Kintyre Way Day 1

The Kintyre Way
By Colin Walford
Day One

Route: Tarbert to Claonaig
Date: Sunday September 2nd 2007
Distance: 11m (19km)
Elevation: 3ft(1m) to 1,129ft (344m)
Climbing (ascent and descent): 1,434ft (437m) and 1,532ft (467m)

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Breakfast with the wildlife ....

07:00 am I became aware; in that disconnected way which precedes being fully awake, that Jo was up and about and trying not to breathe too heavily of my nightly emissions. Mark then came into the room as I was thinking about getting up. He tapped my quilted form and I looked up at him.
"Why?" he said.
"Why d'you think?
"I snored?"
He was very apologetic, but it didn't matter a jot as I'd slept well and felt immensely better than I had last night, so much so that I hurried to prepare breakfast; porridge and banana, perfect hiking food, full of energy - giving carbohydrates and anti-cramp potassium. But then the rich aroma of Mark and Bods fry-up caressed my nostrils and set saliva glands squirting indiscriminately around my mouth. I managed to ignore the tantalising smells of bacon, sausage and frying eggs, but then had to sit with them as they heartily gorged on dead pig, beans, toast and all the essential artery-hardeners that go with a traditional full English breakfast. My healthy option congealed in my mouth and assumed all the gastric qualities of grouting.
To distract myself, I began to scan the sea and rocks for wildlife through my binoculars. I became excitedly convinced that I'd spotted seals in the water and dashed to the window whilst urging my companions, a little hysterically, to come and see.
"Sure they're not rocks?" grunted Bod, clearly reluctant to leave his plate of dead animals even for a second.
"No - I've been watching for a while and they're moving!"
Mark and Bod did a kind of half-raise from their seats in the name of courtesy and looked through the windows. Bod lowered himself back to his meal. "They're rocks," he said in a transparent 'stop-being-a-twat' tone. "The tides going out and revealing them."
"Are you sure?" I replied, but felt myself going a little red. I could see for myself now that the shapes were clearly very solid chunks of granite. I became convinced that Mark and Bod were exchanging unkind glances and returned meekly to my cooling porridge.
After breakfast Bod, who had been glancing through the visitor's book again, spoke up. "I think I've solved the mystery as to why there are no seals out there."
"Oh, yeah? Why?" I was still peering through my glasses hopefully.
"There's been a Canadian family staying here. They've gone out onto the beach and clubbed them all."
I considered this. "Well, there are no Whales either. Has there been a Japanese family staying?"
When we'd all completed ablutions, we took a trip down to the local store that Bod and I had discovered during our walk yesterday and bought, it must be said, quite a lot of beer.

A harbour, a castle and a bog ....

