Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Walk 262 -- Kilninver to Kilmelford

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 130 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 272 days.
Weather:  Torrential rain which suddenly cleared up as the Walk started.  We then had blue skies for most of the way!  A few light showers near the end.  Very windy.
Location:  Kilninver to Kilmelford.
Distance:  14 miles.
Total distance:  2481½ miles.
Terrain:  Mostly minor roads.  An excellent 3 mile track across Bealach Gaoithe, it was well maintained and signposted.  We were quite relieved about that!
Tide:  Going out.
Rivers:  No.297, River Euchar.  No.298, River Oude.
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 in Lochgilphead.  This morning we drove to Kilmelford and parked in a car park next to a bus stop.  We then caught a bus to Kilninver, alighting at the exact spot where we finished yesterday’s Walk.
At the end, we finished our Walk where the minor road from Melfort met the main road.  We then walked about 200 yards northwards to our car parked by the bus stop.  We had tea and caramel shortcake, then returned to our caravan in Lochgilphead.

        When we woke this morning the rain was teeming down making a lot of noise on our caravan roof.  It was also very windy.  This weather was so bad we considered cancelling the Walk.  I just wanted to go home!  But we got up, set up the Walk, and as we got off the bus the rain stopped.  The sky cleared as if by magic, and very soon we had to peel off our wet weather gear because we were too hot.  We did most of the Walk in brilliant sunshine, well off the main road, and it proved to be a very enjoyable day indeed!
From the road junction we walked down the link road to Kilninver.  We were right next to the loch at first, and it was quite blue because the sky had already cleared.  We watched a heron fishing for a while, before moving on.  We also saw some geese in a field.
In Kilninver, which is half a dozen houses at most, we crossed the river on an attractive stone bridge and took the road towards Seil.  This road is quite narrow and twisty, and it was a lot busier than we’d thought it would be.  We were passed by several coaches and a double-decker bus full of ‘wrinklies’!  We could only assume they were all making for the island of Seil, but we wondered how these big vehicles coped with the bridge which is narrow and humped.
When not dodging the traffic we had time to look at the autumnal wild flowers on the roadside, and marvel at the number of rose hips there seem to be this year.
We passed Loch Seil on our left hand side, a small sausage-shaped loch.  We noticed that there was a piece of blue string stretching along the road.  We hadn’t seen it start, and couldn’t make out what it was for.  We must have followed it for more than a mile!  We said we would see where it ended, it might give us some clue.
But we were speculating so animatedly as to its purpose that we didn’t see where it went — we suddenly noticed it wasn’t there any more.  We couldn’t be bothered to walk back, so it remains a mystery.
We bypassed the road down to Seil because it is a dead end.  But we did visit the island last July because there is a rather nice ‘real ale’ pub just across the bridge.  We had a pub lunch there back then, followed by a tour of the island by car.

The Islands of Seil and Easdale
Seil is separated from the mainland by a very narrow strait, in fact we have crossed wider rivers.  There is just one bridge across to the island, and that is narrow and humped.  In actual fact it is a very attractive bridge.  The ‘Tigh an Truish’ pub lies just on the other side.
Across the island, several miles away from the bridge, is the pretty little harbour of Ellenabeich.  This is the spot the tourist buses were making for, and it now boasts a Craft Centre and a Heritage Centre.  There is also a little ferry across to a rock called Easdale where there is a pub and a museum, according to my map.  (There is hardly room on this rock for anything else!)
Easdale was once the centre of the British slate industry, and slates from this tiny island can still be found on rooftops all over the world.  There were several quarries, some of which extended — by the use of pumping machinery — up to three hundred feet below sea level. Hundreds of men were employed in this dangerous work of cutting out the slates.  They were poorly paid and lived in hovels on the island.  The company which owned the island made a fine profit, meanwhile.  But times change, and the quarries stopped producing on a commercial scale in 1911.  The last slate was cut on Easdale in the 1950s.
Nowadays the flooded quarries form deep rectangular pools on Easdale and round Ellenabeich.  The slates are still there, and they make excellent skimming stones!  So each September the World Stone-Skimming Championships are held on Easdale — and the experts are the local children who can practise all the year.

