Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran
By Mark Walford
Date: Thursday September 6th 2007

See Route on ......

Waving off my fellow walkers was a dispiriting experience. I knew they were in for a tough day but I chafed at not being able to walk it with them. It was a bit of a let down to have planned for a whole year, saved the money, driven half the length of the UK, only to have the actual hiking curtailed by a skinned heel. I felt like a bit of a fraud to be honest but I knew my foot wouldn't have carried me over the rugged terrain the day had in store and my medical advice was to do no more walking for the week. I had to make the best of the remaining two days so I put on my happy face and dropped them off at Carradale before setting off to spend the day on the isle of Arran.
I had to drive a fair way up the eastern side of the peninsular and the road took me along pleasant groves of oak and ash and gently rolling grassland. This side of Kintyre was tamer then its western coast which faced directly out onto the Atlantic, and it was a far cry from the ruggedness of many parts of western Scotland; indeed it could have been rural England until the majestic profile of Arran presented itself through the breaks in the trees. We had enjoyed the presence of Arran as a backdrop from day one, the aspect presented to us being the mountainous northern area of the island which reared up out of Kilbrannan sound like a South Pacific atoll, the peaks of Goat Fell and Cir Mhor often swathed in ghostly cloud. I had watched the Caledonian McBrayne ferry ply its way across the grey waters of the sound and wondered what its destination might be like, promising myself a trip back one day to find out. The day had come sooner than I had imagined.
I parked my car on the access ramp at the tiny ferry port of Crossaig - our starting point for day two of the Kintyre Way - and wandered over to see what I needed to do to buy a ticket. I had about twenty minutes before the ferry docked and I could make out its tiny white speck chugging its way across the sound. As far as I could tell there was no ticket office so I presumed that the ticket was purchased onboard. I'd never been on such a small ferry before - certainly not as a motorist - so I felt a little apprehensive as to the boarding etiquette, particularly as I was at the head of a steadily growing queue of vehicles parked up behind me. I sat and watched the toy-like ferry grow ever larger until it loomed in front of me, dropping its roll-on door just before it ground gently onto the concrete of the access ramp. I needn't have worried about the process of getting aboard as a trio of highly efficient ferrymen sprang out and directed us into the large parking bay in the belly of the ship. The doors rolled back up and without any hesitation we were away again. The whole operation had taken ten minutes.
I got out to stretch my legs and watched the more experienced passengers to see what happened next - they went off in the direction of a tiny side door so I followed them nonchalantly into a small corridor where - aha! - there was a ticket office! The crossing took about 30 minutes so I went onto the observation deck and stood at the stern (my knowledge of nautical terms is about what you'd expect from a land-locked Brummie. I know the stern is the back end, the prow is the front. Ports to the left, starboard to the right and 'poop deck' is of uncertain location but remembered because it sounds so daft. What is a Poop ? And why does it need its own deck?). I gazed at the slowly dwindling skyline of the Kintyre peninsular, tracing its contours and trying to gauge where my fellow walkers might be. From this vantage point it was easy to see just how far the finger of Kintyre stretched out into the Atlantic. Its southern shores were lost in the distance and, just as last years West Highland Way had taught me, there would be a real sense of achievement in completing the walk. Forevermore you could point out the phallic shape of the peninsular on weather maps and announce to those around you "Look - see that? I walked it!" and be rewarded by a puzzled glance and the inevitable question "Why?". Some sort of RAF plane - a large twin engined affair - droned by at low altitude, heading south, drawing the attention of the ferry passengers like moths to a flame. As if sensing this it turned at the southern end of Kilbrannan Sound and headed back over us again. In true tourist fashion I snapped a few pictures that basically showed a grey plane hanging in a grey sky which was about as interesting as a picture of a slug on a wet paving slab. Still, it was a diversion.
Once we crossed the halfway point my attention began to focus on the approach to Arran. The scale of the mountains became apparent as the tiny white buildings of Lochranza began to take on shape and form. They were like breadcrumbs scattered at the feet of craggy giants. The sun broke out as we made our approach towards the access ramp and I had time to take a few snapshots before hurrying back to the car.
Again, with no fuss at all, the doors rolled outwards and down and I was the first car out of the ferry and onto the A841, the only road of any consequence on Arran, running a circular route right around the coastline - a trip of some 57 miles.

A flock of sheep were being herded down this road and vehicles mounted the grassy verge to let them through, a gesture which immediately endeared me to the place, that and the middle aged gent in a shocking pink tracksuit who jogged cheerfully along the harbour front paying no heed whatsoever to the odd looks he drew.
There is little to Lochranza except the small ferry terminal, some pretty water front properties, and the oblique ruin of Lochranza Castle . It has a declining population of some 200 and takes its name from the small sea loch of Ranza about which it is built. As a plus point it is home to the islands distillery which produces Arran Single Malt (in keeping with my previous visits to Scotland, where distilleries seem hell bent on refusing me access, the distillery was closed for the day) but also has the dubious reputation of being the village with the least hours of sunshine of any in the United Kingdom, lying as it does in a north-facing valley on an island with a particularly high level of rainfall. However, unlike most villages in the UK it has its very own poem dedicated to it by none other than Sir Walter Scott - and I quote:
Arran Pic 1

Lochranza Castle

On fair Lochranza streamed the early day,
Thin wreaths of cottage smoke are upward curl'd
From the lone hamlet, which her inland bay
From the lone hamlet, which her inland bay
And circling mountains sever from world

In fairness I saw little rain during my brief visit nor 'thin wreaths of smoke upward curl'd'. Combi-boilers have probably put paid to that image. I turned left into the grassy sward surrounding the ruined castle and decided to test my mobility. I got out, grabbed my walking pole, and tested my weight. It wasn't too bad - I wasn't going to be giving Mr. Pink Tracksuit a run for his money but I could get around ok if I used my pole as a crutch. I wandered around the base of the ruined castle and looked for something to tell me of its history, but if there was an information board then I missed it. I discovered later that it is in fact a ruin of 16th century vintage - a hunting lodge built by Scottish kings. It made a great subject for a photograph, framed against the background of the little harbour with its flotilla of yachts. I noticed spotlights had been installed at strategic places and wondered if I would be here later to see it illuminated.
I drove out of Lochranza intending to do a clockwise circuit of Arran using the A841, with a possible traverse over its centre if I could find one of the few roads on the map that seemed to allow me to do this. I climbed out of the harbour town and along the winding road that snaked through the mountains of the islands northern region. The road builders of Arran, justifiably proud of the scenery they enjoyed, incorporated regular lay-bys for people to pull in and admire the scenery, some of these even had park benches for their comfort and none of them possessed a parking meter. In fact during my whole stay in Kintyre I never once paid for the privilege of parking my car in some of the UK's most scenic locations - a stark contrast to my earlier Cornish holiday where my weekly parking budget almost ran into three figures. I was in no hurry, and the day was proving to be pleasantly sunny, so I edged my way around the coast, stopping by and by, until I reached the islands principal town of Brodick where I decided to get out and stretch my legs. Brodick is the centre for tourism on Arran but this in no way spoils its atmosphere. Even the main ferry port to mainland Ardrossan has not detracted from it's genial ambience. Brodick has its very own brewery, the Arran brewery, which produces Arran Blonde beer sold throughout the UK. There were more shops here than in Lochranza (actually there were no shops in Lochranza so the comparison is a little unfair) and I browsed along the high street peering into various windows. I found a curio shop - the sort of place that Sue loves to explore - and on impulse I decided to go inside and buy her a memento. The cool interior was practically empty of customers. I cast a quick glance over to the two female shop assistants and wondered, briefly, why they were staring at me in such an odd and wary manner until I caught sight of myself in a large mirror. I was dressed in shabby, travel stained, walking gear, a peaked cap jammed on my head, unshaven for almost a week, and walking with a sinister limp. They probably thought that the ghost of Bill Sykes had walked in. I found a large scented candle and approached them.
"May I have this please?" I said in my most cultured voice and flashed them a smile.
Relief softened their faces and they became as friendly as if I were an elderly lady shopping for doyleys. I even had a cheery "Have a nice day" offered me as I walked out. I made my way to the green verge that sloped down to the waters edge and found a bench to rest for a while. I phoned Sue and tried to describe the scene before me. The 2,867 ft. peak of Goat Fell tumbled down into pine forests which in turn ran down to the edge of the town. I sat at one end of a pleasant pebble strewn bay and not far out into the water a large grey ship lay at anchor. Behind me the high street was buzzing pleasantly with the sound of people enjoying themselves punctuated by the occasional swish of a passing car. It was a nice relaxed sort of place, was Brodick, and it encouraged the visitor to just sit and watch the world go by. It would have been rude not to oblige.
Arran Pic 2

Holy Isle at Lamlash

Eventually, and reluctantly, I returned to my car and moved on, with the sea to my left and a succession of pleasant little hamlets to my right. I pulled into one such place and went into the local post office to ask if there was a pub nearby.
"No!" replied the lady behind the counter, stepping back slightly and wondering whether to hit the alarm button. I really should have had a shave that morning.
The next town of any size was Lamlash strung out along the shoreline of the Firth of Clyde with the gaunt crag of Holy Isle standing some half a mile out to sea. I'd made up my mind to stop and explore a little but I was already driving back out of the place with no opportunity to do a U-turn as the island's only juggernaut had appeared from nowhere and was tail-gating me with dogged determination. On the outskirts of Lamlash I discovered the fire station and police station nestled together with a gleaming fire tender parked up and ready for action and, on the opposite side of the road, a small industrial estate where the huge lorry behind me turned off and left me in peace. I continued my leisurely circuit clockwise and noticed a wooden handwritten sign that said 'Viking Bay' just a few miles out of Lamlash.
On impulse I took the path that veered sharply left from the main road. For a while all was well as I trundled along a tiny country lane, passing pretty whitewashed cottages. The lane began to narrow however, and before long was merely a sort of cart track with no room to turn around. Eventually it led me into a farmyard where a truculent Jack Russell emerged from the house to the right and stood in front of the car. A large lady in an apron followed it and eyed me suspiciously. There was nothing I could do as there was nowhere to go but forward.
"Arthur!" yelled the woman."H'away"
The dog threw her a glance but didn't move.
"Arthur! Move will ye!"
The dog thrust its chin out at me.
"Arthur MOVE!"
Arthur planted his legs firmly and stared me out.
A man emerged from the barn to the left, a knotty muscled character with a weather beaten face. He merely jerked his head at Arthur who meekly trotted away back to the house. The lady (his wife I guess) threw the dog a murderous look and then glowered at her husband with an 'Oh - he'll do it for you won't he, the little shit!' expression. Feeling slightly uncomfortable I rolled gently between them, did a neat three point turn in the wider part of their yard and then rolled past them again. I tried smiling at them and shrugged but all I got in return were dark looks.
Of a bay, Viking or otherwise, there was not a trace.

