|The Kintyre Way|
Celebrity Death Lottery and the Flasher Of Saddell Town ....
06:30a.m. I was awake, so got up and thought about breakfast. Jo was already up and offered to do me some of his porridge, complete with soya milk. I hovered around a declination but it was a kind offer, so I finally accepted. I ate the first mouthful warily, like a French chef required to sample Bisto gravy, but it was actually rather pleasant. I'd tasted soya milk once, long ago, and had recoiled from it. It had tasted as if it had been strained through old carpet, but this was creamy and kind to the palate. Jo said that this was all in the cooking; he refused to use the microwave and was an enthusiastic acolyte of the saucepan-on-the-stove method of oat preparation.
We were up a little earlier today because this was going to be the longest distance walked yet and, although it was still only a moderately long 19 miles, we were unsure how evil the terrain was going to be so wanted plenty of time to do it in. With this in mind, we left the apartment at 08:00a.m. Mark had decided to drive us to Carradale, rather than get Dean to do it and we had a drive of about 40 minutes ahead of us. I had forgotten about this when I thought that it would be a short trip yesterday. I had thought that we could go straight over the top of the peninsula and into Carradale, which was on similar latitude to us in Muasdale, just on the opposite side of the peninsula. But we had to go via Campbeltown (which was where we were going to end up after marching all day. See? Walking is a crazy pursuit) as there was no road straight over the spine.
While we waited for Bod to fetch something from the apartment we got to discuss the day's news. Pavarotti had passed away some time the day before and one of the guys mentioned that he had been 72 years old when he died.
I was surprised. "Seventy-two? He did alright for a fat bastard!" This had been the second crass comment I had come out with today (the first escapes me) and Mark looked at me doubtfully. "I'm glad I'm not walking with you today; you're in one of those moods."
This was actually another tradition which seemed to be following Mark and me on our yearly walks. This time last year, Steve Irwin had been stung by that sting-ray and had died while we were walking the WHW. This year, it was Luciano Pavarotti. Celebrities everywhere will be shivering and seeking audiences with fortune-tellers as we book next year's jaunt.
The sun was trying valiantly to break through the clouds as we took the coastal road down the A83. We cut inland and across to Campbeltown, through Campbeltown and onto the B842, which directed us back north along the opposite coastline. I watched an oval-shaped shaft of sunlight pierce the clouds and send a beam down onto the Kilbrannan Sound to our right. It was bright, like the questing finger of a searchlight and it hit the water to illuminate the spot, as if heralding some divine event. Mark had obviously observed it too, because he pointed it out as he was driving.
"I keep expecting a chorus of angels to accompany it," I said.
"In a minute, Mr. Bean will plop into the sea," Mark responded.
I suddenly realised something. "Hang on - you're driving us on a winding coastal road, with a potential drop off the edge of a cliff. Watch the road!"
Mark was silent for a few seconds, but couldn't leave it there. "We were on a straight bit," he muttered.
I became aware of how amazingly smooth the sea looked. It was oily. I stared at it for ages, but it remained thick and viscous-looking. I felt that, should I dip my finger into it, the resulting ripple would be visible across the whole Sound as it radiated outwards. I could imagine that as I withdrew my finger, I would discover that I had not broken the surface tension of the water at all and would instead bring away with me a thick strand of liquid metal. It was rather an impressive sight to see such a totally inert mass.
Mark dropped us off at Carradale's primary school where we had finished yesterday. He said cheerio and then went off to do some island .
As we were preparing to walk, Bod discovered the problem with yesterday's filming. The camera had accidentally been knocked onto 'night vision' or some such thing, which meant that that whole period of crap filming had been avoidable!
