Saturday, July 02, 2011

Walk 276 -- Tarbert, via Portavadie, to Auchenbreck

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 55 days.  Rosemary was 66 years and 197 days.
Weather:  Sunny and hot.  A light breeze in open places.
Location:  Tarbert, via Portavadie, to Auchenbreck.
Distance:  19 miles, 3½ of which were ferry.
Total distance:  2669 miles.
Terrain:  Mostly roads.  Some tracks.  A cruise on the paddle steamer “Waverley”!!  Three quarters of a mile on an extremely difficult path which took us 1½ hours — it was steep, narrow, overgrown, had big steps, was very muddy, slippery and included minor rock scrambling — in fact it was hardly a path at all and we considered it DANGEROUS!
Tide:  Coming in, then going out.
Rivers:  No.323, River Ruel.
Ferries:  No.21, across Loch Fyne from Tarbert to Portavadie.  Fare £3.75 each.
Piers: No.27 at Tighnabruaich.  A great surprise because we thought they didn’t ‘do’ wooden piers in Scotland!
Kissing gates:  None.
Pubs:  Kames Hotel in Kames, where we both enjoyed ‘Jarl’ by Fyne Ales (very nice!) and Colin also had ‘Highlander’.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties:  None.
Ferris wheels:  None.
Diversions:  None.
How we got there and back:  We were touring south-west Scotland with our caravan.  Yesterday we moved the ’van from Lochgilphead to Dunoon.  This morning we drove to Auchenbreck where we parked the car on a grass verge by the road junction.  Then we waited in this out-of-the-way midgy place for the one and only bus.  Would it come?  It did!  And we were the only passengers.  We alighted at the ferry terminal at Portavadie.
At the end, we arrived at the car very late, worn out and in no mood for the midges which were clouding everywhere.  So we changed out of our boots as quickly as possible and beat it back to the caravan.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm with very clear visibility.  The views were magnificent!  We stood on the slipway at Portavadie and watched the ferry go out towards Tarbert — to the very slipway where we had finished the last Walk.  (The logistics of actually using the ferry as part of a Walk were too great, so once more we pretended.)
We were on the Cowal peninsula, but we didn’t follow the Cowal Way to the hamlet of Millhouse because the narrow road was nearer the sea, though very much inland.  It got oppressively hot as soon as we left the breeze of the coast, and we wondered how we were going to cope with the walking on such a day — neither of us ‘do’ heat.  We admired the wild orchids we kept finding on the verges, they really were at their best.
Millhouse proved to be an interesting little place, for gunpowder used to be made there.  We came across part of a cannon along with a cannon ball which were embedded in a stone plinth — cannons were used to test the strength of the gunpowder once it was made.  Ironically, behind it was a memorial plaque to a number of men who had died in accidents at the gunpowder works on several different occasions.  A time-keeping bell was attached to the top of a post.  It is known as the Dolphin Bell because it is mounted in a cast-iron frame in the shape of two dolphins.  Nearby is a row of cottages which were houses for the workers.  The mill closed in 1921.  A modern time capsule was buried at the same spot in 2007, it is intended to leave it there for a hundred years.
Just out of the village we planned to use the Cowal Way to get across to Kames, the road being many miles longer mostly on an  inland route (additional rule no.11).  According to our recently purchased and expensive OS map, the Cowal Way is a way-marked trail, so we expected it to be of good quality.  However this doesn’t seem to apply in Scotland — remember how we were constantly disappointed with the quality of the Kintyre Way?  It was very clear on the map where we were supposed to turn off the road on to a track as it was at a distinct bend in the road, so we knew we were in the right place.  But the entrance to the field was overgrown, and when we got inside there was no sign of any path!  We crossed a ditch and tried to walk along the field itself because it looked better than where we thought the ‘path’ was supposed to go.  But the field was full of hidden holes.  Not wishing to injure ourselves, we soon gave up and turned back to the road.  We were really rather angry, we felt we had been let down by the local authority.
