When we were parked under the shadow of Ben More we got talking to the occupants of one of the campervans and they recommended Fidden Farm campsite. They waxed lyrical about the beauty of the location and strongly recommended that we visit. So when Paul woke up the following morning with achy legs and a desire to chill out we decided we might as well give it a go. Fidden Farm is located at the end of the Ross of Mull – the southernmost peninsular of Mull that terminates at Fionnport, the staging point for the island of Iona. It was quite a drive to get there, the road that runs under the steep cliffs of Creag Mhor is spectacular, from a distance it looks precarious with one point where cars seem to be driving across a deep chasm, but when you are on it it’s well constructed with good passing places so we could relax(ish) and enjoy the view. Yet again we had planned a leisurely trip with some stops along the way and yet again we were mostly thwarted by a lack of parking. The scenery was beautiful but we didn’t have much chance to view it up close. We stopped at Pennyghael and Bunessan for a bit of grocery shopping which gave us a chance to get out and stretch our legs. Paul’s legs were still achy but unusually I didn’t have any tight muscles; maybe all this exercise is having a positive effect. We finally made it to Fidden Farm. The campsite is relatively basic – no hardstanding or electricity, but there is a new toilet and shower block by the farmhouse as well as portaloos in the camping area. Pitches are not marked, but there is a huge expanse of grass and dunes dotted with outcrops of the pink granite that mark this area. There were plenty of places to park with a view across the bay of beautiful white sand beaches and pink granite islets. It really was as beautiful as we had been told, and the sun was still shining which made it even more special.
We didn’t do much else all day apart from wander around the beaches and rocks, paddle in the sea and sit in Bertie watching the tide come in and the sun set.
At £8 per adult the campsite was reasonable value. There were notices in the toilets warning of a price increase in 2018 to £10 per adult. Without electricity this starts to feel a bit steep, especially for families who would then have to pay £5 per child on top and jostle for prime beachfront locations in high season. Will they price themselves out of the market or does the location make the price worthwhile? As a couple we’d be happy to go back, if we were going as a family I would be considering elsewhere.
After a lovely day at Calgary Bay, the weather turned a little gloomy again, but when we had last seen the forecast it was just the one day of glooms we planned the following day to climb Ben More, something on our wish list while we were in Mull.
We used the dreary morning to make our way around the narrow coast road, heading south from Calgary. On the way we stopped at the Eas Fors waterfalls where we made a fried breakfast to cheer us up. The falls were pretty but lots of people don’t realise that it’s the waterfall down to the beach that is the most spectacular. You can walk to the bottom to view it from the beach, but it was too damp to tempt us so we just viewed it from the top of the cliff.
Apart from Eas Fors there weren’t many parking spots along this road, something that I’ve noticed in general in Mull; long stretches of scenic coast with nary a parking spot to appreciate it. After the falls the one parking space we saw had a height barrier – how rude! It made me quite grumpy, it’s no wonder that people stop in passing places.
We finally reached the stretch of road where we wanted to park up. We had a short pause to let a herd of cattle past us before we got to our first choice of spot – the main parking area for people climbing Ben More – but it looked too boggy and we retraced our steps back to the firmer parking at Rubha na Moine.
We were sitting comfortably alone in this parking spot looking out to sea when Paul spotted an otter on the rocks rolling around in the seaweed looking like it was having a whale of a time. Another campervan drove up after fifteen minutes of this and the otter scarpered only to be replaced a few minutes later by a sea eagle swooping down on a couple of small seabirds that were bobbing on the water (it missed). Suddenly the day seemed a lot more exciting. When we popped out for a chat with the people in the campervan it transpired that they didn’t see the otter because they were busy watching two sea eagles ‘talon grabbing’ above Bertie – something we’d been completely unaware of.
The evening did literally get brighter. Ben More had been mist bound when we arrived but by sundown only the summit had a cap of cloud. We could clearly see our route up the mountain. Firstly up the slopes of Beinn Fadha and then along the ridge of A’ Chioch before continuing onto the ridge of Ben More, then a leisurely descent via the usual route up Ben More.
The following morning we were up and out by 8:30. We wanted to make it to the summit before any cloud came in. The first 500 meters of ascent were admittedly a bit tiresome, with boggy stretches and no clear path, plus I hadn’t realised that the sun would rise in the gap between the hills and shine directly into our faces on the way up – and I had left my sunhat behind. When we hit the upper slopes of Beinn Fhada things started to pick up, and the ridge ahead of us was looking both inviting and challenging.
We kept to the ridge line as much as possible, but it was obviously not a well trodden route and the rocks were slippery with moss and the morning dew that hadn’t yet evaporated. When we reached the most difficult section of the ridge – a small rock tower with a north facing scramble to it’s top – I chickened out. I couldn’t get purchase on the rocks and it was pretty exposed so I took the path round the base of the tower and climbed up a drier set of rocks on the south side of the ridge a few yards later. We had been completely alone on this walk so far, only the crampon scratches on the rocks indicating that people had been there before us, so when we finally emerged at the summit of Ben More it was a shock to see half a dozen other people who had walked up the other route.
As we started to make our way down from the summit we felt relieved we hadn’t come up this way, there was a very dull initial section of zig zags through scree before it dropped low enough that the path was on rock and grass. It was at this point that I realised I had lost something – we hadn’t had any internet for three days and so we had taken our mifi device to the top of the mountain so that we could get the weather forecast and drop friends and family a message. We stopped for a bite to eat on the way down and I thought I would check whether we still had any signal…no mifi device…my heart dropped. I left Paul with the rucksacks as I made my way back uphill expecting to have to go two miles to the summit. On the way back up I thought I would ask the other people on the decsent whether they had found it and luck would have it that the first couple I asked – who we’d overtaken some time before – had found it. The relief fuelled the remainder of the walk and not even Paul’s jibes could upset me.
The carpark at the bottom of Ben More was really busy when we got down – that’s what happens on a rare sunny Sunday. Even our parking spot was getting full with another motorhome and campervan and a couple of cars. It was so beautiful we decided to stay for another night and spent the evening chilling out and watching an otter swimming around.