Carradale was so diminutive and quiet that it would be tempting to think that nobody of any note ever set foot here, but in fact a quite remarkable lady spent most of her life in this tiny fishing village. Her name was and she was a busy little bee in the course of her life. Born into an aristocratic family in Edinburgh in 1897, she was the daughter of the scientist J. S. Haldane, who was no slouch himself. Haldane made many important contributions to mine safety, investigating principally the action of gases (presumably of the environment, not the miners), the use of rescue equipment, and the incidence of pulmonary disease. He devised a decompression apparatus for the safe ascent of deep-sea divers, and in 1905 he discovered that regulation of breathing is determined by the effect of the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood on the respiratory centre of the brain. He was a bit of an egg-head. His daughter, Naomi, spent much of her early life in the English countryside and was educated at Oxford University an education she interrupted to marry a barrister and Labour politician G. Richard Mitchison in 1916. Naomi became a writer. This is like saying that George Best liked a drink. She was prodigious, writing over 100 novels and 1000 short stories and essays. She was concerned with the fate of women in a man's world at a time and in a manner that few other women writers would dare. One early novel, 'We Have Been Warned (1935)' explored rape, abortion, enslavement and the loss of children. She was also a hard-working member of the several communities she moved to. When she returned to Scotland and settled in Carradale in 1937, she became concerned with Highland affairs and played a prominent role in local politics, serving as a member of Argyll County Council for over 20 years. Naomi also travelled widely, most significantly in Africa. In the 1960's, when she lived in Botswana (and remember she was no spring chicken by this time), she was adopted as advisor and Mmarona (mother) of the Bakgatha tribe. She died, in Carradale, in 1999 at 101 years of age. It would have been quite easy, a couple of decades ago, for a tourist to these parts to have looked at the old bird shuffling around Carradale to do her weekly shop and think, bless her - she's probably never ventured further than Tarbert in her life, spent her years tucked away in this little village. They could never have known that she had been educated at Oxford, written what amounted to porn at that time and learned to run from lions with the best of them. Lots of hushed corners of the world probably contain people with remarkable life stories; and to think, I'd thought of Carradale yesterday as merely a village on a life support system.
Bod and Jo conferred and pointed pursed lips at the map and then we were off. There was a bit of road walking to begin with, twisting along the B879 and through little areas with pleasantly-set houses. Some of the properties were pretty fine actually, as we rambled to the shore at Waterfoot in Carradale Bay. There were some fantastic sea views for the occupants through their kitchen windows, the sort that would make washing-up a hobby rather than a chore. One of the houses was called 'Robin Hood', which seemed a bit of an incongruous place to honour a 13th century English outlaw. Jo disappeared at the bidding of his bladder once more. It really did have the cubic capacity of a sugar lump. However, he was back within a minute or so with a disgruntled and taut expression on his face. There were, it appeared, caravans around the corner and although they still had their curtains drawn, he was unwilling to take the risk of exposing himself to some unaware and easily upset wife, who would have only been opening her door to put the bin-bag out, only to find herself being aimed at by a bearded flasher wearing a lot of Pvc. Actually, it was more the thought of what her screams might draw to rescue her, which really worried him.
We walked past the silent caravans and allowed the path to take us right to the edge of the shore. It seemed that we had to walk along a very rocky and pebbly stretch of beach. This was a tricky path which quickly mutated into something rather treacherous. The rocks were basted lavishly with green slime and you weren't so much expected to walk across them as glide. You had to go carefully; one rash move and you could be opening your head on one of Scotland's finest boulders, else sitting on the ground and pondering why your knee had swollen to the size and shape of a cauliflower, before passing out under the inevitable tsunami of pain. Bod even spent a while wondering if we had gone off-route and he studied the map with elaborate heed. At last, his crumpled brow resurfaced from his crumpled page and he confirmed that this was the route we were meant to take. This raised another issue surrounding tidal levels. Luckily for us, this was low tide and the path was crossable, if reckless, but we seriously questioned whether you would be able to go this way at all at certain times of the day. It would be a case of hugging the cliff wall or swimming.
We were standing between the bays of Carradale and Dippen and I stood and did a little filming as Bod and Jo went forward to confirm that we were on the correct trail. I stopped to appreciate once more the limpid stillness of the sea and then swept the camera around onto the boys as they tried to find the way forward. They had ranged quite far ahead and I recorded them meandering back and forth for a while in an aimless and ant-like way. Bod gestured, pointed in one direction and then walked in another. Jo followed him after a pause, as if pulled along on a string. Through the viewfinder, the silence of the scene was absurdly funny.