At the bend we continued straight on down a farm road, passing some Highland cows lurking in the undergrowth.  We were followed by a van with a smelly trailer which passed us several times, going backwards and forwards transferring animals to a field lower down.  (Why the farmer didn’t herd the cattle I don’t know, I would have thought that would have been a much easier option.  But then I don’t know anything about farming.)  We sat on a wall to eat our sarnies, then continued until the tarmacked road ran out.
There the way forked, and we took the left-hand branch because the one leading down to the shore was a dead end.  Our track led across the moors to Kilchoan Bay in Loch Melfort, and we were relieved to find it was a good track, well drained, well maintained and well signposted!  We thought the track must be used as an unofficial road by the local people, though we didn’t meet anybody on it throughout its length.  Telegraph wires on poles were beside us all the way.
We crossed a stream at a ford which was so narrow we could jump it, but Colin balanced across on a piece of guttering just to be different.  Then we began to climb.
The sun was shining.  The scenery was lovely, we had wonderful views across the strait to Seil.  The track was good, and it was very clear which way we were supposed to go.  We were really enjoying ourselves, and thought it couldn’t get any better.  But it did!  We saw a red squirrel!
Colin hadn’t brought his camera because of the rain this morning, so he grabbed mine and crept out on to a bluff hoping to get a better view.  I stayed quietly on the track.  Colin couldn’t see the squirrel when he got out there, but I did.
Somehow it had got round behind him, and I saw it skitter away into some trees quite near me.  But I didn’t have my camera because it was in Colin’s hand over there!  The only picture we got was of some sheep peeping over a ridge.
We continued to climb.  At the top we came across a dead tree which was stuffed with coins — not old coins, you understand, but modern 10p pieces mostly.  Why do people hammer coins into trees like this?  Is it for good luck, like throwing money into a wishing well?
The only other coin tree we have come across on our travels is on the ‘Waterfalls Walk’ in Ingleton on the Yorkshire Dales, but apparently there are a number of them scattered about the countryside in England, Scotland and Wales.  We were quite surprised to come across one in such a remote spot, I shouldn’t think many tourists come up here.  So who are the people who do this?
Not far past the coin tree we came upon a very interesting rock.  It was an outcrop of basalt — the hexagonal columns turned on their sides so we could only see their ends.  It was a bit like Ireland’s famous ‘Giant’s Causeway’, only tipped sideways.
The track began to descend, and the views ahead of us were stupendous!  They quite took our breath away.  The track went on, down and down.  We hadn’t realised we had climbed so high.
Then we saw some rocks which had such a high percentage of mica in them they shone in the sun!
From the distance they looked like mirrors — my photos don’t do them justice.
We couldn’t get over how beautiful they were, and that they were completely natural.
I took dozens of photos of them.
Further down we came across a mica rock that had been wrinkled — amazing!
As were the continuing views across the loch far below.
The track we were on was coming down to meet the road at a sharp angle, facing in the wrong direction like two prongs of a fork.  Colin insisted we cut off the corner, but he had to help me down as I found it a bit steep.  We were on a tarmacked lane again.  There was a car parked down there overlooking the loch, and the driver asked us if we had enjoyed our walk.  So we stopped to chat for a bit.  Further on we sat on a bank to eat our apples.
The lane we were on was undulating, narrow and twisting — but there was so little traffic it didn’t really matter.  It was very pretty, and we kept getting wonderful views over the loch.  A couple of miles further on we sat by the roadside to eat our chocolate.  The man we had chatted to earlier drove past, stopped and offered us a lift.  When we tried to explain that we “must” walk it all even though we were very tired by now, he kept asking, “Are you sure?”  So I gave him one of my blog cards — I wonder if he is still reading it. (“Hello!” if you are!)
As we neared the end of our Walk, we passed through the hamlet of Melfort.  The ground between the lane and the loch was quite swampy there, even the trees seemed to be growing in water.
In front of a row of houses we came across an interesting post.  It recorded the high water mark of 22nd November 1881. (I think that was the date, it was difficult to make out.)  It was about four feet off the ground up by the fence, yet the present day tide level is well below the road.  All the houses along there must have been flooded that day.  But today the water in the loch was much lower, and looking very picturesque with yachts moored in the shallows.
As we neared the end of our Walk, the blue skies clouded over and we had a couple of showers — but nothing like the downpours this morning.  At last we came out on to the main road.

That ended Walk no.262, we shall pick up Walk no.263 next time at the road junction just south of Kilmelford. It was twenty-five past six, so the Walk had taken us eight hours.  We walked about 200 yards northwards on the main road to the bus stop next to where our car was parked.  We had our tea and caramel shortcake, then returned to our caravan in Lochgilphead.

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