Saturday, September 18, 2010

Walk 264 -- A Bheinn to Achnamara

Ages:  Colin was 68 years and 133 days.  Rosemary was 65 years and 275 days.
Weather:  Sunny, then rain for about an hour.  Then sunny again for the rest of the day.  Some cloud.  A cool wind.
Location:  Á Bheinn to Achnamara.
Distance:  13½ miles.
Total distance:  2509 miles.
Terrain:  Mostly roads — a main road then lots of minor (we were able to put away our visible vests and blinking armbands!)  Some tracks, but even these had been tarmacked once upon a time.  Lots of muddy puddles — yippee!
Tide:  In.  (We hardly saw the sea all day.)
Rivers:  No.300, River Add (Crinan Canal alongside).
Ferries:  None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  The ‘Kilmartin Hotel’ in Kilmartin — but it was CLOSED when we walked by so we never got a drink!
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  No.25, the chambered cairn and stone circle near Kilmartin.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were staying in our caravan in Lochgilphead.  There were no buses going our route today, so we booked a taxi to pick us up in Achnamara village.  This morning we drove there and parked by the village hall.  The taxi arrived on time, and took us to the quarry entrance where we finished yesterday’s Walk.  It cost us £25, but was cheaper than hiring a car.
At the end, we finished our Walk at the car.  We were bothered by midges as the wind had dropped and we were near trees.  So we drove down to the end of the Crinan Canal where it was more breezy, and had our tea and caramel shortcake there.  Colin explored the lock gates before we returned to our caravan in Lochgilphead.
The first four miles of today’s trek were along that wretched main road again where there was no pavement and the traffic belted along at great speed.  So we donned our bright yellow waistcoats and attached our new blinking armbands to our rucksacks.  Then we marched as fast as we could in order to get that part of the Walk over as quickly as possible.  We hardly saw the shore all day because the ‘nearest safe path to the sea’ was about a mile inland, sometimes further, for the whole of the Walk.  It didn’t feel like a coastal walk at all.  The up-side was that it was downhill all the way to Kilmartin.  The down-side was that after a sunny start it began to rain, and by the time we got to Kilmartin we were soaked.
We passed a memorial tree to a young lad who was killed on that road.  A plaque declared:  This tree was planted in memory of my dear Son, Simon aged 21 years.  The love of my life was tragically killed at this spot on 24th My 1998.  Forever in my Heart.  Mum xxx  How sad!  But far better to plant a tree as a memorial than to keep leaving dead flowers on the spot.
We passed Carnassarie Castle, we could just about see it from the road on our right-hand side.  It is a 16th century tower house, now a ruin.  We didn’t bother to divert to see it properly because we had a long Walk ahead of us, and also by then it was teeming down with rain.  We had put on our capes because we thought it was only a short shower, but it poured for about an hour and we got very wet.
We also noticed, up someone’s driveway, an old telephone box being used as a log store!  Since nearly everyone has their own mobile phone these days, public phone boxes are pretty well redundant and most have been taken out of use.  People buy them for a pittance — the one in our village at home was for sale for £1 — and put them to all sorts of uses in their gardens.  The new owners of this one obviously thought it was a good place to keep their logs dry.
When we saw Kilmartin in the distance we could have taken a track leading round the back of the village which would have got us off the road.  But we didn’t because we would have missed out visiting the ‘real ale’ pub in the village centre.  We were rather wet and miserable, and thought we had timed it nicely as it was just coming up to 11 o’clock as we entered the hamlet.  Imagine our consternation when we discovered the pub didn’t open until noon!  We couldn’t hang about in the wet for an hour, so we miserably plodded on.  We might as well have taken that back road, missing out about a mile of the main road.   At least the public loo in Kilmartin had been clean, open and free — there are some compensations in life!
About half a mile out of the village we turned off the main road for good.  At that point the rain stopped and the sun came out.  At last!  So we divested ourselves of our wet gear and our high-vis gear.  Then we sat on a wall in the sunshine to eat our pies.  After being so miserable, suddenly everything seemed a lot better.
We passed a rural school, and next we came to a very ancient site.  First of all there was a chambered cairn which you could actually get inside — Colin did, of course!  A notice told us it is believed to be about four thousand years old, and that pottery and burned bones were found inside.
Next we came across two stone circles.  The northern circle — marked in the present day by a ring filled with stones — is believed to be more than five thousand years old.  It was replaced by the larger southern circle, possibly before it was actually finished.  The southern circle has been restored with its ring of standing stones.  Looking at the map we could see that there are standing stones, cists and cup & ring marks all over the place in this area, dating from the same period.
We had reached the 2500mile mark of our Trek (Yes! Two and a half thousand miles from Bognor Regis!) and wanted to take a photograph of us both in front of the stone circle.  We were just setting our camera up on a rock intending to take a delayed-shutter shot when a couple from Canada wandered across an adjacent field to look at the stone circle.  They were the only people we met on the whole of the Walk, and seemed to appear out of nowhere.  We wondered if it was fate that they should turn up just at the right moment — the whole place seemed to have an inexplicable spirituality about it.  Anyway, they took a good picture of us, far better than we would have achieved with the delayed shutter!
We continued south, and at the end of the lane we passed through the gates of what was once a vast country estate.  We were in what was once rolling parkland, but it was very neglected.  Weeds grew high and the road was pot-holed — it obviously hadn’t been managed for a long long time.   