Our Tayinloan taxi-man (Dean) arrived at 09:30a.m. We all piled into his van expectantly and I thought that now we were down to it - the walk was about to begin! I got all excited inside, a silly feeling like I was about eight years old again. I looked down at my feet and wriggled my toes inside the now unfamiliar clasp of my walking boots. We were driven to Claonaig, first along the A83 and then a traverse across the peninsula where the day's walking would end. Mark followed in his own car and we abandoned it there to await our arrival later on foot. Dean then took us all to Tarbert along the B8001until we rejoined the A83 and into town where we were to begin the day. Some small-talk passed between Mark and Dean on the way, but I was content to merely listen and watch the grand scenery glide by. Jo stayed awake during the journey, but it was touch and go and his head dipped once or twice. Dean dropped us off and wished us good luck. We wandered towards the harbour.
My initial impressions of West Tarbert yesterday were mollified by the sight of the town centre and harbour this morning. It was pretty and had character - there is something undeniably appealing about boats bobbing at dock in front of seafront buildings, wheeling birds and meandering locals and holiday-makers. Tarbert is a busy fishing port and also very popular with visiting yachts. It is a sea loch (known as an 'arm of the sea') the loch in question being Loch Fyne (literally 'Lake Fine' in Scottish Gaelic) which extended 40 miles inland from where we now stood, making it the largest of the sea lochs around Scotland. Tarbert has a population of about 1400 and for many of the inhabitants; herring fishing is still how they earn their living. This has been going on in the form of trawling since the early 1830s, at a time when drift nets were cast across a bay to entrap shoals of herring. Against such a historical backdrop we were to begin our walk.
Mark opened with some filming of the harbour and of us preparing for the start; fastening clothing, putting on backpacks, extending walking poles, adjusting straps, taking photographs and experimenting with fake Scottish accents. We then strolled together 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 I wanted a picture of all of us together so pestered some bloke, who had only come out to do a little shopping with his unlovely wife, into taking a snap with Mark's camera. He obliged willingly enough and then we were off.
We filed up the steps. It was, I suppose, a fairly steep climb but it only took us a couple of minutes to reach the top and I became quietly alarmed at how much the accomplishment of such a short distance had taken out of me. I was trying to stifle my breathing, but was unable to suppress fairly ragged gasps as my lungs searched for oxygen. It was a shock, to be honest. I suddenly wondered how utterly unprepared I was for this venture. It came to me that I hadn't indulged in anything more active for some time than the occasional anguished short sprint after a disappearing bus. Further, my dietary choices had led to the acquisition of a flaccid band of pale flesh around my abdomen that would, suddenly, and usually in the company of attractive females, emerge obscenely between the gap at the bottom of my shirt and the taut waistband of my trousers. All of this I acknowledged, but I was still privately distressed that I was so knackered, so quickly. To make matters worse I stole a glance at Jo, hoping to see signs of suffering akin to my own, but he was breathing evenly and without effort and contentedly looking about him as he appreciated the sudden view our ascent had given us. This accelerated my anxiety by some degree and I felt like lancing his eye with my walking pole. I could have kissed Mark when he spoke up.
"That'd be good - two minutes into the walk and I suffer a coronary," he said to Bod.
Another short flight of steps led us to a grassy plateau and I was immediately approving of the scenery before us and set about filming it. I had no sooner started the video camera when a squadron of midges closed in on me. They evidently sensed my vulnerability as both hands were occupied; one on the camera and one grasping my walking pole. I attempted hugely amateurish commentary to background noises of buzzing aerial sorties on my exposed flesh. Bod took some photographs of the view.
KW Day1 Pic 1

Romantic Tarbert Castle

Tarbert harbour was nestled in a shallow valley, the slopes of which were adorned with trees and ferns. The water of the bay stretched out into Loch Fyne proper and was animated with the presence of boats and in the distance could be seen Cowal . Standing above all of this was the ruin of Tarbert Castle, looking ivy-smothered and a little like a worn-down molar and which Mark went off to have a gander at. We shouldered our gear set off once more. The route went upwards again and we passed a sign warning us about the presence of adders.
"Of course - on Geiger, they're called Geiger counters." Bod quipped. Walking uphill began to take us through mixed, open woodland containing several species of trees such as birch, hazel and willow on a track knobbly with stones and also moorland which was generous with heather in flower. Occasionally, a beck would gurgle across our path as it rushed downhill and The Way had catered for this by providing us with stubby little wooden bridges, platforms for us to tramp across. We continued to ascend and march past low hills with names like Cruach Bhuidhe (Yellow Hill) and Sron Gharbh (Steep Hill) and then levelled out as we started to walk through pine woods on the trail. 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. At the time, we thought we were looking at Loch Fyne but this wasn't so. It was the Sound of Bute we had before us (And what does a Bute sound like? In our case it was murmurs of admiration). Portavadie and, possibly, the Island of Bute lay behind it. A Caledonian McBrayne ferry was inching across the Sound and giving a scale to the scene. It was immensely satisfying to be standing there and breathing it all in.
The track before us was straight for a while and leading us downwards again. It was a subtle change, but I gradually noticed that the ground underfoot was beginning to get, first a little sodden, and then distinctly boggy. We continued, now and then walking through copses of trees and then emerging into the open again to suck through wet bits. Bod began to pull ahead and spent much of the morning walking on his own. The three of us walked together. Conversation was sporadic and idle.

