|The Kintyre Way|
And then there were three ....
I was woken by the movements of Jo and Bod in the room at 07:15a.m. My psyche revolted at the thought of another healthy breakfast, so I joined the reprobates this morning and had a fry-up.
"Sets you up for the day, that," said Bod.
Mark was still greatly favouring his untreated heel and decided that he could not walk today and would, instead, get himself off to the local GP surgery to be examined. I was saddened, but not surprised. His heel had looked like the kind of thing that a group of plastic surgeons would have stood around for a while and then gone off to one side to confer, wearing expressions ranging from gravity to alarm. He would have to have had the healing properties of to consider taking part in this day's walk.
It was a longer one today, too. Over 16 miles up and over in another traverse of the peninsula from the west coast to the east coast. There was to be a lot of farmland and forestry walking today and we would be passing the wind farm that we had seen and filmed from Loch Ciaran two days before.
We got packed and booted up for the day and Mark drove us to Tayinloan car park. It was an awkward moment, because I knew that it would be hard for Mark to be waving us off instead of coming along with us, but he gave me a hug and wished us all good luck and then went off to see a doctor. It felt a bit weird - we'd done all of The WHW together and I'd just assumed we'd be doing this one together, too. I did a little filming, explaining Mark's absence and outlining the details of what we had to travel through today and then we set off at 08:55 a.m.
Up into the forest ....
The weather was grey and overcast and I suspected that we'd be lucky to get away without getting dumped upon. I noted that it was September 5th and this had something of a history as far as mine and Mark's walking was concerned, as it was exactly a year ago during the completion of the WHW that we'd spent the day getting absolutely lashed by heavy rain for several hours. It just hadn't let up and the three of us (we had met up with a Glaswegian lady by the name of Kathryn and formed a friendship which saw us complete The Way together) had got thoroughly soaked, despite our expensive waterproof gear. We had forever termed the day 'Wet Tuesday' and I now looked doubtfully up at the sky, hoping to be spared a repetition.
We went by some houses and then headed off across fields. As we crossed a bridge over a river, we disturbed a at its breakfast. It flew off and looked haughtily down at us in passing. The fields led us to the beach once more, just south of the ferry pier, but this was a brief re-union and we had walked no more than about 10 metres, when we discovered a Way-post telling us to head inland again. We followed a track bordering a field; it was thick with long and dew-soaked grass and within a few paces, my trouser legs were drenched from the knees down. Bod and I discussed walks that he had completed in England. It appeared that we had done a lot of the same routes in the Lake District and the Pennines. Jo walked silently behind us and we approached some trees, before which our track did a right-hand turn. were croaking in an unmelodious manner from one of these trees. It was a strange sound, almost metallic. After a minute or two of following the new angle of the trail, with the trees forming a wall on our left, we reached the A83 road again. We were to spend no sizeable period of time on it though; we merely had to cross it, keeping our eyes out for lorries of a squashing nature. Once we'd crossed over we had to immediately ascend a track at a place entitled Killean, which was going to lead us into the hills.
Bod and Jo ready for the days walking
As we steadily climbed it suddenly began to rain; a fine, misty rain which had an air of persistence about it. We were forced to stop after a few minutes to shed some outer layers of clothing. I had an unaccountable thirst and had to drink deeply from my canteen. This was unusual, but then I made the connection between my thirst and the salty bacon and sausages I had scoffed down for breakfast that morning. I also tried a little filming, but was puzzled to discover that the picture I could see through the viewfinder was almost completely on white-out. I didn't understand and looked around me. Surely the light wasn't that bad? In the end, I just carried on filming and hoped that the pictures I could see were not reflective of what was actually been committed to tape. I filmed Jo and Bod stalking of into what had become quite a hazy landscape.
The path we were on as we ascended was a broad one, a track used by forestry and wind-farm vehicles and it was bordered by deciduous woodland. Now and then, I stopped to try a little more filming but the visual display was just the same and I began to think that something was going substantially athwart. We gradually climbed to an altitude of about 700 feet and the haze became thicker, almost steamy.
Windmills in the mist ....
Mark phoned Bod as we were still climbing the track. It wasn't good news; his walking was over for the week on advice of the district nurse he had seen. She had advised rest and book-reading, else the wound may become infected; something she had tried to counteract by daubing the area generously with surgical spirit. I was surprised we hadn't heard his howls from up here. I could imagine how he felt about his week's walking being at an end and it was a real piece of dispiriting news.
