Coast Part 5a 2009

The aim of the next stage of our around the UK coastline jaunt was to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh, or further, by way of Cape Wrath, John O'Groats etc, ie the pretty way.  If you have read the previous blogs you will know that it is the mainland coast that we are travelling, generally we have missed islands (already we have passed by the Isle of Wight and Anglesey plus many smaller ones).  We had already decided that we would visit Orkney on this trip but as we planned the main Scottish part of our Coast tour some practical difficulties arose in finding a route that kept us close to the coast in places where there were no coastal roads.  Indeed even defining what constituted 'coast'  where sea lochs make huge excursions inland isn't easy.  Our pragmatic approach was to include the islands of Bute, Mull and Skye. These gave short cuts across some of the sea lochs whilst paradoxically taking us closer to the mainland coast than some of the mainland roads. Caledonian MacBrayne (Calmac) operate ferries throughout the West coast and they offer money saving 'Island Hopscotch' tickets.  One other planning factor was the weather.  West Scotland can be a rainy place and sharing a van with two wet dogs is something you have to ease yourself into gently.  Last year they had a dry spring and a wet summer so we were banking on a repeat performance this year.  As I say I don't mind the wet arriving but we didn't want to head straight into bad weather, so we looked at all the weather forecasts we could and changed our start dates several times, backwards and forwards, before making our minds up to go in the late afternoon on the first of April.

As in the previous parts I haven't mentioned here every little seaside village we passed through and so have produced a list as a seperate blog  

Because this part is so long I have broken it into sections which are basically:

5a From Glasgow to Skye

5b Skye to Cape Wrath

5c Cape Wrath around Duncansby Head including Orkney

5d Duncansby Head to Edinburgh


I shall repeat the warning of earlier parts, we have a reasonably slim panel van conversion and its only a little over five metres long.  Some of the lanes we travelled down would be unsuitable in anything much larger. 


Days 1 and 2 The first three Ferries

Wemyss Bay to Rothesay


Part 4 had ended at the Erskine bridge across the Clyde but after travelling through the night we re-passed the Erskine bridge turn off in the opposite direction, retracing our steps a bit and 'officially' restarted at Weymss Bay catching the ferry to Rothesay on Bute.  This short crossing of the Firth of Clyde saved us a number of out and back trips, up and down the lochs that empty into the Firth (Gare Loch, Loch Long, Holy Loch and  Loch Striven and also some boring inland legs.  One thing we immediately noticed on the map was that two headlands hereabouts had been given the same name, 'Strone Point', surely a recipe for a navigational disaster as one separates Holy loch from Loch Long and the other, just 10miles away, is between The Kyles of Bute and Loch Striven.


Our First Lighthouse (Toward Point, Cowal) and Jake's First Beach


Bute only just qualifies as an island and the two ferry ports on Bute are only 9 miles apart but rather than just go on and off  using Bute as a short cut and, as we had never been there before, we explored a little and wild camped for a night at Ettrick Bay.  By the way all the camps (well nearly all) have been entered into the campsite database and as usual all the villages that we passed through are listed separately.  Our wild animal sightings on Bute included hares and dolphins. 


Views from Bute: West to Arran and East to Loch Striven 


Next morning we crossed onto the Cowal peninsula by way of the five minute ferry journey at Rhubodach.  A nice CalMac man at Colintrave let us fill up with water.  Water and waste disposal being the limiting factors for us when it comes to wild camping. The road took us up one side of the Kyles of Bute and down the other and gave us our first sighting of this plant with its six inch high blooms.  Apart from the colour it rather resembles 'Lords and Ladies', we would find out many days later it is called Stink Cabbage. 

Stink Cabbage


A few hours later we were at Portavadie where we got into a very small ferry (smaller than the chain ferry at Cowes) for the half hour crossing from Cowal to Tarbert on Kintyre.  That is not a trip I would like to do in a strong wind.  These two photos were taken less than an hour apart so the weather remained changeable!