Skipping along the Skipness ....

After a couple of hours of this we realised that we were getting hungry, so began to look for the driest place we could to park ourselves. We had closed in on Bod by now and had reached the vicinity of a place called Meall Donn (Brown Mass or Mound) so we all settled down at the foot of a short gradient and immediately got the seats of our pants wet. I ate my lunch and gratefully drank hot coffee, while looking around me at the trees and to distant hills I couldn't name. Mark caught my eye and for some reason we both found something funny about the moment and burst out laughing. I still don't know why. Jo, seeing an opportunity when it presented itself, quickly ate and then lay on his back, used his pack as a pillow and closed his eyes. Midges arrived to sober my mood and feast on me. Slapping at them only left me with red hand-shapes on my face, so I was glad when we started off once more. Mark had been doing the filming, but we hadn't been walking for long when I saw a stretch that I thought would be a good place to do some more. I took the camera off him and filmed my comrades strolling off together through an iron gate and down a track which formed a corridor through thick ferns and lively heather. I wanted to film them walking out of view as the path took them slowly around to the left but, typically, they all decided to stop about 30 metres away and have a bit of a chin-wag about something. I waited, but only Jo seemed to grow uninterested and move on. Bod and Mark stood
KW Day1 Pic 2

Jo and Colin

talking cheerfully together, intermittent words quacking back to me. Finally, they moved off and I followed their exit with the camera and then did a little commentary of the day's walking. As I stood there the quietness descended on me like gentle snow. The wind soughed through branches and birds began to cautiously voice their presence and I realised that this must happen all the time as we walk through a place. We fill an area with our own noise and intent, hushing the wildlife and causing it to withdraw to a prudent distance. As we pass on and our conversation fades, there is a watchful pause and then the locale begins to fill again with natural noises. I felt quite privileged to be able to share in it. I ran to catch up with the guys and joined them as we started to march along in company with the Skipness River. It danced by to our left, mostly shielded by trees and only infrequently yielding a glimpse of its waters, chasing over smooth boulders. For the first time, I became aware that my feet were a little sore; nothing too dramatic, just a little tenderness, a hint that it might be a good idea to stop soon, rest them for the night and perhaps have them massaged with scented oils by that hot German waitress. Unfortunately, we were out of luck as we still had at least 3 miles to hike and the German waitress was about twenty years younger than us and would, therefore, be repelled by the idea of kneading any part of the Walford anatomy.
The Skipness River stretch seemed to go on for quite a while and we continued together along a track which was sometimes heavy with long grass and always framed by trees, such as ash and silver birch . Eventually, we started to ascend again and left the busy river behind us. We climbed a trail that was aspiring to be steep and which took us swiftly above the tree-line. A pair of buzzards yelped at each other as they wheeled above pine trees and over a hill at the other side of a small valley. They were to the east as we travelled nearly due south. Jo and I searched for them with binoculars but they remained as they were; ghostly yapping noises in the sky. There was a huge and horrendous scar on the far side of the valley, where it seemed a whole section of trees had been crudely hacked down and cleared away. The resulting disfigurement kept drawing my attention in an unpleasant manner, like discovering somebody next to you on the bus has a glass eye.

Comparing blisters ....

