Links on Walking Places
Lands End to Cape Wrath
OBAN TO MALLAIG
Monday 18 July
ON THE ISLE OF MULL.
With major changes happening in my life.
The head has broken off my ďunbreakableĒ blue plastic spoon.
2 teeth only left on my ďunbreakableĒ blue plastic fork. Very nice V.F.S set on a little blue plastic ring, from the Nomad Camping store in Wood Green.
(I also have a Thermarest puncture repair kit from there and a very handy over the head jungle rain poncho bivi item back home).
Now I would be spoon-less but; somewhere by the side of the road in north Devon between Bradworthy and Bideford I did spy half buried in the muddy verge a silver plated tea spoon. Dented and patched where the plating has worn through, a strange and interesting thing to find beside the road. So following a familiar acquisitive impulse I picked it up and it has been sitting in one of my personal admin bags ever since.
Lucky spoon. ďSee a spoon and pass it by, come the day when you will fryĒ.
Eating savoury bulgar porridge with a fork with just two prongs is tricky.
So my foresight on the 3 May, day 14, has paid off.
A crown with ďEPĒ below it E J & S Derby 3
And another major change was a purchase in Oban that has come in handy straight away. A waterproof cover for my pack. I made the decision before leaving to stay with my usual set up of a water proof lining canoe bag rather than an outer. Oh no couldnít have both but the rain has repeatedly soaked the contents of the side pockets and the food compartment in the bottom.
Soggy fennel tea bags laid out to dry under my bed at the Oban Hostel.
£6 Milletts in Oban, weighing nothing and all is dry this evening after todayís torrents in Glen Forsa.
Torrents continuing right now. 10.08 in the evening, camped on a lovely grassy patch by the beach a little way south of Salem on the east coast of Mull. Less than 10 miles up the coast from Craignure last night but I walked 16 odd to get here.
South along the road and round past Loch Don then inland from Strathcoil on Loch Spelve . taking the old road, now an over grown track, north along the bank of the Lussa River and on into Glen Forsa.
A wide open wild glacial U valley. Huge swooping up both sides.
A mixture of solid forest tracks and very boggy and rough tussocky-ness. Hillside below Beinn Bheag running with countless instant streams through the tussocks. Actually quite a struggle with this pack, hugely physical stumbling and difficult to find a rhythm. Extra concentration when you canít see where youíre putting your feet. I think impossible or many times more difficult without my stick.
Curling clouds heavey rain and bursts of sun that had me squinting up at the scree sparkling on the flanks of Beinn Bheag; lively weather.
Came across a clearing in the forest, an open strip 50 yards either side of a stream; Ceann Chnocain.
Stone houses with peat roofs, chimney smoke blowing off into the trees, farmers and families in ragged plaid with goats and chickens and wild hairy cows. A dam in the stream to make a fishing pool.
Potatoes and cabbages. A hard life out there, they didnít see me.
A long walk it was through Glen Forsa and down to the coast. Very boggy forest path often disappearing then a straight wide gravel track out following the River Forsa.
Three quarters of the way to the top now, time and distance. That makes a change, no longer an endless summer.
Had a sense today, unwelcome, that I was thinking more about the end, moving into finishing mode. No longer just living this life but somehow thinking beyond it and all this might actually soon be over. (Perhaps itís the hard work wet weather making it more of a task). Nearly done but I donít want that! Just want to be here, present and breathing in this outrageous beautiful country-scape. But the truth; I do have to go home and if I can come to terms with that somehow, itíll be less of a shock. But actually just deny it.
Now though. Raining hard and getting dark and washing up not done.
If I left it outside for the rain to clean or did it in the morning that would be the first time. The first time!
Morale, standards plummeting.
Tobermory tomorrow or Wednesday. Forecast rainy-er.
Tuesday 19 July
Paranoia, A nagging doubt returning, grasping for satisfaction, emptiness and always wanting more and better;
this has got to be the best ever thing and what if itís not?!
But donít drift out, stay awake:
WAIT A MINUTE
IíM STILL DOING SOMETHING HERE
I HAVENíT FINISHED YET
AND ITíS GETTING BETTER.
Did you mean?:
WAIT A MINUTE
IíM STILL DOING SOMETHING HERE
I HAVENíT FINISHED YET
AND ITíS GETTING BETTER.?
Your damn right: look around you, Just enjoy yourself.
I came across a hot combination today.
From the bottom upwards:
Sphagnum; a lumpy layer across the ground and probably extending deep turning to peat then bedrock.
Soft grass; thinly spread growing up through the Sphagnum, up to 2 feet.
Heather; small thin clumps spread evenly amongst the grass.