Calgary is a city in Canada, it’s airport is often used as a gateway to the Rockies. Calgary is also a small village on the North West corner of Mull with a wonderful white sand beach at Calgary Bay, a car park and an official wild camping area. We moved to Calgary early that morning and were very glad that we’d decided to move on so early as the car park filled up pretty quickly, the sun was shining and the perfect white sands were a magnet for walkers, sightseers and photographers. We gave the official wild camping area a miss because the grass was quite soft underfoot and although it had the lure of public toilets the water supply was not on and so they were quite disgustingly blocked.
We walked from the car park around the headland, an 8.5 mile walk that started along the coast following indistinct paths. Walking in Scotland can be interesting because although you have the ‘right to roam’ the number of marked public footpaths on OS maps is actually quite small compare to England, many walks are guess work where you have to either follow a path that you hope leads where you are going, find an internet report of a walk that someone else has done or interpret the contours on the map to determine a reasonable route; occasionally all three. We knew that people had walked around the headland before, but didn’t know what route they had taken.
There was a clear path towards an abandoned jetty, but after this it was difficult to make out whether the paths were man made or sheep trails and we wended our way sometimes close to the shore and sometimes along narrow tracks just underneath the cliffs, making sure that we were never committing ourselves to something that we couldn’t retrace later and keeping as low as possible.
The coast here was made up of slumped volcanic cliffs with grassy terraces and we didn’t really want to get caught in a dead end and make the walk longer.
We were aiming to ascend from the coast onto the top of the cliffs at the ancient fort where it looked like there was a causeway up through the cliffs. Thankfully this was an easy way up, but at this point we were subjected to the full force of the wind. We hadn’t realised how sheltered we were in the bay. So when we reached a convenient spot on the cliffs with some shelter from the wind we took the opportunity to have our lunch. It was here that we saw our first sea eagle, it swooped down in front of us and perched on a rock, surrounded by the sea. There was great excitement, what an ideal situation for a photo. I fumbled my phone out only for the eagle to take flight as it was splashed by a wave. Oh expletive! Well at least this time we were sure of what it was with it’s white tail clearly distinguishable when it came in to land.
We made our way further round the cliffs towards Caliach Point. We were trying to keep as close to the coast as possible but there were frequent deep clefts in the coast which we had to make our way around. At the trig point we stopped for a short while to look at the views but the wind didn’t encourage us to stay, and we quickly walked down to the farm where we picked up the minor road and walked on tarmac back to Bertie.
When we got back we popped down to the beach, I was tempted to swim but the clouds came in just as we walked down and a dip without the sunshine didn’t have the same appeal. Instead we walked along the beach enjoying the views and the feeling of soft sands underfoot. Here at Calgary there has been a concerted effort by the local population to preserve the machair, a rare coastal grassland habitat that has been traditionally used as common land for grazing. Where once the wild camping spread across all of the bay there is now a significant fenced off area that is protected. I wonder whether the lack of water at the toilets is an additional tactic to try and put all but he most hardy off using the wild camping area.
On Mull the roads are in the highland style i.e. single track with passing places. The classification of the road does not tell you how wide it is, but it does give some indication of the size of the passing places, presumably to cope with the larger vehicles that will use them. The main A road that runs all the way from Fionnport on the south west corner of Mull up to Tobermory in the north east has a few short sections with two lanes, but is mostly single track. Paul has plenty of experience driving on highland roads, but mostly as a car driver where his driving behaviour involves hunting down the car in front so they have to pull over and let him pass. In Bertie he has to be the one to pull over. I wondered if his masculine pride would be dented with this role reversal, but he seems to have taken it in his stride. The reversing camera came into it’s own as we left it on all the time so we could see what was coming behind us and choose our spots for pulling over, rather a nice wide tarmac passing place than a rutted earth and grass one.
As well as being the first place with a significant proportion of single track roads, this is also the first place I have ever seen Otter Crossing signs, including one sign with the ‘Number of Otter Fatalities’. We didn’t get a picture of these but you can see plenty of examples on the Mull Otter Group website.
We drove from Craignure up to Tobermory, we will then make our way back down south before going back up to Tobermory to get the ferry off of Mull. The key reason for this is that there are a couple of walks in the south that rely on a low tide, and it would be a few days before low tides were at a reasonable time of day to make it practical.
Our first spot for overnight parking was the Forestry Commission parking at the north end of Loch Frisa.
We cycled from here down to the other end of the Loch and then took a short circuit through Glen Aros before retracing our steps up to the north. On the way we were keeping our eye out for eagles. Mull is well know for the white tailed sea eagle which was reintroduced in Western Scotland in 1975, golden eagles can also be seen, so we were hopeful for a sighting at some point while we were on Mull. We saw a number of large birds from a distance, which could have been eagles, and one up close which was probably a buzzard but could have been a juvenile sea eagle (it didn’t have the distinctive white tail). Buzzards and sea eagles have very similar silhouettes, golden eagles are quite different, but it’s difficult for amateurs like us to tell the difference unless they fly very close or all conveniently fly past at the same time so that we can tell the difference. So nothing conclusive on this bike ride, but looking very hopeful.
We settled down for the night in the forestry commission car park with a couple of other campervans joining us. We were really starting to notice the shorter days now; it’s pretty dark by the time we’re eating dinner, a sure sign that we’re getting into Autumn and no signs of an Indian Summer in this part of the country.
In Oban the following morning we did some supermarket shopping to stock up on a few essentials before going over to Mull. Our plans were going to take us to the western side of Mull where we knew that shops would be small and sparsely scattered.
The ferry to Mull was pretty uneventful and the weather was dull and rainy still.
As soon as we got off the ferry at Craignure we turned left and in a couple of hundred yards we were at our campsite for the night. The Shielings campsite offers touring pitches and also self-catering ‘Shielings’ which were constructed from a heavy duty white waterproof canvas. In fact this fabric was also used in the construction of some of the toilet blocks, the laundry room and the washing up area as well as being used for smaller items such as pockets to hold your shower gel/shampoo. It seemed very versatile stuff but made the campsite look a bit like an army camp in a very scenic war zone.