Breasting the rise at last, we had a short walk over open land on the highest point of the day's walking, with an appreciable view of the hills around us. We were on Cruach Doire (Rounded Hill of Oak Wood - although I don't recall actually seeing any oaks on this hill, in fact it was treeless). The earth to my left was dug over and disturbed as if an excavation had taken place. I curiously detoured over to it and found myself suddenly looking over an enormous hole in the ground. Diggers and dumpers lay abandoned like toys at the base of this spectacle over a wide area and the soil was heaped and furrowed everywhere. Any trees that may have lived at this spot had been obliterated. I don't know what construction was taking place but there was certainly a lot of destruction. I couldn't help but stare at the size of it. I felt like an ant on the lip of a breakfast bowl.
"Whoa! It does surprise you, doesn't it?"
Jo had noticed my diversion and had come over to see why. We walked on and arrived at a track which was both very steep in descent and also extremely straight. It slashed down towards the town of Skipness like a sabre and I could see that Mark and Bod were already a good way beneath us. I wished that I had the video camera to film the three of them in descent, but Mark had it so I followed on behind and helped my plunge with frequent stabs at the ground with my walking pole. Before long, we had hit ground level and the coast at Skipness Bay ('Skipness' is Norse for 'Ship Point').
Our route now took us in a south-westerly direction around the bay and it was here that Mark consumed the last of his water and was at pains to ask for more. He approached a couple who were doing things to their garden with clippers and managed to get his water bottle refilled. I had waited with him and as we rejoined Bod and Jo, we discovered them resting on the ground, laughing together.
"What's up?"
KW Day1 Pic 3

Arran across Kilbrannan Sound

Bod looked back at Jo. "You tell him."
"Bod said that they wait for English walkers to come along and ask for bottle refills and then fill them from the toilet cistern."
Silly sods. Mind you - it does begin to sow a seed of doubt.
As we walked on, we began to get fantastic views of Arran across the Bute/Kilbrannan Sound. This was emphasised for us when we stopped for a short break on a bench and had a drink. We were facing Arran across the Sound and had in front of us a view of a deeply-cleft valley on the island. We became aware of two tiny objects gliding about in the valley like scraps of wedding confetti and through binoculars, could see that we were looking at para gliders. It was quite peaceful to track them as they settled deeper into the fissure of the valley. We also watched shags clambering awkwardly over rocks and then being transformed into graceful creatures as they entered the water. Gannets were cruising overhead, to suddenly tuck their wings in and plummet at velocity into the sea with an odd 'fushing' sound. Mark kept missing the vital moment when they spotted some food source and sliced into the water. He spent some minutes tracking individual birds, but they teased him by flying along the coastline, hovering, looking as if they were about to drop and then flicking their wings and moving on.
As we moved on I quickly became aware of something. "Okay - I admit it. Looks like I'm the first to come out in a blister."
"No - I've got one, too," replied Mark.
"Yeah and me," affirmed Jo.
"Do you think Bods got one?" Mark had sidled up alongside me.
"If he has, I'll bet he denies it," I answered. Mark nodded and smiled. "Bod - you got any blisters?" I called out to the steadily striding form ahead of us.
Mark and I exchanged superior, knowing looks but it turns out that the last laugh was on us, because Bod genuinely never seemed to be bothered by blisters. His feet must be like hooves.

Fish chips and Porridge ....

We had been walking on the edge of the B8001 road for a while and shared our walk with frequent and speedy vehicles, but this also signalled the end of the day's hiking. We rounded a corner and the ferry port of Claonaig came into view. I felt that the day had been of about the right length; just enough to whet one's appetite for the travelling ahead, but stopping just as feet were really beginning to grumble. We spent a few minutes looking at the ferry timetables and changing our footwear and then headed back into Tarbert for tea. And that's the madness of walking for pleasure; leaving a place in the morning, toiling up hills, through bogs and along hard roads to end up at the very place you had departed several hours before. I can highly recommend it.
We had a meal in a fish and chip café and I did a little people-watching of the locals. The highlight of this was when a tall, bespectacled bloke came through the doorway of the café and got his facial contours tangled up with a wind chime that was dangling from the ceiling. The musical utterances of it were at odds with the twisted expression and finger-grappling of the bemused customer. I had to look away so as not to guffaw at him.
After sufficiently filling our bellies we were driven home by Mark in the car. It was there that we were to be found, an hour later, freshly showered and appraising our third beer of the evening. We watched old episodes of 'Porridge' and I had a butcher's at the days filming. Bod was nodding off where he sat so pretty much everybody shoved off to bed by 09:00p.m. I tried to watch the film, 'As good as it gets' but it had still not finished by 12:00a.m and I desperately needed to flake out.
I might never know how it ends.

See Route on ......

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