After a few minutes, I struggled forward to catch up with them. The slimy rocks soon gave way to our old friend 'the bog' and its frequent companion 'the hidden rut filled with water amongst tufts of long grass'. We cut inland at Dippen Bay, but had to scramble our way off the beach. There was suddenly no path and we basically had to forge our own way forward and up, scrambling over and between the rocks and foliage, mostly ferns with their distinctive and, to me, almost tropical aroma. We had expected rain again today, but instead were sweating and gasping inside our waterproofs within minutes. After a cursing climb up a grass rise, we reached a roadside stile and had had enough of our rainproof stuff. As Bod said, we were just getting wet from the inside anyway. We stripped off our outer layers, releasing billows of vapour that steamed in the morning air.
The road we had reached was the B842 again; one our feet had become familiar with. However, it had toyed with us in the past and even encouraged us along with a firm surface and gentle curves. Today, it very rapidly and decisively rallied us and took us uphill. I began to toil along bold sweeps of ascending road, the very same route that we had sedately travelled up in the car, without once being aware of what a killer gradient it was. The angle of ascent was ridiculous at one point and I found myself tittering at the effort we were putting ourselves through, merely to later shove a map under the unenthusiastic noses of people who wouldn't give two shiny turds on the matter and declare, "Look! I have walked from here to here!"
At some point along this stretch, the trail offered a diversion to visit . A leaflet I carried didn't even mention this fact and left me doubtful of the wonders it had to offer us. We were also anxiously aware of the miles ahead of us.
"This is where we can divert to visit the castle if you want?" Bod pointed to a path peeling off to our right, apparently straight into the grounds of an aristocratic-looking mansion.
We all looked at each other.
"I'm not bothered," said Jo.
As one, we ignored the branching path and strode on ahead along the road. We were steadily climbing now, rather than tortuously; sometimes passing forests of conifers, sometimes looking over fields but always on our left was the Sound of Kilbrannan.
There was still a bit of walking to do before, with a measure of distraction, we reached the village of . My piece of literature described Saddell's main attraction as being 'the haunting ruins of a 12th century Cistercian foundation with superb, carved stones on display for travellers to marvel at'. An ideal opportunity for us to learn something about the local history and the only foundation Jo and I were interested in was the alleyway in front of us, which we nipped into in order to empty ourselves. I felt horribly exposed by the ring of terraced houses which surrounded me as I tried to skulk in this alley. Whilst hurriedly urinating, I got myself powerfully entangled in some brambles and was still in the act of ripping thorny creepers from the buttocks of my trousers when a local man walked by. I knew that he'd seen me and tried to be as friendly as the situation allowed, given that I was still tucking my apparatus away. "Awright, mate?" It had sounded hollow even to me and he didn't respond, but I got an essence of his disapproval by his averted gaze and the deepening harsh lines down his face. Bod walked away, probably laughing to himself. I hated to impose myself on this inoffensive little village even further, but I really had to sort my groin out as well. I had a little scout around but there was no real cover available to me. In the end, I had to retire to a bus shelter and drop my trousers. I inspected my thigh. There was a weeping sore adjacent to my scrotum and the way it glistened, red and shiny, reminded me unsavourily of a strip of raw bacon. I was applying a dressing and some micro-pore tape when Bod began to laugh again.
"He tries to hide away in a bus shelter with more glass than a greenhouse!" I lifted my head from my amateur first-aid and looked furtively about me, but nobody was around so I returned to sticking the dressing on. Bod hadn't finished with me yet and he sat back. "I'm just waiting for the next bus to arrive." He had a definite point there and I redoubled my efforts, which only led to me taping my thumb to my leg. Finally, I was done and did a little experimental stroll up and down. Perfect.
Lussa Loch Lunch ....
