Monday, July 04, 2011

Walk 277 -- Auchenbreck to Dunoon

Ages:  Colin was 69 years and 57 days.  Rosemary was 66 years and 199 days.
Weather:  Sunny and very hot.  A cooling breeze when we were out in the open.
Location:  Auchenbreck to Dunoon.
Distance:  14 miles.
Total distance:  2683 miles.
Terrain:  All road-walking.  Quite undulating.
Tide:  Mostly in.
Rivers:  No.324, Auchenbreck Burn.  No.325, Balliemore Burn.  No.326, Glentarsan Burn.    No.327, Little Eachaig River.
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 touring south-west Scotland with our caravan, and we were staying near Dunoon.  This morning Colin drove to Hunter’s Quay where he parked the car and caught a bus back to the caravan site.  Then we both walked a mile down the road to a bus stop where we could catch the one and only bus to Auchenbreck.  (It didn’t go past Hunter’s Quay.)  We alighted at the road junction where we finished the last Walk.
At the end, we walked past the car to the ferry terminal because we wanted to finish the Walk on the slipway.  Then we returned to the car and drove straight back to the caravan to have our tea in comfort.

We trudged away from the midges at the road junction as quickly as we could.  It was a very hot day, and we didn’t get any pleasure out of walking uphill on a road well away from the coast.  There was no breeze at all, but we had plenty of water with us to stop ourselves getting dehydrated.  The sun was behind a misty cloud at first, which was a slight relief. 
We were slightly amused to learn we were on a weak road — we felt pretty weak ourselves in this hot weather.  We knew that today would be a pretty dull Walk compared with the last one, so we made the most of the colourful wild flowers we passed on the way in an effort to keep our spirits up.
We decided to have our elevenses at exactly eleven o’clock, so as our watches reached that hour we sat on a roadside bank to eat our pies.  The sun came out as we did so, and it was cruel!  We both hate the heat — a holiday in a hot country lying on the beach in the sun is our idea of hell!
It was much too hot to walk today, but having gone to the expense of bringing our caravan so far from home we really had no choice.  So we just got on with it.  At least the next bit was downhill.
We descended towards Loch Striven where we had good views across this narrow loch.  It is surrounded by wooded mountains, and there were a few rocky outcrops we could see above our heads.  According to my geology map, the rocks in this area are mainly metamorphic — a quartz-mica-schist.  (I wish I knew more about the complexities of metamorphic rocks.)  We could see a pipeline coming down the mountain just across the loch, and on the OS map is marked ‘Striven Power Station’.  We assumed it is a hydro-electric plant, though a very small one.
We crossed Balliemore Burn at the top of the loch, the northernmost point of this walking session.  Ever since we were at Southend on the southernmost tip of the Kintyre Peninsula, we have been walking north.  It was with relief that we started walking south after crossing the bridge.
We were happy that our route would now be almost due south for a good many miles hence.  Nearby was a paper notice pinned to a post warning about the danger of ‘Naturally occurring algal poison’.  It went on to say, “Mussels / Cockles / Periwinkles etc from this area as from the date of this notice should not be eaten.  They may be contaminated and therefore pose a risk to health.  We couldn’t read the date of the notice because it had been smudged by the rain.  This warning didn’t concern us, but must be devastating to local people who have been harvesting these shellfish for generations.  We really felt for them, and wondered whether the power station had had anything to do with this algal bloom.
About a mile down the road we passed the entrance to the Ardtaraig Estate.  This was significant because we should have turned off the road here and followed the driveway.  According to the OS map this would have turned into a track, then further on into a mountain-footpath across the rocks.  After many miles we would have come out on to a ‘yellow’ road which leads round the end of the peninsula to Dunoon.  But after our experiences on Walks 237, 238, 245, and on Walks 271 and the last Walk—276 when we were on way-marked footpaths, we said we wouldn’t risk any more mountain footpaths in Scotland.  Besides, after Walk 245 when we had been so badly frightened, we made up Additional Rule No.16 which specifically forbade us to follow such a path!  So we continued on the road, dull as it was.
The road was busier than we thought it would be, which was a dampener of our spirits.  There were also a few cyclists, but we met no other walkers.  It was very hot as we ascended to the dams.  On the way up we sat on a bank in the shade to eat our sarnies.
A reservoir has been formed between the mountains, the water trapped by two dams.  We came to the larger of the dams first, called ‘Tarsan Dam’.  A little further on we came to another paper warning notice pinned to a post.  This one told us, “DANGER  Mud is sticky and deep.  Be very careful when fishing from bank or when wading.  We wondered whether anybody had come to a sticky end whilst fishing in the reservoir, causing the authorities to put up this notice.
