Rest Days, 19th & 20th July: Kilchoan
I had always planned to have an extra day off in West Ardnamurchan. Not only is it my favourite place on earth (so far), but – if you allow me to sound pretentious for a second – it’s also my spiritual home. I have spent many happy days up here either with my family or as a student performing geological mapping, utilising my very own “guesstimate and wing-it” methodology.
With Sue and Diesy handing over to Geoff and Lorna this weekend, I left the handover logistics to them to suit their needs. Hence Sue and Diesy stayed an extra day to wait for Geoff to pick up Sue’s car in Onich on the way over late on Sunday. So unfortunately a wet Saturday saw Sue and Diesy increasingly tapping their feet as the weekly chores of blogging, tidying, uploading photos and route planning dominated the weekend.
At one point during a brief lull in the rain we spotted what was quite clearly a geology student sitting on a wet outcrop in the field behind the campsite. A quick chat over the fence established our early judgement to be a correct one and we discovered that a group from Aberdeen University were staying in the village. We arranged to meet up in the pub that evening.
Hugh, Lindsey and James were there as promised and were joined by Hamza Yassin, a wildlife photographer working on the estate. We chatted about the vagaries of geological mapping techniques and I equally lingered on the topic of wildlife photography as Hamza showed us some of the most stunning wildlife photos I had seen in a very long time. A grand evening in grand company.
Sunday saw yet more chores to catch up with, though mainly involved the frustrating process of trying to route plan online via a pathetic internet connection. I nipped up to the village to use the showers and bumped into Hamza again whilst waiting for a vacant cubicle.
That evening Geoff and Lorna arrived with their labrador Cally. We all took the dogs down to Mingary Pier and…..bumped into Hamza again. Hamza has an incredibly enthusiastic and colourful personality. His Sudanese origins, Northamptonshire accent and matted dreadlocks didn’t easily pigeon-hole him at all. But his bubbly personality and passion for zoology and photography was infectious. Geoff and I stayed for some considerable time leaning up against the pier waiting room wall chatting idly till dusk.
Stage 128, 21st July: Kilchoan to Achateny
A beautiful warm day for a beautiful walk as Sue and Diesy joined me for the morning. As we walked up the Pier Road into Kilchoan, Hamza drove up and stopped to say goodbye, his regular appearances were beginning to feel like a scene from Hamish Macbeth.
On the road to the lighthouse and my second compass point target of the Western most point of the British mainland, we spotted a Golden Eagle soaring up and riding the thermals, seemingly circling us in a half-mile radius. We met up with Geoff and Lorna at the lighthouse and Geoff handed out some raspberries as Lorna bought me a tub of Mackie’s Honeycomb ice cream to celebrate. I had celebrated my South compass point with Sharpie. I had shared Land’s End with Alec, Graham and Sara and now the West too was shared with friends and I lingered for a while trying to get a decent photo of the lighthouse which didn’t repeat anything I had taken on previous visits.
Next, it was onwards and off-road across the small white sandy bay of Bay Macneil, through the pretty hamlet of Portuairk and up and over a small pass to cross the best beach I had seen so far at Sanna Bay. I might be biased but Sanna is just gorgeous. The soft white sand is usually wind-swept and devoid of people but today it was positively heaving with nearly a dozen families spread across its entire length. It was as busy as I had ever seen it, yet still blissfully quiet. Its crystal clear turquoise waters could easily have doubled for a top Caribbean resort if it wasn’t for the fact that the water temperature is conducive to hypothermia and shrivelled extremities.
I sat with Geoff, Lorna and Sue to eat my marmite and dairylea sandwiches as Diesy stared me out with food love and Cally roamed the beach searching for food among the families settled along the dune line. I left them all to it and said my goodbyes to Sue and Diesy who were heading home with my sincere thanks for another week of great support and headed off over the dunes for the heather and bogs of the barren North Ardnamurchan coastline track to Fascadale and Achateny.
The evening was spent introducing Geoff to the herd of Red Deer at Braehouse and whale watching at sunset at the lighthouse. Geoff’s record with wildlife is apparently legendary in his village and for the first time the Red Deer were absent and despite the mill-pond waters around the lighthouse, our sightings consisted of a lone seal trolling along the water’s edge. But the clear and distant view out to both the inner and even outer Hebrides was awe-inspiring as was the lengthy conversation with a couple from Bath who were staying in the keeper’s cottage. We left long after a disappointing sunset as darkness settled in long after 11pm.
Stage 129. 22nd July: Achateny to Dorlin
It was even warmer as I set off around the foreshore to Kilmory where I met up with a wild camping honeymoon couple sitting out in front of their tent at the top of the beach. We chatted briefly as I’d never want to disturb a honeymoon couple for too long and I wandered up the lane East towards Ockle. Hamza drove past and waved a last goodbye.
At Ockle the road ended at a ramshackle cluster of old cottages and holiday lets. I joined a track up over ‘Brae’ towards the Singing Sands. A beautiful yet deserted climb through bracken, bog and over a pass with dragonflies, butterflies and damselflies showing me the way. The damselflies in particular were giving me a fine show. I never knew they came in so many colours as reds, oranges, blues, silvers and yellows flitted about my feet.
Once over the pass I dipped down into the forest and out onto the beach at Singing Sands. The sand squeaked beneath my feet but failed to raise a tune. The Whistling Sands I walked across in North Wales had failed to whistle too, so if I ever come across a Humming Sands I won’t expect too much.
Back onto the forest track I eventually emerged at Kentra Bay a wide expanse of sand and inaccessible mud. I thus joined the road to Acharacle and made my first mistake for a while. I had decided to walk an extra five miles as a planned loop up to Dorlin, Castle Tioram and back down to Acharacle.
Once through Dorlin I discovered that the ‘Silver Walk’ coast path was open all the way across the South shore of Loch Moidart. However, my phone signal was non-existent and my rendezvous with Geoff was back in Acharacle. So I dived back inland and up over a steep hill, through deep bogs and head high bracken to meet up with him. My fluid stock was now a vacuum pack as I sucked the last drop from it and my exhaustion was complete. Geoff and Lorna’s company was very welcome.