We took time to refresh ourselves; I had a bite of chocolate and something to drink. It is a pity that we didn't have the time to explore the ruins of the Abbey, because I do have an interest in history and this piece of architecture went way back. The Order of Cistercians, sometimes called the White Monks (from the colour of the habit, over which a black scapular or apron was sometimes worn) is a Roman Catholic religious Order of enclosed monks. The abbey at Saddell was founded around 1160 by a gent whose name was Somerled (Somehairle in Scottish Gaelic). We never gave ourselves the chance to look at the Abbey and consider the history around it, but we were shortly presented with another opportunity. If the fancy had taken us, we could have traipsed down to the pebble beach in Saddell Bay where the video of Sir Paul McCartney's 'Mull of Kintyre' had been filmed. Fancy left us alone, so we just walked off instead and I was pleased to note that the relief on my thigh was immediate.
The road climbed unkindly again, a gradient of 20% or more. As we slogged on upwards we closed in on a postman, walking his bicycle up the hill. He rested briefly, looked back and saw us.
"Where are you going?" he asked, cheerily.
We answered Campbeltown and he smiled. "See you there, then!" I returned his grin as we turned off the B842 and began to trek up a little road. "I think you'll be there before us."
We trudged upwards until we stopped at an entrance to a farm. A woman in a range rover was watching us with a sandwich held in her hand as we read an information board about the next section of The Way. We had a lot of forest track to march through.
"That's it!" declared Jo, "I'm not doing any more!"
"Alright," said Bod and walked off.
I stole a glance at the woman in the range rover. She was watching with her mouth slightly open, her sandwich abandoned. I could see that she had missed signs of any levity in the exchange and her eyes were gleaming a little as she wondered if she was about to witness a punch-up.
We moved off in a little group on a track that continued to ascend and, at its zenith, we stopped to take some photographs and film the view before us.
Looking back to Saddell
"Another hapless walker has gone into that lot and they've had enough!"
We had encountered them earlier but they hadn't given us treatment quite this hostile and I had a picture of ambushed walkers, waving their walking poles around in agitation and trying to start a fire with which to ward off the pack.
I began to film the scenery and was warned by Bod not to turn around with the camera, as he was watering the blackberries. It was at this point that we began to walk inland, heading west. The track wasn't at all bad underfoot and took us through regiments of conifers which began to crowd us on all sides. There were two or three miles of this easy walking, but then a mini-disaster occurred and the dressing I had applied to cover the sore dropped off, slid down my limb and nestled between my sock and trouser-leg. Within twenty paces, I was as sore as ever.
The path enabled us to climb steadily to about 800 feet as we moseyed along. We walked for a couple of hours. The rain was holding off and the sun was even trying to smile through at us, making an occasional and impromptu appearance from behind banks of clouds. We passed north of the mountain of A-Chruach, which reached a height of 1201 feet and south of Meall Buidhe (Black Hill) with a peak of 2975 feet. As we walked, we began to see Lussa Loch in the distance and Bod proposed that we stop for lunch at a picnic spot his map said was there. Jo and I concurred, though I privately thought that it still looked a good way off and my feet were at the stage where they were beginning to grouse at me again.
As we walked, we came across a property apparently in the middle of nowhere. I say 'property' but it didn't look like anybody had claimed ownership over it for some time. Something like three centuries. This was a forlorn and derelict building called Bord a Dubh (black board, deck or table?) cottage. I contemplated it.
"It'd be alright living here, but the hustle and bustle would drive me mad."
As we got closer, we could easily detect the air of abandonment; the peeling paint, broken windows, dirty, torn nets and waiting silence. It was like it had been transplanted here from a Manchester housing estate. I pointed to the only other residence in sight, a building about a mile away.
"The noisy, next-door-neighbours drove them out."
"Yep. Kept having parties," answered Bod.
There was a small grove of trees planted just after we had passed the cottage. It is known as 'Hughie's Wood', planted in memory of Hugh Macmillan (1927-1990) who was brought up in the cottage and who had worked for the Forestry Commission, creators of The Kintyre Way. That other residence around here was actually two residences; cottages at a place called Corrylach which were close to the shore of the impressive Lussa loch.
