Next we drove to Foz do Lizandro, intending to stop there for the evening. We parked up on the clifftop and walked down steps to the beach where the Rio Lizandro enters the ocean. The waves washing up the beach were coming from two directions, making interesting swirling patterns where they met. There was plenty of surf and surfers out to sea but towards the beach the waters were calmer, protected by a sandbank. We decided to go in the water, less a swim and more of a float as we allowed ourselves to be churned around in the currents created by waves washing over the sandbank.
After our swim we lazed on the beach drying out and warming up, but the sky was starting to cloud over which drove us back to Bertie. We looked at the local area and decided we might as well move on. We ended up at Praia Guincho, another surfer’s beach where campervans and motorhomes were parked up for the evening. When we got there in late afternoon the sea was still full of the black dots of surfers taking advantage of as much light as possible before they gave up for the day, it seemed fully dark to me by the time the last few were walking up the beach.
Paul had been sussing out the cliffs to the north of Guincho and thought he might have some fishing spots, so we took a random walk along the coast that soon met a signposted route, so we followed it until we reached the promontory that Paul was aiming for. Here we followed fishermen’s paths down to the sea. The coast was south facing and slightly more sheltered from the ocean swells, but there were still big waves washing up and causing Paul to jump back every now and again. Paul fished (unsuccessfully) while I relaxed on the rocks reading.
Occasionally I would have a little clamber about on the rocks to see what was around. Down at the edge of the water were mussels and gooseneck barnacles. The mussels were too small to gather and I think that the gathering of gooseneck barnacles (known locally as percebes, expensive, delicious and slightly odd looking) is probably regulated, so I decided against it – that, and they were too difficult to prise from the rocks by hand.
We stayed a Guincho again that night, it had a relaxed atmosphere, but we knew that rain was due the following day and we would need to find some services too.
Peniche is a town on a small headland that sticks out from the west coast of Portugal just north of Lisbon. It’s known for it’s great surf, and because it has coast facing in many directions it’s usually possible to surf here regardless of wind direction. Not that this was why we were here, but there were plenty of surfers around and also a lot of Portuguese motorhomes here for the weekend.
We drove along the north side of the peninsular, stopping at Intermarche for a quick restock and taking note of the motorhome facilities in their car park, then taking a look at a few parking spots. The one we had liked the look of on google turned out to have no motorhome/campervan signs all over it so we drove on out to Cabo Carvoeiro lighthouse.
We decided to take a walk around the headland, following tracks around the south coast until we got to the Fortazela and harbour area where we wandered through narrow streets of tiled houses and apartments, lived in and busy. Restaurants lined the harbours edge and were full of people out for their Saturday lunch.
From the harbour we followed an inlet north, this cuts across the middle of the peninsular making it almost an island, the town walls hug the western edge of the water and an industrial estate is on the less picturesque east side. We crossed the main road to the northern coast where we stopped to watch surfers before following the cliffs back to Bertie. Along the way we noticed that fishing spots were marked with yellow fish symbols on white posts, these fishing spots often clung precariously to the side of the cliffs, down steps onto small platforms that looked like they might have been built by the fishermen. Some were already slipping down the cliff or undercut by the sea.
The rock of the peninsular is heavily weathered limestone forming odd and beautiful karst formations with limestone pavements, deep crevices and sea stacks.
This was a nice place to spend the day and set the tone for the next few days as we followed the coast, the fishermen, and the surfers, south.
When we moved into our house in Exmouth I remember Paul installing decking in the back garden – decking steps from the backdoor, decking over the crazy-paved patio, and more decking steps down to the lawn. A fun project for Paul. For a while it seemed as though we had the whole of the local timber yard in our garden.
These memories came back to me as we approached the Passadiços do Paiva, our next destination. This walk up the gorge of the Rio Paiva takes place mostly on timber steps and walkways that cling to the sides of the gorge allowing people to walk the length of the gorge from Areinho to Espiunca.
The walkways are in Arouca geopark, an area of Portugal that is designated a Geopark by UNESCO who use this designation to promote the management and development of sites of geological interest. We started by visiting Arouca itself, a pleasant town inland from Porto with motorhome parking and services in the main carpark. We had a walk around the town; it was Sunday and everywhere was busy with visitors, there was a small farmers market in the park but the main attraction was the monastery (I suppose we would call it a convent as it was home to nuns rather than monks, but I think the term Mosteiro is used interchangeably) with it’s sacred art museum. We popped into the tourist office and spoke to a lovely lady who gave us lots of information about walking in the area and warned us off a couple of the paths where signposting had been damaged by forest fires. She sold us tickets for the walkways (you can also buy them online or at the start of the walk) – at €1 each it seemed to be good value.
We had intended to stay the night in Arouca but she suggested we could drive up to the parking for the Paiva walkways and stay there if we wanted to. She advised that with an autocaravana we should park at the Areinho end where there was a large unpaved parking area where it looked like someone had sheered off the top of a hill. There is also some parking down the track that leads to the official start of the walk but it was a narrow road and we couldn’t see how much parking there was so gave it a miss – when we walked down the next day we realised that we could have parked there easily but the track down had no passing places so not an option for a busy day.
