When friends needed someone to house / pet sit we jumped at the chance. Firstly we could get away for a while and secondly we could explore a part of Scotland we had never been to before. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is quite easy to get to but still manages to hold onto it’s remoteness and wildness. There are stunning beaches, stretches of remote moorland, Ancient Oak Woodlands which have a mystery all of their own and mountains all around. It was a truly beautiful and magical place and one we will definitely be returning to.
We drove up from Cumbria through snow, rain, hail and wind. Despite that, the familiar feeling of peace came over me as we entered Scotland and made our way up to the little Corran Ferry near Fort William. We are quite used to small ferries, being frequent users of the one across Lake Windermere, but the pretty lighthouse on the other side was something new reminding us that this was actually the sea not just a lake!
Apart from short stretches of ‘normal’ size roads the majority of the Peninsula has single track roads with frequent passing places. Not really an issue for us coming from Cumbria but could imagine that in Summer, with the influx of campervans, this could become interesting at times! Most of the locals waved and smiled at us as we let them pass or the other way around, it was a shock a week later to be visiting family in an over-busy Somerset town where no-one gave you any room and certainly didn’t smile at you!
The weather was pretty wet and windy all the time we were there with a few splashes of sunshine but we managed to visit most of the places we wanted to go, drove down most of the long winding roads around the Peninsula exploring and met some lovely, lovely people. We visited a community Re-use store (twice in fact!) went to a community lunch at a local hall with the most amazing meringues, chatted to a friendly Father at a wildlife hide and even fixed a pricing clicker machine thingy in a community shop! We felt welcomed and fell a little bit in love with the place and the people.
The pictures and my words really don’t do it justice…
It was another sunny day and I was looking forward to this walk as it was going around the Viking fort at Kingscross Point and I had been told that it was a beautiful walk.
It started along the stoney beach so I was glad the tide was out. This was interspersed with a wooden boardwalk which brings you up off the beach into the pretty woodland along the edge of the shore. Walking in May meant there were bluebells and garlic in abundance and it all felt slightly magical! The only blot on the landscape (literally!) is the commercial Salmon Farm just offshore with it’s constant hum of engine noise from the boat there. I did wonder how they had managed to get permission for this to be sited there, not far from the ‘No Take Zone’, only later finding out that there is a lot of objections to it from locals.
As you near Kingscross Point the path takes you up off the beach and along some pleasant tracks through fields until it drops back down, I guess due to privately owned sections of shoreline. You come back to the sea where a gorgeous house looks out over to the Holy Isle lighthouse…a beautiful place to live.
Then it all got a little bit bazarre! I stopped at a little stoney beach to take in the view and found a lady sitting on a rock smoking a cigar! It turned out she was Italian with very little English and posed on the rock while I took a photo for her before I moved on. The path then went across a section which was nicely cut and manicured, almost like a flat football field…weird!
Wandered up through the fort and stopped to have some lunch before heading off into Whiting bay. After a coffee stop it was time to head for the pretty painted bus stop before heading back to the tent for tea.
After packing up at Kilmory and quietly sneaking past the man snoring loudly in his van outside the hall (must have been a good night!) I headed to the campsite at Lamlash on the bus. I wasn’t sure where it actually was so grabbed some lunch at the Co-op, sitting on one of the many benches along the sea-front before heading off on the search.
I was distracted by a sign advertising coffee which turned out to be a great little exhibition run by Coast at the Octopus Centre. The friendly lady made me a filter coffee while I had a look around, learnt about the ‘No Take Zone’ and discovered all the amazing sea creatures in their big tank. Well worth a look if you’re in Lamlash.
After finding the camp site which is only a five minute walk from the front, I set up and headed back along to explore the rest of Lamlash, having a wander down the jetty where the boats go over to the Holy Isle…this will have to be a trip for another time.
(Apologies for taking so long to write this up, life has a bad habit of getting in the way!)
I was actually looking forward to the walk today, not very many miles and no huge heavy rucksack to heave over boulder fields…better still, the sun was shining! Kilmory Hall is right on the Coastal Path, so after a restful night in my private camping field (school playing field!) I wandered down through the ‘Fairy Woods’ to Kilmory Beach. A cool, shady path with little fairy doors and fairies hiding among the trees, a really pleasant start to the day. It works its way down past Torrylin Cairn, a Neolithic Chambered Cairn with a helpful information board, to the long empty beach. I read somewhere this is called the ‘Secret Beach’ which seemed to live up to its name. I saw one other person heading in the opposite direction when I got to the sand but otherwise had the beach to myself. A lovely walk around strewn boulders and tussocks all the way along to the Black Cave and Bennan Head.