We reached a picnic table on the north end of the loch and gratefully collapsed onto benches. Lussa Loch (I couldn't find an accurate translation but it appears to have been somebody's name) is not a natural body of water. It was formed during the 1950's as part of a reservoir scheme, was called a hydro-loch and flooded by the damming of the Lussa burn, making it the largest loch in Kintyre; just less than 2 miles long and situated 7 miles north of Campbeltown. It is known among fly-fishers as a good place to fish for . Why they don't stock it with English or Scottish trout is a mystery; perhaps they aren't as stupid and wouldn't take the bait. Whatever the reason, the American ones are sacrificed, as demonstrated in 2005 when 1000 of the American rainbow trout were deposited into the waters of Lussa.
As we began to unwrap lunch, we found ourselves presented with a sweep of placid water. Conifer woods were on all sides, but took care to stand back respectfully from the shore's edge. The conifers adorned the hillsides, hiding contours beneath a rug of green. I munched on a finger of shortbread and watched a grey heron in the distance. It was hunched in isolation on the opposite shore. Occasionally, it would stalk a few metres in either direction along the edge of the loch and then stop, to peer moodily into the water. We continued to eat and make lazy conversation, but as soon as I'd refreshed myself I decided that I had to perform some sturdier open-air first-aid on my wound. I opened a dressing and then opened my pants. Jo and Bod pointedly looked elsewhere, but I noticed that they stopped eating until my business was done. I set to securing the dressing with several generous lengths of tape and then, satisfied, did some filming of the loch and of my two travelling companions as they used the map to discuss the way onward. We suddenly spotted a group of horse riders to our left and north of us. They were taking an alternative spur of the track and heading west. We noticed that the last beast in line had no rider and fell to contemplating whether it was a spare horse, or whether it had tired of its burden and waited for a suitable moment to professionally shrug off its occupant into a gulley, his startled yelp unnoticed by the others.
The pain increases ....
Soon, there was no more delaying and we got up to start off again. This simple procedure revealed much, as we had all seized up somewhat and began to hobble along the track for a dozen paces until the internal lubricants kicked in. We traversed west along the northern end of Lussa Loch and then crossed a simple bridge which passed over a giggling, shallow burn. It was from here that you could, if you so chose, continue west through the forest to meander your way eventually to Bellochantuy on the west coast where The Hunting Lodge Inn resides, or do as we did now and take the south-western route down the western stretch of the loch. We walked on. Pretty soon, we
approached and passed the cottages at Corrylach and at this point the track swerved to head due south. The scenery remained as undulating forest track, watched over by ranks of conifers. Indeed, the conifer infestation became so bountiful that it sometimes
South along Lussa Loch
"Look at that," Jo pointed one of them out to me. It was very green; a bright and vibrant green. It made you want to paint it, or dig it up and take it home with you, or drink it.
We walked on. I now had to consciously block out the pain signals coming from my feet. I started to imagine them with a voice box apiece; each step I took bringing forth a cry of objection. 'Ouch!' 'Urk!' 'Eeek!'' Ya bugger!'.
I tried to divert my thoughts away from my discomfort, as it didn't really help matters. Bod unexpectedly spoke up from a few metres ahead of us.
"This is Gobagrennan."
I looked to my right for a few seconds. "What all of it?"
Jo laughed; Gobagrennan appeared to consist of a house, a yard, a chicken coop, a small factory or warehouse and a rusty-orange tank of no discernible function. There were more letters in the place-name than life-forms actually existing there.
We swung around Gobagrennan and climbed a sudden, feisty rise and this allowed us, at last, to break free of the asphyxiating grip of coniferous woodland. Here, there was another spur of The Way which rambled determinedly off to the south-east, continuing to flirt with woodland for a while before breaking out into open country for a rendezvous with Peninver back on the east coast. We were set on a path which continued to the south, which was all very well but we were now using a minor road which undulated and took unnecessarily spiteful turns left and right. Well, it seemed that way to my tender legs. It was at this point, as we hit open road, that we fell into a pattern which was to become familiar to the three of us. Bod strode ahead, at times by as much as 20-30 metres.