Off we toddled, mild sat nav frustration this time as the sat nav didn’t want to allow us to leave Arouca by the main route, there is a 3.5 tonne limit on some roads which was the cause of confusion to the poor thing. We ignored it’s instructions for long enough to get out of town and then found our way easily to the car park where a couple of campervans were already in situ. We watched people returning to their cars at the end of the day, many returning in taxis from the other end of the walk.
The next morning it was 5ºC in the van. Much warmer in the snug of our bedroom, but the coldest morning we had experienced so far and only our bladders provided motivation to get out of bed. We slowly warmed up as we prepared a lunch and flasks for our walk. From the car park it was a steady downhill to the official start of the walkway before heading across the main road and straight away tackling the hardest part of the walk – a series of staircases leading up to the top of the gorge. We wondered how people didn’t just avoid purchasing tickets as there are no barriers to stop anyone from accessing the paths, but at the top of the walkway they had cunningly placed the first ticket inspection point. There was another inspection point at the far end of the walk and also a park warden wandering about at the mid-point so you weren’t going to get away with it.
The sun was shining and the initial climb up all those steps was very warm, but straight away we were going down an equal number of steps into the gorge and there the low November sun was often obscured by the cliffs, providing welcome shade with a bit too much contrast for good photos. We wound our way along the paths through a landscape that switched many times between dry rocky slopes and shaded forest that looked very British with autumn colours, ferns and mosses. Birds and butterflies flitted over the water, we saw plenty of yellow wagtails and a dipper playing in the water, easy to spot with it’s distinctive wide white bib. At one point we saw a European mantis sitting on a step, as cool – and as green – as a cucumber.
The Paiva gorge is well known for it’s white water but this year has been so dry that the river’s flow was placid and the rocks that would normally create the rapids were exposed and dry. Boards along the walk pointed out geological features which were easy to see with the river so low.
Roughly half way the walkways are crossed by a couple of other trails, here there is a suspension bridge; an opportunity to look down on the river from a bouncing and swaying vantage point (not a compulsory part of the walkway). There were also toilets half way, a welcome opportunity as leaving the path for a wee was going to be a bit tricky.
Along the way Paul enjoyed pointing out the way that the walkways had been constructed, the clever bolts that were used to anchor the timbers to the rock and the bits of joinery that had been well put together to cope with odd angles. Not just any old garden decking!
We got to the Espiunca end, 8km later, in just over two hours, taxis were waiting for the weary but we turned around and made our way back, taking a bit more time to stop and look around. Despite it being a Monday in November there were a good number of other people on the walkways, I can imagine that in the height of summer it could get quite frustrating and feel like a conveyor belt (I assume they limit the numbers through the ticketing system), but also you could take time to stop by the river and have a paddle or a swim; the November water was far too cold for us. In all it took us 5 hours with plenty of rest stops and photo opportunities. The trudge back up the dusty tracks to the carpark was probably the hardest part of the day.
We could see why the walk had won tourism awards, it was well maintained with information boards, toilets and cafes but most importantly it was in a beautiful and interesting location. If you’re a decking fan then that would be the icing on the cake!
The national park of Peneda-Gerês was a place we fell in love with during our short visit. The first place since we crossed the channel that makes it into our ‘visit again’ list (as opposed to our ‘must visit next time’ list for the sights and places we have passed by).
The park is largely forested but above the tree line you’re in a landscape of granite tors and lumpy bumpy ridges. We were lucky with the weather for our visit, at this time of year we should have expected significant rainfall and low cloud, but northern Portugal was getting unusually clear and dry weather for the time of year. Not great for the farmers, especially after the hot summer and awful forest fires, but fantastic for us visitors.
We had chosen to base ourselves in the main village, known as Vila do Geres or Caldas do Geres or just Geres, a spa ‘town’ with a string of small hotels and an outdoor pool complex. While we were there most of the hotels were shut and the pools were empty. A few cafes and shops were open but it was very quiet. Our parking place was also the bus stop and the school bus came through a few times each day dropping off a scant handful of children, this area is not heavily populated anyway and according to the internet the population tends to be female and elderly rather than families. To our surprise we weren’t the only motorhome in the car park, another motorhome was already there when we arrived and one British van turned up while we were on our walk, so obviously a few people were thinking the same way as us and enjoying the good weather while it lasted.
With clear days came cool nights and we were in double duvet territory (we have a 4.5 tog and a 7 tog duvet, plus blankets and brushed cotton (ok, flannelette) bedding for a bit of extra comfort – if it gets really cold we might wear pyjamas but generally we prefer to sleep in the buff) but the heating didn’t need to come on yet.