We passed the second dam which was smaller, then we descended through a glen.  We seemed to be making good progress timewise — the Walk was a bit tedious so there was little to distract us.  We noted the odd flower and butterfly.  We glanced at the rock outcrop by the side of the road (metamorphic rock again, that quartz-mica-schist) and we passed an awful lot of conifer woods with their regimental trunks reaching for the sky.   
But it was really too hot to be out walking — Mad Dogs and Englishmen……!
We came to the village of Clachaig which is little more than half a dozen cottages lining the road.  But it also boasts a bus stop which we had noticed the other day — that’s how we cottoned on to the fact that there was a bus service we could use today.  We had noticed it when travelling to and from the previous Walk — the website ‘Traveline’ had told us there was no bus route along this road, and we had planned to thumb a lift which is something we only do in desperation, when there is no other way.
We sat on a wall in the shade to eat our apples, but the midges found us almost immediately so we had to walk on quickly.  We continued downhill until we crossed the Little Eachaig River, then there was a little bit of ‘up’ before we descended to the main road into Dunoon.  Colin was really feeling the heat by now and I was way ahead of him.  So when I reached the bus stop where we had caught the bus this morning, I sat on the seat to wait for him.  We then walked together to a picnic area at the end of Holy Loch where we sat and ate our chocolate.   We idly watched two children play with their Dad on the strip of stony beach.
Holy Loch opens out into the Firth of Clyde, and we felt we had just entered suburbia.  After all that wildness of north-west Scotland, this was quite a shock to the system!  The toilets by the bus stop were locked up, houses we passed were derelict and vandalised — two of them had been destroyed by fire.  What sort of a place were we coming to?
There was regeneration happening on the beach — well, the area was being flattened — and I had to take a picture of a pretty row of cottages to show not all was doom and desperation.  But I must admit we were both shocked.  It seemed so sudden after the rural bliss we had been walking through for so many miles.
A floral trough welcomed us to Sandbank, but even this had a ‘wild’ look.  (What made it worse was that we were staying at a very run-down caravan site along the road.  The pity of it is that the site is secluded, roomy and green.  It has so much potential, but it has been left to go to seed.  The facilities are diabolical, and neither of us have dared to take a shower — we don’t trust the electrics!  Perhaps that’s why we feel so hot and sticky.  We can’t wait to pack up and leave on the morrow.)
We passed a man who made that age-old skiing ‘joke’ about my walking poles, which annoyed me intensely.  I expect he thought he was being hilarious and original, but if he knew how many times I have heard that stupid remark……..
It was very much a working beach as we turned into the waterfront road towards Hunter’s Quay.  Now we were by the open loch, we had a bit of a breeze which made us both feel a lot brighter.  We were intrigued by some turf-covered floating sheds in the loch, alongside a few snazzy yachts.  Ducks were floating along in the current and fisherfolk were busy along the shore with a backdrop of mountains, so perhaps all was not lost.

We could see ferries criss-crossing from Hunter’s Quay to McInroy’s Point on the edge of Gourock.

We passed the War Memorial on the corner, and shortly afterwards came to our car parked by the side of the road.  We put our rucksacks and poles inside before walking on to the ferry terminal at Hunter’s Quay.

That ended Walk no.277, we shall pick up Walk no.278 next time at McInroy’s Point, across the Firth of Clyde.  It was ten past five, so the Walk had taken us seven hours.
We had a chat with a man directing traffic on to and off the ferries.  He told us that if we bought our tickets tomorrow at a garage up the road rather than on the ferry we could save ourselves a lot of money.  A new firm has recently opened this vehicle ferry from Hunter’s Quay to McInroy’s Point, and they are very much cheaper, more frequent and more efficient than CalMac who have operated the ferry from Dunoon to Gourock for decades.  In fact, so successful has been this new crossing that CalMac have closed their ferry to vehicles — it is for cyclists and pedestrians only as of this week. 
We returned to the car and drove back to our grotty caravan site where we could have our tea in the comfort of our own van.  It was good to finish the Walk at a reasonably early-ish hour, and good to feel we can leave this wretched place in the morning for pastures new — and further south!

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