We continued to ascend and began to close in on a herd of free-roaming cows. This wasn't too bad and I clucked my tongue at them encouragingly as we went by. They silently looked back at us, an expression which almost seemed a little sad. I thought I could begin to understand this when I examined some of the beasts a little closer. It may not have been sadness as much as sympathy they were bestowing us with; some of these hunks of steaming beef were bulls. They distinctly lacked udders, unless they carried extremely strangely-shaped udders, they were twice the size of the heifers and, unlike their women, they didn't skitter away when we got too close but stared at us with calculating intent.
"That one's looking at us in an unfriendly way," breathed Bod.
It seemed to take forever to pass this particular character and he looked as if he was considering a charge. Thank God he was on a piece of turf positioned higher than us; our road was sunk below the ground to our left and it appeared that he wasn't sure about how to get down to us. I walked on with my bum-cheeks clenching. I wasn't at all happy and had to pass within about three metres of him before I began to glide away. Even when I'd passed him, I kept checking behind me every five paces or so to make sure he hadn't decided the jump down was worth the joy of impaling or trampling us to gory pieces. I was glad when the mists closed in behind us and hid his hostile gaze.
We finally neared the top of our gradient where the books said there should be impressive views of Gigha, Islay and Jura, but visibility was down to about 100 metres. Peering through the mist was like trying to look through ectoplasm. The track levelled off for a while and the rain began to falter and come in fits and starts, as if the clouds had a prostate problem. At times it got heavier though and caused me to stop and don my Berghaus and waterproof trousers. This was turning into a typical September 5th on the trail - 'Wet Wednesday' this time. I also had to drink deeply from my water canteen again. No wonder Mark had got through all of his water on day one. I must have consumed about half a tumbler of salt along with that 'sets you up for the day' pig-fest. The track abruptly opened up and little valleys fell away on each side of us. Sheep ran openly before us, liberated.
"I don't know why they bother with gates or fences around here," stated Jo, "everything runs freely."
I was trying to penetrate the fog. "Some good views from here on both sides if it weren't for the mist."
The forest began to change from to pine trees. I suddenly realised that we must have set quite a pace this morning, because we were fast approaching Deucheran Hill and the half-way point of the day.
"Here we are," Bod pointed at a sign. "The wind-farm is around here."
I began to look out for them as we took a swing to the left on the track. Now, you might think that I wouldn't have had to look very hard for a they must be about 70 or 80 feet high after all. But the vapour seemed to have thickened again and I couldn't see a thing. I stopped to listen. I wasn't sure what kind of a noise a wind turbine made, but felt sure that it must be a large one; something like a threatening whooshing or a bronchial giraffe. As it happened, when we came across the first one it still managed to jump out on us through the vapour. At one moment there was nothing and the next ....
"There's one," Bod pointed it out and I switched the camera on. It had just loomed eerily out of the mist and was suddenly close to us. It looked other-worldly, like something from an H.G. Wells novel and I was fascinated. I must say - I can't understand why people don't like them. I thought it was wonderful. It was like one of the tripods from The War of the Worlds and the sounds coming from it were really atmospheric with this fog about us. They did whoosh as their giant blades were propelled around, but they also moaned as they scythed through the air. I think they look graceful and a hell of a lot better than power stations with their belching cooling towers. I'm a fan. Powergen own this farm and the turbines which were around us (there were quite a few more we couldn't see)produce a capacity of 15.75 MW, making it the second largest wind farm under Powergen's ownership, after Bowbeat on the Scottish borders. What 15.75 MW actually means in terms of functional energy produce I have no idea. If Powergen boasted that the Deucheran Hill wind farm provided enough electricity to run my son's Play Station, the Sky Sports channel and keep my beer chilled to two degrees above freezing for seventeen years, well then I'd be immediately impressed, but 15.75 MW was merely a collection of numbers and letters to me, with a decimal point stuck in the middle for effect. But here's something I can understand: Deucheran Hill's wind farm has been open since November 2001. If the following bit of news is true and not just corporate propaganda, then I am even keener to see more of these turbines. Powergen claim that since early 2002 they have launched a five year habitat management plan with a local management committee at Deucheran Hill. Their agenda includes;
* Improve feeding areas for on land away from the wind farm. This includes heather management (so would this be 'domestic' heather, rather than 'wild' heather?) to improve heather cover to allow numbers to increase.
* Provide nesting sites for on rafts built on lochans near to the wind farm
* Monitor the behaviour of red-throated divers and golden eagles to assess the impact of the wind farm on their behaviour.
Since we didn't see any golden eagles or red-throated divers during the six days we spent walking the length of the peninsular, I would tentatively suggest to Powergen that their turbines have scared them all off already but, that aside, anything that tries to promote conservation for local wildlife is a fair trade-off for having a wind farm, isn't it?