For our first day in the mountains we followed one of the marked paths on the east side of the village, we picked it up by walking up the first switchback on the road above the car park until we found the red and yellow markers which led us steeply up a track through the forest – our legs complained at this unusual activity, we haven’t done any serious mountain walking since Scotland. Eventually the forest started to clear and we found ourselves in a mountain meadow where people had created many stacks of balanced rocks on top of the granite. From here the path followed the contours of the ridge heading south. We looked at the ridges above us and hankered to climb them, but without maps we didn’t want to head off the route.
As we started to descend we found the source of the horse droppings we’d encountered on the trail, a few of the semi-wild Garrano horses in the park were munching on the autumn bracken. They weren’t disposed to pay us any attention or pose for photos. The path headed past an area that was fenced off (we don’t know why) and another mystery area with a cistern of water and large bare patches – we wondered if it was in some way linked to fire fighting.
Further downhill at the Miradouro Pedra Bela we surprised a herd of goats off the viewpoints and sent them leaping with bells clanging further down into the valley. There were roads up to the Miradouro but, just like the rest of the walk, we didn’t see anyone as we followed the path, crisscrossing the road heading downhill.
The path bought us steeply down to the bottom end of the village and then through the cobbled back street past homes and smallholdings and yapping dogs until it dropped us back down to the car park.
On the way we had talked about our plans and decided we should stay another day and make the most of the beautiful scenery and ideal outdoor activity climate – clear and sunny but not too warm – so we had a quick walk down to the bakery to pick up some rolls for the next day’s packed lunch.
The following day we got our bikes out to cycle up the other side of the valley – this was the route that the sat nav had tried to bring us down and we were intrigued to find out whether we had made the right decision to turn around. It was a steady climb up the road past the football pitch, we put our bikes into a low gear and chugged along, sometimes it’s easier to keep climbing steadily than it is to cycle through undulating territory where the uphill stretches take your legs by surprise.
After 500m and 7 km (I am trying to retrain my brain to using the decimal system only) we had reached the highest point of the road, past a couple of picnic spots and viewpoints. We had seen the first evidence of Portugal’s forest fires as well as a herd of attractive cattle with very sharp horns.
The road was actually in good condition and would have been ok to drive in Bertie so long as we hadn’t encountered something coming in the other direction. It wasn’t empty, a dozen or so cars and small vans drove past us as we cycled. Driving in Scotland has spoiled us, we are used to well signposted passing places on single track roads and here the opportunities to avoid oncoming vehicles were few, we were still happy that we’d turned around.
Invigorated by our uphill ride we then decided to go further up and take the off road track to the Miradouro da Boneca. This was a different experience as we slogged – generally uphill but with many ups and downs along the way – over rutted tracks to the viewpoint. At the end we had a spectacular view down into the valley and Bertie’s car park, and had the company of other people! We were a stone’s throw from our starting point and had nearly closed the circle, but I knew there was no way I would cycle the steep path straight down – it would have been suicidal.
We retraced our uphill bike ride, this time downhill and freewheeling most of the way, the switchbacks were particularly thrilling as we cycled downhill towards what looked like a sheer drop off before turning onto the next downhill.
When we got back we were exhausted but the adrenaline was pumping and so we used the energy to set off away from the hills and back down to the coast. I’m still regretting leaving, when will we ever get such a good period of weather for exploring such a wonderful place? We’ll be back one day for at least a couple of weeks to give us plenty of time to explore and enjoy.
We had a bit of a lazy day on 8th November. For some reason we just couldn’t get moving and our plans for a bike ride ended up with us driving around the hills and coast near Pontevedra and stopping to take in views or short strolls without doing very much at all. We spent the night at the Memorial Park aire near Poio where we walked around the bay and encountered eucalyptus trees in abundance. These trees, native to Australia, have been planted in Spain and Portugal to provide quick growing timber for the paper industry and this was the first time we had come across them in quantity; their alien charm, with their constantly peeling bark, silvery leaves, and odd flowers, quickly becomes wearing when you realise they are on their way to becoming a monoculture and ousting the native flora.
The following morning we decided to go into Pontevedra in search of a large supermarket as we needed to do a proper stock up. There were two Carrefore supermarkets, the first only had a tiny outdoor parking space that was completely full. The second had an empty outdoor parking area but we didn’t spot the sign on the way in that told us the only way out was through the underground parking. Bertie wasn’t getting through there! Given that we were already in trouble we decided we might as well do our shopping anyway and so, with full fridge and cupboards, we tackled our predicament. I donned my hi-vis vest and went up to the top of the entrance to stop the traffic in a semi-official way while Paul drove the wrong way up the one way ramps. Apart from a case of mild embarrassment it was remarkably easy.
