|The Kintyre Way|
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 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.
The moors above Ballygroggan Farm
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.
The wild southern tip of Kintyre
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.
On top of Cnoc Moy
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."
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. 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 .
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 ......