I passed the first one and approached another. Jo and Bod had stopped to read an information board about The Way so I filmed this one as well, although the rain was pattering down more insistently than ever. After a brief rest, during which I glugged desperately from my water canteen, we continued and the track began to take us downwards. As we marched on, I could see a track that wound down before us with a serpentine slither. It disappeared and then reappeared considerably further away and began an equally curvaceous climb up another rise. There was a lot of walking to be done there and just looking at it brought home a realisation that my feet were tired and beginning to ache again. As it happens, this wasn't our path at all; we suddenly took a left and descended on a much straighter course, but the seed was sown and I was aware of my leg ends throbbing for the rest of the day.
We swept around Carradale Water - another of those little rivers which quite often cut into the scene and babbled at you incessantly until flouncing out of sight once more. We approached some farm buildings and I was also unexpectedly joined by some very irksome flies when the rain lessened for a while. They were not the tiny 'mossies' that had bothered us a couple of days ago, but larger and noisier flies that shot around my head speedily, then suddenly perched on my nose or eyebrows. I tried to ignore them, but they seemed to take this as an invitation to become more intimate and I was forced to retaliate when one individual attempted to climb into my left nostril.
There was then a period of me snorting, wiping my face and swatting futilely at the air as I clumped along, swearing freely.
The village on life-support ....
We were passing by the side of a conifer wood when we decided that it was about time for lunch. It was an unsteady kind of wood; half of the trees inside it were either horizontal or else leaning drunkenly on their neighbours. I don't know why - perhaps a particularly malignant storm had jostled and toppled them, or perhaps they had grown too spindly and shallow-rooted whilst competing with each other for sunlight. Whatever the reason, several had fallen over and I spent quite a lot of my lunch-break looking uneasily about me into the shadowed depths, as I contemplated being pulped halfway through my salt & vinegar crisps. At least that would save me from dying of thirst; my water supply was becoming Ethiopian in nature. Bod informed us that we had walked ten miles so far today, which left us with another six to do on legs and feet that were now conspicuously tender. It was gloomy inside this wood, but it was peaceful and kept us dry from the elements and it was nice to have a log to sit on while we ate. I did some filming, with commentary which was accompanied by Bod's crisp-packet, providing background noise like bad static. I also took a couple of photographs with Mark's camera; he'd let me bring it because it was going to be more use to me than him stuck back at the apartment. We started out again once we'd eaten and I was very aware that my legs complained loudly to me for the first dozen steps or so. After a few minutes, a small valley presented itself to us. It lay in our path, so our path edged around it and we walked on.
When we had accomplished the circuit, we looked back and could see the little wood in which we had stopped for lunch in the mid-distance. Seeing it like this brought on one of those moments you occasionally get, when you regard something you've briefly come into contact with and feel a little sad. I thought 'I'll never see that place again, nor sit inside its cool and quiet interior.' I'd rather liked the place despite the chance of a lifespan reduction.
After more hiking, we reached a concrete track which proceeded to take us downwards quite steeply. It deposited us onto the B842 at a place called Brackley, but this was a brief get-together and we only walked along it for a short while as it took us upwards again at a brisk rate. We continued uphill after we'd left the road to its own devices once more and we then followed another track, turning east. This ascent was steady at first and then evolved into something taxing. We filed up a narrow and muddy track; Bod, me and Jo and were hemmed in on both sides by young, dripping saplings. I began to sweat as we plodded on and was grateful for the anointing of rainwater from the branches of these youths. The sweat trickled down my spine and my legs were burning with exertion, but I sensed that nobody wanted to be the first to capitulate and stop to draw breath, so we continued upwards at an unfaltering pace. Finally, we reached the top and took an instant right turn on a wider path, which took us past more abandoned piles of logging. This part of the walk began to feel endless; the scenery was an unchanging one of set-back trees and an earthy, broken track. My spirit whimpered a little when we turned a soft bend and were faced with a track, which was wrenched upwards at an angle only a goat would view with warmth.
"This is twisting the knife."
It was Bod who had spoken, yet he was still smiling.
It was a painful, but mercifully brief incline and once up we found ourselves exposed to the elements at the top.
It was a pity that visibility was still a bit soupy, because from up here we might have been able to see over Kilbrannan Sound and also find the little island of Eilean Grianain down below. As it was, we had to troop along another narrow file whilst being battered by an enthusiastic wind and lashed by a renewed rain-storm at an altitude of about 700 feet. We were now walking along the spine of something which resembled mounds of dumped earth. I tried to film the lads heading off along this ridge, rising and falling at the whim of these dunes, but the camera was still blanching everything. In the end, I had no choice but to put it away and follow them into the buffeting and blustery weather. The wind up here was the most powerful that I had faced since we had arrived on Kintyre and I felt myself fighting it as I moved forward and being rocked by its grip. The trail took us down for one more time.