The Shielings did have good industrial sized washers and driers, and we were able to get all of our laundry cleaned and dried. I also re-proof our supposedly waterproof trousers. Hopefully they really are waterproof now.
We used the time to investigate a problem with our roof light. This is an electrically operated RemiSTAR roof light which uses a gear mechanism to lift and drop the Perspex ‘lid’. The last couple of times we had used it the gears had been making awful crunching sounds and our online investigations has revealed that ‘gear stripping’ was a common fault with them due to the way that the cable was made. We took a look and sure enough the gears were stripped. Replacement gears have been ordered and we’ll hopefully pick them up from Mum and Dad when we see them in October. A good thing then that the weather is getting cooler and we’re not requiring the roof ventilation quite so much.
We didn’t do much else while we were here apart from a short cycle ride up the road and lots of wandering around the shore in between the rainy spells.
Barnluasgan is near to the Crinan Canal which was built to allow boats to pass across the Kintyre peninsular without having to take the significantly longer journey around it’s perimeter. These days the boats that use it are mainly pleasure craft; yachts and motor cruisers make their way through it’s locks to access the islands of the Hebrides. I’d last been here nearly 30 years ago when we came on a family holiday to the area. It’s remembered well by the whole family because we had our first seafood platter – one between the 5 of us, we didn’t have a lot of money but plenty of pretension – from the Seafood Bar at the Crinan Hotel. It would be no effort for Paul and I to cycle down to the Canal and have a little jaunt up and down it’s length and then maybe a seafood platter at the hotel, just for old time’s sake. The weather was a definite improvement, a bit blustery and showery but with the occasional sunny spell. We cycled to Ardrishaig at one end where we stopped by the memorial to John Smith – leader of the Labour Party for a short while until his untimely death, and born in this town – for a cuppa.
Then we cycled back towards Crinan, the wind was blowing in our faces in this direction making it much heavier going and we felt that we would definitely deserve a treat when we got to the other end of the Canal. We had a look at the Seafood bar which was serving a lot of seafood dishes but no platters, and anyway our tastes were veering more towards sugary carbohydrates by this point so we went into the café for tea and cake instead.
The Crinan end of the canal is definitely the more picturesque as the canal cuts through cliffs on one side and sits above the wide sandy bay of Loch Crinan and the tidal reaches of the River Add on the other side. Crinan itself is a pretty village with a very yachty feel. The café served excellent cake and proper pots of tea – you know, enough for three of four cups and with extra hot water. After refreshments we cycled back to Bertie, stopping at the bird hide for a quick look, not much of any interest today just a few geese and oyster catchers, a family of swans and probably a number of small brown birds that I’m hopeless at distinguishing.
Because we were enjoying the day we went a bit further through the Knapdale forest roads before making it back to Bertie.
It was still fairly early and we debated what to do next. Ideally we wanted to research our trip to Mull, but we couldn’t get online where we were so we thought we would move on. We stopped first at the parking area for Carnasserie Castle, but still no internet access here so we popped up to the castle for a look around before moving on further.
In the end we moved on a lot further than we had expected, ending up parked alongside the A816 just south of Oban in a layby where we were able to get some signal.
We booked ourselves on the ferry to Mull for the following day and did some research into possible places to stay and things to do. We had quite a long list and crossed our fingers for fine weather. We also booked into a campsite for a couple of nights when we got there as we had a lot of dirty laundry and wanted to do some washing. Once we were sorted we felt more relaxed and sat watching the waters of Loch Feochan for the remainder of the evening.
The day on Gigha had been a brief respite from the rain. The following morning it was tipping down again and difficult to believe we’d been chilling on the beach the previous day. We drove further North to the Knapdale forest where we parked at the Barnluasgan Forestry Commission parking area. There is a small information centre here displaying a few items about the beavers that have been re-introduced to the area. We were feeling a little guilty for missing so many places out on our very quick journey up the west coast of the Kintyre peninsular, but we just didn’t see the value of trying to wait out the rain. We do have a fixed deadline with Aaron’s passing out in early October. IN order to avoid being cooped up all day we donned our full waterproofs and set off to follow the beaver trail around the loch. We knew we wouldn’t see beavers as they don’t tend to be out in the daylight hours, but we thought we might see some sign of them. It wasn’t an unpleasant walk to start with as we made our way through the woodlands looking at the attractive flora and the lake. As we progressed, however, my trousers began to let in water. This reduced the appeal of the walk and we spent less time looking around us and more time trying to finish the walk and get back to Bertie where I could dry out. That evening the rain didn’t let up, so any plans to try a twilight beaver watch were put on hold. I’ll have to wait till I’m home again and stake out the beavers on the River Otter.
It was still raining when we left Machrihanish Campsite, but we knew that the following day would be good so we made our way up the west coast of the Kintyre peninsular stopping a few times to take in what view there was and finally coming to rest for the evening at the ferry terminal for Gigha island. Ferry terminals are good for motorhomers, they often have toilets, water and free CalMac wifi as well as other services.
Gigha is a small island on the west coast of the Kintyre peninsular, there is not much on the island but it was meant to be pretty and sounded like a good place to while away a few hours in good weather.
The following morning dawned as sunny as promised and we left Bertie in the car park happily charging his batteries while we took our bikes across as foot passengers on the small CalMac ferry.
We cycled up to the North end of the island where we scouted out the possible motorhome parking spots (you never know – we may be back) and sat and watched the sea for a while until a fishing boat disturbed the peace with some very loud rock music; you know, the type that they heavily advertise around Father’s day. Fair play, it’s probably quite difficult to listen to music over the sound of the sea and the noisy diesel engine of a fishing boat.