That is … except the Victorian chapel we came to.  Built as part of the original estate, it was beautifully kept and obviously very much still in use.  The grass was mown all around it.  Inside there was a ‘Roll of Honour’ of the estate workers who had fought and died in the two World Wars — as usual, far more names for the First World War than for the Second.
We sat on a pile of wood outside to eat our sarnies.  As we continued southwards we passed the manor house, a flamboyant building which has been left to fall into ruin — so sad.  A notice on the gate warned us:  “Keep out.  Dangerous building.”  Apparently it was abandoned after the Second World War, and has been unroofed since 1957.  It is a listed building, but the present owner says it has decayed “beyond restoration”.  It is probably too late to save it now.
We should have passed a ‘cup & ring marked rock’ according to our map. But we failed to find it.  It has probably been overgrown by brambles and moss.  We did find a fine example of these rock marks on a hill nearer to Lochgilphead on a different day.  The origin of these strange marks is obscure, but such rocks are all over the place in this part of Scotland so they must have been very important to the ancient people who drew them.
We exited the ‘park’ through a gate and continued southwards along a lane.  By now the sun was shining and it was quite pleasant walking along.  This was the nearest we got to the coast all day — Loch Crinan was only a few yards away to our right across a swampy meadow.  We had good views of Duntrune Castle on a rocky spur, another ancient tower house.  But this one is still occupied despite stories of the ghost of a handless piper!  The surrounding cottages are self-catering holiday lets.
Ahead we could see Knapdale Forest where an experiment to reintroduce beavers to the British Isles is taking place — more about that later.  We had to turn away from the coast to avoid walking down a dead end, and joined up with a B road leading down to Bellanoch.  It was a long straight road so we went into ‘march-mode’.

But Colin did dally a moment or two to photograph a dragon fly and then a ‘Magic Mushroom’ (Fly Agaric).