Bell Heather; smaller thin clumps spread evenly amongst the grass. In flower
Bog Myrtle; evenly spaced low bushes, 2 or 3 feet high. 1 per square meter.
Bracken; occasional widely spaced low plants, 2 or 3 feet high.
Dwarf Birch; Low trees, 4 too 6 feet high. 1 per 5 square meters.
Level ground, firm, dry and even under foot.
Thinking about moorland recipes (obsessing in fact). This one was kind of intoxicating especially with the smell of the bracken and bog myrtle in the afternoon sun after rain.
Every bit of moor land and mountain that Iíve walked across has had a different combination of flora. Each a different experience to all the senses and the emotions. Some an infuriating obstacle and struggle, others a stroll through the garden of earthly delights and all points in between.
These are some of the basic ingredients: (Design your own moorland.)
Heathers, Bell Heathers,
Grasses and Sedges tussocky or otherwise.
Bilberry and Bracken.
Dwarf Birch and blasted Oak or Rowan
Then lots of extras thrown in to spice things up.
Maybe Tormentil and Ladyís Bedstraw, Bog Cotton and Bog Myrtle, Orchids and Bog Asphodel and Hair Bells. So many things.
Rocks maybe, little ponds and sinks and of course the lovely black criss-cross deep peat gullies. Feather Bed Top.
It can be wet wet like these 2 days on Mull, alive and sloshing and Woh down you go into the sludge or bounce across the Sphagnum. Maybe dry and sandy like the New Forest in summer.
I enjoyed hugely the cocktail on the Bowland hills back in June with a rich Bilberry Heather balance similar to the Black Mountains, against the black of the open peat gullies.
On the Southern Uplands north west of Muirkirk these peat gullies were full of rivers of Sphagnum. The Lowther hills around Wanlockhead; grass and grass glowing green with dark Heather patches and stripings.
So presumably itís all to do with what goes on there and what has ever gone on there: Sheep, deer, people and burning and the geology below, porosity of the rock gradient, topography and the weather, sheltered or open. Altitude attitude all mixed up.
Itís a treat to get onto a new hill to see what the balance will be.
Add to this all the animal input as well of course:
Larks, Meadow Pipits, Wheatears, Grouse, Curlew, Oyster Catchers, Hen Harriers, Buzzard, Gulls, Hares, Deer, Sheep, Zebra, Ticks, Slugs, Crocodiles, Toads, Wildebeest and multitudes of insects and these days always a Rookery; strange that.
Todayís hot combination came accompanied by showers and occasional sun along the valley of Loch Frisa. (Also I think and could it have been a Sea Eagle?). Just a small island, an acre or so in a sea of dense deep grass and heather. I wonder if I could ever find it again. Arrive when the heather is in bloom, (4 weeks time?). So much time spent alone in these heathery parts and endless entertainment to be found and Iím out here all this time just swimming through all of it.
Up from the sea shore along to Salen for a pint of milk a meat pie and a banana. On the road north west through Glen Aros and above the western shore of the Loch. Heavy going disappearing path but worth the struggle.
The hills walking north becoming more and more lovely. Today lava stone tables lined up with flat tops and little hanging cliffs. Such a contrast to the huge sweeps of yesterdays glacial valleys and granite peaks. Shapes of hills have gradually been seducing me all the way up.
This afternoon was long flat Caoldairidh; from my passing angle a huge flattened out Sphinx sitting at the head of the valley. Add to the list of places to come back and have another look at.
Walk again the path but also; Iím beginning to get a little bolder and strike out more, bush-whacking confidence returning. Anticipating the worst and then taking what comes. I think finding and hoping that that Skipness Kintyre moor-land cocktail was about the worst. There was some slow heavy going today along the shore of the loch but that was Ok.
9.50 and camped right on the shore of the overflowing Mishnish Lochs.
Searching around in the gloomy early evening for a dry-ish level spot in the boggy heather and moss to pitch the tent. Heavy rain and a little worried that the loch level will rise even further in the night and join me in my sleeping bag. Not worried enough to do anything about it. Inside this nylon world with all my familiars, super-duper organised and cosy. Extraordinary that I can create a little bubble just anywhere I choose and escape from the wild world. What is a tent?
And Tick Check.
Evening ritual now. Regularly picking up these little fellows as I stumble through the heather, finding their way to private parts for a good meal but I am now armed with a pair of patented Tick pullers. Miniature plastic crow bars with forked ends for catching and twisting to ensure the head is not left behind. A gift from Andy and Sue back in Kilmichael and very welcome.
2 or 3 miles down into Tobermory for breakfast tomorrow and then away on the boat to Ardnamurchan.