As I headed off on the circuit again I noticed a track that struck off across the islands interior just a few miles further along the main road and assumed this was the road indicated on the map. As it turned out it wasn't. It was a trail imaginatively called, according to the hand written wooden sign, 'Strategic Logging Road No.2' but it was metalled and was going in the right direction so I took it anyway. It climbed steadily up and away from the coast to crest high amidst dense pine plantations. At its apex I pulled over to take photographs. From here I could see both Kilbrannan Sound on the west coast and the Firth of Clyde on the east coast with the Arran mountains framed nicely against the sky. A few sheep regarded me with mild surprise - they bleated at me continuously. I think they were saying "you should get a shave mate". The track twisted along a large and brooding glen, the silence only broken by the rattle of my wheels as I crossed cattle grids.
Eventually the track wound downwards again and I came out once more at Lamlash, named in part after Las, a fourth century Irish monk who decided that living in a cave on Holy Isle was a sane and rational lifestyle choice. Lamlash plays host to Arran's only secondary school and also has Arran's only hospital which must have come in handy for the Scottish Marines who trained near Lamlash during WW2. I found a promising looking hotel on the sea front and decided that a lunchtime pint was in order. The tiny bar was tended by a friendly guy I assumed to be the owner.
"Morning to ye", he chimed as I walked in. "What'll ye have?"
We chatted for a bit as he pulled my pint of Deuchars, I enthused about the beauty of Arran and he puffed his chest out with pride. "Oh aye - it's lovely here all right. Are ye walkin?"
"Yes. Well - I was but I've done my foot in so I'm just touring by car now."
"Oh? Well we have a few rooms free if you're lookin' for somewhere t'stay tonight."
"No it's ok. I'm already staying somewhere thanks."
"Ok. Here's your pint. Whereabouts are you staying - Brodick?"
I gave him the money. "No - I'm staying over on Kintyre actually. Have one yourself?"
His face clouded over. "No thanks. Not at lunchtime." He turned to his optics and began fiddling distractedly "Kintyre eh?"
And that was the end of the conversation. I don't know whether I had opened up an old inter-island emnity between Arran and Kintyre or he just had a personal grudge against all things Kintyre but the air temperature dropped by a few degrees. I noticed a door onto a small beer garden so I made a discreet exit to enjoy my pint in peace.
I had a great vantage point looking out across the narrow stretch of water between Lamlash and Holy Isle. The ubiquitous yachts bobbed about here and there and the local gulls wheeled overhead eyeing me speculatively to see if I had any food worth stealing. So far I hadn't seen a single place on Arran that wasn't picturesque in the extreme. The island had a rugged timelessness about it where even mainland Scotland, its eastern shores smudging the horizon across the Firth of Clyde, seemed remote and of another world. I pondered the history of Arran, what little I knew of it anyway: Often referred to as 'Scotland in miniature' it possesses both a highland and a lowland region, has been continuously occupied by man since Neolithic times, is home to three indigenous species of tree found nowhere else in the world, boasts 42 post boxes, and is Britain's seventh largest off shore island.
It has a few notable residents - Jack McConnell, former First Minister of Scotland, Robert McLellan, Scottish playwright and poet and Jackie Brambles, broadcaster. I supped my beer and wondered what it must be like to grow up in such a community where crime and traffic congestion and population pressures scarcely existed. It surely had to make you a better person - an innate mistrust of all things Kintyre notwithstanding.

Back on the road once more and I started to get hungry - I retraced my steps back over the logging road to rejoin the A841 on the southern tip of Arran where, undeterred by my Viking Bay experience, I acted again on impulse and turned off on a tiny road that led me down to a beach a little further on. I followed a sign to Knockenkelly and parked up to have a picnic on the sand. Despite the fact that it was still summer and the weather was passing fair I had the entire beach to myself. And what a beach it was. Whiting Bay - a wide crescent of clean sand, rock pools, and a bluff of sea-carved rocks forming a barrier between the beach and the houses lined along the coastal track. It occurred to me that perhaps the mysterious and elusive Viking Bay was in fact Whiting Bay I would have liked to have walked along its length and explored a few rock pools but that would have invited trouble from my gammy foot so I picked my way carefully down onto the sand and found a convenient rock to sit on to have lunch.
Arran Pic 3

Whiting (Viking?) Bay

A rough stone jetty ran out some hundred meters into the surf and a building jutted out at its end. It may have been a lighthouse of sorts. I wondered whether this was the remains of the pier that once claimed to be the longest in Scotland. I sat in peace and quiet for an hour with just a couple of tame robins to keep me company before reluctantly moving on. On a fine summers day - and I admit they may be rarer in Arran than further south in the UK - this must be a lovely place to spend your time. A million miles away from the Kiss-Me-Quick beaches of the likes of Brighton with it's heaving hordes of day trippers and jangling arcades.
After the turn off for Knockenkelly I was effectively on the homeward leg of my journey heading north up Arran with Kilbrannan sound to my left and the long sinuous line of Kintyre far out across the sea. I stopped briefly in a car-park on the edge of a gnarled and impenetrable forest whose green mossy depths invoked images of Grimm's fairy tales, to read about the Arran way, a long distant footpath of which I was unaware and which allowed a sixty mile circuit of the island by foot. Unlike the Kintyre Way the notice board pulled no punches about the tough terrain and several words like 'rugged' 'difficult' and 'scrambling' leapt out at me. For some reason I had a mental image of my three friends toiling up a rocky hillside, sweating and cursing with set faces and I wondered if they were 'scrambling' 'ruggedly' up a 'difficult' section right at that moment. I couldn't help but smile.
I drove through the tiny hamlet of Blackwaterfoot (little more than a hotel and a stone bridge built over a rushing beck whose waters did indeed look black) and its neighbouring 12 hole golf course
of international acclaim and back out onto the wildest part of the coast road. Owing to the steep rocky nature of the land on this side of Arran there were few visible settlements until I reached my journeys end at Lochranza. The way ahead was open and empty of traffic and now the pine forests tumbled down almost to the roadside only to be checked by a continuous natural wall of granite. To my left a long shale beach gave out onto Kilbrannan sound. A call of nature forced me to stop after a while to seek out a suitable bramble bush and then the hushed landscape made me seek out a flat rock to sit upon and observe the scenery before me. The late afternoon air was still and Kilbrannan Sound was like a sheet of mercury, the water having a heavy, oily consistency that rolled in a slow and deliberate manner. Iron clouds bloomed across the sound, dropping misty curtains of drizzle far out to the south, interspersed with silver shafts of sunlight that touched the water here and there like celestial searchlights. I became aware of unusual sounds - 'plink, ploosh, plash' - and realised that Gannets were out on the water diving for fish. Once you noticed one you became aware that they were, in fact, everywhere. On Monday they had teased me, denying me the glimpse of that final arrow-swift plunge into the water but today was a regular Gannet-fest. Some dived so close to me that I could observe every detail - the lazy circling followed by the sudden angled turn towards the water, the last-second folding back of their wings before their perfect entry and a plume of white water. Others were far out across the sound, and I saw the splash of their dives first before the distant 'ploosh' reached me. On a large rock in front of me stood a line of Cormorants. They looked like judges at a sporting event, giving the Gannets marks out of ten for technique (perhaps with bonus points for any fish caught). If a Gannet dived close to them they cackled at each other approvingly. Here, on an island where being far away from everything was its greatest charm, was a place that epitomised this characteristic. The road behind me carried the occasional car north or south but there were no houses or yachts or indeed people to be seen. I sat for half an hour, lost in thought, until my bum became numb with the sitting and I realised it was time to move on. I knew I had collected a memory that would always remain with me - just the Gannets and I, a September sky full of rain, and the silent waters of Kilbrannan Sound.

With such pithy prose running through my head, and my spirit uplifted, I drove the remaining few miles of my circuit, passing the fantastically named Thundergay, until the houses of Lochranza hove into view and my exploration of Arran was at an end. I parked on the access ramp at the Ferry port next to a red deer grazing the grass on the side of the road. I did a double take - yes, it really was a doe, chomping the grass right in the middle of Lochranza and in broad daylight. I got out of the car cautiously, expecting it to leap away into the nearest cover but it just acknowledged my presence with a flick of its head and moved a few feet away to continue feeding.
Arran Pic 4

Deer and Crows

A couple of bikers arrived, Germans I think, and gazed in amazement at the deer, gesturing to me as If I hadn't already seen it. They immediately fumbled for cameras.
I limped a few hundred yards down to the harbour front and killed some time watching the yachts bob about on the water (funny thing with yachts in a harbour is that you never see anyone actually on them) and waited in vain for the floodlights to be switched on at the Lochranza Castle or perhaps the glimpse of 'cottage smoke upward curl'd' or the Pink Jogger on his evening sorte. Soon, however, the white speck of the ferry could be seen ambling towards us and it was time to make my way back to the car and return to Kintyre. The red deer meantime had lain down on the crest of a grassy bank that ran down to the waters edge and was gazing out to sea. A pair of crows were hopping about it. One crow fluttered up and perched on it's head which garnered no reaction from the deer whatsoever. It looked like a contrived picture, what with the mountains and the sea as a backdrop, but it was a snapshot that just had to be taken. Later, on board the ferry, my mother rang me to see how I was spending my time. I was eulogising about Arran when the over amplified voice of the captain blared out of the Tannoy system, running through the obligatory safety announcements and drowning out my words. I may as well have been at Glasgow airport. As the ferry ploughed across Kilbrannan sound I watched the silhouette of Arran grow ever smaller and decided that I had to go back one day. The island had an allure that willed you to return. There was much that I hadn't had time to see or do; the raised beaches of the northern mountains, the climb to Goats Fell, the standing stones on Machrie Moor and the Giant's Graves above Whiting Bay. Arran is beautiful in its simplicity and the best memories I have of the place are those that cost me nothing but a little of my time and the willingness to just sit and observe. It was some considerable consolation for missing the final stages of the Kintyre Way

See Route on ......

Isle of Gigha

The Isle of Gigha
By Mark Walford
Date: Friday September 7th 2007

See Route on ......

