Lochgilphead again. Last time I was here, (Walk 46), the temperature was minus 6 and the little town lay under thick snow. This time the weather was considerably warmer, almost spring-like in fact. My route from Lochgilphead to Lochgoilhead described a very vague figure “2” shape. This time I will walk the top curve of the “2” and the straight line at the bottom, keeping the central section for next time. Lines though are anything but straight here: the Scottish coast seems to have kept its most serpentine and convoluted section till last. As the crow flies I am getting close to my journey’s end in Glasgow but on foot I found that the intervening coast winds and twists around lochs and bays adding dozens of miles to my route.
On the way to Lochgilphead the bus broke down. Half an hour later we were told that the replacement bus was also not in a serviceable condition. Things could have turned nasty: tempers lost, harsh words, demands for compensation. As it was I was amazed by the good fellowship and bonhomie of my fellow passengers. There were no dark mutterings and no one blamed the driver. People talked and chatted and roared with merry laughter. Had someone distributed drams of whiskey the atmosphere on that cold stretch of road would have been indistinguishable from the warmth and conviviality of a village pub.
I walked from Lochgilphead to Cairndow around the north shore of Loch Fyne. Most of the way there was really nowhere to walk other than along the verge of the busy lochside road. An uncomfortable walk of nearly 40 miles and the worst roadside litter I have seen anywhere in Scotland. I was shadowed at one point by a police car: the officer pulled up beside me and looking from me to the passing traffic told me that “Of course you have a right to do what you want to do”. I took this as code for “You must be out of your mind walking beside this busy road”. But I could not face walking the whole British coast apart from the 40 mile section from Lochgilphead to Cairndow. (Actually the policeman was very friendly and obviously concerned for my welfare).
Near the halfway point I left the roadside and followed a loggers’ trail through the pine forest to spend the night in an eccentric lochside house at Furnace which had a kind of counter-cultural vibe of incense, kilims and tie-dye. The lady who owned the house used to be a chef and had built much of the house and outside decking with her own hands. She told me about her grandfather who had been a drover, walking beside his cattle driving them to market in Glasgow. In the morning Loch Fyne was bathed in silver light and while having breakfast I watched a solitary seal diving for fish.
I arrived in Cairndow after dark and was shown the way to my hotel by a young student from Belgium who was in Scotland on work experience at the local brewery. Early next morning I saw a long line of low lying mist extending horizontally into the distance down the length of Loch Fyne. I took a bus to Dunoon for the second section of these walks, (the foot of the figure “2” shape mentioned above). At the bus stop I fell into conversation with a man and once we were on the bus, as we were the only passengers, our conversation expanded to include the driver. The first man said he was trying to give up smoking and when I told him how far I have walked he laughed with a hacking cough and joked that he needed oxygen just to get from his front door to the car! Nice friendly people.
Dunoon is situated on the Firth of Clyde. In September 2015 I walked up the opposite side of the Firth en route from Liverpool to Glasgow. I vividly remember on that occasion looking across the water to Dunoon and wondering whether I would ever really walk round the whole of Scotland to that point. I checked into an excellent B&B with incomparable views across the Firth, owned by a very pleasant couple from Holland. I set off immediately on a beautiful walk around the coast to Toward Point and then, with the Isle of Bute offshore, set off up the East side of Loch Scriven. I was heading for Ardtaraig at the head of the loch. Five miles from my goal the path fizzled out in a confusion of fallen trees and boggy ground. Regularly sinking up to my shins in black ooze, fording streams and clambering up and down steep sided ravines I eventually reached the road. An unfrequented B road. I tried hitch hiking: the first car stopped and I was taken all the way back to Dunoon, in company with Martin, Victoria, Frances and Pip the Dog. They said they would read this Blog: thank you!
I liked Dunoon. It seemed incongruously Alpine: the town all white and shining in the sunshine, the cold clear air, the Firth of Clyde like a large mountain lake, the surrounding hills thickly wooded and snow capped. This could almost be a lake in Bavaria, or one of the Italian Lakes. (Not an obvious comparison, I admit!).
On my last day I took a bus to Lochgoilhead and walked back around the coast to Dunoon. Loch Goil was full of swirling clouds of morning mist which thinned on higher ground to wisps and shreds which drifted slowly through the pine forests. I noticed how the Highlands come right down to the Firth of Clyde at this point. My Dutch hosts in Dunoon had given me a map which suggested that there might be a path from Carrick Castle to Ardentinny. I found a loggers’ trail and set off through the forest across rising ground with huge views of the loch below. On the way I met two redoubtable ladies walking the forest trails who gave me directions: “No, the path isn’t on the map. Just go on and on, and on. Until you reach Ardentinny.” They were like those indomitable lady-adventurers in Victorian times and I suspected they would have given Livingstone similar directions had they encountered him in the Congo. On the way I saw herons and oyster catchers, and everywhere rhododendron bushes and camellias were just coming into bud. The first daffodils of the year were also in flower.
Heading for home I took a ferry, the Argyll Flyer, across the Firth of Clyde from Dunoon to Gourock and then a suburban train for half an hour straight into Glasgow Central. The End is getting tantalisingly close!
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2018.