Wednesday 20 July
Day 91 Fennel Seeds and Ardnamurchan
Right now today and this evening feeling overwhelmed by this landscape. Difficult to record this. Very beautiful fairy land I walked through this afternoon and where Iím camped this evening. Danger of running out of and overdoing the superlatives (superman, supernatural, superhuman, supernova) as I march on into Scotland, unfolding and delivering itís delights.
An enormous ring of craggy granite hills, well actually mountains I think but not so high, 437 meters the highest, but just severe and sticking up.
The road north from landfall at Cilchoan. Return to the mainland after a windy and grey sea spray crossing from Tobermory to this most mainland westerly point. Winding road north into Sidhean Mor and clear to see what I had read about in Cilchoan community centre: A volcanic rim, Hawaii type volcano drifted up over here. This spot it seems a favourite destination for geologists from around the world. Not a tree just rock and the green green grass, mainly grass and sedge and sphagnum, bracken and little of anything else.
I left the road to take the path through the centre of the crater and past the deserted village of Glendrian. Lives and generations lived and died and all now silent with the rocks watching.
Tent up on the north coast of Ardnamurchan. High hill above the sea, windy leaden sky and cold and ouch, overwhelmed.
Walking east along a rocky coastline. Cornwall 13 weeks ago and now doing it again. Peaking out into gales with eyes streaming at strange looking islands Rhum and Eigg. All rock and water out here like St Agnes Head. Walking into the evening with the possibility of rain but singing a new song and feeling fine and not worried.
You know what?
Weíve been out here in aaaall kinds of weather
But thatís ok
Weíve got the Special 6
Weíve got the Special 6
Distorted mind becoming romantic about pieces of kit. But such a warm and wonderful practical cosy garment that has come to I think symbolise my feelings of strength and preparedness of this lonely adventure. All my kit it works and we look after each other. Granted this isnít Antarctica but Iím on my own and the Atlantic is over my shoulder just there and I have to look after myself.
See illustration 12 to identify pump parts.
WARNING! Always check for leaking fuel, especially after any pump maintenance and replacement of seals. Check for leaks near every seal, especially the Pump Seal, Fuel Line connection, Control Valve area, Pump Plunger, and at the flame Adjuster on the stove. If leaking fuel is found, Do Not Use The Stove. Repair it or send it to your MSR Retailer or MSR Product Service Centre for repairs.
INSPECTING AND REPLACING SEALS
Fuel Tube O-ring
Marching along through the glorious mountains of Ardnamurchan singing Special 6 song and thinking: hey yes Iíll walk till late-ish; after 7 because I spent most of the middle of the day in Tobermory and taking the ferry.
Iíll walk into the evening and Itíll be fine, weather grim but Iíve got all I need and Iíll create a delicious Salmon Noodle Extravaganza, plus a small bottle of Famous Grouse!
Getting organised all going well, tired but on target. Onions frying, garlic on the mountain air but Mmm? stove behaving strangely. No power.
Stop. Turn it off and check it out and hey what do you know;
Hardly any fuel left in the bottle full up in Oban just 3 days ago. Leaking out and Sphagnum in the tent lobby now rich with white spirit.
Got to sort this out, so with a mouth-full of nuts and raisins to keep me going through the operation:
Stove Manual → Diagnosis → Solution →Tool Kit → Procedure → Success.
(Actually pecans and dried dates).
Half an hour and with enough fuel left the onions were frying again, another 20 minutes; 20.45 and Iím sitting with a Bowl of Cheesy Salmon and Apricot Noodle De-lux cooling on my lap ready for consumption.
A moment of Oh Blimey! But sorted and under control and with maximum fortuousity the evening became dry but the wind kept up and there was not a midge to join me in the workshop. Camped up on the eastern shoulder of Meall Buidhe Mor, looking down on Fascadale Bay and out east along the coast; my path for the next day or two. Need to more effectively lubricate Fuel Line Coupler before inserting into the Fuel Tube. Canít afford for that to happen again; I used my only spare Fuel Line O-ring.
But a revelation also: New angle to the Kitchen with addition of Fennel Seeds to the culinary arsenal. Iíve been carrying with me all this time one of my favourite tastes in the form of tea bags. Why not tear open and pop the contents into the early onion frying stage; Hallelujah.
Little things you see to make me happy.
Thursday 21 July
I have absolutely got to here
I have got absolutely to here
I have got to absolutely here
I have got to here absolutely
Absolutely I have got to here
I absolutely have got to here
Three months and a bit out from Landís End. 3 months of walking. How can that be? Leading for years and years a regular working 5 weeks leave a year kind of life and suddenly look where I find myself: Sitting on a little heathery knoll a few feet above the salty wet grass of falling tide Kentra Bay. Near Arivegaig 21.00 and the sun still dancing on the rocky hills of Ardnamurchan all around. Inland to the east the pointed top of Beinne Resipol 845 meters nosing out of the clouds. The first sun and blue in over a week with the sky gradually opening out as I made camp here and cooked.