He seemed tireless and implacable. Jo was next and to my observations, seemed just as unyielding. His stride remained steady, whatever his private discomforts. I brought up the rear. Often, this was because I'd see a likely scene or opportunity, so I'd stop to do some filming accompanied by the uncertain commentary. I would then find myself to be a few hundred metres adrift of the lads and would have to force myself, with gritted teeth, into a shambling jog in order to catch up with them. Jo witnessed this at one point. "Noooooo!" he wailed, in what I hope was protest and dismay. After such a run, my feet would exude fresh levels of discomfort. They would throw in extra types of pain, as if they had been rummaging around in my boots and found them. There would be the odd sharp jag in the sole of my foot, or a piercing feeling in one ankle. It was if they were rebuking me by giving me something to think about beyond the usual throbbing ache. Bugger, but they hurt. This slowed me up and was another reason I ended up several metres behind Jo and 50-60 metres behind Bod the Unstoppable. I became aware that I could feel fresh blisters growing down there in my boots, detect them swelling. They were squashy and, well, unpleasant. Now and then, Bod would stop to unfold his increasingly tattered map, take a drink and wait for us to straggle up.
"How you doing, John?" he asked me.
Bod smiled, "John Wayne. You're walking like a cowboy."
The sore on my thigh was by now very inflamed and causing me to adopt a bow-legged approach to the walk. I laughed, weakly. "Bastard."
Bod grinned at me, "I'm running on empty!
It was a small relief to hear this."How far have we got to go?" I asked.
We walked on and Jo and I now moved together. We passed places, now just names on a map, for we were too weary to give much more thought to them; Skeroblingarry, Skeroblinraid. Jo noticed a residence called, 'Home Place'. It stuck in his mind because, amongst all the absorbing Gaelic names, it was quite alien in its Englishness. We were later to find out from Dean that this is Sir Paul McCartney's remote farmhouse. It is where he supposedly retired to for a while with his family, after the break-up of The Beatles and a place of which he was quoted as saying, "It's been like a little hideaway. I can sort of breathe when I get up there, breathe pure air."
This area was also of passing note to us for having the only black sheep amongst a woolly clan of its white brethren. The road took us on, past more places that served us as nothing more than evidence of our progress; A Chruach, High Ranachan, Ballywilline. Jo and I managed to catch up with Bod again and he waited for us and then pointed. "There's Campbeltown."
I looked and there, still seeming to be far away, was indeed the sprawl of Campbeltown. Bod had already moved off again and Jo lifted his arms to the sky in a silent celebration and then followed him. The road ahead was long, straight and descending and I decided to film them progressing down it. Campbeltown shook unsteadily in my viewfinder as I tried to include it in the filming. I put it down to the fact that this was because I had put the camera on maximum zoom, which was still the only way to get a clear view of it from where we were, but it could have equally been because I was palsied with weariness. I added the obligatory commentary and found myself attempting the wise and educational tones of David Attenborough in my statements. I had my concluding line ready and waited until the moment felt right before declaring; "and there, at last, is Campbeltown," injecting the comment with what I perceived was just the right amount of humble triumph. Unfortunately, the whole atmosphere of the moment was totally ruined. A monstrous piece of farm machinery chose that precise instant to bear down on me and roar past on the road. My arty speech was drowned out and any impression I was trying to give of brave and weary walkers closing in on their destination was detracted by several meters of canary yellow steel, the clatter of which made my eyeballs wobble in their sockets. I glared at the driver in frustration and he appraised me truculently, wearing an expression which made the local sheep look shrewd in comparison.
I was knackered now and walked the last two miles on willpower alone. At one stop for drinks, Bod told us that he had his own method for blocking out the pain. I listened with interest; after all, I felt no shame in plagiarising his method if it helped take my mind off my feet, so that I could enjoy the biting rawness on my thigh without distraction. Then he told us that he counted his steps. I thought 'this man is voluntarily focusing his attention on his feet?' And then suddenly it hit me. Of course! It all became clear now; why he set a constant pace, was restless whenever we stopped, never altered his stride to allow for pain. I had never been friends with a masochist before but it was actually a relief; I didn't have to feel any shame about my suffering, about feeling a bit wimpy. Bod was used to hurt. In fact, he revelled in it. Hell - he probably had broken glass sprinkled inside his boots as well. Actually, Bod's step-counting theory was quite an adaptive process. He was focusing on the counting, not the feet and this enabled him to block out the pain. Bod revealed to us that he tended to count in pairs, with each right step being a number. After a while and for the sake of variety, he would swap this over and count his left steps instead. It is amazing how versatile a man can be with nothing more than two feet and a stretch of road.