Next we tried to reach the twin beaches which link Gigha to a small tidal islet. We could see them from a distance, the shining white sand looking inviting, but as we set off down the track it got muddier and muddier until we could cycle no more. Undeterred at that point we continued on foot, but eventually we had to give up as the track became a muddy lake and our attempts to force a new path through brambles and bracken came to nothing. Finally, after cycling the full length of Gigha we took a track down to a beach signposted for the beach at Port a’ Chinn Mhoir only to find a sturdy cream bull walking down the path ahead of us, swinging his testicles in a way that said ‘I own this path’. As the path was narrow there was no going past the bull, but we slowly urged it forwards until the path became wider and it headed off in a different direction to us. We finally had a beach we could relax on, the weather was nice enough for me to go for a paddle in the shallow sands of the bay, which was also what the Bull was doing – heading for a group of cows that I’m sure had been on his mind all along.
That evening we felt sun tired and couldn’t be bothered to cook, so we went to Big Jessie’s café for a fish and chip supper. To help the (perfectly cooked) greasy stodge down we walked along the beach north of Tayinloan bay before spending a second night at the ferry terminal.
We were in a campsite, stuck vegetating in Bertie due to rain. The biggest event of the day (and it’s a pretty big event as far as I’m concerned) was that I finally dyed my hair. I’m not really a high maintenance woman, I don’t get my nails done or eyelashes extended or any of that sort of thing. Last time I went for a spa day I nearly laughed at the beautician when she asked me about my usual ‘routine’ – well I wash my face and apply moisturiser when I remember! It’s not that I have anything against such things, but I don’t want to spend my hard earned dosh on them. My one concession to the beauty industry, the thing that I was willing to spend money on, was a visit to the hairdressers every four weeks to get my hair coloured and hide my ‘sparkles’. But we’d now been on the road for three months and I hadn’t dyed my hair in all that time. In addition I’d lightened my colour earlier this year and with the sun my hair was now looking a bit of an odd combination. Dark roots with grey patches and ginger ends. Something needed to be done! I’d bought the home dying kit a few weeks before but wouldn’t countenance using it in Bertie’s bathroom. So this was an ideal opportunity. My hair is back to a uniform dark brown – for a few weeks at least.
Other exciting things that we did to pass the time? Well I also made use of the free wifi and watched the first episode of Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off (Paul was not keen and made me wear headphones), the jury is out on whether the pairing of Sandy and Noel works as well as Mel and Sue, but I like Pru Leith and found it pretty enjoyable. I’ll have to watch some more next time we have good wifi.
Oh and I experimented with frying stuff – well we are in Scotland, but I didn’t go as far as Mars Bars – we decided to try cooking fish and chips. It worked quite well with the fish in batter shallow fried in a frying pan while the chips were more like potato wedges in the oven. As I had batter left over I also made onion rings and courgette fritters, so it was an dinner consisting of the ‘golden’ foods. We added peas and tomato sauce for a bit of colour. I’m sure our arteries will recover at some point. Regardless of the success of this exercise it will be a rare treat as the cleaning up afterwards took some effort.
More rain had set in. Our plans had been to visit Campbeltown, maybe to take a walk to Davaar island and then walk up to the lighthouse on the Mull of Kintyre. But the weather was too wet, the tides were wrong (Davaar island has a tidal causeway) and all in all we felt a bit miserable. We drove to Campbeltown, an attractive town with a very Victorian feel to it’s buildings especially along the seafront. Here we did a bit of grocery shopping and had a wander around, but were driven back to the sanctuary of Bertie by the weather. We then drove down to the southern coast where we might have been tempted to continue up to the headland of the Mull of Kintyre but the mist had rolled in from the sea (sorry) and there wasn’t any point driving up into it. To mark the occasion Paul and I had a little sing song in the van – I woke up that night with the slightly inane lyrics ringing round in my head. Finally we stopped in Machrihanish, it had taken most of one miserable day to get this far – it would have taken three or four nice days! We took a short walk up to the seabird observatory where we stopped to admire the fantastic photographs and talk to Eddie Maguire who is the very knowledgeable warden there and had taken the majority of the pictures. It made me wish, again, that I had both the skill and the equipment to share pictures of some of the birds and animals we have seen. We made a donation and took away a DVD of photos backed by traditional music.
Because the weather was forecast to remain pretty miserable we decided to check into the Machrihanish campsite for a couple of nights to do some chores.
No photos as it was too miserable to be inspiring.
We woke up to fine weather and so continued with our plan to walk around the coast to Carradale. The intention was to follow part of the Kintyre way to Carradale and through the woods behind the village, then we would head out to Carradale point. On the way back we would make a circuit of Carradale and walk along the beach, crossing the river using the stepping stones before retracing our steps for the final part of the walk.
We started by walking up the road from Torrisdale before joining the Kintyre way as it heads over to Dippen Bay. The route finding was interesting as one of the pale blue markers for the Kintyre way had been knocked over. This was the key marker for determining our route across the first bit of open land to the coast and we managed to take a couple of wrong paths into boggy declivities before we managed to get down onto the rocky shore. Once on the coast though we were good to go with the rest of the route pretty obvious and well marked. Here we saw another otter sitting on a rock having a good nibble on a crab, how lucky to see two otters in two days and an excuse for a rest after our wrong turns earlier.
At the western end of Carradale bay the route left the coast and walked alongside the river before heading along tracks through forestry commission land and then back down to Carradale where we could pick up the path to the point.
When we got to Carradale point we had hopes of seeing some more wildlife – but all we saw (and smelt) was a herd of feral goats and a few gulls.
We had a pleasant walk back along the sandy bay to the stepping stones but then much disappointment as half of the stones were underwater and there was no way I was going to attempt them. We had an extra mile or so to add to the route as we took a detour back up to the nearest bridge, but rather that than embarrassment or a soaking.
By the time we got back to Torrisdale we were quite tired, so decided to stop there for the night. It also had to rank as one of our favourite overnight spots for it’s beauty and peacefulness.