Ardnamurchan, and I have to say once again; the best walks and most intoxicating landscape yet. 3 months and getting better and for the first time ever I just saw an otter, a sea otter lazy swimming along the shore just here below where Iím camped.
The old roads, herd roads or tracks into remote settlements now deserted, these are just so great to walk.
The roads that never became roads. Routes that were forgotten when the local economy changed and why go over the top when you can zip round on the tarmac.
They take you on a winding route across wild country, often a firm and even graded track sometimes becoming indistinct across marshy ground adding to the variety.
You get a sense of the ages, time past when this was a busy path and the hills were full of people. Main roads for perhaps hundreds of years before villages were cleared or sea weed no longer gathered or lead no longer mined. The best routes through passes and across difficult terrain.
So through Ardnamurchan; Kilchoan to Fascadale and today along the road too Kilmory and Ockle and then the track over to here. A lovely winding path in swirling low cloud through a labyrinth of rocks and bogs and steep gullies. Up into the cloud so taking a compass bearing and trusting that path he knew his way.
Looking at the map this was the main route in and out of Ardnamurchan from the north but no way for a cart so everything in by mule or on your back. (Did they have mules or was that just in the Mexico gold rush trotting feet dangling no stirrups with big ears and a wide brimmed white hat?)
Thousands of years, people wanted to cross those hills, back and forth finding the best way, easiest pass and gradually level it here, shore it up there and it becomes a path and then maybe a track and even a road.
Paths and paths. You set out to walk from one end of the country to the other. Canít help but get a little obsessed with paths. Actually my tramping feet pulling the whole country underneath and past me.
Around three this afternoon, gently descending on a firm wide graded track, still quite high dropping east towards Kentra Bay. Winding through turbulent rocky hills, grass and heather, thick bracken to the left before a drop off into a wide bowl with a lochen nestling. A ditch along side the track to the right beneath the steep bank rising away with hanging low birch and oak. Grey and overcast.
Frustrated today though. I set out to walk 15 miles, do my 15 miles, keep that thing going. Just didnít seem to cover the ground. Stopped at 5.00 pretty tired on twelve and a half.
Sense of needing to push on. Iím coping I think with this country but perhaps by slowing down. Thatís Ok, I want to cruise and enjoy it but thereís a long way to go yet.
Bit puzzled by the route from here up to Mallaig. Roads skirting lochs and big lumps of rock. Looks like itíll be quite a lot of roads but weíll see.
Wouldnít it be nice if it was a sunny day tomorrow but have to just describe a joyous little rest-time ritual. Walking along and blimey need to have a rest right now so I scan ahead for a spot to collapse where I donít have to take off my pack. If itís dry then just a tussocky mound or bank ready for a weary traveller beside the path or a round smooth rock wide enough to accommodate the width of the pack behind me. Approach, sidle up backwards, aim and down I go preferably not too low so I can get up again and not roll around with legs in the air beetle. Details like this, rituals repeated umpteen times a day, itís what this outing is made of.
Here be the recipe for that almost thwarted Ardnamurchan supper yesterday evening.
Chilly Ginger Salmon and Apricot Noodle De-Lux.
That little bit simpler and quicker than the Chorizo dishes, no sausage to be frying up first, so oil heated and then the fennel seeds, give them a while till they start to pop. Straight in with the chopped onion, then a little while later add the sun dried tomatoes and the herbs and chilli.
Itís also good to just put half the garlic in at the start and save the other half for the last minute.
When the onion is ready in with the water and the stock cube and up to the boil.
As the water boils add the noodles. These are going to take 10 minutes or more to come back to the boil and cook so you can decide; if you add the salmon now it will pretty much have broken up and disappeared into the goop by that time. if you want that stick it in now, if you want chunks hold out for the last couple of minutes. Same goes for the apricots.
Simmering away, gaze out at the hillside in the mist and low cloud, observe how the grass is gradually broken up and replaced by naked rock as you get higher until all there is is the nobbly rock along the top of the ridge. As the noodles are ready, take off the heat and stir in the remains of the garlic and the chopped ginger to make it oh so tangy and ooch.
Scatter the cheese in the top and put the lid on to let it melt while you arrange your seat out of the wind back inside the tent with optimum view out east along the Ardnamurchan coast.
Friday 22 July
Found something today, a good bit of what I came out here to find.
