|The Kintyre Way|
A morning full of seals ....
I was shifted from slumber at 07:30a.m. I immediately scanned the rocks with my binoculars, but they appeared bereft of seals. There were lots of rocks - in fact; rocks seemed to have grown in number overnight - but no seals. It didn't help that my binoculars appeared to have developed a problem since I'd last used them. Looking through them was like looking through the eyes of somebody who had recently been severely concussed. It made me a little nauseous to use them. Instead of a crisp, three-dimensional image with depth and clarity I was seeing three of everything through frosted glass. How my binoculars managed three images with only two lenses I am at a loss to explain, as I am also unable to convey to you how they made everything I viewed appear smaller through them. Using them seemed to transport me three quarters of a mile further inland. I checked to see whether I was holding them the wrong way round - an error I am more than capable of - but this wasn't the case. I inspected them and found that one of the barrels housing the lens had become askew. I tried to manipulate it back into alignment. This performance continued for several minutes and began to severely test my patience. No matter which way I coaxed, forced and finally wrenched they still presented me with the viewing option of the genetically impaired. I finally employed the highly technical tactic of smacking the thing vigorously against the wall and, of course, it did the realignment job perfectly and they gave me no more trouble for the rest of the week. I fixed myself some of my 'bananridge' for breakfast and on my return to the lounge, Jo was peering through binos, too.
"I can see some seals," he said, mildly.
It turns out that the extra rocks I thought I'd noted earlier had tails and whiskers. We watched them for a while. This proved to be a wholly unremarkable experience and I released the breath that I discovered I'd been holding for the past three minutes and found that my dizziness and pounding head began to lessen straight away.
"They don't do much," I gasped, "I spent ages thinking they were rocks."
Be that as it may, I kept going back to them throughout breakfast and it was great to have them on the doorstep. I noticed that they had a curious way of reposing with their heads and tails curled into the air. From a distance they looked like dried-up slugs.
After I'd eaten, I did some maintenance on my feet. It was really just a matter of putting fresh plasters over the heel area. Yesterday's plasters had been rubbed and ground into roll-ups and hung on only by one end, so I pulled them off. Mark walked by, limping.
"Still sore, then?"
"Still nasty." He showed me to confirm this. It looked still nasty. I wouldn't have liked to walk on it.
"My hip hurts, too." I tensed, hoping that he wasn't going to add this to my 'must see' list. "But the funny thing is - my knee is better!" he added, brightly. Bod reckoned that Mark's hip was hurting as a consequence of making allowances in his gait, when his knee was playing him up and of doing that all day. It sounded about right.
We left the house at 09:20a.m and drove up to Tayinloan. We were at the stage of the week when the morning drive wasn't a long one from our base at Muasdale. Indeed, tomorrow's walk would take us level with Muasdale, albeit on the other side of the peninsula at .
The weather today was in a grey and sombre mood and rain was forecast. There was a little confusion as to where we were supposed to meet Dean and we parked on the main road for a short time, before finding a car park. Dean met us there and drove us back to Clachan. A conversation took place about yesterday's walk and we mentioned the last bit. You have to be careful, because the success of this walk would bring money to the area and the locals could be protective of criticism of it, but we did point out that some parts should be looked at. It's hard to tell whether Dean was offended; he dropped us off and wished us luck again and we went through the usual routine of adjusting gear and making ourselves comfortable for the day ahead.
As we set off, Jo nudged me and pointed. One house had what I thought was a white telephone box planted ridiculously close to its front door, but it turns out that this telephone box was actually the porch to the house. It was in the design of the old red telephone boxes we were familiar with growing up in the seventies and I was amused with the imaginative way this one had been used.
"The walk today started off along the A83. We swung out of Clachan and joined it almost immediately. I was feeling optimistic and mentioned to my companions that we may well complete today's walking before the rain came in. It looked a little brighter and the route was less than 9 miles for day three. They all agreed. We had marched less than twenty paces further when it started to drizzle. The cars passed us at speed on the road and the noise could be mildly irritating, but there were pleasant views to the west of us on our right over pasture and towards Dunskeig Bay and there was also a great view of and those paps of Jura again. We passed a Goliath of a bull in a field. It was ebony in colour and rippling with muscles, but it contemplated us mildly as we walked by. He was like a bovine Frank Bruno. After a mile or so, Bod pointed sheep out to me with identification numbers inked onto their flanks.
