Stage 130, 23rd July: Dorlin to Alisary
My mistake late yesterday afternoon had identified that the ‘Silver Walk’ coast path was actually open and did not end up in the middle of nowhere as my OS map indicated. So I decided not to continue my route along the road and instead go back and start the path again. Geoff, Lorna and Cally dropped me off at Castle Tioram and I made my way along the path hugging the rock face. It was a juicy up and down scramble over and under fallen trees, around rocky outcrops and though muddy stream crossings and it was enough to raise my heart beat above its normal road-plodding rate.
It was very warm and the air was completely still. I soon had a good sweat on and as I wasn’t being dripped on from the heavens, I counted my blessings. It was by far and away the warmest day of the year so far and if my forecast from home was right as usual then I knew more was to come.
Eventually I rejoined the main A861 for eleven miles of hot black tarmac. By the time I reached Glenuig I was really looking forward to a pit stop for a cold drink and an ice cream. But it was a Wednesday, my luck was out and it was closed. Likewise I could see snickers parked up from the previous night and only a few yards away. It too was closed and locked up, so I couldn’t even raid the fridge. Hence, it was back to the black stuff and a bit of dodging in and out of the shade for a bit of respite as I made my way North along the shore of Loch Ailort. Geoff met me at Alisary with a cold can in his hands. He was becoming a very good bloke to know.
Stage 131, 24th July: Alisary to Arisaig
After a sticky and muggy night in the van an even warmer day greeted me. This was undoubtedly going to be the hottest day of the year and if the temperature didn’t quite reach thirty degrees, it certainly felt like it. Was this really Northwest Scotland? To compensate and with a very short day originally planned for the 25th, I decided I would even out the next two days and thus chop the mileage down today.
As I set out I could almost feel the tarmac temperature rising minute by minute through the soles of my boots. My feet were beginning to cook nicely. Though not hugely busy, it was a good stretch of ‘A’ road for a while and when there were no cars, vans, coaches or trucks to insult my ears there were very few sounds above those of my footsteps and a rhythmic squeak in my rucksack. I couldn’t listen to my iPod or radio, as I needed to listen out for approaching traffic. But the silence was broken by the eerie creaks and groans of the steel roadside armco barrier as it expanded with the heat supplemented by the tiny electrical snaps of gorse seed-pods popping open.
At Borrodale I escaped the road for some woodland shade and a few miles of track. I missed out the headland at Ardnish as it only seemed to have one way in and out and backtracking is not something that felt like fun today. Geoff and Lorna would later tell me that I had missed one of the best beaches in Scotland……damn! So I emerged at Arisaig for an early day and a village overrun with visitors. Though Lorna declined my offer, it was definitely time to buy Geoff a Magnum whilst I indulged myself with another pot of Mackie’s Honeycomb. If I had been ten minutes later the shop freezer would have been empty, so my luck was in today.
Stage 132, 25th July: Arisaig to Mallaig
The baking weather continued but, unless I was acclimatising myself to the Scottish tropics, it felt a little cooler today. I walked out of Arisaig and around the Keppoch headland trying to follow a little-used but OS marked path. I found it, lost it, found it, lost it, found it again and then lost it completely as I zig-zagged my way through trees, bracken and scrub before eventually emerging in a deep boggy field edged with a barbed wire fence too flimsy to climb and too well barbed to deter straddling. I walked up and down the fence line like a caged tiger looking for a way out without putting sharp rusty wire into my groin. I made the road intact and raised my arms in disbelief as I found the path emerging less than a hundred yards from where I had made my escape. I was discovering that OS maps aren’t always as accurate as I once thought.
At Traigh, I caught Geoff affably chatting, as oft is his want, to two old golfers as he teed off on a cracking little 9-hole links course. I would liked to have swapped places for a round myself but my handicap would probably double the par score these days. It was then more road and more road to Morar and Mallaig. The area was positively heaving with visitors and was very different to the wilds of Morvern and Ardnamurchan. It was dotted with campsites all displaying ‘site full’ signs and the roadside verges along the water’s edge were lined with campervans. Foreign voices dominated, but as there were no sunbeds for the Germans to reserve, it seemed to retain an air of peaceful respectability in an area of sandy coves and family safe shallows.
I stopped in Mallaig and dodged the American tourists lingering for a ride on the Hogwarts Express. I had a quick Mint Magnum which almost melted in the queue to pay and made my way around the harbour to the end of the road and a meeting with Geoff, Lorna and a friendly patterdale terrier. It was a warm evening sitting on the harbour edge with fish and chips and a Mackie’s Toffee Apple cone. A lone sky rat watched me with its beady eyes, but my chips and ice cream stayed safe.
Rest Day, 26th July: Nr Arisaig
After a grand evening with Geoff and Lorna, it was time to say another thankful goodbye. They undoubtedly had the best week of weather so far and now rain was in the air. I had made two more new friends and had thoroughly enjoyed their company, their generosity and their enthusiasm. They headed off for a night of hotel luxury nearby as the heavens opened and I finished my laundry to wait for Ray and Susie to arrive.