Loch Ruel (Kyles of Bute) from Cregan Dubh. Portavadie to  Tarbert Ferry


We went down the east coast of Kintyre and by the time we got to our evening stop we had added seals (or one grey seal) to our sightings list.  Weather wise it had been a nice couple of days but we were expecting rain and it arrived overnight.  We had two books for company, 'Para Handy' whose tales involve just about every port from Glasgow (Gleska) to Tobermory and Richard Guise's excellent travelogue 'From the Mull to the Cape'.  So we hunkered down for the night for a good read in a forestry commission car park, which for once, had no prohibitions about overnight stops.


1st and 2nd Day - 83 Coast Miles 


Days 3 to 6  Ins and Outs to Oban

It rained in Campbeltown and although it doesn't look too awful a place in the dry it is the very pits when it is raining.   We were on a mission here though, as we had realised that we had left the mobile phone charger at home.  We managed to find one that would connect but later when tried it produced only an error message on the phone so the hunt was still on.  We also restocked our larder.  What is it with the Scots and orange cheese?  All the way around Scotland, by and large, all you get is orange cheese. 


The drive around and across the Mull to the lighthouse was uneventful, if more than a tad damp.   However by the time we got to the West coast at Machrihanish the sun was out and it stayed out for the next couple of days.  There is of course a Beatles connection in the area, Paul McCartney owned High Park Farm nearby where he wrote the infamous 'Mull of Kintyre'.  Do you know of another Beatles connection on our route?  All will be revealed later. We stayed at a regular campsite that night and in the clear air that often follows a heavy downpour we could see Islay, Jura and Ireland along with lesser islands indeed I reckon with my binos I could see the mountain tops in North Antrim as well as the nearby Antrim coast.

Keil Point, St Columba's footprints? Mull of Kintyre Lighthouse 

Keil Point from the Mull


If you look at maps of North Kintyre and Knapdale you will see that there are deep indentations in the coastline once you get above Tarbert.  Its 'proper' coast so duty bound we followed each twist and turn all the way to Oban which included such long out and backs that we wouldn't have gone too much out of our way to have used the same wild camp for the next two days. Before heading down the north side of West Loch Tarbert we popped in to Tarbert again (to look for a phone shop - what else) and found it much brighter this time around. 


We stopped at a collection of engraved tomb stones at Kilberry at the side of loch Caolisport but I preferred on this occasion the Disney stones a few miles further on, there was a beach there as well.


North Kintyre 


For the most part we were looking out to sea at Jura and then we were looking at Mull.  On the way we added Red Deer Stags stags to our 'nature list' and found a couple of excellent wild camps.   We also found some little gems off the beaten track; Tayvallich, Craobh Haven and Easdale being three examples.  Did I mention Lochgilphead? No?  Well just as well really, on this trip it will be remembered as the third place that we failed to get a charger that worked with our rather ancient Nokia.



Loch Arail, Jura from near Kilmory


Crinan canal basin


We spent a night near Oban (where we succeeded in getting  a phone charger).  We needed to have a decent length of shower do a little laundry and fettle the van up for its Mull trip where we didn't intend to use regular campsites.

          3rd Day - 65 Miles.               4th Day - 67 Miles

             5th Day - 65 Miles                   6th Day - 80 Miles


Days 7 to 10 Mull

Travelling to Ardnamurchan via Mull had huge advantages, although it still felt a bit like cheating.  If you look at the map you can get to the roads on the opposite side of the Sound of Mull but you either have to go all the way to Fort William or use the Corran Ferry and having got to the Sound you then have to retrace your way back to the head of Loch Sunart before heading out to Ardnamurchan.  Doing it our way meant we could do a 22 mile drive up the NE coast of Mull and see all the same bits of coast.  The clincher though was that when based near Fort William in 2005 we went down all those roads.  We also went to Mull in 2005 but only as day trippers without the motorhome, so this was another time when we would explore an island for a few days rather than just use it as a short cut.  (Each time we do this we only record the mileage between the ferry terminals rather than the actual mileage around the island, and we also don't follow the clockwise, as near as possible to the coast, 'rules').