"There must be a concentration camp around here."
"Hmm, Hitler's persecution of the ewes," I replied.
Mark began to sing snatches of very old Genesis songs as we strolled along, with pine woods now to our side. We hit a tricky bit at one stage where we weren't sure whether The Way wanted us to walk along the road, or plunge into soaking vegetation in a ditch parallel to it. We eyed this dubiously and chose the former and in fact, both routes led us back to the same marker. After two miles, we had reached Ronachan Bay (meaning 'the place of the seals'). It seems that after struggling to see any of the blessed things for the first two days, I now could not move for them. We trod down from the road and onto the stony beach and there, in the middle distance and on the inevitable rock, were eight seals in the business of lying around in blubbery content. Were they or ? I did not know at the time, but some research suggests strongly that these were grey seals; they were larger, they were blotchy (unlike the glowing complexion of their cousins), half the world's population exist around the UK and they tend to hang about on rocks more than the common seal does (which prefers sandy beaches, bless) but what I do know is that they have been lumping about around here for over a thousand years (not these eight,obviously). It states that are seen here frequently too and I would have loved to have seen one of those chaps, but there was lots more wildlife to hold in esteem. I saw my first here and admired them; they are quite handsome with that grey-coloured head. I also recognised the haunting call of and spotted them wheeling about over the waves. There was a flock of flashing by; black and white skimmers with a slim blade of orange for a beak. The one bird I couldn't identify seemed to be a type of which kept going arse-upwards and diving beneath the water to reappear, sometimes a minute later, in a spot metres removed from where they'd submerged. In fact, I've looked it up again and can relatively confidently say that the bird(s) I saw on Kintyre were not grebes at all. They were ducks. A diving duck called (Mergus Serrator). I had noticed that it had had a crest and so assumed I was looking at a grebe, but no! These handsome diving ducks belong to the sawbill family, so called because of their long, serrated bills, used for catching fish oh my God I'm beginning to sound like a geek time to get a girlfriend. Anyway, they are known to frequent the west coast of Kintyre.
Mark had been manipulating his camera to do a little filming and had become uncommonly quiet and distracted. He finally admitted that he had left the spare filming tape back at the apartment and we only had four minutes worth of filming time today. The plonk; I'd told him that the present tape was coming to an end yesterday.
The other sort of beach walking ....
So, we began to beach walk. A walk on the beach. Yes, you see - when I'd sat at work, fed up with being yelled at and called nasty names by frothing people, I'd sometimes drifted off into an agreeable little reverie, whereby this section of the walk lay upon soft, ochre sands. The sea was gentle and whispered to me and the air bit pleasantly and carried a mild tang of salt. This wasn't at all like that. What was this? I kicked at the shale of pebble and stones and made a few roll away with a clatter. This walking wasn't idyllic. Heck, it wasn't even easy. You see, you are not really supported on shale. It is sly and unwilling to give you easy passage, so that you find yourself in a constant micro-struggle against its natural reaction to give way beneath you and cause you to slip and slide. You are not even aware that you are working so hard until your hip socket develops an ache which it has never experienced in its whole forty years of manoeuvring your leg. The beach was often angled as well and I discovered that a constant outward pressure was being affected upon my right ankle.
Slogging along the beach
The rain was still spitting down on us, but visibility out to sea was still open and satisfying with Gigha standing chest-deep in water, as it has for probably millions of years. It suddenly began to rain harder and I rummaged about in my rucksack and pulled out my Berghaus waterproof, sniffing suspiciously for any hint of museum. The walk didn't keep us to the beach. There were sections where we were taken inland again a few metres and strode upon a track thick with foliage of ferns and brambles. I had been left behind by everybody else when I had stopped to put my coat on and was walking alone for a while. I tried to hurry to catch up and nearly plunged right into a deep trench half-filled with water. It was narrow, but ran across the path and was almost hidden by ferns and long grass. It was a leg-breaker for sure and was about eighteen inches deep; perfect for popping a kneecap.