From Pontevedra we drove south west out to the end of the next peninsular. Galicia’s coast is indented with a number of ‘rias’, these sloping sided inlets are like gentle fjords and between each ria is a peninsular, more populated inland, and wilder and more rugged as you reach the seaward end. The Dunas de Corrubedo had been at the end of one of these peninsulas and we were now heading for the Praia de Melide where there was a large parking area south of the village of Donon. We had another falling out with the sat nav which took us through smaller and smaller streets in tiny villages until Paul said quite firmly ‘I’m not driving down there’. We knew there was an easy way there because we had seen it on google maps, but the sat nav just couldn’t direct us and by the time we knew we were going wrong we didn’t have great signal. We retraced our steps back to a ‘main’ road and a point where we had signal so that we could pick up the route on google maps and ignore the sat nav. We finally made it to the village of Donon where we stopped for restorative tea and cake before tackling the remaining couple of miles off road to the car park. Bertie did admirably avoiding ruts and potholes and finally parked up in the sunshine. We spent the next hour or so doing a few chores before exploring the beach and cliffs near the carpark. The low cliffs were ideal for fishing and so I read and sunbathed while Paul fished for mackerel – he managed to catch one, but it wouldn’t make a meal so I gutted it and put it in the fridge, hopefully to be joined by a second one the following day.
The next morning we decided to walk around the headland, we started by walking out to the first of three lighthouses Faro de Punta Subrido before heading back across the beach to lighthouses two and three – the particularly attractive squat red Faro de Punta Robaleira and the more standard Faro de Cabo. From here we followed rough tracks north as far as possible along the Atlantic side of the headland with large waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, at one point we descended by an awkward and steep fisherman’s path to a tiny beach where the incoming tide quickly chased us back up again.
Eventually the steep cliffs forced us back onto the main track we had driven down the previous day and we walked into Donon. From Donon we dropped down to the Praia de Barra, a large and deserted beach where we gathered large mussels from the rocks before taking cliff-side paths back towards our parking spot.
Paul decided to do some more fishing from the same spot as before, but no luck this time. We did see dolphins in the bay though, which made up for (and probably explained) the lack of fish. The large pod, including some mother and calf pairs took their time as they swam past us on their way out to sea.
That evening I cooked the mussels and solitary mackerel in a rice dish that I hesitated to call a paella after hearing some very sarcastic comments on Spanish radio earlier that week (not that I’m fluent in Spanish but when you hear the words Jamie Oliver, Chorizo and Paella alongside derisive laughter you know that something negative is being said). Whatever the dish was, it was very tasty and the mussels in particular were luscious and juicy. It’s always a bit of a gamble to eat shellfish gathered from the shore and we do take some care, but you never know. No side effects this time though so good news.
The following morning we left the carpark. There was a one way system for car park access, so we had to drive up a different track than we had come in…at first…until we got to the point that the road was rippled with foot deep undulations. I don’t think I’ve every seen anything like it, they weren’t potholes or ruts, but were running across the road and there was no way we would get across them without ripping something out from Bertie’s undercarriage. Paul reversed us back to the car park and for the second time in a couple of days we were driving the wrong way up a one way street. Luckily we had made an early start and we didn’t encounter anyone coming the other way.
We moved on from Boiro first thing in the morning, leaving the yappy dog behind us. Our destination was the Dunas de Corrubedo, a nature reserve on the west coast with a large dune system and (found via wikiloc) some coastal walking. We turned up to a large car park and drove down to the bottom corner to park alongside a few surfers vans. I popped up to the café at the top of the car park and through some poor Spanish on my part managed to work out that yes, we could stay overnight, and that maps and more information could be found at the next carpark up the road where there was an interpretation centre for the nature reserve.
After a look on google maps we decided that it would have to be pretty foggy for us to lose our way along the coast path, the hardest part was going to be finding the coast path without crossing the protected dunes, and as luck would have it there was a signposted walk from this car park to one of the lagoons that would take us in the right direction. We didn’t bother going up to the interpretation centre.
The sun was shining again as we set off to the lagoon across sandy heathland. Once we reached the corner of the lagoon we turned right towards the beach where we could then pick up the coastal route. We soon left the dune system and moved onto the rocky shore passing on the coastal side of fish processing plants that had an aroma that must have been particularly pleasant to seagulls and fish. At one of the outflow pipes we saw hordes of fish sitting near the surface with their mouths agape waiting to siphon whatever delicacies were being pumped back into the sea, it took us a while to work out what they were as they looked like bubbles on the top of the water. Further out to sea were more active fishes diving into the outflow current with their tails in the air.
It was easy to follow the paths along the coast, clambering up amongst the oddly shaped granite boulders when we felt like it and dropping down to cross small sandy coves. We saw numerous seagulls, particularly common gulls (not actually that common in the UK) and black headed gulls in their winter plumage, in winter they have white heads with a black spot making it look as though they have two pairs of eyes.
We had originally intended to do a circular walk cutting back inland but, despite the industrial fish processing facilities, we enjoyed the coast so much that we decided to retrace our steps. The tide was lower on the way back and we found some large rock pools with healthy populations of shrimp, crabs and baby fish to keep us interested. Once particularly large pool had us so riveted that we didn’t notice the tide turning until a particularly large wave washed water into the rockpool. The tide rushed in quickly after that and we hopped backwards from rock to rock marveling at it’s speed.