I only heard the name Gigha for the first time as we were driving the final leg of our journey to Kintyre and our destination at Muasdale. We had noticed a village called 'Half Life' and we were joking about the area being a secret nuclear test site. My friend Bod had his maps open. "Well, keeping with the theme, there's a small island opposite where we are staying called Geiger."
That's how he pronounced it 'Geiger', as in the counter. Only later did we learn to pronounce it correctly as 'Gear' which spoilt any allegorical reference to nuclear testing although subsequently we did discover Fission Bay, the village of Glowindark, and a whole flock of two headed sheep....
After my enforced retirement from the Kintyre Way hike I had sulked in the apartment for a day before setting off to explore the Isle of Arran on Thursday. I still had a day to kill before we went home so I decided to take the ferry across to Gigha to see what small island life was like, which is why a damp and grey Friday morning found me standing on the access ramp of the less than lovely ferry terminal at Tayinloan.
I had already dropped off my companions for their final day on the Kintyre Trail (a day which proved to be long, arduous, and at times frustrating as captured in Colin's excellent diary scribblings. I didn't really know what to expect from my stay on Gigha. By comparison Arran although an island community with a sense of gentle isolation, still had busy links to mainland Britain and enjoyed a tourist industry worth almost thirty million pounds a year. It had a major road, a circular route that linked all the towns and villages, and a resident population of 4500. Gigha by comparison was tiny, a mere speck of granite off the western shore of Kintyre, just six miles long by one and a half miles wide. Its only road ran from end to end and terminated in car parks, its population was less than 150, and tourism was a low key affair as the community had only one hotel. What little I had learnt of the place came via the guide books from our apartment. Gigha had a garden open to the public - it's principal tourist attraction - and the islands name was an evolution of the old Nordic term for God's Island.
Gigha was visible from the lounge of our apartment and we had all spent time scanning its low undulating profile with binoculars, straining to see signs of life. At the south end, wind turbines twirled lazily and a large house could be made out on a rocky promontory, at the north end there was some sort of concrete bunker but all other details were obscured by distance and drizzle.
I was of course a seasoned ferry traveller by now (yes, that was meant to be tongue in cheek) so the embarking and ticket buying were mere formalities. I went up to the observation deck where a blustery wind tugged at my cap and a fine sea spray coated my lips with salt. There were more people then I expected on the journey across to Gigha but I suspected that many of them were locals who had some business on 'mainland' Kintyre. For a while all was peaceful, just the steady throbbing of the ferry's diesel engines and the background sighing of the sea. This was spoilt when three teenage girls began to giggle incessantly and compare ring tones on their mobile phones. At least the crossing was relatively short - maybe twenty minutes - so I stood at the front of the deck and watched Gigha glide into view.
From a distance of a few miles across the waters of Gigha Sound the island had looked like a fairly flat and uniform lump of rock but now, as we drew near, the geometry of the island changed. The shoreline began to throw out rocky piers and bays began to appear along the emerging coastline. What had appeared to be a flat line of hills took on a more three dimensional aspect which gave the island depth and perspective. I could now see the ferry landing at Ardminish - the islands only settlement - and a few cars waiting on the access ramp. It was time to go below decks.
Soon I was driving onto the main road of Gigha, realising as I did so that I hadn't a clue as to what to do or where to go next. As the choice was fairly limited - left or right - I decided to head left toward the southern end of the island, but not before I pulled into the car park in front of the Gigha Hotel for a proper look at Ardminish.
Gigha Pic 1

The Gigha Hotel

There was something about the architecture of the houses and bungalows, and the way they meandered hither and thither over the uneven terrain that reminded me of villages in Scandinavia or some of the small settlements I have seen depicted in Iceland. I'm sure this is just my own subjectivity and others would disagree, but the overall effect was pleasing yet also a little alienating. Here I felt like a stranger - an outsider: and of course, that's exactly what I was. I had got out of the car to look at the rocky bay that formed a natural harbour for the village when the Giggling Trio pulled into the car park in a Vauxhall Corsa and got out to have a noisy discussion about whether to use the hotels bar or not. It was time to move on.
As I followed the road south I found myself unexpectedly surrounded by mature woodland. Somehow I never equated Gigha with trees - I imagined a sort of heather strewn tundra - but here I was driving through a forest of Beech and Oak with giant specimens well over a hundred years old. It wasn't an extensive forest by any means but several acres of established woodland habitat were a pleasant surprise and a pleasure to drive through. I have learned since that, relative to its size, Gigha is one of the most productive and fertile places in Scotland. It is influenced by the North Atlantic Drift and this provides for a drier and milder climate than other areas of western Scotland. Despite this, for most of its history Gigha was indeed treeless and the small forest I drove through was planted as recently as the 18th century.
When the trees finally gave out I had reached the southern end of the island, more abruptly then I had bargained for. The large house we had spied at the 'southern' tip of Gigha was in fact on its own separate island (Gigalum) across a narrow channel of water. It was an old ruined armhouse, unoccupied for many years on account of its reputation for being haunted. Unfortunately from the vantage point of South End Pier the house was hidden behind a shoulder of rock. The Pier had the feel of a place seldom used. A few wooden huts leaned together against the wind rushing in from the Atlantic and a rickety wooden jetty ran out into the channel between Gigalum and Gigha. I tried to make out Muasdale across the sound but a fine drizzle was obscuring any fine details of the Kintyre coast. The wind turbines we had picked out with our binoculars were close by, across a small meadow. They loomed above us, pale white and alien, whispering ghostly gossip to each other. Known locally as Creideas, D'chas and Carthannas (Gaelic for Faith, Hope and Charity) the wind turbines were set up in 2005 and wholly project managed by the islanders. Excess electricity being sold back into the national grid with profits ploughed back into local programmes for the benefit of the island community Unlike the companionable silence that enveloped me whenever I left the car on Arran there was a somewhat forlorn feel to South End Pier, rather like a long neglected corner of a garden. This may or not have been improved by the arrival of the Giggling Trio but I didn't stay long enough to find out. With a feeling that I was being stalked I left the Pier to the chorus of atonal ring tones and drove back to Ardminish.
I had missed the entrance to Achamore Gardens on my way down to the Pier but now the impressive stone gateway appeared from amidst the trees to my left. I considered paying the entrance fee to explore the grounds. I love gardens of all shapes and sizes but I knew I would be inviting trouble from my still unhealed foot if I spent too long on it so reluctantly I decided to give it a miss. As it is a garden known principally for its Rhododendrons and Azaleas I would not have been seeing it at its best anyway, which was some consolation.
Back in Ardminish I decided to sit and have a pint or two in the garden of the Gigha Hotel. I walked into the tiny bar to find it all but deserted. A couple of local builders propped up one corner of the bar counter. I ordered a pint of Deuchars and was poured a pint of Guinness. This was corrected by one of the builders so I asked for a pint of Deuchars again only to be told they didn't have any. Finally we settled on a pint of McKewans and Anglo-Scottish relationships were restored. On my way out, and almost inevitably, the Giggling Trio entered and filled the room with much tittering and polyphonic versions of 'Sexy No No No' and 'Umbrella'. It was like being haunted.
I went outside to lean against the hotel's stone wall, overlooking the harbour. As I stood there a car pulling a trailer clanked and clattered past me. The car may have once been a Renault or perhaps an Audi but it was hard to tell as the front end was missing. No lights, no radiator grill - nothing. It was a mechanical miracle that it could move at all. In the trailer a large farmer stood holding a sheet of glass easily six feet square balanced edge-on to the floor of the trailer. He wore no gloves and there were no restraining straps. Everything swayed and bounced erratically, including the collie dog that occasionally bobbed its head above the side of the trailer. It all looked like a disaster waiting to happen but the driver and the guy in the trailer both gave me a cheery wave as they rattled by.
I was beginning to realise that with just two hours gone I had already explored half of Gigha. I needed to spin the time out a little so a second pint of beer followed. Now I'm not a great lunchtime drinker and even two pints normally makes me drowsy and lethargic - add the clean wholesome air of Gigha and the effect was close to narcolepsy. Bleary eyed I drove north along the single track road into wilder hilly terrain where heather grew in abundance. The road began to twist and turn lazily, passing scattered farmsteads and rough meadows where hardy sheep grazed. One lonely house stood out against the dull sky with walls of a startling peacock blue recalling Scandinavia once again.

ED: Five years later I was contacted by the owner of this house to tell me that they had finally finished building it - along with an invitation to revisit the island.

This was merely the insulating material however and the wooden skin of the house was stacked neatly by, ready for installation. Winter would soon be on its way so they needed to be quick. Further on, the view across the Atlantic from the Gigha's south-westerly coast opened up so that the Inner Hebridean isles of Islay and Jura with its prominent twin peaks, could be clearly seen. A large ferry, much larger than the one I had travelled on, plied its way towards Islay on its return journey from distant Oban.
Abruptly the road ended in a grassy car park and I was
Gigha Pic 2

A very blue house

obliged to walk the last few hundred yards to the true end of the island. If the southern tip of Gigha had the air of abandonment about it - man made objects left to the weathering of the elements - then here at the northern extremity it was just wild and lonely. A heron stalked intently amongst the rock pools but other than that I was alone. The most puzzling thing here was the large concrete cube that had been built right out on the rocks. We had spotted this through our binoculars but its purpose was no clearer even on closer inspection. A lurid sign warned of the dangers of climbing on it and I could see that its base had been dangerously eroded by the sea so that it balanced delicately on a few large rocks. Sooner or later a good storm would blow in from the Atlantic and the whole thing would be sent to the bottom of the sea. I wandered about aimlessly, enjoying the solitude and the views across to Jura. The air was bracing and managed to blow away the foggy influence of the lunchtime beers. Eventually a car appeared from around the corner of a heathery hillside. I watched it warily but this time it wasn't the Giggling Trio, only a few ramblers out for an afternoon stroll.
I made my way back to Ardminish, stopping here and there when a particularly eye-catching view afforded itself or when I needed to answer natures call. Once back in the town I began to run out of ideas. Gigha is a beautiful place, no question of that, but on a drizzly day when you are semi-lame the options run out quite fast. I contemplated a third pint and, as I needed another comfort break, my bladder made the decision for me. I walked back into the tiny bar and almost got wedged in the doorway. The place was heaving. It seemed as if the entire population of 150 plus a crowd of assorted tourists were jammed into the place, all clamouring for pints of Deuchars and being served Guinness instead. I couldn't face the challenge of fighting my way to the bar so I used the gents and squeezed my way back out again.
It was odd really - living in a big city you often left the clamour and bedlam of the street in order to enter the calm oasis of a pub. Here it was exactly the opposite. The all encompassing silence of Gigha wrapped itself around me as soon as I left the hotel and the distant shouts and laughter of the people inside seemed to be coming to me through layers of cotton wool.
Next to the hotel was a smart new craft centre, partly funded (so the sign told me) by lottery money. On impulse I wandered inside. I immediately regretted this as a woman pounced on me, shoved a program into my hand, and invited me to browse at will 'all local artists, prices very reasonable'. I had to go through the motions of studying each and every exhibit as if I were an art expert. inching my way around the gallery until I could duck back out through the exit. There were some nice photographs for sale - mainly of Gigha and Kintyre - taken by a talented local photographer, but I wasn't in the market, primarily because I was all but broke. I felt the reproachful eyes of the exhibition organiser burn into my back as I slipped furtively outside.
At this point I knew it was time to leave. I had seen Gigha, found it a charming place, but had nothing left to do. I could have bought a Mars Bar at the local village shop except it was firmly closed for the day. If the weather had been warm and sunny I would have found a nice sheltered cove (probably deserted and entirely at my disposal) and had a snooze, but the forecast didn't look good. Even more frustrating was the fact that I missed out on Achamore Gardens.
I had to wait perhaps thirty minutes for the ferry to arrive so I sat and dangled my legs over the concrete ramp and considered Gigha. Traditionally the ancestral home of the Clan MacNeill, it has its own tartan and Clan badge and had its own part to play in the bloody and tumultuous history of the Western Isles. However, human occupation stretched much further back than this as evidenced by the numerous Neolithic standing stones and monuments scattered across the isle.
Gigha Pic 3