Up on top of Meall a Mhadaidh Mor,. Half way from Ardmolich too Roshven. Camped up in the bright evening, 8.45 and the sun still 2 fingers above the horizon. Looking north west out to what must be the big hills of Skye. The Cuillins and north down Irine Burn, my route out in the morning. All this through fine mesh netting as under siege again.
Tent up on flattish coarse grass and Sphagnum amongst rocky outcrops trimmed with bell heather and tormentil in flower. Top of a knoll, 430 meters surrounded by stormy sea landscape lochens between ridges and rocky summits. A plateaux all cut into and chopped about and glowing green in the perfect all alone high on a mountain sunny evening. Wind dropped to almost nothing, no sound but the stream gathering off the side of the hill and thick swarming mass around my head.
They are very cleverly finding their way through the zips of my zip off trousers.
So up here at the end of another day of outrageous paths and with the added delight of the longed for bright sunshine. Not too hot, bringing all the colours to life and lifting the lid off.
Again only 10 miles. Up on the road early, by 7.30 which is the earliest yet. Across Kentra Moss and breakfast at the grooviest spot (sorry). Breakfast at an enchanting spot; a whirlpool in a rocky gully spanned by and ancient bridge beneath which the dark treacle waters of Loch Sheil tumble and churn on their way out to the sea. Loch Sheil stretching I donít know; 15 miles off west beneath towering peaks and all draining out through that dingily-dell channel with fairies dancing.
On along the road following the River Sheil north, round past Castle Tioram passing camper van folks bleary eyed in the car park shaving in wing mirrors and round to follow the southern shore of Loch Moidart.
Now this was a quite a scary path and a moment of sobriety and concentration.
Iíve been pondering this route north up to Mallaig, conundrum (puzzle, mystery, challenge, poser, problem, riddle); so much winding in and out between water and high rocky country. Can I go straight? Cross the water? Cross the mountains? Or take the road that suits the internal combustion but what a dismal solution for walking through this outrageous country, denial of the challenge of the hills. But Iím still wary of striking out across this wild country and still looking for paths. No paths on the map here going in the right directions. Is it possible to just decide where Iím going to walk, A too B on the map and just do it?
Look at the contours, get out my compass and shoulder my pack.
This morning stepping out in hope to take the path round the southern shore of Loch Moidart; on the map that little dotted line ends half way along. If there was no way through beyond there then I would have to turn back and take the road, boring and it would take most of the day to get round to where I could be by lunch time. Contours not looking too bad though and the map showing mud at low tide so I might be able to get down and walk along the shore.
I was reassured by a man mowing his lawn at the mouth of the loch that I could get all the way to Ardmolich at the loch head, though it was ďa long way along to thereĒ, ďThatís Ok Iíve got all dayĒ.
What would stop me? Rocks and cliffs and tumbling dense and tangled steep forests. Lions and Tigers and Bears. Some country I mean actually is impassable.
Just keep going, donít think about it, only know that I donít want to take the road. Last option; Failure.
But the path was scary and perhaps about the limit of what I could do with my pack. No easier than that descent with Mark into Glen Sannox on Arran 2 weeks ago and today I was on my own. (Sensible?)
Very beautiful and fairy land, scrambling up and over and round mossy boulders buried in bracken and old twisted oaks on a steep slope above a drop into the clear blue loch.
Slow and exhausting and a thousand opportunities to trip. How quickly could I get my pack of as it dragged me to the bottom or the ignominy and sad end to the trip if I had to ring on my mobile to be rescued with a bone sticking out, perhaps thatís what happened.
There were moments, quite scared and doubtful, Iím going to hurt myself, but more scared of giving up and retreating and how disappointing and draining to my sense of progress and success that would be. So trying not to think about it and keep going, drawn on by the sunny hopeful day and determination and I think to test myself; how much of this Scotland could I handle, lets have a look.
But of course it was all fine. Fuss about nothing and by mid-day when I reached the end of the path the tide had dropped enough to let me slodge across mud and bright green sea weed.
Just eating it up and feeling triumphant.
Naked mud bathing; the sublime rich soft and sweet smelling estuary mud and bright clear sky hot sun bright green sea weed rocks and trees and wind with the fresh water flow of the Moidart River plunge.
Something else! Summertime supreme confidence and conquering hero. Slurp and splodge. (No shower since Oban and mud bathing I think I should make a habit of it.)
After that I could do anything so instead of the road west along the north shore of Loch Moidart and round to Roshven, Iím up and over the top. Due north from Ardmolich into the hills. Afternoon on a steep path, 400 meters and out across this wild rocky plateau. Another dip in blue black and freezing Loch Nan Paitean before heading for this eyrie. Thatís the story as Iím writing quicker now; midges increasing intimidation. Though theyíre not getting through my head net Iím completely covered in seething crawling mass and ready to retreat to tent.