The incoming tide changed the nature of the sea and we started to see more big surf, we stopped several times on the way back to watch the waves crashing and spraying over the rocks. When we got back to the sandy beach by the car park the surf was impressive, but the surfers had moved on. A couple of cars drove down to watch the sunset but with the cloud there was just a warm glow on the horizon.
The reason for our slight back-track was to visit San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a small islet with a chapel on the top, linked to the mainland with a man made bridge. This islet is particularly famous at the moment because it (or more accurately the stair that leads to the top) have featured in Game of Thrones as the steps to Dragonstone.
We drove from Bakio car park to park alongside the road at the Mirador Merendero – a parking spot we had looked for the evening before and had been unable to find due to a road being closed and the sat nav not being aware of the new road. From here it was an easy couple of miles walking to our destination along the old road. The old road had obviously not been closed for long but was suffering from imminent collapse with large sections cracked and broken away, slipping down the hill. The evidence of activity to shore up the road was everywhere but presumably they had decided that the easiest thing to do was to start again. On this road was a memorial to members of the Basque Auxilliary Navy who had served in the Spanish Civil War; a shame to think it will be visited less now that the road is closed.
The island was very picturesque with it’s steep and winding staircase looking far more difficult to climb than it actually was.
At the top we wandered around the outside of the chapel (it was closed to the public) and took in the views. There is a shelter here, but we didn’t need it as the sun was shining so we sat on the wall and watched other people arriving and ringing the chapel bell three times for luck.
From the top of the island we could see down into the clear bluegreen water where there were many fishes swimming. Later that day we went back to Bakio and I went for a snorkel from the beach where I saw more fish swimming around the rocks in the bay – it put Paul in the mood for a bit of fishing so we decided to move on to a parking spot which looked like it had potential for fishing.
We parked by the coast at Islares, just under the main A-8. The village had the feeling of a previously popular tourist resort that had lost it’s charm due to the proximity of the main road, but down at the parking area it was easy to ignore the road and just enjoy the backdrop of sharp limestone cliffs and crystal clear waters. Again we could see fish – in fact the helpful Spanish fishermen kept pointing them out to us, much to Paul’s frustration – but they just weren’t biting and Paul came away empty handed.
Our guidebook to France had recommended the coastal path from Hendaye to Bidart as being a not-to-be-missed walking route in southwest France. We looked for somewhere to park south of Biarritz, but this part of France is atypically lacking in motorhome facilities and most of the parking clearly signposted as being not for motorhomes (apparently this can be ignored in low season but we weren’t keen on having that discussion with local police). The only aire was in St-Jean-de-Luz which wasn’t recommended and in any case was at the mid point of the walk so pretty impractical – we did see the aire on our walk and were glad we hadn’t decided to go for it as it was on the side of a main road and very tight, at the point we went past there was a motorhome trying to reverse into a space and seemingly wedged in a position where it was impossible to move in any direction, surrounded by ‘helpers’.
In the end we decided on a campsite and picked one of the very few that were still open; Camping Le Tamaris is just south of Bidart and right on the coast. The campsite had small pitches but made up for this with excellent facilities. A very nice unheated swimming pool, sauna, steam room and hot tub plus lovely hot showers. The only downside, no toilet seats, why? Not only is it uncomfortable but toilets look naked without them.
As we drove south past Bayonne and Biarritz the scenery changed from the flat pine forests that had dominated the silver coast to a more undulating landscape with the added glamour of the Pyrenees in the background. It lifted our spirits to see something different and this made up for the roads becoming more congested as we entered this ‘well developed’ section of coast.
The morning after we arrived at the campsite we set out on this much touted walk. South from the campsite the ‘Sentier Littoral’ was mostly signposted with yellow daubed steel markers although in St Jean de Luz these were replaced by circular markers embedded in the pavements. The coast nearest to the campsite was a string of small coves characterized by cliffs of friable folded schist rocks. Sometimes the route was along narrow paths skirting these beaches, with slippery wooden steps climbing and descending between shore and cliff. At other times we shared the cycle route. Although it was attractive it didn’t have the same glorious wildness as our favourite British coast path routes and we were very conscious that we were just a few yards away from significant conurbations.
It didn’t seem like any time at all before we reached the outskirts of St Jean de Luz and joined the path around the large bay. From the small park on the Pointe de Sainte Barbe with it’s chapel and signs warning people to stay away from the cliffs we took steps down to the long promenade. This took us all the way along the seafront to the large harbor.
From the south side of the harbor we followed the coast road around to the Fort de Socoa past old quays and fortifications which were slowly slipping into the sea. By the time we reached the fort (unfortunately boarded up) we had done just over six miles and it was time to check the bus timetable to see if we would carry on to Hendaye or turn around and walk back. With the bus timings likely to give us a long wait we decided that turning around would be the best choice.