The northern tip of Gigha

Although geographically remote Gigha does have a grassy runway that can be used as an airstrip (a mere twenty or thirty minute flight for a light aircraft setting out from Glasgow airport) and has the regular ferry link to Tayinloan. In terms of recent habitation the island has had a chequered history. In the eighteenth century the population of Gigha peaked at over 700, but by the 1960s it had fallen to 163 and by the beginning of the 21st century it was down to only 98. During the 20th century the island had numerous owners, which caused various problems in developing the area. Most famously this came to an end in March 2002 when the islanders managed, with help from grants from the National Lottery and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to purchase the island for 4 million pounds and they now own it through a development trust called the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. If I were born and bred on the island then I would never wish to leave it. Why would I? The islanders own their precious piece of land, are responsible for their own affairs, and are justifiably proud to be in this privileged position.
I never found the place to be unfriendly, but by the same token I never found it particularly friendly either. I got the impression that it was simply neutral to strangers. The sense of community was very strong here and it is this strength that ensures that settlements like those on Gigha survive against the odds of financial pressures and government bureaucracy. I'll never be an islander (except in the British sense) but long may places like Gigha continue to exist. Maybe some of the values and ethics to be found in such a tightly knit community could find there way back on to the mainland. God knows we need them.
The ferry arrived on time and a motley group of people emerged carrying musical instruments of various types and antiquity. There was to be a folk festival on the island that night. I wish I could have stayed - maybe grabbed a room at the hotel. This would have been a great opportunity to mix in with the islanders and get to know them a little better. A few beers (yeah Guinness even) and some local music thrown in. A great night in prospect! But, alas, I had to return to Mausdale and so the ferry chugged away from Gigha taking myself, the Giggling Trio, and a dog that appeared to have no owner, back to Kintyre. Would I go back to Gigha? Yes. So long as I was fully mobile, the weather was better (a lot to hope for in that part of Scotland I know) and the folk festival was on.
Most definitely I would.

See Route on ......

Kintyre Way Summary

The Kintyre Way
By Colin Walford

Route: Bedroom to Kitchen
Date: Some weeks later
Distance: 21ft (17m)


Well, my feet have healed. In fact, they are so obviously pink and healthy now, that I feel like a bit of a wimp when I read back on my observations of three months ago. It is hard to recall the discomforts that I had faithfully recorded at the time.
It hadn't been that bad, had it?
I do remember, about six weeks after we had all returned to our respective homes, that one morning in the shower I had watched with quiet amazement, as thick crusts of skin disengaged themselves from my heels in a peeling-back motion. I was left with what looked like pieces of naan bread dangling from my feet, so had pulled them away and flushed them down the toilet. The skin underneath had been soft and vulnerable-looking and I realised that I was back to square one. If I go walking next year, which is a strong possibility, I'm going to tackle whatever trail I choose using feet which will have soles possessing all the durability and toughness of a softly-boiled egg.
It doesn't help that, during the eleven months between each hiking holiday, I choose to wear soft, moccasin-like shoes which pamper and caress my feet. I am then surprised and offended that they behave in a shocked manner before falling apart, when I insist on strapping them inside big old walking boots, with their concrete liners and inflexible contours.
Bod tells me that the answer is to wear my boots throughout the year; anytime I pop into town to do some shopping, when I'm gardening, whilst in bed. He wears heavy boots at work and suggested that this was why he wasn't afflicted with the lacerated feet.
All of my blisters and bruises, earned so painfully on The Kintyre Way, have faded both in physicality and memory. The only clue evident that my feet were put through their paces is a toe nail which went black overnight. I went to bed with a perfectly clear nail (4th toe, right foot) and woke up in the morning with one which was purple-black, though curiously painless. It is still there now, slowly rising up my digit as it grows out.
So had it been that bad? My memory banks are sceptical, but it is when I watch the video footage that I took at the time that I once more start to appreciate what it had all been about. It seems that memory has the gratifying gift of blurring unpleasant things, possibly so that we don't wake screaming in the night. Hard, factual evidence on film tells it differently. So, yes, it was that bloody bad!
After Dean had taken what was left of us home, we had met up with Mark. He had enjoyed a brief but satisfying foray to Gigha and was up for celebrating our achievement and the end of the holiday generally. Therefore, it was a sorry party that emerged from Mark's car, looking like a group of cripples searching for Lourdes, and shambled into The Hunting Lodge hotel. We had drawn quite a few curious looks from the people assembled in each room. I had passed a group of fairly elderly folk and had advised the women not to ask why I was limping and walking with bow-legged care. They had assured me they wouldn't. We had collapsed onto comfortable chairs and three of us had drunk alcohol quickly, with the hope that it would act as a rather pleasant anaesthetic. A man
had played an accordion with admirable skill and drawn an admiring crowd, particularly a group of clapping Canadians. Then a lady had tried to accompany him on a recorder, putting in a performance on a par with somebody's 8 year old niece. The smiling and applauding group were reduced to a bank of strained but polite faces within two tunes. The canny owner of the lodge had tried, with practised confidence, to sell my brother a glass of whiskey for eight pounds. Mark had had none of it, so our host had then produced a cheaper glass at four pounds a hit. Mark had agreed, but only if he could have a free taste first. The owner had hesitated, but knew when he had
met his match so had acquiesced with a rueful smile and a gleam in his eye.
Mark ended up drinking too much to legally drive, so we had got ourselves a taxi back home and next day Mark had managed to cadge a lift off a friend of his, who was coincidently staying at Muasdale at the same time as us. It was then time to say goodbye to our apartment, Jura, to Muasdale and to the Kintyre Peninsula. We had packed with the usual chaos and confusion attached to such occasions, though at a much slower pace as we all shuffled about and clung onto furniture. Then we had made the long journey back to England; me back to Bristol, Bod dropped off in Southport and Mark and Jo to Birmingham.
If this is the part of the text for reflection, what can I say? I could say that my cousin Jo has a hyperactive bladder and a definite flair for narcolepsy. I could voice my suspicions that my friend Bod may be an android, or a secret member of the SAS, or that he has had all of his pain receptors removed on the NHS, and I could tell you that my brother Mark is still awaiting skin grafts on his heel and discovered a little known state of enmity which seems to exist between Kintyre and the island of Arran (the latter of which he visited and innocently revealed to a barman there that he was staying on Kintyre).
But what I really learned was that the Kintyre Peninsula is a magnificent mainland island, with remote and wonderful scenery and a walk which just happens to be there to try and show this off in its entirety. It can be a bastard of a walk, mind. It is harder going than the West Highland Way, perhaps because it is so young and raw. Without doubt, there are faults and parts of The Way should be addressed and altered, but it is a very rewarding walk nonetheless and I would recommend that you give it a go if you're into this sort of thing. It will challenge you and reward you in equal measure and you'll find out how tough your feet are and how you react when the going
gets hard. I'd like to know how it walks in about twenty year's time. Perhaps I'll make the effort to find out, though at sixty years of age I'll probably be using a stair-lift just to get myself off to bed each night.
The Kintyre website has a 'role of honour' for walkers who have completed the route. I put mine, Bod's and Jo's names up there and the date we completed The Way. In actual fact, I made a mistake with Bod's date and the record shows that he completed the walk a month after Jo and I. Ironic, really, when you consider the pace he set himself and how far ahead of all of us he was at times. This role of honour list contains the names of people who have done this route in 4 days and I think I'm right in saying that one group of head cases completed the lot in 72 hours. Good luck to them, they obviously have more about them than I have. It was enough that we finished and did
so in 6 days.
I value my stop and stare moments.

The Kintyre Way in pictures

The Kintyre Way in pictures

Day 1 - On day one we travelled into the town of West Tarbert, a pretty place with plenty of character - there is something undeniably appealing about boats bobbing at dock in front of seafront buildings, wheeling birds and meandering locals and holiday-makers.

Day 1 - We strolled to the very start of The Kintyre Way. The assembly point seemed to be on pavement immediately in front of some stone steps, which we had to take to start a climb to the ruins of Tarbert Castle.

Day 1 - Suddenly, the trees opened up before us again and we came out into open space where the path took a turn to the right. We stood on it and looked out over an immense sheet of water and the land beyond it. We were able to do this because the hill we were on dropped away before us, with trees marching down it in ranks.

Day 1 - As we walked along the shoreline at the village of At Skipness, we began to get fantastic views of Arran across the Bute/Kilbrannan Sound.

Day 1 - Our apartment at Muasdale faced due west and treated us to a number of impressive sunsets.

Day 2 - As if to underline its intentions, the trail took us heartily uphill straight away and also became immediately moist and sloshy. We climbed and soon broke clear of the treetops and into the open, where a soft wind began to tousle us.

Day 2 - We were now three or four hundred feet up and moorland rolled away from us in the direction we had come from to merge into trees, more distant hills and eventually the spacious dazzle of Kilbrannan Sound.

Day 2 - The walk began to take us around the edge of a loch of a beautiful shade of turquoise. It reminded me of photographs of the vast lakes I have seen in New Zealand and I had to commit it to celluloid. Its name is Loch Ciaran and I thought it was breathtaking.