We didn’t get the first ferry from Lochranza, we left it till 10ish to get in the queue. Although we were second in the queue we were waved on first and had pole position on the ferry, right in front of the doors. Our prime position proved interesting as we approached the terminal at Claonaig, we’ve never really watched what happens as the ferry approaches the slipway before. The ferry doors were dropped slightly (as always seems to happen on approach to the terminal) I assume this is partially to act as a sea brake and partially to prepare for dropping the front door completely onto the slipway for disembarkation. With the door partially lowered there was a gap of a couple of feet between the sides of the ferry and the doors and the waves were sloshing around the edges. I can see why the ferry was cancelled the previous day.
The tide was relatively high as we left the ferry which allowed the ferry to dock further up the slipway and avoided the risk of grounding due to steep an angle of entry/exit. Something to remember for future ferry crossings especially to smaller ports.
We’d had a lovely time in Arran, we had been very fortunate with the weather until our last day and there had been lots of things to see and do, plus the facilities made it easy for motorhoming. Even the roads were mostly two lanes rather than the highland single track roads.
Now we were heading for the Kintyre peninsular – if you’ve looked at this on the map you may have been struck, like me, with it’s similarity to a part of the male anatomy. No? It’s just me then.
The weather was still pretty wet but we had already decided that we would make the most of the bad weather by having a seafood lunch at Skipness Seafood Cabin, which is conveniently just up the road from the ferry terminal. The plan was to find an overnight spot near Skipness and then walk to the Seafood Cabin but the parking spots were either taken or too boggy to risk, so we drove all the way to the Seafood Cabin instead. We were a bit early for lunch so we donned all of our waterproof gear and went for a look around Skipness Castle, this was our favourite castle so far with an intanct tower which allowed us to climb to the roof and see the views of the surrounding area.
Finally we felt we could reasonably order some lunch – and the rain had eased. We had a seafood platter for two and I had a rare lunchtime glass of wine; lunchtime drinking makes me so sleepy. It was very good – I particularly liked the scallops with pesto and the hot smoked salmon. We even sat outside (under shelter).
We looked at the map over lunch and worked out a few possible parking spots we could head to for the night. First we stopped at Grogtown, this was where we saw another otter ducking and diving amongst the seaweed. We whiled away half an hour or so until the otter disappeared, but we decided not to stop there overnight as there wasn’t anything we wanted to do in that area the following day. A bit further on we stopped at Torrisdale overlooking the bay. This was ideal as we could have a walk around the coast to Carradale the next day.
That evening as we were making our dinner the weather started to improve, rain stopped and clouds lifted. The skies turned an improbable set of pastel colours as the sun set over the hill behind us. Beautiful.
When we woke up on the Sunday morning in Sannox we knew we had to make a decision – would we stay in Arran and hope for some better weather for more mountain walks, or would we move on?
We took a final check of the weather forecast and couldn’t see any pleasurable mountain walking in it, so decided to go and get the ferry from Lochranza to Kintyre. The ferry wasn’t running that morning due to the rain and wind but there was a chance it might run later in the day so we thought we would go over to Lochranza and see what happened. The ferry can’t be booked in advance, you have to turn up and get in the queue. We felt lucky that we had the luxury of flexibility, anyone who was heading home, to a job or to pre booked accommodation could have been anxious, but for us it was just a small delay.
While parked near Sannox that morning a lady stopped her car and came and tapped on our door. I was in rather an embarrassing position on hands and knees using the crevice tool (vacuuming of course). She wanted to tell us that we would be moved on as we were parked in a turning area for council vehicles. I didn’t really know whether she thought she was being helpful or was just a NIMBY (although the passive aggressive part of me would point out that it was a Sunday, a designated picnic spot and the council vehicles would surely use the next spot up where the recycling dumpsters were located). She was perfectly polite and in return I thanked her for the info but didn’t admit that we had already stayed the night and would be moving on anyway.
When Bertie was clean and tidy we moved to Lochranza. CalMac (the biggest Scottish Ferry operator) who operate the Lochranza to Claonaig ferry had promised an update at 12:30 so we thought we’d get there shortly beforehand.
The Lochranza ferry port/terminal (both of which are too grand a term) has a waiting area with numbered spaces for people who want to catch the Ferry; this was full, but we also knew that there were a couple of big parking areas just up the rise, so we went up there to keep an eye on events. People turned up and either waited in the car park or drove off. One motorhome tried to extend the queue onto the road and became a blockage as the local bus service tried to get through, they revised their approach.
At 12:30 there was an update that the next ferry would leave in a couple of hours but would take the longer route, normally operated in winter, to Tarbert. On looking at the queue we felt there were people probably in much more of a hurry than us so we wouldn’t bother with that one.
With at least couple of hours to spare I decided to try out some more baking in the oven. I had bought a six muffin tray before we set off that would fit into our little oven so I made cupcakes. The cakes were a success despite the low temperature of the oven. The icing (since when did we start calling it frosting? – I blame the Bake Off) was not such a success and needs more work. I refuse to allow icing sugar in the van due to the way it floats and coats everything, so I need a good chocolate fudge topping that doesn’t use it.
We watched the ferry get loaded up and make it’s way off to Tarbert. At Lochranza you would be excused for thinking this was all a fuss about nothing, the loch was as flat as a pancake, but the strong winds were – unusually – coming from the South East and causing issues at Claonaig. A while later there was an announcement that the wind had dropped enough for the final ferry of the day to go to Claonaig, but we had settled down by then so decided to spend the night at the Lochranza and get the morning ferry.
Staying was a good move, there were public toilets so we didn’t need to use our loo, and there was a water tap on the front of the toilets which we used to top up our tank by shuttling a few 5 litre water containers back and forth over the road. This left us set up for a couple of nights wild camping on Kintyre before we would need to find a campsite.
After a day on the mountain we didn’t feel like doing anything too strenuous so we headed to Brodick. We parked up in the car park by the Mountain Rescue centre, where we intended to spend the night (although we decided not to in the end).
First port of call was Castle Brodick which we could visit for free courtesy of our National Trust memberships. From the car park we could walk across the road and go through the pedestrian entrance. The castle itself isn’t open at the moment as it’s undergoing essential fire prevention work, but the gardens were open to wander around. They had a number of nice specimen trees and two walled gardens (I do like a walled garden), although the only walled garden that was open was the ornamental one and the kitchen garden was not open to the public.