To try and provide a bit of variety we took a different route through the back streets of town to the Pointe de Saint Barbe before rejoining the coast path and stopping off for a bit of rock pooling when we reached the beach closest to the campsite.
As a walk it wasn’t the not-to-be-missed route that had been hyped, but it was a pleasant and easy day out. Perhaps the section to Hendaye would have provided some additional excitement but we hadn’t got our timing right. We were slightly disappointed but pleasantly tired when we got back to the campsite. I put a load of laundry on and while I waited for it to finish I took advantage of the facilities with a quick swim before relaxing in the steam room. Paul was going to join me but the pool area was quite busy and he only had swimming shorts and not the obligatory pair of budgie smugglers.
We moved from our overnight parking spot to the National Trust parking at Dunwich Heath ready for a stroll around the heath. The heath to the north and inland was a little uninspiring in the subdued autumnal light so we extended our walk alongside Docwra’s Ditch and then across to RSPB Minsmere before heading back along the coast to the car park.
The landscape on the latter half of the walk was more interesting, we joked that Docwra had made a better attempt on his ditch than Offa – subsequent research seems to indicate that it’s a recent feature built as a firebreak, I have no idea why it specifically named after Docwra though. We stopped in a couple of the enormous and well appointed hides at Minsmere hoping for a sight of something interesting but the wind was keeping the birds away. We did see a hobby though as we walked through the wetlands.
That afternoon we moved onto Sutton Hoo, the site where an Anglo-Saxon burial mound was excavated in the 1930s to reveal an amazing ship burial with it’s treasure intact, including the now iconic Sutton Hoo helmet. The exhibition contained a number of artefacts from various of the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo and replicas of the more substantial treasures which are now in the British Museum. I find this period of British history fascinating, probably because so little is known about it so it crosses the boundaries between history and myth.
Also on the site is the house of Edith Pretty, the landowner who requested the excavation of the mound in the 1930s. It contains the story of the excavation and in particular the race to complete the work once war was declared, much more interesting than I was expecting, and we took a short stroll around the mounds. It always makes me wonder now many treasures have not only been plundered by grave robbers but also just ploughed under by farmers or builders.
Our overnight spot was at some quiet parking on the coast at East Lane near Bawdsey. Sadly the radar station museum was still undergoing refurbishment – all part of the 100th anniversary work according to Aaron – but there was still an opportunity for a morning walk along the coast, so we set off past Shingle Street and along to the mouth of the Ore and it’s shingle spit before heading back. Along the way we saw remains of pillboxes, some falling into the sea, and four impressive Martello Towers – cylindrical forts built to help defend us from Napoleon’s forces. Some of these had been converted to private houses with additional glass roofed structures to provide views out to sea.
That evening we moved on to parking at Felixstowe where we watched with awe as the massive container ships were loaded up with their containers using equally massive cranes. The industrial sound of the loading, with the distant thunder ‘boom’ of each container being settled onto the ship soothed us to sleep, with only the sound of the ship’s horn waking us up as finally it was loaded and could set off to sea.
Over the last week we have started to feel a little unsettled as we realised our time in Scotland was coming to a close – what should we do for our last few days to make the most of our remaining time? How would we feel to leave the land of square sausage and well fired breakfast rolls?
We toyed with a trip into Edinburgh but I wasn’t too keen, much as I love the city I also spent plenty of time there with work and couldn’t quite separate the city from the memories of clip clopping up and down the hilly streets in my work clobber dragging my little wheely suitcase with me.
So the answer was that we would spend a couple of days on the ‘golf coast’ seeing a very small selection of what this south eastern stretch of Scotland had to offer.
We started in North Berwick, a gentrified town on the coast within commuting distance of Edinburgh with a long seafront beach and a skyline dominated by two ancient steep sided volcanic plugs; out to sea is Bass rock, home to the largest gannet colony in the world, inland is Berwick Law, topped with a (now replica) whale’s jaw bone.
In North Berwick we spent the night in a popular spot on the eastern end of the seafront, with several other motorhomes and campervans. The following morning we walked along the coast to Tantallon castle, an interesting ruined castle with a large curtain wall protecting it’s inland side and sea cliffs forming the main defence around it’s other three sides. The coastal walk was tough going as the paths slowly petered out and we had to fight our way through scrub to finish the walk. On the way back we mainly walked along the road!
During our walk we watched the many seabirds, mostly gulls and gannets, that were flying backwards and forwards along the coast and out to sea. Through our binoculars we could see the castle and lighthouse on Bass Rock clinging to the sides of the guano draped island. It was difficult to imagine anyone being able to land on the island with it’s steep sides, let alone making their way up the cliffs to the buildings. The island sports no greenery and very few flat surfaces so anyone in those buildings would have been trapped until a boat could come out to collect them, a grim place to get stuck!