Walking along the road, we came to a cross-roads at the back of Kames.  We turned south and made our way down to the lochside where we sat on a bench looking across the Kyles of Bute to the island of Bute.  Colin’s knee was bothering him — his old trouble.  He tried ibuprofen gel, and when that didn’t work he took a couple of ibuprofen tablets, then a couple of paracetamol for good measure!
I felt a blister (not again!) forming on the inside of my big toe, so I removed my boot and sock before applying a blister plaster.  We were both comfortable after that.  We ate one sandwich each although it was still early because we were both rather peckish.  Then we moved on along the waterfront.
We saw some children playing on the stony beach as we walked towards Kames.  We stopped at the pub for real ale — Colin had earmarked this one as it was in his book.  When we came out we found we couldn’t continue along the waterfront even though we could see a wooden pier at Tighnabruaich about a mile ahead.  It was private land, and we had to turn back uphill and return to the crossroads we had come to about an hour earlier!  This time we turned north, and the road soon took us back to the waterfront past the private bit.
There were a lot of people about and lots of boats in the water.  Then we saw a poster that told us the reason why — today was gala day in Tighnabruaich, and they were raising money to pay for repairs to their wooden pier.  (We were surprised there was a wooden pier here, we thought they didn’t build any in Scotland.)  One of the events advertised was a one-hour cruise on the paddle-steamer ‘The Waverley’ — the only sea-going paddle-steamer in the world which still cruises.  With growing excitement we read that ‘The Waverley’ was due to steam into Tighnabruaich in two hours time!!  And we could buy tickets for the cruise down by the pier.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!  Colin and I have always wanted to cruise on this unique ship, but we never seemed to be in the right part of the country where and when it was sailing.  (I had a vague memory of going for an evening trip from Swanage to Poole back in 1958 on a paddle steamer that could well have been ‘The Waverley’, but I don’t remember much about it.)
Well, that was it!  The Round-Britain-Walk was put on hold.  We couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this!  We hurried along to the pier and bought our tickets before they sold out.  There were a number of stalls set up around the pier entrance, but apart from the tickets we only bought ice creams — we were mindful that we still had a good many miles to walk before we reached the car so didn’t want to carry any unnecessary stuff.
We sat on the end of the pier and ate our ice creams.  With growing excitement we and the crowds waited for ‘The Waverley’ to appear.  Time was getting short, and there was no sign of it.  Would it come, or had it all been a dream?
Then it appeared in the distance, this grand old ship chugging away towards us, a magnificent sight!  We were amazed how fast it sailed — in no time at all it was docking right by us.  It was right on time, how could we have doubted?
It was chaos for the next ten minutes or so, there seemed to be no organisation nor regard for safety.  There were crowds on the small wooden pier, and we had just gently been pushed back as ropes were thrown.  Over a hundred people trooped off the ship, pushing their way through the throng to get onshore.  More than a hundred, including us, got on.  No one looked at our tickets — in fact a woman who hadn’t bought one had great difficulty finding someone who would sell her one!  Whether she found someone, or simply got on without one I don’t know.
We set off very quickly, the ship had a tight schedule.  We sailed south between the mainland and the Isle of Bute.
We were well beyond the end of the peninsula before we turned round to return to Tighnabruaich, passing very near to Kames where we had just been relaxing in the pub.
How glad we were that we hadn’t lingered too long there and so missed this treat.  The whole trip was a great thrill!
We went down to look at the engines, they were amazing!  Long metal rods going round and round really fast.
It put me in mind of when my grandfather took me to see a beam engine pumping water in Arundel when I was about four years old.  I may have been young, but I have never forgotten it.  Grandad was ‘Clerk of Works’ on the Arundel estate, and one of his responsibilities was the pumping of water up from Swanbourne Lake into the town.  Arundel depended on this supply, and I remember I was with him when he needed to visit the pumphouse to discuss a problem with the men working there.  I was not at all frightened by the noise, just excited at seeing the huge brass rods pumping up and down.  The Waverley’s engines seemed so similar, and I found them just as exciting more than sixty years later!  (In the 1990s I revisited the pumphouse at Swanbourne Lake — and found it to be an empty derelict shell of a building, so sad.)