One feature in the gardens is the Bavarian Summerhouse which was built by the 11th Duke of Hamilton in the 1840s for his German wife. This structure, built of wood and decorated with pine cones was interesting especially as the ceiling decoration is still the original and hasn’t been restored (although it looks like roofers may have put their feet through the ceiling on a couple of occasions). The 11th Duke was also responsible for the castle building as it’s seen today on the back of Scottish £20 notes, which bears very little resemblance to the original 13th century building although some of the original walls still exist.
After a couple of hours wandering around the gardens and some tea and cake (in Paul’s opinion the worst cup of tea he’s ever had although mine was perfectly fine – maybe it was the milk as I have my tea black) we went back to Bertie for some lunch and then walked in the other direction down the Fisherman’s Walk which goes into Brodick. This is a nice stroll which runs between the beach and the golf course, sometimes on grass, sometimes on the sandy beach and a short stretch on boardwalks. We popped into the bakery and the coop in Brodick to pick up some essential supplies and then toddled back along the Fisherman’s walk to Bertie.
By his point it was mid afternoon and as we sat in Bertie we decided that the car park was perfectly satisfactory but a bit dull – no views – so we moved back north to Sannox where we parked up in a laybys by the picnic spot just at the northern end of the village. We could see the sea and river from here which was much more interesting. At this point Paul wasn’t feeling too good (blamed on that cup of tea) so I left him in the van to wallow while I took a walk along the bay. He managed to eat his dinner though so I think he was just a bit tired!
Goatfell is the highest mountain on Arran and we had been looking for a suitable day to climb it before we left. Although we had had plenty of decent weather at sea level, the tops of the mountains had mostly been obscured by cloud. This Friday was our best opportunity.
Arran’s range of mountains offers plenty of walking and ideally we would have been able to do two or three mountain walks, but this looked like our only reasonable chance of seeing views from the summits, and we’re not that interested in climbing mountains without a view. Never mind – it gives us a reason to come back.
None of Arran’s mountains are the Munros (mountains that are over 3000 feet) that most people get excited about, instead they are mostly Corbetts (between 2500 and 3000 feet), which always makes me think of the Two Ronnies ‘and it’s goodnight from him’. Other classifications of mountains are Grahams (between 2000 and 2500 feet high) and Marilyns (mountains which have a ‘prominence’ of 150 meters above the surrounding land). There are many more classifications of mountains depending on what you think constitutes a ‘top’. Who would have thought it would get so complicated? It reminds me of conversations we used to have at work when someone wanted to implement a business solution for something ‘really simple’.
Despite Goatfell only being a Corbett, it doesn’t lack for interest; the peak can clearly be seen above Brodick, seeming to stand alone although it is part of a more complex ridge, the tops offer some scrambling over granite tors (similar to Dartmoor’s tors but at a higher altitude) and the views across the other mountains are incredible.
It’s also pretty easy to walk up using the long but gentle ‘tourist’ ascent that starts in Brodick. We chose to avoid this route up, instead taking a slightly steeper and shorter route up from Corrie via the top of North Goatfell. This gave us a greater chance of some peace and quite on the walk and also some scrambling along the short ridge between North Goatfell and Goatfell itself.
We started as early as we could rouse ourselves from our bed (not that early as our mornings have become quite lazy) and walked along the coast road from our parking spot to the point where the path headed inland. From there the path climbed up through woodland onto the open moor, we were following Corrie Burn and could hear it’s waterfalls but not see it until we were out of the trees; it had the look of a waterslide, with gentle smoothly eroded drops that you could imagine riding down on an inflatable ring.
When we got to the point that the path split we took the right hand fork up through the coire to the saddle between North Goatfell and Mullach Buidhe. This was when the views started to kick in as we were able to see the crenellated top of Caisteal Abhail, the deep valley of Glen Sannox and the steep drop and ascent back up to Cir Mhor from here. We had a short rest for photos and to eye up the ridge we would walk along to North Goatfell and eventually Goatfell itself.
The ridge was fun with lots of scrambling opportunities, although you could bypass them all via a path lower down. We stuck to the ridge line following the scratches of crampons across the rocks, and handily placed rocks (cairns of one) that marked the route. There were some interesting descents where these marks were key to ensuring that we knew the right way down and didn’t get stranded on a ledge on the side of the mountain. The only thorn in my side (almost literally) was that I had my walking poles on my rucksack. This was a bit of an experiment as I like to use poles on downhill slopes, but don’t tend to take them on scrambling walks because they can be awkward, true to expectations they kept getting caught on rocks and although they forced me to spend more time facing the rock (the better way to climb down) and less time sliding down rocks on my bottom they were a pain.
Approaching the summit we could hear voices and as expected there were many people (at least twenty) sharing the summit with us and we could see more making their way up the path from Brodick. We quickly found ourselves a sheltered scoop in the rock where we could sit and eat our lunch out of the wind; picnic spots were getting scarce.
The way down followed the east ridge of Goatfell until we descended back down to Corrie Burn again and re-joined the path at the point it had divided earlier. I did use one of my walking poles on the way down, after all I had suffered to get them up there, and it was a great help to me picking my way down hill, but I’m not sure they were worth the hassle. I many have to look into buying some more modern poles that fold up a lot smaller and can fit inside a rucksack.
We were down from Goatfell pretty early after our early start and had the whole afternoon to chill out and watch the view from our parking spot. Lazily we decided not to move on!
Lochranza is a village on the northern coast of Arran, set alongside a small sea loch. I don’t know when a bay or inlet becomes a loch, but the name makes it quite clear, this is definitely a loch.
We had parked on the near end of a spit of land which juts out into the loch, not quite cutting off the inland end of the loch from the sea. On this spit of land stands Lochranza castle. It was closed when we arrived but we looked forward to having a look around the following day.