The ground was also boggy in parts and I mused as I made haste that I thought we'd left that stuff behind for a while. I caught up with everybody else as we hit another long stretch of beach.
The rain faltered, and then stopped. As we journeyed on, we occasionally watched the CalMac ferry pass by as it travelled to Port Ellen and Port Askaig on We also saw a or two hunting about, that is to say we saw a shag or two hunting about. Apparently, the use of either term in Britain applies to the same bird? That's a new one on me.
At one point, we were taken further off the beach and onto the A83 once more; in fact, we were required to cross the road and walk on the pavement on the far side. We went in Indian file, with Bod leading, but it was a short interlude and before long a blue post-marker prompted us to cross the road again and troop down a track amongst some scattered trees and from there back onto the beach. We traipsed along and time became a little immaterial.
Mark had walked on ahead and had stopped to examine something. He waited until I walked closer to him and could see for myself what it was. It was a dead seal pup, smelly and fairly mutilated. I looked it over and could see at least one deep hole in its abdomen, as if some weird scientist had taken a core sample from it. Jo was approaching us.
"Do you want to see a seal?" I asked him.
"Well, yeah," he answered, a little guardedly and I pointed at my feet.
Jo gave it the curious once-over. "It's only young, isn't it?"
We walked on for a while and then stopped by some dunes for a water-break. We had stopped near a sign telling us that there was a fish farm in the field across the road. This is possibly part of Ballochroy farm.
"They've planted salmon this year and are going to rotate it with haddock the year after," explained silly Bod.
There was a little more walking done and I completed a (very) short piece of filming of the boys travelling by shank's pony up the beach away from me. They were obviously sympathetic of the limited filming allowance, as nobody stopped for a natter or even broke stride. It didn't feel right.
Terminating at a terminal ....
We stopped for lunch at 12:10p.m on the edge of the beach. Mark and I sat on a plank of wood making a bridge across two dunes, while Bod and Jo merely squatted on little humps of sand. I enjoyed my food as I gazed about me. At least yesterday's prawn curry hadn't made an explosive comeback. I watched my new friend, the red-breasted merganser dive for its own lunch for a while and also trained my binoculars on the ferry and distant Gigha. We were talking, when something splashed largely in the water, near the shore. We immediately began a round of accusing each other of lugging something into the sea. We were all so convincing of our innocence that I believe none of us did it and what it was shall remain a mystery.
We were on our feet again by 12:45p.m and it started raining again by 12:46p.m. It was heavier this time, pattering upon us from the slate sky as we tripped up on uneven stones. Mark was limping again and had periods of quietness.
We came across another dead seal-pup, then a ram's skeleton and then a dead gull. "This is turning into Carcass Beach," I muttered, but mostly to myself and nobody answered. We were walking along the tide deposit line and lots of odd little things turned up, amongst them a clove of garlic and then, a few metres further on, a wooden stake.
"What are the locals trying to tell us?" asked Bod.
I prodded at a huge gin bottle with my walking pole as I walked past it.
"It's empty!" said Jo, rolling his eyes.
The rain stopped after about half an hour and I cautiously peeped out from the cave of my hood like a coy tortoise. My feet were hurting again as we moved around the headland at Rhunahaorine. A particular aspect about Rhunahaorine was its apparent attraction as a winter feeding ground. The grassland around here, hidden from us as we walked by, draws in many from Greenland each year.
Mark on the beach
It wasn't too much longer before we reached the unlovely ferry pier at Tayinloan. It was a grim-looking construction and seemed to provide a sample of every different shade of rust possible to oxidise. We skirted a large stone wall and walked among some small industry as we passed the pier. Jo's bladder had come under a bit of stick from the rest of us over the past few days. It gave the impression of being able to multiply every cup of liquid Jo consumed by a factor of four and he was constantly scrutinizing each new environment for toilets. He blamed the condition on the herbal tea he drinks. Jo spotted another loo now and immediately detoured towards it with a relieved look on his face. He has claimed to us that the frequent necessity to use municipal toilets has (besides making him a figure of public suspicion) enabled him to compile a dossier on them. He is writing a book, he claims. '100 finest Daltons' perhaps or, 'Washrooms of The Way'.