I had been a bit worried about this part, knowing that I had to get around Bennan Head while the tide was out or going out but managed to time it pretty well getting to the junction of the escape route as the tide was turning. Just to make sure I sat on the beach in the sunshine and ate my lunch enjoying the view of Ailsa Craig in the distance.
Had a quick look at Black Cave as I passed and onto Bennan Head boulder field. As my last experiences of boulder fields over the last few days had been anything but fun I was a bit anxious but the ease of scrambling over rocks with no 14kg + rucksack was fantastic, actually enjoyable!! Someone had helpfully placed small piles of stones on the rocks to guide the way across the boulders so it was fun to figure out where the next pile was going to be and heading towards it. (I’m easily pleased!)
Coming down off the boulders there was a long stretch of beautiful sandy beaches into the distance, it was hot and I was tired so stopped for a drink and watched the seals wallowing in the sea offshore. They looked like huge bananas floating in the sea! This is a seal hauling out area so there must have been hundreds of them in the distance. I pulled off my shoes and socks and walked along the beach, which felt like absolutely bliss, with amazing views of Pladda and Ailsa Craig.
Kildonan itself is a strange place (personal opinion before any one complains!) Some very new, very large, dare I say it..slightly pretentious holiday homes interspersed with beautiful old houses, some standing abandoned which seemed such a huge shame. I headed along to the Bistro at the hotel to find a coffee. I was hot, sweaty and probably looking slightly bedraggled and felt a bit out of place but they seemed happy enough to serve me! I was a bit surprised to find no other coffee shop / cafe unless I just missed it by not going any further than here.
My plan was to get the bus back to Whiting bay as I needed some shopping before heading back along to Kilmory. As I had a little while to wait I wandered back along the seafront to the community hall, where there is another great community toilet. I’d like to point out that I don’t spend all my time in toilets(!), I just loved the fact that the different communities looked after their facilities so well and it was nice to not be faced with a compulsary 20p / 50p charge everytime you needed a wee (I live in the Lake District and this seems to be becoming the ‘norm’ here).
I found out that Whiting Bay on a Saturday afternoon is mainly shut! So it was back on the bus and a mash packet and soup for my tea that night!
Blackwaterfoot has some great, and very popular (!) community toilets , a village shop / newsagents, a butchers and a store / post office so is a good place to wait for a bus for an hour and half. I lay down on the grass and listened to podcasts in the sunshine…bliss! The Danish couple from the morning turned up and the worn out looking walker from earlier in the day arrived in the back of a car. He’d had to get a lift and leave his friends walking as he was just too tired to go on (unfortunately they didn’t make it back in time for their bus to catch the ferry, so had to get a taxi – hope they made it!) It was nice to chat to people whilst I waited and a bit of people watching is always entertaining!
My stop for the night was at Kilmory Haven which is actually a bunkhouse/ village hall / bar all rolled into one. They had assured me that I could camp there free of charge when I had messaged them previously, but it was a bit vague, so I was a little bit worried they had forgotton! There was no need to worry…it turned out I would be camping in the school playing field over the weekend. A bit strange but actually this turned out to be the best place to stay for two nights, I had the field to myself and a fantastic view over the sea to Ailsa Craig in the distance. The lovely friendly people in the hall let me use the kitchen and the toilets inside and I could help myself to coffee whenever I wanted one, in fact they even made me one when I went in to ask to fill my water bottle. The bar was open in the evenings and although there were people coming and going until early hours I felt perfectly safe in my little field tucked away!
I would definitely come back here again, mabe even treat myself to a bed in the bunkhouse!
Arran has a great bus service which goes all the way around the island and across the middle, I know it’s cheating but the next stage was a long drag mainly along the road so I decided to see it from a bus window and pick the best bits!
The plan was to get a weekly ticket (£21.50) so that I could just hop on and off when I wanted along the way. Today I was heading down to Kings Cave and walking on to Blackwaterfoot and then hopping back on to get to where I was staying at Kilmory.