We would be coming back to Lochranza later in this trip to get the ferry that runs between Lochranza and Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsular, but for the time being we were using it as a base for another coastpath walk which would take in Hutton’s Unconformity (a geological feature) and the Cock of Arran (titter yet not) as we walked to Laggan cottage and back again.
We set off initially through Lochranza and past the golf course, Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without a golf course or two, and Arran lives up to it’s reputation as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ not just because of it’s geographic diversity but also because it has golf courses everywhere you look. Here we saw a group of stags nonchalantly lazing on the fairway which gave us a reason to pause and take a quick photo.
The path continued around the northern side of the loch, past a string of rather nice houses with their gardens protected by deer proof fences before heading onto the coast proper. It was easy going underfoot for much of the first couple of miles. We passed by the old croft style buildings at the ‘Fairy Dell’ and then reached the main obstacle of the walk – the An Scriodan boulders – a tumble of large boulders left by a cliff fall that used to pose a problem for walkers who had to navigate around and over them to continue the walk. Perhaps it was slightly masochistic of me, but the work that has been done to create a clear pathway through the boulders has taken some of the fun out of the walk, and although the pathway involves some steps up rocks and there were one or two occasions when hand touched rock it didn’t seem all that exciting.
Once we were past here we were approaching the Cock of Arran, I am a bit confused as to the actual identity of this feature; some guide books say that it is a large boulder that apparently once resembled a cockerel and was used as a navigational aid, some say that it is the most northerly point of the island. We chose to believe that it was the boulder, but who knows. This boulder is red sandstone, and the beach has large eroded slabs of the same red sandstone that are quite striking and bear a strong resemblance to the sandstone features of Orcombe point at home in Exmouth. We sat here for a while looking for wildlife, no sea mammals today but we did see plenty of gannets diving for fish out to sea.
We continued on past the unimpressive Ossian’s cave – which we later found out was wrongly identified on the OS map and some old buildings which used to be associated with salt panning that took place here, using locally sourced coal to heat the sea water. We could see Laggan cottage but decided to turn around before we reached it and retrace our steps.
We never did identify the exact position of Hutton’s unconformity, but this feature is apparently not very exciting to look at. It is more exciting for it’s place in the history of science and geology in particular. The presence of successive layers of different types of rocks, at different angles were part of the evidence that Hutton – the ‘Father of Modern Geology’ – used to support his theory of geological processes, which included a proposal that the Earth was far older than the accepted age. The Lochranza unconformity was the first such example that he found but not the best and he went on to find various unconformities around the country.
When we finally returned to Lochranza the castle was open and we were able to take a look around this 13th century building. It is one of many castles that are maintained by Historic Scotland and is free to visit. There were some interesting snippets of information around the building explaining the way in which the building had originally been set up (as a ‘hall house’ with storage on the ground floor, a large public hall on the first floor and other more private rooms on the upper floor) and then modified through successive generations.
It had been a good day, although we felt that the walk had been much touted as ‘the best coast walk’ on Arran and we hadn’t enjoyed it as much as the one from Kildonan.
The day wasn’t over as we had some jobs to do, we were planning to climb Goatfell the following day, but also needed to empty our toilet and refill our water. We drove through the scenic mountain road back to Whiting Bay, and as we drove past. Rodrick realised we had managed to complete a full circuit of the island. With Bertie refreshed we then retraced our steps back up to Corrie where we parked in a picnic spot south of the village not far from the start of the following morning’s walk.
We had parked at King’s Cave deliberately … to visit King’s Cave of course. So the next morning we took a stroll down to the coast to see one of Arran’s famous tourist attractions.
There is a circular route from the car park which goes through forest and picks a path down the cliff with views of the fort at Blackwaterfoot. The forest floor was heavily carpeted with moss and there were plenty of mushrooms glowing with a gentle luminescence against the dark backdrop of the forest floor. Mostly they were the rather prosaically named ‘Sickener’.
The King’s Cave is one of a number of caves cut into the sandstone cliffs along this stretch of coast. The caves were originally caused by sea erosion until the events that caused the raised beach around Arran. The series of arches was far more impressive than the previous day’s Black Cave. The King’s Cave itself is said to be the cave in which Robert the Bruce watched the spider ‘try try again’ to build it’s web. Although that is highly unlikely, the real draw here is the graffiti on the walls, some ancient and some relatively modern. Instead of graffiti, the modern way of making a mark here is to balance stones into towers, covering the beach and cave floors like lumpy stalagmites.
After spending a little time at the caves it was starting to get busy and we wandered back up to the car park which we found to be full. Our plan had been to drive on down the road to the next tourist spot, but given how busy it was here we thought we might have difficulty getting parked, so we got the bikes off the back of Bertie and cycled to the Machrie stone circles.
Machrie Moor sits south of the mountainous area of Arran and is the site of many Neolithic antiquities. Hut circles, cists, cairns and burial mounds as well as the stone circles. There is a farm track that takes you out to the main grouping of stones but many more on the moor if you want to explore. All this with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains. Even Paul was impressed, although he was heard to say ‘not another one’.
It had been the right decision to cycle to Machrie moor as the car park there was full and people were turning up only to have to drive away. We cycled back to Bertie and made our way further up the west coast enjoying the sea views on the way to Lochranza where we parked up by the castle for the night.
There was much excitement the next morning. Paul popped out for his morning cigarette and saw some movement in the water…it was an otter. Not the first otter sighting of our trip, but given the first sighting was claimed by Paul and I didn’t see any evidence of it, I think this is the one that counts.
The otter made his way through the water in front of us, occasionally ducking down to try and find something to eat. I was able to watch it as I made our breakfast and our packed lunch for the day until it moved out of sight.
We were off for a walk today as the weather had improved and there was even the threat of sunshine. Our plan was to take the coast path to Lagg where we would get the bus back to Kildonan. The plan didn’t come to fruition as I forgot to take my purse with me, I also hadn’t realised that the mysterious break in the path on the map was because there is a section that is only passable at low tide. Uncharacteristic poor planning on my part! Luckily we realised that I had forgotten to bring my purse with me in time to be able to turn around and get back past that point. Otherwise it would have been a long walk.