But getting out there. Walking the earth, connecting. Long weekends, I usually find it takes 4 days walking and camping out before I make a connection, feel Iíve made a shift, opened up and let it in. Whatís going on now then?
3 months, getting frightened then rolling naked in the mud, shouting and laughing.
A MID LIFE WALKING BACKWARDS GAME.
Check it out; whatís happening, what has past and whatís to come?
Find a long straight and deserted path. Maybe a graded forestry track or a disused railway line.
Check out for obstacles off ahead, when itís all clear turn around and begin to walk backwards along the path, whatever speed you like, steering by keeping watch on your wake, watching as the path moves out from beneath your feet.
You can look to the side but not past your shoulder and down but not so as you can see where you are putting your feet. Keep walking. Get into the physical strangeness of it.
Focus on the area behind you, behind (ahead of) the back of your head, your back and your feet. What is there? Is it a big black hole or nothing at all or full of all kinds of lurking stuff.
Open your palms and turn them to face behind (ahead) of you. Open them to that space and feel the air meeting them. Reach out back (ahead) with them, grope around. Where are they?
Keep walking. Falling into the ?
Imagine what is there, try and picture it. A straight clear path or a cliff perhaps or a bulldozer or a bunch of staring people. Puddles.
The track you are leaving behind. Stretching away behind (ahead) ahead (behind). Give it a scale and some land marks. Perhaps 10 yards for a year and make that bush your 40th birthday and that rock away off back down there the birth of child or trip to see Motorhead at Port Vale football stadium. Watch them drift away into the past and fade. So much stuff drifting of into the past and then whatís ahead (behind)? No bloomin idea and Oh well just keep walking.
Stop and sit down for a while, donít look round, concentrate on that empty space behind. Get up and walk forward, retreat into the known past for a while, have a pee and walk of backwards again leaving it behind. Imagine, picture yourself still standing there and leave you behind.
How long can you keep going?
Try jogging, maybe choose an up and down or rough and windy path.
Saturday 23 July
Up on top again with a good breeze at 9.00, sun just setting out of cloudless sky. High up, 400 meters in the hills of South Morar looking back south across Moidart and Ardnamurchan and Mull. An extraordinarial week getting better with every nightís camp spot meeting the getting out there criteria. A little weather top in a wide bowl below Carn a Mhadhaidh-ruaidh. On the path up from Borrodale, mountains south for ever now melting into long shadows.
Sunny clear fresh and warm all day. Down along Irine Burn from last nights perch down to Roshven on Loch Ailort by 10 oíclock. There was no path marked on the map across from there but it wasnít difficult to pick a route, most obvious line following the burn and avoiding the steep drop-offs.
Something fundamental and satisfying in that; gazing ahead scanning the hillsides and the contours on the map. Setting off thinking; Ok well Iíll cut down along there until it gets too steep and work my way east around that hill staying up above that cliff until it opens out below and drop down into the gully and onto the road about there. Then you find your chosen instinctive route is also a favourite route for the deer up here and quite soon there are boot prints also to guide you down. Sometimes a welcome sight sometimes not but if itís the logical way A-B across the surface of the planet you wonít be the first along it.
I was hoping to blag a boat ride across the Loch Ailort, across the narrow little jump to the Ardnish peninsula to pick up a path marked on the map. Then north over what looked be a lovely wild rocky piece of land three odd miles to meet the road at Polnish. I searched around for a handy boatman, asked a bunch of Saturday morning people but no luck.
Disappointed then, looking across the maybe 300 yards of glassy blue water and having to set off to walk the road 6 odd miles round the top of the Loch.
But actually seduced quickly by the lovely lovely day and the twinkly loch and mountains I skipped along a happy bunny and then the Bonus of a Fish and Chip lunch at the Lochailort Hotel so compensation and stop complaining.
On down the road feeling strong and in the right time and place on earth, enjoying the wide new A830 giving lots of space for the streams of holiday folk on their way up to Mallaig. Not having to leap into the verge to avoid trucks bearing down.
Swimming in the clear wavy weed loch mid afternoon. I found a lovely spot where a stream flowed down onto the beach and was caught in a wide clear pool by a shingle bar just 5 yards from the lapping waves. So one side a steeply shelving shingle beach into high tided very cold and clear sea with long waving kelp and other side a fresh water plunge pool to wash off the salt. Hot afternoon and not a soul. On along to Glen Borrowdale up into the hills of South Morar. The path following the east side of a big dramatic rushing mountain river gorge with hanging birches.