We crossed the River Add at Bellanoch.  The tide was in, so there seemed to be a lot of water about.  Then we crossed the Crinan Canal which runs parallel to the river.  This nine-mile long canal was dug through from Crinan to Lochgilphead to save ships the long and treacherous journey round the Mull of Kintyre.  It opened in 1801, and has been in constant use ever since, though it is mostly pleasure craft that use it these days.
It is very picturesque at this spot, so we sat by the canal for a short while and ate our apples.
It was pleasant in the sunshine, but we had to get on.
We followed the road alongside the canal for about two hundred yards before turning southwards again, uphill towards Achnamara.  There we entered Knapdale Forest.  After about a mile we came to a picnic site where an information board told us about the beaver experiment:-- 
The beaver was hunted to extinction in the British Isles in the 16th century.  It is an animal which is native to our shores, but for four hundred years has been a missing part of our biodiversity.  In May 2009 four beavers (from Norway) were introduced to Knapdale Forest for a trial period of five years during which time they, and the effects they have on the immediate environment, will be closely monitored.  To date a total of sixteen beavers, in five distinct family groups, have been released in Loch Coille-Bharr (adjacent to the picnic site where we were resting) and other lochs in the forest.  Some of these have died, some have disappeared, some have relocated themselves and some have stayed put and successfully bred.
The Norwegian beaver is the nearest type of beaver to the original Scottish beaver, and the lochs in Knapdale Forest are considered to be ideal habitats for these animals.  There has been much controversy about the reintroduction of these animals — according to the popular press they “cause havoc” by their tree-felling activities — so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.
We didn’t have time on this Walk to do more than glance towards Loch Coille-Bharr as we passed, but the following Summer, when we were once more staying in our caravan at Lochgilphead, we made a couple of visits hoping to catch sight of these elusive animals.
On one of our ‘rest’ days we spent the morning walking round Loch Coille-Bharr on the ‘Beaver Trail’.  We were three-quarters of the way round before we found any evidence of beaver activity.
We saw tree stumps bitten to a point, and ‘paths’ where the trees had been dragged down to the water.  These were not mature trees, you understand, but young saplings which were growing too close together anyway and needed thinning out — mature trees are far too heavy for the beavers to move so they leave them alone.  The native red deer cause far more damage in forests.  Then we came across a beautiful and very effective dam which the beavers had constructed.   
Consequently a swampy area had been flooded (the track had to be diverted along a wooden walkway) and the nearby tiny Dubh Loch had been enlarged to several times its original size.
So, far from “causing havoc” as the popular press would have it, these animals are managing the local woodland and providing new habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.  And they work for free!
We didn’t see any beavers as it was the wrong time of day, so we planned where we were going to return at dusk.  Then we left before the midges drove us insane!
At about 8pm, stinking of the one and only perfume which the midges hate, we returned to the Forest in the hope that the beavers would be more active.  Only one other group of three people were there — even though it was all on the TV programme ‘Springwatch’ this year — and they soon left.  We were on our own.
We saw some rings in the water in the far distance, and I was convinced I saw a head momentarily.  There was nothing near the dam, so we followed a ghost of a path round the edge of Dubh Loch.  It was extremely difficult walking due to the slope of the land, and the roots and undergrowth, but we did find the beavers’ lodge built next to the bank.
We stood there quietly for a good long time, but we saw no movement whatsoever.  So we returned, with difficulty, to the main path.  Suddenly I saw something swim across the water in the distance, followed by another shape.  Excitement mounted!  But they turned out to be ducks — you’ve got to laugh! 
Back to our Walk — we sat on a bench at the picnic site eating our chocolate, but we didn’t stay long because the midges found us.  We didn’t take the road towards Tayvallich because that would have been a dead end.  We had a few miles still to go before we reached Achnamara, mostly uphill through the forest, so we just plodded on until we got there.  It seemed a long trudge, I suppose we were tired by then.  We had been hiking for five consecutive days (last Thursday we did the alternative Walk into Oban) and that is too much.
We passed the end of Loch Coille-Bharr, and then met a sheep with very curly horns in a field.  Further on we passed the end of Loch Sween, after which the road did a few hairpin bends to get up a hill.  Near the top we could see the village of Achnamara  across another branch of Loch Sween.

As we entered the village we were amused by the flowerpot men in people’s gardens.  How we loved that children’s programme of the 1950s, but we’re sure the BBC has lost all the archives because they never show them.  Such a pity!  We came to the village hall where our car was parked.
 That ended Walk no.264, we shall pick up Walk no.265 next time at the village hall in Achnamara. It was ten past five, so the Walk had taken us seven hours and forty minutes.  As soon as we stopped walking we were bothered by midges.  (The wind had dropped and we were near trees.)  So we drove down to the end of the Crinan Canal where it was more breezy, and had our tea and caramel shortcake there.  Colin explored the lock gates before we returned to our caravan in Lochgilphead.

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