After North Berwick we moved onto Eyemouth, a contrast to North Berwick, Eyemouth is a working fishing town with ship building, fisheries and a fish market. We took a walk round the harbour and watched as boats left on the rising tide and then stopped at The Contented Sole for a couple of drinks. Near our parking spot was a memorial to the Eyemouth Fishing Disaster of 1881, where 189 fishermen lost their lives, including 129 from the town itself, an event that must have overshadowed the town for many years after it happened with so many wives and children left to grieve.
We’d had a couple of pleasant days, but the following morning dawned grey and gloomy and our moods were the same as we realised we would be leaving Scotland.
As mentioned in the previous post, we had run out of water. We’d staved off the inevitable by one day, using the showers at the mountain biking area, but we really needed to get some water on board and dispose of our waste. We also needed to head south. We had a look to see whether we could avail ourselves of any free or cheap services, but couldn’t find anything so opted for a campsite instead.
The campsite we decided on was Kilvrecht, a forestry commission campsite with limited facilities near the shore of Loch Rannoch. We’d gained some inspiration for the area by watching Paul Murton’s Scottish Loch’s programme, although we didn’t think we’d emulate his wild swim in Loch Ba.
The campsite covers a large area of grass, as well as water and chemical waste disposal there is a toilet block, but no showers and no hot water. They do have cubicles you can use for a stand-up wash, rather cleverly designed so that you can stand in a shower tray and avoid getting water everywhere, you just have to take a kettle of hot water in with you – unless you are a masochist who likes to wash in freezing water. Of course we didn’t need this as we have heating and hot water in Bertie, the luxury of motorhome living compared with a tent.
On site they also had Midgeeaters, these machines attract midges and then trap them, by all accounts the midges here are particularly bad but they weren’t too bad while we were there.
We chose where to park with care – we could see how boggy it was and there were deep tyre tracks where cars and motorhomes had obviously had difficulty getting off the grass. We parked just off the track facing slightly downhill so that we could roll forward back onto the track when we left. We were ok although another motorhome that arrived just after us needed to be towed off the grass.
While here we ventured out in the miserable weather for a walk through the forest following the gorge of the Allt na Bogair and then descending through ancient woodlands back down to Loch Rannoch. This took us through the Dall estate, once a boarding school this is now on the market as the owner couldn’t get planning permission to convert it to a luxury hotel complex – at £6 million we didn’t think we could afford it.
We opted to stay for two nights here. We felt it was really good value and it’s a shame there aren’t more of these basic campsites around for us cheapskates
The move eastwards to the Cairngorms gifted us with a day of sunshine, but it wasn’t going to last. We toyed with a long strenuous walk up Cairngorm and Ben Macdui but cloud was still lingering on the summits and it was pretty windy, so in the end opted for something a little less difficult with more chance of sun.
Meall a’Bhuachaille means ‘Hill of the Shepherd’ in Gaelic and is a popular walk in the Glenmore area. As it was a Saturday and good weather we thought we had better start early. We set off from our parking area walking along pleasant level paths through the Glenmore forest for the first couple of miles until we reached An Lochan Uaine (The Green Lake) which, true to it’s name, had a verdigris tint. Until this point we had been alone, but as we sat here for a short break we were caught up by a group of mountain bikers and a couple of walkers.
Shortly after the loch we reached the bothy at Ryvoan, by now we were out of the forest and we could see the path zigzagging up the slopes of the mountain. Rather incredulously we realised that the mountain bikers were planning to take this path; we watched as they set off, some riding and some pushing up the steep uphill path. We followed them up and then overtook them as the hard work of pushing the extra weight up a mountain started to take it’s toll.
The path was unrelentingly uphill, but only just over a mile to the summit. We had no incentive to stop on the way as the wind was ferocious, but at the summit there was a large cairn/shelter that we could use to prtect us from the wind. We quickly nabbed the most sheltered spot before other walkers and the mountain bikers arrived and settled down for some lunch and our hot drinks from our flasks. We were in sunshine but there was still cloud across the tops of the higher mountains so we were glad we’d chosen this route.
When the mountain bikers reached the top we got chatting to one of them, they were a club who were on a guided mountain biking weekend. Their guides had taken them to Ben Macdui the previous day which had been hard work and this ride was the ‘easy’ day. Apart from the guides it really didn’t look like anyone was finding it easy. They had had two people drop out already. Despite being a fan of outdoor activities I had no desire to emulate their adventures.
We set off down the western slopes of the mountain into the bealach (the name for a low point between two hills) from where we were going to descend back to the forest. As we walked down we heard the sound of bikes coming down the hill and stepped aside to let them past. The path was well constructed for walkers, which mean it comprised of large stone cobbles, not quite steps. The thought of cycling down these paths gave me butterflies in my stomach and it was evidently doing the same for those on mountain bikes as they cautiously descended with their brakes on (or just dismounted and walked their bikes downhill). Obviously the guides whizzed down making it look easy. They stopped at the bottom of the section of path for a breather (and to get their nerve up I expect) where we overtook them and we played leapfrog down the hill for about a mile until two of them got punctures and they were left behind us.