Day 3 - Day three was spent walking along the shingled beaches of Kintyre's west coast.

Day 3 - The rain was still spitting down on us, but visibility out to sea was still open and satisfying with Gigha standing chest-deep in water, as it has for probably millions of years.

Day 3 - After miles of following the surf we finally reached the headland of Tayinloan and the end of the day's march.

Day 4 - With a man down due to blisters the three of us set off for another traverse of the peninsula under laden skies and a damp, persistent mist.

Day 4 - The fog and mists stayed with us as we passed giant wind turbines and reached the coast at Watersfoot.

Day 4 - We finished our day's walking on the east coast near the still waters of Cnoc nan Gabhar.

Day 5 - We found the last two days of the route hard going and, as a result, took fewer photographs. Here we are leaving the tiny village of Saddell.

Day 5 - Lussa Loch is not a natural body of water. It was formed during the 1950's as part of a reservoir scheme, was called a hydro-loch and flooded by the damming of the Lussa burn, making it the largest loch in Kintyre

Day 5 - Near Blackwater and journey's end.

Day 6 - After an arrow-straight road between Campbeltown and Machrihanish village we finally began to climb, passing Ballygroggan farm.

Day 6 - There were some challenging climbs on this last day. Standing on top of Cnoc Moy gave us all a sense of achievement.

Day 6 - This most southerly tip of the Kintyre peninsula is wild and remote, after almost 22 long miles we were very glad to reach our destination at tiny Southend and the completion of the Kintyre Way.

Kintyre Way Day 6

The Kintyre Way
By Colin Walford
Day Six

Route: Campbeltown to Dunaverty
Date: Friday September 7th 2007
Distance: 21.75m (35km)
Elevation: 0ft (0m) to 1,184ft (361m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 2,697ft (822m) and 2,664ft (812m)

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See Route on ......

Emergency repairs ....

I was awake and up by 06:15a.m. "Ah! He's up!" said Bod, as if surprised. Now was the moment of truth for me. I tested out whether I could walk and was perturbed, though not terribly astounded, to find that I still couldn't put any weight on my blistered right heel. It felt too bulbous and was extremely tender to walk on. Something would need to be done. I sat on my bed, picked up my nail scissors once more and fairly drove the point of them through the hard skin on the sole of my heel and into the blister underneath. At last, I was awarded with a long spurt of water, as if somebody were discharging a 5ml syringe. A thin jet of fluid shot over my left arm and soaked into the quilt. I had hoped that this would ease the pain but was lamentably mistaken, because it stung viciously as I compressed the blister until I had bled all of the fluid out of it and onto me. Okay. Good - now I had to turn it into something I could walk on all day. I managed this by first applying a Compeed plaster with two normal Elastoplast on top of it. Then, I covered it with a tight bandage and wound this around my right heel and ankle constantly, before tying it off. I had now effectively immobilised the area and to make sure the edges of the bandage didn't shift, I stuck them down with micro-pore tape. Lots of tape. Over all of this, I pulled on a length of tubo-grip and then wore my walking sock on top. I tried an experimental length of the room and back and, although I still hobbled, I could now support my weight and there was further improvement when I put my trainers on. I finally gave some attention to my inflamed thigh. I dressed it again, but this time secured the patch with strips of micro-pore that wound around my leg several times. This dressing was going nowhere.
The first 5 miles of today was walking on road, so Jo had suggested using our trainers for this stretch and changing into our walking boots thereafter. It was a great idea and one I latched onto straight away; anything to ease the discomfort ahead. Jo admitted to me that his feet had been in such a bad state during the early hours of the morning that he'd thought he wouldn't be able to walk today. Fortunately (though this was debatable) they had improved and he now felt he could tackle it.
We breakfasted and Jo made our packed lunches while I was dressing my foot. I dispensed with a coffee flask today and opted for my water bottle and two isotonic drinks that Bod gave me. I also ditched my walking pole. I figured that we had two demanding scrambles to do and it'd just get in the way. We left the house with a quietness hanging over us all.

Straight ahead to Machrihanish ....

Mark drove us to Campbeltown. He was off to Gigha today, but must have picked up on our reservations about our lot, probably due to an assortment of distracted expressions, because he reassured us that we would complete the whole 22 miles. As we drove to the harbour in Campbeltown something crossed my mind. "Do you think that ranting old lady assumes that Margaret Thatcher is still in power?"
"Probably," answered Bod, briefly.
We gathered our gear together at the dockside. Jo called out to me and then pointed. He was amused at a seagull which had ensconced itself comfortably on the roof of a nearby van. It was huddled down and roosting and had apparently been there all night. Mark wished us luck and I did a little bit of filming and then there was nothing else for it but to be off.
We made our leave of Campbeltown by way of the B842. I informed the guys that I would probably lag behind today, because after each episode of stopping to do some stuff with the camera, I didn't feel there was any way that I would be running to catch up.
"I don't know how you did that yesterday," replied Jo.
We gradually left the busy centre behind and this was something I was glad about. After nearly a week of walking the quiet places, I was finding it uncomfortable having to dodge people and be enveloped by traffic fumes. Besides, groups of schoolgirls were pointing at the three of us and giggling. Dressed as we were and unshaven for a week, I was exceedingly aware that they probably weren't rating us for sexiness. Soon, the sounds of traffic and taunting faded away and we began to leave behind all the buildings, walls and lamp-posts. We began to encounter fields again and I relaxed and took deeper breaths. Cows regarded us with mild bovine curiosity. As we continued, we reached a very long and ruler-straight stretch of what had turned into the B843, a road that took us west.
"I didn't know the Romans made it this far," Bod commented, idly.
I stopped to film us do this stretch and it was like the good old days. Bod and Jo had gone no further than 10 metres or so when they came to a halt ahead of me and Jo crouched down as if he was examining something as my film wound on. He was regarding two mice, actually two very shaky mice. It was strange - I put my finger out in front of one and nearly touched its snout and it didn't attempt to run or bite me, merely sniffed at my finger whilst shivering constantly.
"Careful, Col," advised Jo but I wasn't concerned about being bitten. There was something wrong with these two and I tend to think maybe they had eaten something poisonous. After a few moments we walked away from them and Jo looked back. "Good luck."
We walked for a while and then Jo pointed again, into a field. "Are those hoodies?"
A pair of hooded crows were flapping about and suddenly glided up onto a wall. I took a moment to admire them; that grey covering really was neat.
We were still on the long, straight stretch when we passed another field containing cows. We began to laugh as two formidable heifers began to steam into each other like Smackdown wrestlers. I'd never seen two cows fight before, it's just not what you expect from them and I wasn't even sure if they were engaging with maliciousness or not. It looked playful enough; amorous, even. Two lesbian cows? They were certainly built for the role.
"That's a lot of beef slamming around out there," I laughed.
It all became rather ridiculous and comical, because the brawling spread as if a bar fight had broken out. Two scuffling cows became three, then four and before you could say 'BSE', there was a lumbering line of six beasts running after each other down the field, egged on by the boisterous moos of two onlookers.
"All it needs now is the Benny Hill theme to start playing," I said, shaking my head.
We left these preposterous creatures behind and as we walked on, we passed a primary school near Drumlemble. We discussed the incongruity (to us city boys) of being in a school that was surrounded by open fields and low hills - you'd be seen a mile off if you tried to bunk off school.
As we moved forward the road lost its precision and began to bend to the right. Bod pointed out the direction of the Machrihanish airport to our right. One or two light aircraft periodically skimmed in, though probably none of them the twice-daily flights to Glasgow as the planes were way too small.
The land we were passing through now was very flat and is named after the river that runs through it, known as The Laggan, which harbours trout and salmon. Our road swerved left again at East Trodigal and it transported us abreast of the Links golf course at Machrihanish. I was amazed at the bloody fools trying to play what has become known as the infamous first hole. I couldn't help but laugh; it was very windy here on the doorstep of the coast once more and as the players were attempting to tee off, they seemed to be having to lean rakishly into the blast of fresh, tangy air. Their clothes were being whipped against their bodies to crackle like pennants on a rampart.
"How far do you think they can hit in this?" I asked.
Bod pointed high up into the air and then at the ground about 20 metres in front of him.
"I'd need a bloody driver on the green," I agreed.
Machrihanish village contained some wealthy-looking architecture, although a number of these grand old buildings did carry a jaded 'of times past' feel about them.
"You can tell where the money on Kintyre is," Bod was also giving them the once-over.
I did some more filming and Jo and I also faced the moment and got changed into our walking boots, as our 5 miles of road-walking was done with. I could feel my feet cringe as I forced them back into their prison. I may have even heard them give a little snivel and I shuddered at the thought of what I was going to ask them to do again today. My first, tentative steps did not encourage me. Yesterday's restless discomforts flared up to greet me eagerly as I shambled about. Oh, well; only another 16 miles to go. I felt a fit of listless weeping begin to overwhelm me and fended it off by doing some more filming and finding out that my cousin Jo has a cat. This is more startling than it first appears. I have been to his house a number of times over the past few years, sometimes for hours at a time, and have never seen his cat, never even had a suspicion that the house was inhabited by one, didn't even know he had a particular liking for animals of a feline nature. It turns out that Jo owns the most reclusive and neurotic cat since Greta Garbo. She spends her entire waking hours in fear of anything else that draws breath or casts a shadow and so tends to skulk around in the bedroom upstairs for years at a time. I only found out about its existence because we were sat on a bench, trying to postpone the moment of awfulness when we had to move on and we were approached by a local moggie, which invited us to fuss it. We used it as a further delaying tactic until admitting that we were in danger of becoming totally craven.

Cnoc Moy ....