Easy walking up on these hills. Schists I think, same as last night. Not too wet at the moment, occasional little boggy hollows but passable, mainly grass but not too tussocky with heathery clumps dotted around. Bell Heather in flower, little sprigs with dangly purple nestling among rocks, dig it. Bog Asphodel, Tormentil, occasional Orchids. No trees up on top, no sheep, deer tracks and prints everywhere and freshly flattened patches of grass where they must have made their bed. Iíve kept a look out but Iíve not seen any.
Few birds; the occasional Lark and Meadow Pippit, Hooded Crows, Glurk! Ravens.
A shift between states:
There is confident head up and out moving along. I know what Iím doing, shout it I can do this, YES I walked here YES!
But also and often, evenings setting up camp and lonely. Worries.
How am I going to get round this bit? Can I walk over that? will there be a shop there? Will I get a room?
How am I going to keep this going, what if? Sick empty doubtful. Lonely?
At the moment itís this here country is overwhelming full on and fantastic and Iím eating it up but Iím so small and Iíve got to ant my way across it for another month.
Plan to walk along a railway line tomorrow to cross Blar na Caillich Buidhe, what looks like a big bog at the western end of Loch Morrar. Get over to Morrar and Mallaig cutting off the long wiggly road along the coast. Iíll let you know what happens. Arrested or something more unpleasant.
Sunday 24 July
MALLAIG (IN STYLE)
Uncomfortable start. Baking in green house tent by 7 oíclock and zipped in tight to avoid swarms without. Not a breath, a contrast to last night. So up out and packed away quickly and off to find a windy spot for breakfast.
Climb north to a ledge beyond the ridge on the northern shoulder of Carn a Mhadhaidh-ruaidh. 8.30 windy looking down on Loch Morar in the sun 400 metres below and a gaggle of nosy Munroes off to the north east, peering round each other to have a good look. Sgurr na Ciche and chums?
Thinking about how Iíve been stepping out across these hills on my own, seems like weeks now. Well 3 weeks ago today I was in Wanlockhead. (6 weeks ago in the Trough of Bowland.)
Up high on my own itís a particular thing to be doing, where do I go in my head?
So much into the doing it routine of the map and looking out for myself. Absorbing into the shapes and colours and always the path.
Itís really just one path.
Itís always been there, I left Landís End (I was born), it was waiting for me. Each twist and turn and up and down. I follow it round a bend itíll be there, what can I do I just move on along it. In fact I am still, static and it moves up to and through me. I go nowhere, still at Landís End I havenít moved the path goes through me.
But so who is me and what have I become and whoís to see and on my own where am I. Defined by this one thing though; this bloke walking with miles behind blimey and miles ahead fantastic. Comfortable and easy role.
The rest of me, who I am, live and love and work and play 44 earth years; where be?
Mallaig now and checked into a dingy hotel but absolutely fine and just by the bustling centre of town and ferry/fishing port. Walkers and coaches and campers from all over. Here by 2.00pm in time for whistle and steam as The Jacobite pulled out south for Fort William.
Steak Pie! And a pint of Velvet an hour earlier in the Morar Hotel.
Obsession with food, Cheese oatcakes and dried apricots for breakfast, a very delicious breakfast but that was it, down to the very last in my pack. The joy and satisfaction of thatÖ.. Pack fantastically light but picking up food parcel number 8 in the Post Office here tomorrow morning (hopefully, system has worked faultlessly so far) so up to full weight again for the next passage.
Crossing to Skye on the second ferry in the morning, I would take the first but itís before the Post Office opens. I shanít be exploring Skye and intend to be on it for only a day or so, take the most direct route over to the Kyle Of Lochalsh. Taking this route really to move north and avoid (though itís a shame), the big big country on the mainland north of here. Loch Aber and Glen Shiel. Extreme up and downs and back and forth around lochs. Iíd love to get into it one day but I canít go everywhere on this trip so maybe next time (?!).
There was no railway walking today. I came down from the hills of South Morar following a path to Scamadale where the morning time ďevery family needs a bolt holeĒ folks in their hide-away cottage gave me the gen that I could cross the end of Loch Morar along Camas Ruadh, Red Sands Bay to get to Morar village.
A stupendous bouncy Sphagnum extravaganza Blar na Caillich Buidhe that took me down (or up) to my thighs at one point. A new experience but Bog Myrtle rooted strong enough to haul me out.
Before that I was bush-whacking round and down a little 100m hill above the loch; Druim Dubh. Golden Eagles doing a shouting and plummeting thing as I tumbled down through steep bracken and heather and birch.