We descended back through forest and across the road to Loch Morlich where we sat on a sandy beach and watched the many day-trippers enjoying a day out.
Finally we followed the path alongside the river before we crossed the road again and made our way back to our parking spot. It had been a really nice walk with varying scenery and although the mountains of the Cairngorms don’t inspire me in the same way as those of the west coast I could see why they were popular.
We thought we would pop up to the Cairngorm Mountain Railway carpark, a recommended overnight parking spot. We knew it would probably be too windy for us to stay there but wanted to check out the views. It was pretty spectacular, although the mountain tops were still under a localised blanket of cloud, but it was also spectacularly windy and there was no way we would be able to sleep there.
We had already decided that we would probably head back to a mountain biking area at Laggan, so off we toddled. The advantage of this spot was that the mountain biking centre had showers. For £1 we could get a decent hot shower, and as we had nearly run out of water this was ideal. It also had free wifi which we used that evening by driving as close as we could get to the centre in order to pick up it’s weak signal.
Unintentionally we made a poor decision today – we had to choose between another day lazing at Fidden Farm and maybe popping over on the ferry to Iona, or moving on to do one of the longer walks on our wish list. We chose to move on as we knew the weather was then going to be pretty poor for three or four days and I was twitchy about wasting the sunshine.
So we chose to drive part way back down the Ross of Mull and then over to Carsaig to do the Carsaig arches walk. Probably we should have been warned when we saw the signs at the start of the road to Carsaig; ‘weak road’, it said, max weight 13 tonnes (and then another sign which said max weight 3 tonnes with the 1 added using a black marker, we assumed it wasn’t just graffiti). We are just under 4 tonnes so in theory we would be fine, and we’d read reports of other motorhomes going down to Carsaig, so we went for it.
The road ran uphill through woodland until it crossed a cattle grid and we were out in the open, following the contours halfway up the side of the valley. The road had a tenuous hold on the side of the hill, slumping in sections as if it just couldn’t be bothered to stay in place. Bertie sat precariously on the tarmac straddling the grass running along it’s centre, we hoped we wouldn’t have to use any of the passing places which just looked as if someone had tipped a truck load of hardcore off the side of the road. It had the look of a road that was approaching it’s old age, one day it would be a road no more, just a track, and eventually it would disappear from maps and atlases completely.
As we approached the coast the road got steeper, running through woodland and over a couple of streams which were further contributing to it’s decline. Finally we got a glimpse of the parking spot – another motorhome was there so we weren’t the only nutters. We rounded the corner into the parking spot and it was FULL. Yes, we had come all this way only to find there was no space for us (full was one motorhome and three cars) in this gravelled potholed parking spot on a steep downward incline.
Paul insisted on a cup of coffee at this point to calm his nerves. As he stepped out for a cigarette I put the kettle on – and had to hold it in place to stop it sliding off the burner. We walked around Bertie with our hot drinks trying to work out whether there was some miraculous way we would be able to park without blocking everyone in. Then we walked around Bertie again figuring out how we would reverse out of here without burning out the clutch or catching our undercarriage on the lip of a pothole.
As we started to back out of the car park a 4×4 was coming down the road towards us with a trailer full of logs – that was all we needed – but he pulled over onto the mud to keep out of our way as we backed out with only a slight smell of hot clutch.
The return drive wasn’t too bad, conducted in silence – the best policy when both of us are tense. In fact the whole drive would probably have been a bit of a fun adventure if we had managed to get parked, but driving all that way only to have to turn around made it highly frustrating and exacerbated our stress levels.
We didn’t have a backup plan for the day so once we were back on properly maintained tarmac we talked about what we would do next. With a long spell of poor weather predicted, and on a bit of a downer because of our day so far, we decided that we would leave Mull the next day and so drove up to Tobermory. There were a number of forestry commission parking places along the road that runs to Tobermory, but these all had ‘no overnight parking’ signs in them and were very close to the road. We stopped in one of them and saw our first seals on Mull. Eventually we parked just outside Tobermory in the large forestry commission area of Aros Park.
Although there were also ‘no overnight parking’ signs here we considered there was a low chance of being moved on, the car park was empty and out of sight of residential areas and roads; no one was going to see us and it was unlikely that the ranger would do night time rounds just to oust us. Aros Park was once an estate which was bequeathed to the forestry commission, the car park was the site of the house which was demolished in the 60’s. There were lakes and paths and picnic areas and a small pier with views over the bay to Tobermory. It was really quite pleasant, not the dramatic walk we had been hoping for, but not a bad place to spend our last afternoon on Mull.
We walked into Tobermory late that afternoon and treated ourselves to posh fish and chips from the van on the harbour. I had scallops and Paul had calamari. It was yummy and warming and we ate it sitting on a bench looking over the harbour. We washed this down with a couple of pints before heading back to Bertie in the twilight feeling more relaxed.
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.
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.
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.
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.