We got to our feet. The B843 soon guided us left and southwards as it took us uneventfully past Lossit Ho and High Lossit. We turned onto an access road to Ballygroggan farm. Ballygroggan farm - what a great name! I do like this about travelling; coming across names that are unfamiliar to the ear and tongue and testing them out for comfort.
The access road was steep and we were obliged to make our way stolidly upwards, toiling along once more. As we steadfastly climbed, a large, unkempt beard with a face attached to it slogged downhill towards us. It was accompanied by two dogs of an indeterminate nature. We continued to climb, but Jo and I became inclined to dart uneasy glances at the shaggy beasts as they loped nearer to us. The leader of the two seemed to take a particular interest in us for a second or so and he favoured us with a no-nonsense stare. I recognised that kind of look. If a bloke in a pub looked at me that way, I'd already be groping for an empty beer bottle or an exit sign and expecting familiar words to be hurled at me; "..feck you lookin' at?" has always been enough to wipe any friendly grin off my face. I hurriedly looked away in a non-confrontational manner, like it says you're supposed to in such circumstances. The trouble with this is that I always feel as if I am then leaving myself vulnerable and completely unprepared for a sudden, vicious assault on my genitalia; either from a dog or a bloke in a pub. As it happened the pair trotted by us with not even a suspicious sniff, which is odd when you consider the fact that we must have been giving off pheromonic waves of thick, invisible agitation. A moment later the man, who I assumed was the farmer, passed us and the unkempt beard parted long enough for him to mutter a greeting.
The track remained uncompromisingly steep and we had to stop briefly to take on fluids and take off a layer of clothing. As we neared the top of the rise, we encountered the sudden and somewhat incongruous sight of a young lady coming down in the opposite direction and pushing a pram. I'm not sure why this seemed odd to me. Possibly, it was because the land around us was starting to appear as wild and infrequently visited. We were dressed in full hiking gear and also beginning to look sweaty and of a high colour. I was probably beginning to fancy ourselves as quite the reckless adventurers who were just entering the phase of the walk described in literature as passing through 'genuinely remote country where there is little shelter and few facilities of any kind'. There were dark warnings that map and compass skills would be needed on this section, especially as mists could suddenly roll in. The sight of a pretty, young woman in a summer dress greeting us cheerily and strolling happily along with a large pram containing a gurgling baby rather deflated our heroic pretensions.
The track began to be less defined, more broken. It also started to introduce a twist or loop here and there. We began to acquaint ourselves with mud in its various forms; thick clods, heaped banks, long and tractor-rolled ridges. We had reached an altitude of about 350 feet when we passed through Ballygroggan farm, which presented itself as a row of dilapidated, knocked-about buildings and small animal enclosures. It all gave off the rich and strangely appealing smell of large animal dung, although Bod was walking ahead of us again and it may have been that he was the actual nucleus of this.
KW Day6 Pic 1

The moors above Ballygroggan Farm

The farm receded in our wake and we started to cross truly wild moorland once more. It was like day two all over again. The sky was huge and open above our heads and the sea beyond the olive-hued curves of land looked bigger and deeper as it glimmered to our west with innumerable heliographic messages. We traversed sweeps of grasses and ferns and were accompanied by low, rolling hills. Herds of handsome cows surrounded us. Sometimes, they regarded us pensively for long moments before taking brief, but contagious panic and slipping and stumbling amongst each other as they hurried out of the way.
I stopped to use the camera which allowed Bod and Jo to draw ahead, so I filmed as they plodded forwards, now and then squelching through patches of bog. I crossed over Craigaig Water as I set off in pursuit and then ascended another vigorous slope to join them at the top. I needed another drink and noticed that I was getting through more fluids than I usually did. I'll have to watch that, I thought.
"This is the kind of walking I like," Bod said. He was casting an eye about him to appreciate the feral beauty of it all. He pointed, "There's Ireland, over there." Bod's arm was thrusting at a cleft between the two hills of Cnoc Moy (Big Hill, although some translations regard it as meaning 'the hill of the plain') and Beinn na Faire (The Watch Hill) where a body of water sparkled.
I gazed ahead and wasn't sure if I could see anything at first but then there it was, made low and obscure by a distance of a dozen miles. This was my first live sight of Ireland. "I've never been there. What part of Ireland is that?"
"It's got to be the north tip, as Ireland's positioned lower than Kintyre," answered Bod.
We were actually looking at the Antrim Mountains on the north-east coast of Northern Ireland, probably the peaks of Trostan and Knocklayd, as they were the highest. Jo has links by marriage to Ireland so he's been there at least twice. We talked about his experiences for a while and the huge Irish capacity for drink as we progressed over the bog, ferns, heather and corrugated ground which began to draw us around the flank of Cnoc Moy and into the green bosom of Innean Glen (Innean meaning 'Anvil'). Cnoc Moy rose to our left now and this required my feet to consider familiar torment. As we had to walk on an angle on its western slope, my right foot was consistently being turned over at the ankle joint as I touched down on the uneven terrain. My feet were so enlivened with blisters that it was too painful to put counter-balancing pressure on that foot to compensate and I was powerless as my ankle was turned, to pitch me forwards or sideways in an uncomfortable stagger. After this had occurred for a third time my ankle joint was throbbing in perfect, percussive accompaniment with the rich flow of language passing my lips. I found myself with a real fear of ripping my ankle ligaments (something which I have done before on that foot and I wasn't up for a nostalgic return) or, worse, breaking the damn thing. Nevertheless, we continued and descended a slope which made us temporary companions with the swiftly-flowing and sea-bound Innean Glen stream. We were led through waist-high ferns and a show of yellow flowers not known to me, along a narrow track that briefly linked arms with the stream and marched confidently with it. This track then made a sudden, quirky turn to the left and swooped down out of sight. It must have kicked right again as it levelled out because it mischievously shot back into view and climbed upwards, running parallel with the stream again but this time 40 metres further back from its edge.
It was such a pretty scene that I immediately stopped to film Bod and Jo completing this section of the walk. When it was Jo's turn to about left and descend, he disappeared from view for so long that I began to suspect that he had fallen asleep somewhere again. My viewfinder was left focussing on empty vegetation for long enough for the operator to look foolish, before Jo reappeared, climbing steadily from left to right. I then approached the route and thought I could understand the reason for Jo's prolonged absence. A chattering beck crossed the path and I spent some moments dithering as I decided how to cross it. I finally saw a wet boot-print left by one of the lads so did what they must have done and crossed using precarious and angular stepping stones. I tried to do this with the least amount of discomfort possible to the squashed joints of meat residing in my hateful boots. I caught up with my companions once more and we continued to climb along a single file track which was lushly bordered with ferns. These were so abundant that we had to use our legs to swish them aside in order to make progress.

When the going gets tough ....

At last, we reached a likely spot at which we could consume lunch and we sat down on a low array of rocks looking rather like a granite wall. We were caressed on all sides by leafiness which plunged down in front of us, down, down into a bay containing a strip of beach and a colony of rocks. We were overlooking Earadale Point, where a lonely grave and a white cross denoted the last resting place of The Unknown Mariner. The cross apparently carries two plaques. One says 'God Knows' and the other has the date 16th May 1917, which was either the day God Found Out or the date the mariner was buried here. The tourist board on Kintyre encourages you to visit this
grave by way of veering down into the bay and putting extra mileage onto dangerously threadbare feet. Frankly, I'm glad we didn't bother. I'm trying not to be churlish here and I do realise that my text is starting to sound obsessive when it comes to the podiatric part of my body but the fact is that, by this stage, my feet had become the capital city of my body; a kind of Screaming Central that felt overcrowded, harassed, hyperactive in every nerve and with a lot of un-policed criminal activity going on down there. I noticed as I sat down on the wall and began to unwrap my unaccountably squashed lunch, that my dangling legs caused my feet to throb in perfect rhythm with my heartbeat. See? I can't escape references about my feet at this point of the walk because they were what filled my world, mostly with horrid feelings. In this instance, gravity seemed to be filling my blisters with a glut of blood. I couldn't ignore the sensation or the mental image of a balloon being steadily filled with running water, so I put my feet up on the wall with me and laid them straight out. The relief was immediate and it was if a switch had been flicked off to relieve the pressure. My feet stopped their rhythmic throbbing and I could now concentrate on peeling my sandwiches apart. As we ate, we looked about us.
"There's some seals down there," I said to Bod and pointed with a piece of crust at a tablet of rock squatting in the shallows just off the beach.
"Bod gazed down impassively. "Sure they're not birds?"
I scoffed. "Oh, no - I've got the hang of them now. They're seals alright!" I still remembered being caught out and looking foolish earlier in the week, so had studied the seals we had come across on the rocks of Ronachan Bay carefully. I had noted their small, rounded heads and the way they lay with their tail-flippers raised as if hailing a taxi.
KW Day6 Pic 2