"The last toilet was great - it had liquid soap!" said Jo, as he departed for his latest appraisal.
We cut inland now and began to walk over grass rather than on sand. We waited for Jo and as soon as I became stationary, I also became aware of the aches and sore events that were my body and feet. When Jo rejoined us, we cut across the Tayinloan pier car-park and onto a lane with fields on both side, inhabited by bleating sheep. One waited for us to draw level with it and then squatted to generously poop in front of us.
"Charming," said Jo, as he watched its sphincter twitch, "Still - she winked at me."
"Yeah, you wish."
I was becoming aware of the nostalgic smell of coal fire all over again. Some of the brick houses had smoke puffing from their chimneys. There were large blackberries within reach on the bushes so I plucked one and bit into it experimentally. It tasted foul, was overripe and burst in my hand. I was limping distinctively as we got back to the car and was glad to be finished for the day, because it began to rain again.
We quickly drove home and Mark took himself off for a hot bath, clutching his seized up hip and lurching like a medieval dungeon guard. Over beers, Jo, Bod and I puzzled over Friday's route. The Kintyre Way looked as if it provided several options or 'spurs'. Some of them seemed to have the sole purpose of doubling the length of the day's walking in order to promote fatalities. We decided to stick to the route advertised, but even this brought its own problem, as there was an 'old' map of The Way and the 'new' version which was recommended. Bod was fairly sure that the map he owned was the old one, so we would need to purchase a new one from somewhere. A trip into Campbeltown was deemed necessary. Beforehand, I had a hot bath to soak my groaning tissues.
Jo had a snooze.
A Campbeltown excursion ....
We all eventually got into the car and took a tour into the largest town on Kintyre. As we were driven along, we passed a sign for a place called 'Gobagrennan'. It is really quite pathetic how immature four grown blokes can become after a period of time together. Nevertheless, we weren't satisfied until we had run through a half dozen statements of, 'Gob a green 'un!' with accompanying sniggers.
The drive to Campbeltown revealed to us how much walking we still had to do. We were due to arrive there in two days time and it had taken us twenty minutes to get there by car on a much straighter road than the one we would be taking. had a bit of a grim look about it on first sight but no worse, I guess, than parts of every town or city I've ever visited. Still - we decided that we probably wouldn't be celebrating the end of the walk in any of its public houses. We found a tourist information place that would sell us the new map, which was great, or at least would be when the shop was actually open.
We returned the way we had come and stopped off once more at The Hunting Lodge Hotel for a meal and liquid hops. The fire was roaring again and the food was both plentiful this time and excellent. We had a bit of a chance to relax for a while and chat to the owner-and-Kintyre-Way-committee-member-but-never-a-user man, before coming home.
A couple more episodes of Fawlty Towers were stuck on but we got even more entertainment, Jo and I, from examining Mark's heel. It was raw, I mean fiery raw. The blister had long since burst and the exposed flesh beneath had spent the day being grated against the inside of Mark's boot. God knows how he had managed to walk on it. Jo said that he was reminded of the dead seal. Mark was going to decide in the morning whether he could compete in tomorrow's little jaunt up and over the peninsula again.
Once more, we weren't long for bed. This is something that I'd consistently found over the past two trips; I'd thought before our assault on The West Highland Way last year, that we'd be able to charge through the route of the day and have enough energy spare to sink a few drinks, explore the local community, perhaps take a local girl dancing. In actual fact, I had discovered that by the end of each walk, I was calculating the effort of eating the evening meal as a necessary evil and was looking to hit the sack by 9:30p.m latest and definitely alone. Sometimes, I'd seriously considered not bothering getting undressed. I like to think that this is because I had miscalculated the muscular effort required to get through each stage of The Way, but really I know that it is because in my head I'm still 18 years old and full of vigour, but in my physical being I'm 40 years old and full of lactic acid. I went to sleep without the thought once occurring to me that I should do some notes.
See Route on ......