"The trouble is," continued Bod, "I can only zone out like that for so long and then I remember that my bloody feet hurt!" So it wasn't entirely infallible but still, it got him through.
The Mad Lady of Campbeltown and the Incident At The Argyll Arms ....
We marched on and I refused to look up at the next, heart-breaking hill with its twisting road. I looked down at my feet and counted steps. I missed a lot of beautiful scenery mind, but by now I didn't give a sod. At last, we joined a proper road (the A83) for the final half-mile into town. This took us downhill and we were hobbling across the A83 to walk on its far side near a place called Mill Knowe, when a fairly elderly lady hailed Bod from her back garden. She was just about visible over a length of blackberry brambles and she beckoned him nearer and asked him to pick something up for her. The only thing we could see in the road was a plastic shopping bag, so Bod stiffly scooped it up and offered it to her with mild perplexity scrawled across his features. She immediately pulled an exasperated face and scolded him, "Och! Not that!"
She pointed to a wicker basket that we had missed on our side of the hedge and which was brimming with harvested blackberries. Bod gave it to her. She seemed keen to engage in conversation with us and I sighed inwardly. I really would have preferred to just get today's walking done. She asked us where we had walked from and then, obviously detecting alien accents, where we were from.
"The Midlands," I replied, but then realised that this would mean nothing to her. Scotland has a Midlands, too, so I added, "Birmingham."
The woman had already begun another sentence, but she suddenly sputtered to a stop and regarded us with disbelief. "..yerr English!!" she said and managed to inject the word with as much horror as if she had said that we were paedophiles. She managed to sound both aghast and outraged at the same time and actually rolled her eyes to the heavens, whilst holding her basket of blackberries protectively in front of herself.
"Yes, we're English," I replied in a level tone.
Something must have made her aware that she was in danger of being a trifle rude and she recovered her manners and added, if a little listlessly; "Och, ah knoo some English people from Birmingham and they were very nice."
This concession seemed instantly too much for her though, because she switched back to the attack again. "Mind yew - the trouble with yew is wha' ya do with our munn-eh!" She kindly demonstrated by raising her two hands aloft, forefingers and thumbs pinched together on each hand, whilst miming somebody peering with suspicious scrutiny at crooked currency. We just gaped at her and didn't quite know what to say, but she spared us the effort and summarised her obviously pent-up feelings in a final statement, face quivering with indignity; "And that Margaret Thatcher !!"
This was enough for me. We said goodbye and to her credit, the old girl wished us good luck with our walking. "Back to England", is what she probably added once we were out of earshot. As we walked on, Jo was in tucks. He had found the whole episode very amusing. A vein stood out on his temple with the prominence of a rune, as he sniggered and gasped at the credence of it all.
"She's probably on the phone right now, spreading the news," said Bod. That being the case, we could expect a line of infuriated villagers outside our apartment with burning torches by about midnight.
The last minutes of this walk tortured me and in my tiredness, I became unreasonably suspicious of Bod, sure that he was bloody-mindedly stretching the walk to beyond the day's route by taking us through the run-down streets of Mill Knowe. It was his masochism kicking-in again. With spiked boots. Except that he was also committing acts of sadism now and I wasn't enjoying it. However, he was only doing his best to follow the route marked on the map and we suddenly found the Kintyre Way emblem pasted to a lamp-post. We followed the signs and they took us all the way to the harbour. We had made it. We all just about managed to do a series of jerky muscle stretches. Some young girls began laughing at us from the safety of their parked car, but I was too preoccupied with pain to care. I made my way into the tourist information shop we had seen a couple of evenings ago. I walked as if I had been subjected to a weekend on a rack. I bought the correct version of the last section of the walk on a Landranger map and then we went back outside to phone Dean and sit on a bench at the harbour side. I did some final filming of the day and finished by asking, "And how are you boys?" as I swung my camera round onto their sprawled and supine forms. Jo didn't even look up and Bod said nothing, simply mouthed the word 'knackered' to the lens. But at least he was still smiling.