Bogs and bushes; trying to avoid that sort of super strenuous terrain. Itís got to be bad for knees but hey just lovely to tumble through and how would it be if this fabled path was gently sloping down soft grass for 1200 miles. Would we like that?
And can I see something beautiful, dig a hill or a tree or a path ahead or a combination of the above, without having to take a picture of it?
Can I not just enjoy it, be it and move on? No. Do I have to capture and Pixel Possess it?
It seems I do and by so doing I am instantly removed from the present. I am thrust headlong into the future, grabbing the present in a desperate attempt to take it with me. Not content to be content now with beautiful visuals but wanting them with me inside me for all time, hoarding for future gratification. I want the world and I want it now.
Is that wise?
But taking pictures is a lot of fun especially with the enormous memory instant gratification little window on the back digital camera so just enjoy it; and also I think (Iím sure), that looking out with a cameraís eye also opens me up to visual delights and gives an extra way of seeing so just do it; be in the present in taking that picture.
Take away the idea of a head (fiction), and the world in all itís ness floods in startling beauty and inevitable reaction of groping ego: possess.
Making the water assessment:
Is the water in these here hills safe to drink without little white tablets?
Do I see it bubbling out of the ground in front of me? Highland Spring.
Are there sheep around? Is there a dead something 100 yards up stream, sheep born diseases?
Last few days; no sheep so deep draughts.
And it stoned me to my soulÖÖ
This passage, Oban to Mallaig. Oh Gosh! Day after day of outrageous landscapes, in and out back and forth coastline. I had to pick my way round it and blimey trousers did I do it in style!
Once again, in style meaning:
1) Making no mistakes. No disasters, no injuries, not getting lost, coming through clean.
2) Getting my teeth into it. Getting up high over the top into the hills. Energy to make the most of it. Energy to enjoy and find myself walking into Oh my goodness check this out places. (last evening coming up Glen Borrowdale).
3) Outrageous night spots. One of the key prerogatives to this trip/trip. To spend the night, evening and sleep and still be there in the morning as already described. Fully immersed in the wondrous out there.
4) Seeing what there is to see. I chose the route wanting to get into this part of the world. Whatís it like? Get up on top and underneath and have a look.
5) Taking risks. Pushing myself. Hey Iím feeling good, I can take this on and Iíve got all I need on my back. I know Iíll be Ok if I go up there/round and through there. I know how to use this compass if the weather comes down. Special 6 in the bag and Hileberg Acto.
6) Have to say it (hang up), minimum roads.
Getting across the country on minimum roads. Roads they have a purpose; to move on quick, to cover distance, arrive. Perhaps also (well yes definitely) to bypass really difficult country, too big mountains, water, dense agricultural land with no paths. Have to take them round impossible barriers but if I can get off of them then I will.
Coming out of Cornwall I felt it was a weakness to take roads, a grim sentence and some kind of torture but I think Iíve gotten over that.
There is a satisfaction in moving fast across the map, blimey 10 miles already and only 12.30. Flat and possible to find a steady easy rhythm; not having to watch each footfall, step out. Scoot across suburbia to the next piece of groovy countryside, be grown up, be where I am, take what comes.
Some road walking observations:
Red Bull. Why is it that the majority (perceived; not counted, recorded and studied), of drinks cans at the side of the road, lying in the grass or flattened in the curb, are Red Bull cans?
Why is it? All along the roads everywhere, Red Bull cans. Tossed out of the window. Only explanation; after drinking a can, Mr/Mrs driver is just feeling so hot and King Of The Road.
Hey I donít care Iíll just wind down and toss this out, Iíll put my foot down and watch it fly. Californ-i-a here I come.
A380 yesterday, lovely wide flat grassy verge. Easy going even and soft but somehow most verges are just impossible. I walk and walk for days off road on all kinds of un-evenness but as soon as I get on a road, speed up and stop thinking about and watching my footfall things change. I leap onto the verge to dodge a truck bearing down, it might be quite wide and grassy but any un-evenness is just not acceptable. Iím always trying to get back onto the tarmac which is of course at the expense of my sore feet and the wearing tread off my boots. (The latter a serious obsession).
There now was that interesting?
A really difficult surface: Fields that have contained bovines, crowding around water troughs and gates when the winter ground was wet and soft and soggy, now dry and hard. So in the grass there are innumerable hoof sized holes and bumps and twists and lumps. You (I), just canít get going on that especially with a heavy pack. Twisting ankles and without a stick; impossible (impassable not quite). Lots of it down south, Wales, not so much up here. And then a soft sandy beach with a heavy pack; gravity.
Oban To Mallaig
Mull Ė Ardnamurchan Ė Moidart - Morar
S: Supper L: Lunch B: Breakfast Sn: Snacking
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