The wild southern tip of Kintyre

Yes - I had their measure now and it was with a benign confidence that I swept my binoculars over them and focused the lens. I gazed carefully at them for a few seconds and then silently panned my glasses to the right and onto the mariner's grave, lingering on the rounded stones that had been laid out in a rectangle there and on the cross which had stood sentinel for 90 years. Finally, I lowered my binoculars. "They were birds," I murmured. Bod was silent, which somehow made more of a statement.
We rested for about three quarters of an hour and then stood up to begin again. I was troubled by how much effort it took to simply not fall over. My legs didn't want to work. This was a bit reckless of them, since we were stuck on a hill in the middle of nowhere.
Jo looked reflective. "My feet were throbbing the whole time I was sat down," he said.
We moved off again and within minutes the trail took a decisive turn for the upwards. We were approaching the first of the difficult climbs we had been warned about by Dean. He wasn't kidding. It turned out to be the most challenging ascent of the week, not just because it reached a height of about 1000 feet without actually completing much distance along the route or even taking us far inland, but specifically because of the total lack of defined track. The narrow file we were initially allowed soon became confused and then buried beneath a carpet of ferns, abandoning us when we needed it most. We now had to power our way through vegetation which was clinging to an incline only flies would feel comfortable on. This was a steep hill. I was soon reduced to grasping stalks of ferns by the handful just to stop myself being propelled backwards by the weight of my backpack. I thrust upwards through virginal clumps of roots and bunches of grasses. I was brick-red and perspiring and found myself losing my breath and, not long afterwards, my patience. We were in our usual formation of Bod, me and Jo but Bod had forged ahead so I was denied the luxury of being able to slip into the furrow his passage had created. By the time I had arrived at any given place, the foliage had already slipped inscrutably shut in his wake. I found myself having to hastily stop halfway up the scramble to try and suck in oxygen which suddenly seemed scarce.
"That was quite a pull." Jo had joined me and he offered this statement with a ludicrous nonchalance. I was instantly envious of his presentation; though I'm positive there was no malevolence contained within the comment, he was just pointing out that it was jolly hard work but that we were going along nicely. My feet were bloody hurting to be honest, so I allowed them a moment of self pity and let Jo go on ahead. When my vision had steadied enough and colours had started to re-emerge, I had a good look around me. We had climbed rapidly and now had a very fine view of the open sea and more of the coast of Ireland. I turned to look ahead. Bod had been reduced to child size by distance so I needed to set off again. I immediately noticed how much the muscles in my legs were burning fiercely as they were taxed unto discontent. It was all good stuff. Gasping, I sullied the vegetation about me as I thrashed on in the general direction of skywards. Occasionally, I was required to stop and lean on a marker post so that I could compose myself and secretly assess how much more I had to offer. The posts wobbled freely in the moist earth like ski-poles in a slalom race. I had caught up with Jo again as he was examining one.
"Shall we pull them out and throw them away?" he asked me. "We don't need them now and it'll make it more interesting for the next walkers."
I was too oxygen-deprived again to answer him and my watery gaze was fixed blindly on the middle distance, but I managed a nod and a thin line of a smile. After another gasping effort I miraculously emerged, swaying, at the top. This wasn't the true top of Cnoc Moy, we were now actually nestling into the neck of the beast, but our route asked us too go no higher at this point. The three of us rested, took on fluids and appreciated the visual perk of our efforts. I drained a bottle of isotonic and also put a worrying dent in my water bottle supply. It wasn't difficult to work out where this was taking me; increased exertion meant increased fluid intake and, therefore, an increased chance of running out of liquids before this walk's end and I mused silently that this was looking a distinct possibility.
I did a bit of filming and then we began again, descending the grassy slopes of Binnein Fithich (translating as, 'high, conical hill of ravens'). After about 50 metres, I abruptly remembered that I had a rock to throw. This is not quite as odd as it sounds. I had, a fortnight before, picked up a stone from the beach in Lyme Regis in Dorset, with the intention of bringing it the 570 miles north to the apex of a remote and wild part of the Kintyre Peninsula, where I would leave it. Okay, it is as odd as it sounds, but it was something Mark and I had done last year and was another one of those walks traditions that I was now going to honour. I had almost missed my cue but recollected in time, so I turned back and hurled my piece of Lyme Regis back towards our high point of The Kintyre Way, watching it spin in the air and bound briefly amongst the tussocks of grass before it sprang out of sight. I kind of liked the thought that, like as not, it would remain undiscovered and hidden for thousands of years and that I may be the last human hand to ever touch it before it wears away beneath the onslaught of natural forces. Alternatively, the next walker to come along could search for a stone from Kintyre to take back to his home-town of Lyme Regis, and pick it up within days. I gave it a brief wave as it disappeared. "Seeya." I stumbled down the hill to catch up with my companions.
It was then that an unwholesome and familiar stench assaulted me. It brought tears to my eyes as I cast a look around and, sure enough, there they were; a colony of about 100 goats, feral and foul. Why do they smell so flinchingly terrible? We had come across their like on last year's walk and I found that I hadn't built up any kind of resistance to the odour in the intervening months. What worried me slightly was that they in turn detected me, exchanged repulsed expressions and then backed away in a disapproving group. I mean - how bad must I have smelt to prompt such distaste in a bunch of matted, wild goats? I passed by them and noticed as I watched their fleeing hindquarters, that they left a residual pong in the air which seemed to have an undertone of a coconut-type smell. It was sweet, slightly cloying and altogether unpleasant.
The three of us levelled out and suddenly turned east at the whim of the marker posts, so that the coast was now at our backs. We slogged on. I had come to realise that I was now going forward like an automaton, head down and watching my fragile feet painfully eat up the ground before me. Gone was my earlier, fresh-faced eagerness to experience 'stop and stare' moments characteristic of the beginning of the week. I now merely wanted each section done and consigned to history. This was a shame because the land around me was still remote and beautiful, but my attention was only for the bumpy, hard and sporadically boggy strip of land in front of my boots. I was reduced to enduring The Way in acute discomfort, wounded feet mewling.
We walked in silence for a while. I was last in our Indian file, my progress a stumbling matter on the unruly terrain, stopping to film now and then. I jumped across a small beck and over a sheep pelt, lying half-sodden in a ditch. A blow-up sheep for the farmer too ugly to get the real thing, I thought.
I struggled to catch up with Bod and Jo again and saw Jo glance back, presumably to make sure I was still on my feet. My feet! Sod this lark - when would we be getting a decent bloody track to progress on? It is fair to say that, at this point, I wasn't too enamoured with the terrain. I caught up with my travel companions.
"Did you see that sheep pelt?" I was getting ready to crack my weak ugly farmer pun.
"Sheep pelt? You mean 'wool'?" Bod answered sarcastically, and knocked the bottom out of the whole thing, so I shut up.
My concentration was broken by the barrier of a skeletal gate. As we negotiated it, Jo turned to me. "That was the Largiebaan nature reserve we just came across."
"Yeah? Well, it's a f*ck of a place!" I responded, bitterly.
Jo laughed, probably in surprise as much as anything, but he also knew the score. He knows I like my wildlife. I encourage it to the garden, I try to plant native wild plants, I watch BBC Springwatch faithfully and Jo knew that I would normally be pleased at such a discovery. The truth is; screeching body parts had made me uncharitable. Jo's feet were, doubtless, also giving him the bad news.
We went through a further gate and all stopped briefly to have another drink and generally shake ourselves down. Bod was examining his instrument, as it were. I was bent double, trying to stretch my back muscles.
"Please tell me we only have about seven miles left to do," I grunted.
Bod looked at me in a faintly haunted way and shook his head slowly.
"How far then?"
"Nine miles?" He nodded just as slowly and even his eyes were beginning to leak sufferance.
My two isotonic drinks had now been consumed and were on their way to my kidneys and I had but a few mouthfuls of water remaining. I limited myself to one of them and we set off again, passing a meagre farm and at last walking on a surface which didn't try to trip me up or limit my forward motion by wrapping itself around me. We were on forest track all over again as it guided us south-eastwards, forest filling our vision to the left and right. After about ten minutes walking the forest to our right ended abruptly and a short time after this, to my deep consternation, so did the forest track. The previous route (the one shown on Bod's old map) forged ahead, remaining on the forest road and climbing High Glenadale, whereas my map (the one Bod was currently using) sported the updated route, which required us to bear left, wallow in deep mire, pass through another gate and hug the forest on our left as we addressed the flank of Remuil Hill. A Kintyre Way sign told us as much.
It also solved for us the mystery of The Kintyre Way emblem, the one which was painted onto each Way-marker post. We had discussed that it looked like some kind of Celtic symbol, perhaps of masculinity and tribal togetherness. We had talked about having the emblem tattooed on our chests on completion of the route, as part of some kind of bonding ceremony, (Bod actually suggested that the tattoo should be on our foreheads) a sign of our hardness. But it turned out that the emblem is actually a representation of a mountain reflected in a loch and then turned on its end. I explained this to Bod, who had been out of earshot and visual range of our discovery. He listened patiently and then just gave me a tired look.
"You don't care, do you?" said an amused Jo.

Amod Hill and the end is in sight ....

We walked on, once more angled on a slope as we skirted another hill, so that my right ankle was forced over again and managed a score of a respectable 7 out of 10 on my personal Ouchometer. In some ways, this was the worst stretch of the week's walking for me. It hurt, my progress was slow and I rather grumpily couldn't see the sodding point of it. If anything, the grass was even longer and more apt to tangle me up and wrestle me into a hidden ditch, or invite me to snap my ankle on a concealed ridge. My progress became erratic and accompanied more frequently by tetchy comments.
"This God-damned ground!"
"You bastard thing!" (as I was expertly foot-rolled by yet another mound of fescue)
"Where's the bloody path!?"
I limped along the length of this stretch and, stiffly, conquered a stile.
"Watch it Col - the fence is electrified," warned Jo.
I froze for a second as I inspected the wiring and was then as respectful in my manoeuvrings as my inflexible body allowed. I dropped down the other side of the fence and then gazed ahead, only to be confronted by Amod Hill and our second big climb of the day. I had to bite off a scream. Before us, a corridor of ravaged and chewed bracken rolled up the grand sweep of Amod's flank like a rough mat. It served as the track we were meant to travel up. And yes, the 'up' in question was another monster.
Bod gesticulated at it. "All they've done is stuck a lawnmower at the top, pushed it over and down and called it the path."
Amod Hill jutted proudly erect and throttled the remains of my defiance. I was forced to take a moment to reflect on myself. Was I getting soft as the years had rolled on? Well my stomach had, a little, but this was unlike me to be so irritated and physically vulnerable. Jo and Bod had begun their ascent and were trudging resolutely upwards. I thought that this was a good opportunity to film their torment with the blatant intent of showing future audiences what hardships we had endured. I first filmed behind us at the way we had approached this point. The fresh sight of it all left me unable to quash the resentment in my commentary as I uttered dark words at it. I then panned around onto the guys as their limbs continued to piston up and down. I had hoped to capture the acuteness of the incline they had to struggle up, but even as I recorded the scene I knew that the camera would not show the full perspective. The angle was wrong; I was filming from behind them so that everything would be foreshortened. As I finished with the camera, I realised that I had to face the climb next and whinged about this in my commentary. I was turning into a little ray of sunshine.
I began to move up Amod Hill. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but my exertions here were even more of a torment than on Cnoc Moy. I was that little bit more in pain, that tiredness was a little bit more pronounced and my vehement outpourings a lot more audible and inventive. I had to keep stopping to catch my breath, which I then either used to propel me a few more metres onwards or, if the impulse took me, to swear heartily at the hill for several seconds. In this manner, I inched forward. I could see that Jo and Bod had reached the summit. If that were the case though, why did they still appear to be in laboured motion? It turned out (of course) that the summit we could see from the bottom wasn't the true summit at all. Rather, it was an illusion, a promise of an end to torture, but when you actually reached that point you discovered that Amod the Merciless lolloped vertically on for a good way yet. I'd only ever read the phrase 'there was a weeping and gnashing of teeth' in the New Testament of the Bible as a boy and had thought it silly. Never in a million years would I have thought that it would ever apply to me in my life. This hill was determined to have its way with me and on balance; I'd have to say it succeeded. I paid for my conquest of it in the currency of pain, sweat and the loss of just a little more heart. The bastard thing. It hadn't yet finished with me, either. Our trip down its other side towards Low Glenadale also proved to be a series of false descents, whereby we would troop downwards for a brief spell and then be taken back up in the form of a hillock; all knobbly crusts of earth and tangled grass. This happened several times and it was altogether like being an unwilling passenger on an organic roller-coaster.
Finally, my feet yelling, I stood at the top of the final crest. Jo and Bod were way ahead, Gor-Tex beetles bobbing in and out of the ferns and brambles. I managed some more filming and made an effort to appreciate the valley that opened up to our right in the form of Low Glenadale. It was framed by forest, inevitably conifer, and Glenadale Water wormed its way through like a broken vein.
KW Day6 Pic 3