Whilst we were obliged to wait for our lift home, we got talking to a guy who was ferrying around golfers on a holiday. He had a rather pleasant job consisting of taking them from mainland to island and back again. I bet his feet never blistered even once. For some reason (probably me) we got onto the subject of whiskey and he told us that there had once been twenty-seven distilleries on Kintyre and now there were only two. "Course," he said, "it was the American prohibition what did for them." Bod and I secretively exchanged glances. The American prohibition had been 90 years ago, but he was talking about it as if it was still in place. The guy wandered off and approached some people. They were presumably clients but, given his recent demonstration, could have been just an innocent group who were just about to be informed that The Titanic had sunk.
Dean arrived and as he leaped sinuously out of his van to land on feet bereft of blisters or pain, he asked us how the walk had gone today. I think he knew really, by our shattered faces and limp clothing. We were driven back to the Jura apartment, where we crawled gratefully upstairs. Mark had had a pleasant day on Arran and showed me his photographs. I appreciated them whilst standing on feet that were complaining to me to sit the hell down and calves that were agreeing with them. Jo complained of feeling hot and feverish. The three of us had minds and bellies on going out for tea, but Jo declined and went to bed. I had a bath, partly to relax and remove hours of sweat and partly so that I could examine myself. I inspected my tender areas. It was only surface damage, I'd be okay. The fact that I could hardly walk could be put off until the morning. I counted six fresh blisters, but the ones on the soles of my feet were the worst. They were beneath the leathery skin of my heel and they refused to burst, despite me bayoneting them with a pair of scissors. I basically couldn't pierce the thick skin of the soles of my feet to get at them. This in itself confused me; if the skin there was so thick, how had I managed to cultivate blisters beneath that layer? Well, it didn't matter how it had happened, it just had.
Bod and I consumed some beers to numb our suffering and then Mark, Bod and I went out to eat. We drove to a different place tonight; once more in Bellochantuy, but this time . It had a large glass conservatory, which was showing off the sunset and looked very fine. Unfortunately, we placed our order and then had to wait for three quarters of an hour for our food to arrive. When you are sore and tired, this is not funny. In fact, when you are hale and hearty it still isn't very amusing and so we sat there, not very amused. Once the food arrived it was very tasty, but unfortunately it was also very expensive. When all is said and done, I think we preferred the other place. To try and play Devil's advocate to some degree, the delay in service was probably due to another customer, a frail old lady, having a funny turn at the dinner table and then pitching face-first into her baked trout. But the waiting and the prices still put us off the place.
Thankfully, an ambulance was called for and we were relieved to see that the lady was able to walk steadily out of the premises. This was certainly more than Bod or I could do and she was lucky that we didn't knock her out of the way and get into the ambulance ourselves. We must have appeared to watching customers to be two contestants in the cerebral palsy 100 meters stagger. With Mark limping heavily too we were a party given a wide berth, but lots of attention.
We arrived back home and Mark, bless him, suggested that I use the bedroom for a good night's sleep. He would use the lounge. Alone in bed, I had time to fret and consider. Did I have it in me to do another 22 miles tomorrow over terrain that was supposed to be the toughest of the six days? Dean had warned us that there were two difficult climbing sections to tackle tomorrow, as well. A 02:00a.m. visit to the toilet suggested strongly to me that I did not have a hope of completing this walk. I was forced to mince across the room on my toes - and they weren't feeling so chipper, either. I simply could not put any pressure on my heels, especially the right one. But, hell, I wanted to finish the damn thing! I knew that it would stay with me if I didn't at least try. I decided I would see how I was in the morning.
See Route on ......