My feet were of an uncomfortable disposition but I was lucky, because pretty soon those flies became interested again and took my mind right away from bruised toes. They infuriated me mightily. I was convinced that particular individuals were targeting me. Once they had had a trial soar past me and got a whiff of my unique chemical signature, they were devoted to me alone. I actually observed one circumnavigate Jo in order to buzz me and attempt to crawl inside my mouth. They were incessant and their affection was not reciprocated, so that I was reduced to thrashing out at them bad-temperedly with my walking pole and ranting at them. I was in the act of doing this when a rarity occurred and we encountered fellow walkers and a scampering dog coming in the opposite direction.
Cnoc nan Gabhar
The sun tried to bleed through the blanket of grey hovering over us and the day did brighten a little with diffused light. Paradoxically, the rain was still slanting down from behind. It was making a successful entry down my coat collar and onto my neck. As I followed Bod and Jo down a path lined with blackberry bushes, I realised that we had a sea view once more as we were reintroduced to the Kilbrannan Sound on the east side of Kintyre. We trudged on downwards at a sturdy rate and at last rejoined the B842. I looked back at the conquered Cnoc nan Gabhar (hill of goats).
"So much for you, little hill," I waved at it derisively.
"It wasn't the hill so much, as the slog before it," answered Bod.
We completed the last section of the route into the little fishing village of Carradale. The path took us straight to the gates of the local primary school. Given the condition we were all in, I was not entirely comfortable with this scene; three shabby, dirty men hanging around the school gates. I commented on this to the other two and Jo sought to reassure me.
"It's alright - my injunction doesn't stretch to Scotland."
Carradale appeared to be a village on a life support system, but showing no vital signs. Bod and I had dared hope for a beer with which to award our tough grind, but our dreams of a refreshing tankard of ale were dashed by a succession of closed hotels and the total absence of a pub. Damn it, I was quite dehydrated too - no doubt largely due to this morning's preserved bacon rashers. Crestfallen, we limped down to the harbour and phoned Brian. We got an answer phone and were forced to leave a message and simply wait, not knowing when he would receive it. To cheer us up while we tiredly waited, it began to rain with renewed vigour again.
Whilst hanging about, we did have the good fortune to witness a local domestic argument, the central thrust of which seemed to be about the woman's driving ability. The dispute focussed on her capability in parking the family car without managing to send it careering into the waters of the harbour and out of sight forever. The man of the house was trumpeting so ardently about his views on the matter, that his outraged woman ceased any attempt at driving and concentrated her efforts, instead, on barraging him with abuse. It was vitriol so steeped in the local dialect that I couldn't discern any words but I was, none the less, delighted at her spirit and piqued tone.
I suddenly realised that I was beginning to feel cold and was shivering. It wasn't particularly chilly, but I was wet on the outside and even my underwear felt damp and I also think that tiredness was playing a part at this point. Thankfully, Brian had got our message and turned up before we had to consider which bush we would be spending the night in. It was a fifty minute journey home and precisely two minutes into this trip, I turned expectantly to Jo. He hadn't let me down. He had clicked off whatever internal switch operates his lights and relays and was hanging forward, immobile in his seat like C3PO from the Star Wars movies. It was in this attitude that Jo slept for most of the journey back.
Party Animals ....
As we pulled up to our apartment, we discovered Mark to be waiting outside for us. I might have expected to be confronted with a dismal countenance, but he had consumed a half bottle of wine just recently and so greeted us cheerfully with bright eyes. He had already planned some trips for himself for tomorrow and Friday and was hoping to visit the islands of Arran and Gigha.
We washed laundry that was steaming tropically and also completed a flash shopping trip for basics (oh, alright - for more beer) and after tea, we all sat around and consumed said beer (whiskey in Mark's case) whilst chatting a little to Mark about the day's walk. I also had a look at the filming I had done. The results were exactly as they had appeared through the viewfinder; like watching through cheesecloth.
I finally motivated myself enough to have a bath and spent some time soaking the stiffness away. Jo grabbed another snooze. We tried to be game and watch TV, but were kidding nobody really and all drifted off to bed by 10:00p.m. Mark had read a book or cat-napped for much of the afternoon and so was relatively fresh and awake, but he had no chance of any of us staying up with him so he went to bed too. I stayed awake for about an hour whilst scribbling some notes and then settled down. I plunged into slumber as if my consciousness was weighted with iron.
See Route on ......