On top of Cnoc Moy

Our route, however, appeared to take us to the left and directly away from this spectacle if the lad's meanderings were anything to go by. I was very thirsty and the mouthful of water I consumed effectively halved my remaining supply. I was still thirsty, but decided I'd better use the last gulp when my tongue became Velcro-ed to my palate. I began to thread my way downwards now and it wasn't long before I'd also completed a left turn and walked alongside a fence to join my fellow walkers. With green sward all around them, they had chosen to come to rest shin-deep in cow shit and mud porridge. Unquestioning, I followed suit. Perhaps it was kinder on the feet. Together, we suspiciously examined the large beasts around us, particularly the ones lacking a prominent set of udders. Thus enlightened, we were a pensive trio until we had exited that field. We used a farm track for a short while, that is I tried to use the track but even small pebbles in my path felt like pliers were being clamped fiercely onto the soles of my feet. I soon gave up and clumped along on the grass verge instead. We were led to Amod farm and a pretty little scene consisting of scanty woodland, wide paths and a garrulous river called Breackerie Water. We crossed a bridge which crossed over Breackerie Water and pointed us in a south-easterly
direction where it suddenly led us to our final piece of the walk. Our final challenge, if you will, for we were required to complete our trek of The Kintyre Way on good old-fashioned, solid tarmac. Road-walking was going to bring us home.
"I waited for Bod to volunteer the distance left for us to do, as I knew he would. "Four miles."
Four miles.
I tried to remember times when this sort of distance had seemed to me to be piddling, a nothing. I've walked that distance in an hour, I reasoned with myself.
Off we went; Bod, Jo and myself. The land opened up around us as the forest receded like a hairline and we again began to share company with a motley array of sheep. I was almost mute with pain at this point and also extremely parched, having to drain the last of my water as I contemplated the last three or so miles, feet singing. I caught up with Jo and we walked in silence for a while, companions in torment.
We suddenly looked at each other as we limped along and started to laugh.
"I don't think I've ever been in such constant pain..." said Jo and then thought for a second. "Unless, perhaps, when I broke my leg getting run over as a child."
Our tittering continued. "Oh well - at least we're still laughing about it," he finished.
Strangely, this shared moment did give me a boost of some sort. My feet may be a pulped mess, I thought, but if we were finding hilarity in the situation then it couldn't be that bad. We were going to complete this walk!
On we travelled, along a nearly-straight road. We passed a place called Ormsary, an unassuming flotsam of farm buildings. Bod was a little ahead and we watched him stride down one side of a road. A large lorry approached him from the opposite direction. It was apparent that one of them had to shift, and Bod had already decided who that should be and didn't alter his course. The lorry driver was forced to meekly slow down and pull over to one side, which made us laugh again.
"He wasn't moving for anyone then, was he?" said Jo.
He watched as Bod marched on and shook his head in wonder. "He just keeps on going. In six days his pace hasn't changed."
I, too, observed the man in question; head down, steady stride, not altered at all by pain nor wound. Bod strode on, indestructible it seemed. I had the conviction that, should we discover that our walk wasn't going to end at Dunaverty but, rather, that we would be required to continue for another 15 miles, Bod would be undiminished. He would merely re-align his internal parameters, set his shoulders back and start counting out the steps- one - two - three. I watched him climb a rise in the road without slowing and felt most of my new-found vigour drain away.
We passed broken farm machinery, lying scattered in a field like huge mammoth bones. Breackerie Water had followed along with us, swelling and broadening on our right flank. It was now dressed with a few trees and rippling with rushes. Our path unexpectedly veered away from it at North Carrine and then broad-sided another road. On this road there stood a caravan. A curious caravan, because as we closed in on it we started to see something adorning the whole side of it. At first, it looked extremely muddy, incredibly mouldy if that were possible, but then we began to wonder if what we were taking for filth was actually paint. We began to think that the caravan was covered with a scene, a mural of some kind, but we never got close enough to it to be sure either way.
We stopped briefly; long enough for my legs to seize up, which would be about seven seconds and then we turned onto this new road, which was also strictly single track in nature. My thirst was savage by now and becoming increasingly hard to ignore. With my water supply gone, I was almost glad of my other discomforts as a means of distraction from it. Carskey Bay emerged to our front and right. The road we walked on ascended steadily and eventually provided us with the means to have the sea as scenery once more, as well as some cliffs. We stopped again and I calculated that we now must have less than two miles left for us to walk. Must have! Ahead of us, the road disappeared around the headland of Keil Point.
We strode towards it and closed in on a guy who was jogging towards us.
"Have you done the Kintyre Way?" he hailed us.
"Yeah," we chorused.
"Well done!" He sounded very surprised and we had obviously impressed him.
"I knew it," muttered Bod, "we're the first people to actually complete this walk; everybody else has died trying."
At last, we crept around Keil Point. We were on the home straight. As we moved on, cliffs sprang up to our left and we observed them as we walked lamely by. They had been hollowed out at their base, smoothed and eroded.
"The sea obviously reached those cliffs at one time," noted Jo. If it had, it had done so a long time ago as the sea now crashed raucously amongst rocks on our right-hand side by about 100 metres. The road we were walking along ran between the cliffs and where the sea now ebbed and flowed in its regular tidal pattern. One of the caves we were passing had at one time been occupied, and for quite a few centuries. Roman pottery has been discovered here (so they did make it this far). We also went by the crumbled ruin of St. Columba's church. I empathised with it, but at least it had received a visit from a Saint. My ruinous condition could only expect a visit from fresh plasters and perhaps a dash of witch hazel when this was all over. St. Columba allegedly popped over from Ireland with a Saintly message in the 6th century and left his footprints in the rock at this place. Actually, he left just the one footprint, because a local stone mason added the other one in 1856. Well, he had to really, didn't he? A visit from a one-legged Saint? The image of Columba delivering his heavenly communication whilst hopping on the spot would not fit in with the religious significance of the event at all, so the stone mason did his bit and now there are two footprints. As the centuries roll on, this man's work may well become more historically important than the story of Saint Columba. There is recorded proof of him doing it and when and why he did it, after all. Unless the story gets totally muddled over time and the legend emerges that St. Columba, the one-legged Saint, paid two visits to Kintyre; one in the 6th century and one in the 19th century, as he'd suddenly remembered an important bit of the message he forgot first time round, and so was able to leave another footprint. Who knows, it's a crazy world where silly things happen.
It was just after we had passed the ruins of the church named after Columba when Jo, who was peering ahead at the view that had opened up to us as we turned around the headland, made a remark.
"I think I can see one of the Way-markers and I wish I hadn't bothered looking."
My heart sank to my feet, which added to their problems as they could have done without the extra weight.
"Where?" I asked. I don't know why I asked, as I didn't want to know at all.
Jo pointed, "Near that line of caravans."
I saw it; a thin turquoise splinter standing a cruel distance away although, surely, we now had less than a mile to cover? It was just that I was very weary and sore and incredibly thirsty. The road forged ahead and the land gave way and opened up around it. The cliffs fell back in retreat and then abruptly ended in submission to open fields. The sea lay to our right, sweeping into Dunaverty Bay and the view in front showed a caravan park, behind which lay the small village of Southend .
We were now literally 10 minutes from the end of the passage of The Kintyre Way. I gritted my teeth against each footfall until, unbelievably, we drew abreast of Dunaverty beach and found ourselves on the doorstep of the finish line. This should have been the moment when I found myself carried on a wave of deep exhilaration and triumph. A few more metres and we had done it! Instead, we faltered to a stop and exchanged puzzled looks. Our heads began to dart about, hither and thither, as we tried to discover just where the dickens we were supposed to go next. We couldn't find a Way-marker. We looked further up the road, but there was nothing. We peered hopefully along the strip of beach. Nada. After a brief consultation involving indecisive finger-jabbing in several directions, we took the tarmac road through the caravan park. An idea popped into my head, borne of desperation, and I began a bit of roadside scrutiny. There should be one; every caravan park had one, for Christ's sake. To my immense and hysterical gratitude, I immediately spotted what I was after.
"Oh Gods, will you look at that!" I declared and hobbled over to a stand-pipe, "Is this drinking water?"
"Yes," answered Bod, who then took a detour to the other side of the park.
I filled my water bottle with unsteady hands and then drank deeply. I could swear that I felt the cells in my body blossom as they rehydrated. I was wary of being overtaken by cramps and spectacularly throwing up, so made myself stop after several mouthfuls. Jo, who had waited with me, followed me as I, in turn, pursued Bod.

Three wrecks wash up in Southend ....

In the final event, we stumbled almost accidentally onto the finishing point and never found another Way-marker. We climbed a grass bank and scuffled along the spine of a ridge of grassy sand dunes. This undulated up and down teasingly and, at last, deposited us at Dunaverty and the journey's resting place. An information board awaited us and, vastly more useful, a wooden bench. Bod and I sat down but Jo simply collapsed onto the ground, where he lay on his back and writhed with hurt and weariness. I ached everywhere. We sat and absorbed the knowledge that the walk was truly over. I filmed the final act of the play for posterity and then sat looking at the sun as it dipped towards the sea. It was 6:30p.m. and Dunaverty Bay was peaceful. Unfortunately, my body was not and I sat and listened to it groan and shriek; more so when I laboriously removed my walking boots for the last time, possibly forever. I had been afraid to take my boots off at first, scared at what I might find inside them, such as withered toes rolling around. They were unpleasantly moist inside with sweat, and therefore stank. Freed from captivity, my feet sighed and I imagined them sizzling like bacon.
Bod phoned Dean to inform him to bring the knacker van and pick up three carcasses. There was an hotel in the middle distance and Bod half heartedly suggested an end of the walk pint. I would never have believed that a proposal to visit a bar could produce such active revulsion in me. I told Bod where to get off.
However, we were forced to move again as Bod had had to arrange for our pick up to be in Southend itself. He strode off, as stout as ever, but I had seized up horribly and it took some moments to smooth out the contortions that wracked me. Jo and I limped along some way behind Bod as he marched off. Slowly, we made our way towards the village. I was willing Dean to turn up and nearly shouted a hoorah when his taxi swung into sight. He picked up Bod and then trundled down towards us and we climbed aboard. Dean had obviously witnessed mine and Jo's careful
progress. His face contained a reptilian smile.
"How did it go today?"
We did the usual thing you do when asked such a question after a hike of this nature. We rolled our eyes, blew out our cheeks and laughed at the fact that we had willingly pitted ourselves against the ferocious business end of Kintyre, been given a liberal battering for our troubles and were about to spend a small fortune on a first aid kit. That is, Bod and I observed the ritual. Jo was asleep before we had pulled out of tiny Southend.

See Route on ......

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