cattle droving the poor cows were ferried from Mull to Kerrera, and then forced to swim from Kerrera to the mainland, landing on this point.  “Those that survived” (!) were driven on to markets in Falkirk, Stirling and Crieff.

Then there is the ‘Dog Stone’, a big lump of conglomerate dumped here more than 400million years ago, then shaped by the freezing and thawing actions of the last Ice Age.  No!  The true explanation for this extraordinary stone is that the ancient heroic warrior of Celtic mythology, Fionn MacCumhail (Fingal), used to chain his massive dog, Bran, to this stone.  As the desperate animal circled and struggled to free itself, it wore a groove around the rock with its colossal chain.  On a wild and windy night you can still hear its ghostly howls……

   And so we walked on to Oban itself, past a low-light lighthouse and the town War Memorial.
We tried to get into the Catholic Cathedral, built only in the 1930s, but it was closed for refurbishment.  We carried on into this very pretty ferry port which was bathed in glorious sunshine that afternoon.  We have visited Oban several times before, but that was the first and only time the sky wasn’t slate-grey with rain teeming down in stair-rods.  Sunshine quite transformed the place!

We were pleased we had been able to walk the correct coastal route from Dunbeg to Oban, even if we did have to do it out of sync.  We blame the Ordnance Survey entirely for that — GET YOUR MAPS UP TO DATE!

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