All too soon our hour on ‘The Waverley’ was over.  As we approached the little wooden pier we could see there were crowds of people on it, all waiting to resume their afternoon cruise after an hour on shore in Tighnabruaich.  Ropes were thrown, a woman ducked and tripped over some fishing nets.  She went down a wallop, and didn’t immediately get up.  Two medics on the ship, holiday-makers themselves, called out that they were nurses and scrambled to get off first so they could go to her aid.  I don’t know how badly she was hurt — when I last saw her she was sitting on the fishing ropes with the nurses either side of her.
It was chaotic getting off the ship with all those crowds waiting to get on again.  That side of things was very badly managed, and it was a miracle that no one else got hurt in the mêlée.  We got away as best we could, turning north at the shore end of the pier to continue our Walk.  Since most of the people turned south, we were very soon on our own again.  We watched ‘The Waverley’ cruise away around the north end of Bute — it was moving surprisingly fast and was soon out of sight.
At the end of the houses, the road we were on turned into a decent track.  We were hopeful that the ‘Cowal Way’ would be a clear path all the way through, but we should have known better.  It was nice and cool in the woods, very pleasant.  We sat by a little waterfall to eat our second sandwiches (remember this morning we had each only eaten one!)
It was such a lovely walk along the lochside — the views were spectacular, we saw yachts moored in the loch, a little lighthouse on a rock, a black horse in a field and a deer in the edge of the trees.  We seemed to be getting further and further from civilisation — then the track suddenly came to an end and we followed an arrow down on to a stony bit of beach.  Our hearts sank!  And with good reason because we couldn’t see where any path continued.
We walked the length of the beach, which was overgrown and obviously not well walked.  At the other end an arrow pointed us up into the overgrown cliff.
The path was terrible!  Hardly a path at all, and this is supposed to be a way-marked route.  It was very steep up and down — at one point there was even a rope tethered at one end to aid our descent!
There were huge steps, sometimes waist-high.  It was very narrow, and occasionally on a steep edge.  It was overgrown, difficult to see where the ghost of the path continued.
There were big rocks, and gullies where the path had been washed away.  It was slippery.  In places it was so boggy our boots sank almost to the ankles and came out with a great slurp!
It was the most difficult walking route we have ever encountered — and remember we have walked eight miles across rough ground from Cape Wrath, also the ‘Postie’s Path’ from Achiltibuie to Ullapool.
It took us one and a half hours to do three quarters of a mile, and we hated every minute of it!  It made us very tired and stressed.
Quite frankly it was dangerous!  What if one of us had slipped and broken an ankle?  Such a possibility was constantly on both of our minds.  It completely spoiled the ‘high’ we were on after the paddle steamer cruise.
At last we emerged on to a tarmacked lane.  It was getting late, and we still had five miles to go.  We route-marched it all, it was the only way we could cope.  We sat on a beach rock to eat our apples.  We joined up with an A-road and carried on marching.  A couple of miles further on we sat on a tree stump by a phone box to eat our chocolate.
The road seemed never-ending.  At last it crossed the river, and we turned south on another A-road.  (They might have been A-roads, but there was negligible traffic.)  Another weary mile or so, and we came to our car parked near a road junction. 

That ended Walk no.276, we shall pick up Walk no.277 next time at the road junction in Auchenbreck.  It was ten past nine, so the Walk had taken us eleven and a quarter hours — though nearly three hours of that time was taken up with the paddle steamer cruise.  It was dusk, we were worn out, hungry and rather cross.  We were in no mood for the midges which were clouding everywhere, so we changed out of our boots as quickly as possible and beat it back to the caravan in Dunoon.

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