We went straight from the ferry terminal to our intended night stop a 'wild camp' from the MHF database.  On arrival we went on a boggy waymarked walk along the coast, arriving back tired and hungry with two wet dogs.  As we went back to where we had parked we noticed the 'no overnight' sign.  Stapled to a nearby notice board was a note from the police advising us that this car park was receiving extra attention in connection with Sea Eagle protection.  We found somewhere else to stay nearby!


The next nights stop was at an 'official' wild camping spot, so nae bother there then, and our third was in the middle of Glen Mor, where no one had thought to put up a prohibition sign, given its rather exposed sloping position next to passing place on the 'main road'.   It was however a beautiful evening and one of the best places we have ever been even though the gale that blew in the night had us rocking on our springs.   The next morning we saw a Sea Eagle or possibly an immature Golden Eagle and some more Stags.  We ran out of water overnight (possibly due to our angle) but filled up at a garage, I sweetened the deal for them by buying some fuel at £1.12 a litre (£1.01 in Salisbury at the time).   It wasn't particularly good weather on Mull, we had one (out of two) of this trips really wet days, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  When we left  a sun drenched Tobermory on Easter Saturday we said that we would be back.



By 3.30pm we had reached the point of Ardnamurchan, mainland Britain's most westerly point, one of this trip's essential 'ticks' which we celebrated in the lighthouse cafe before visiting Sanna then finding somewhere sheltered for the fourth wild camp in a row.  We have pictures of the dogs ears flapping in the wind at the lighthouse whilst Doreen holds on bravely, but she has banned me from displaying any photograph of her wearing her maximum number of layers (she had a hat and a hood on as well).



Ardnamurchan Lighthouse


 7th to 10th Day - 42 Coast Miles


Day 11 onwards towards Morar

We left our wild camp early and went South to Kilchoan again before heading back North to our breakfast on the coast at Fascadale.  The weather was again kindly so all the out and backs on the northern coast of the Ardnamurchan peninsula were brilliant as was our lunch stop at Ardtoe where the  parking cost us 50p.  50p for an hour or for a day and I rather expect an overnight stop would have been 50p as well, and what a brilliant spot as the photo shows.  We needed a campsite before going on to Skye and eventually found a nice one between Arisaig and Morar, in passing we noted a number that weren't open till May so missing the Easter trade.   That night we were treated to the sight of a red sunset with Eigg and Rum in silhouette.  


Fascadale, Ockle, Ardtoe

Arisaig, Camusdarach


11th Day - 85 Coast Miles


Days 12 to 14 Skye

Three wild camps on Skye, one in Glen Brittle under the peaks of the Cullins.  One on the Northern coast looking across to Harris and Lewis. Magic.  When in the north of Skye we visited  Castle Dunvegan so we can justifiably sing along to the Corries "I will go, I will go, to the land of MacLeod....."   I can report though only a very average fish supper in Portree, but at Peinchorran we added four 'common' seals to our tally, noting that common seals are rarer than their grey cousins.


Whilst on Skye we suffered some minor mishaps.  Doreen pulled too energetically on a locker door and it opened into her face giving her a black eye, and I, whilst repairing a £5 map with sticky tape, managed to write off my £200 glasses by treading on them.  We weren't fighting honest.


I will leave the photos and maps to express Skye, which I'm sure is a firm favourite with many of you and end this Blog with us still in Skye and the vast majority of the journey yet to do. 



12th to 14th Day - 36 Coast Miles

Note: As we went from Armadale, the ferry port on Skye (1st map above), along the coast before turning in to Broadford we were the closest you can get by road to Knoydart and the coastal villages of Airor and Inverie. Paradoxically those two villages on the mainland are connected by a road but not connected to anywhere else! See further explanation here: Odds and Ends

Link to next part Coast Part 5b 2009