The path from Kildonan was along the raised beach that runs most of the way around Arran. The current beach itself gently shelves into the sea, then there is a short step up to the raised beach, a fairly level terrace a few meters wide, this butts up to steep cliffs where once the sea met the shore. The raised beach made the walking level going, but there was a lot of boulder hopping and bog avoidance to keep us on our toes.
Just outside of Kildonan was a large colony of seals, most of them reclining on the rocks conserving their energy during low tide. They gave us plenty of opportunity to stop for a rest and some observation.
There were plenty of waterfalls rushing down the cliffs, and when we reached Bennan Head – the point at which the raised beach had eroded and the tide reached the cliffs – we saw the largest cave on Arran. A large, but not particularly deep, craggy fissure in the cliff. We really enjoyed this walk even though it didn’t turn out as planned the sun and the sea mammals more than made up for it.
That evening we drove on up the west coast to a new parking spot at King’s Cave. We passed through the very attractive village of Blackwaterfoot with it’s pretty harbour and the steep cliffs of The Doon as a backdrop, but couldn’t stop because the good weather had bought everyone out for the day and the car parks were very busy.
True to the weather forecast the next morning was wet and miserable.
We drove up to Ardrossan and sat in the queue for the midday ferry. The tarmac was flat enough to revive our leak. Our skylight has a leak in the front corner, and we have developed a habit of parking with our nose slightly down to let the water run off our roof rather than into the van; really we need to sort it out but on days that it’s dry we find other priorities.
The ferries in Scotland tend to be quite good value, subsidised by the Scottish government the crossings are meant to be roughly equivalent to the price of a roughly equivalent road journey. This crossing was a very reasonable £30.15 for us. The crossing itself was a little lumpy but as we were onboard for less than an hour it was no issue. I spent the time on the CalMac wifi trying to sort out i-tunes on my new laptop. Although it recognises that I own the music, it wont let me download it. Grrr…frustrating.
We knew that our first job on Arran would be to dispose of our waste and fill up with water. We’d lost track of how long it had been since we were last able to do so and it was getting desperate enough that Paul was using a pee bottle to conserve our toilet space. On Arran there are a couple of motorhome/caravan service points that are operated by the local communities on an honesty payment basis. Just a chemical toilet point and an outside tap, so nothing too sophisticated, but very welcome. We headed to the one at Whiting Bay, you have to go into the local shop or post office to pay, and when both were closed we were good honest citizens and posted a few quid through the letterbox of the post office. We used Whiting Bay a couple of times during our stay and didn’t go to the one at Blackwaterfoot as there were mixed reports about whether it was open.
Arran is part of the Argyll unitary authority in Scotland and one of the things that has suffered due to budget pressures is the availability of public toilets. Local communities have been asked to take on the responsibility of maintaining these facilities themselves (this includes the motorhome service points) or they would be shut. All of the open public toilets we used on Arran had an honesty box system which we happily contributed to. It seems such a short sighted policy for a popular tourist area and a number of public toilets were shut, but equally the ones that were open were well looked after.
After sorting our chores in Whiting Bay we moved on to find a spot for the night. We headed to Kildonan where we looked at our preferred spot between the campsite and the village and decided it was too boggy to risk parking on. We were in a bit of a grump by this point what with the rain, a drive on less than perfect roads and then finding our parking spot was a quagmire. Time to check out the local campsite, but they were fully booked and we were told that most of the other sites on the island were also booked. School may have started in Scotland but there were obviously plenty of other tourists trying to take advantage of the last weeks of summer.
We drove down further into the village and ended up parking opposite the village hall with a view out to sea. There was a public toilet here which was a bonus, a porta-loo by the village hall. Now settled in we crossed our fingers for fine weather to allow us to enjoy the outdoors on Arran.
We took the plunge and booked our ferry to Arran for Monday. The weather for Monday was going to be pretty dire (again) so we thought we might as well plan to travel rather than sit in the motorhome watching the rain.
The ferry to Arran leaves from Ardrossan which is further north up the Ayrshire coast, towards Glasgow. We looked at possible places to spend the Sunday before embarking on the next stage of our journey. After a lot of outdoor activities (and some weather enforced inactivity) we fancied something a bit different, so we made tracks for Irvine where the Scottish Maritime Museum is based.
Initially as we headed north the roads were just as empty as they had been throughout Dumfries and Galloway. The road was also pretty awful and ripe for some resurfacing, but luckily the lack of traffic meant we could easily avoid potholes and take our time without worrying about building up a tail of traffic. As we got closer to Irvine though the traffic started to build up and we were back to ‘normal’ traffic density.
When the road was close to the coast we could see the rocky outcrop of Ailsa Craig. This island is most famous for producing the granite used for curling stones and is a prominent feature that will be on our horizon for much of our planned route round Arran and later on Kintyre. It’s a very distinctive lump of an island that is the core of an extinct volcano and rises steeply from the sea. If you want to buy it the asking price only 1.5 million pounds!
We parked up in the small carpark at the very end of the beach in Irvine. There is a coastwatch station here with public toilets and a small café facility. It is also the only bit of the surrounding carpark without a No Overnight Parking sign.
Across the bay from our parking spot is a now abandoned grass roofed building built for the millennium celebrations, there is a bridge leading across the harbour entrance which is now permanently open for boats to pass through. It seems such a shame that this investment couldn’t find a use.
We wandered along the harbour to the Maritime museum, this is based in the ‘Linthouse’ an engineering shop from the Linthouse dockyards on the Clyde that has been moved and rebuilt in it’s current location. The building itself is a lovely red brick building, light and airy with it’s glass roof, and the exhibits covered a varied history of boat building.
Some of the heavy machinery from the dockyards was incredible and really made you think about the size and scale of the ships – like the ferry that we were due to take the following day – that we take for granted.
Also thought provoking were some of the descriptions and exhibits that showed how boats were designed and built before we had computer aided design (it’s not that long ago really). The scale models of ship’s engine rooms had so much fine detail that they were works of art in themselves.