I packed up camp and headed to the bus stop just down the road outside the Lochranza Distillery, the sun was shining and I felt at peace with my decision to use the bus. I waited…and I waited…chatted to a friendly Danish couple who had also turned up … and we waited… erm…no bus! We all looked at the timetable again and realised we had read it wrong and the bus wasn’t turning up for another hour…doh!! A great excuse to get a coffee at the distillery where the friendly staff let me leave my bag in a cupboard while I relaxed with a lovely proper coffee (this is a recurring theme..I love coffee and usually at home I have one of those hob espresso makers…packet Kenco just wasn’t cutting it!!) The distillery has a very nice cafe with great views.
The bus arrived bang on time and the driver sorted out my ticket, well he thought he had but apparently it was a new system with a plastic card and he wasn’t sure if it would work… It didn’t and for most of the rest of the week I had to keep hold of my increasingly battered receipt as proof of purchase! Didn’t matter, all the bus drivers were lovely and just laughed if they’d seen me before! He dropped me right by the start of the Kings Cave walk and told me which way to go for the best views on the way down.
It was a lovely walk down, clearly marked through Forestry Commision land with tall pine trees opening out to amazing views. I met three walkers coming up, obviously they’d been further than me as one of them looked completely worn out! A steep path down to the rocky beach and then onto the cave. Now…I’ll be honest…it was a little disappointing! I’m not sure what I was expecting but photos I’d seen had made it look so much more impressive. I did stand at the gated entrance and think..maybe if the teenagers and hubby were here and I wasn’t on my own, it would be a bit more exciting, they would go and explore and want to find out how far it went and I’d get caught up in their enthusiasm, some things just aren’t the same on your own. I did however love all the stone piles which seemed to go on forever inside a smaller cave and the cut through with the view of the sea.
By now the sun was lovely and warm, I found a spot just before Drumadoon Point for some lunch and to make sure the tide was definitely going out before attempting the walk around the headland.
Another boulder field, this time with quite a well-laid path and strategically placed boulders to follow but still tiring with a big rucksack. Made it round without being swept away to sea which is always good (!) and onto the start of Blackwaterfoot beach. Soft sand is really draining to walk on! Eventually the sand got harder and I made it to Blackwaterfoot with hot feet and gasping for another cup of coffee. It was so nice to take off my shoes and relax for a while after refilling my water bottle and finding coffee (Unfortunately the bakery and sandwich shop were both shut but the hotel came to the rescue!)
After a very tiring two days and a lot of soul searching the night before I decided that a change of plan was needed. This walk was never about enduring pain and wearing myself out just to get around the Coastal Way and say I had done it. It was always about enjoying the experience, seeing the sights along the way and giving myself a break mentally. So after sorting out blisters and making it possible to put my walking shoes on without grimacing (!), I decided to have a hobble around and enjoy Lochranza for the day.
Before leaving home I had downloaded all of the geocaches for Arran onto my phone thinking that I could find them as I walked…mmm, not so easy to do when your phone is out of charge and the thought of taking a heavy rucksack on and off to scrabble about for hidden boxes fills you with dread!! So today, minus the bag and with a fully charged phone, I went off in search of one near to the campsite. The great thing about geocaches is that they often take you to places you may not usually explore. This one was in a little bit of woodland with a pretty stream running into the Loch, a peaceful spot with dappled sunshine coming through the trees.
Walking back out onto the road I spotted a little white church, St.Bride’s. I love looking around churches and graveyards (is that a bit weird!?) and love the fact that a lot are kept open for anyone to enjoy. It has some lovely stained glass windows and colourful prayer kneelers, well worth a look in.
When we stopped at Lochranza many years ago there was a great little sandwich shop at the top end, just over-looking the Claonaig Ferry and I was glad to see it still going, a few changes of ownership since then but still great food and coffee. I enjoyed a delicious pulled pork on rye bread and the first decent coffee since I’d left home…bliss!
And of course you can’t go to Lochranza without visiting the castle.
Then back to the campsite, wandering across the golf course with resident Deer. A relaxing day was just what I had needed and the campsite itself is excellent with plenty of space, a room for campers to use with a sofa, microwave, table and plugs etc which is a brilliant idea on cold evenings!
After a windy, rainy night the morning was grey and drizzly but somehow managed to get the tent packed up reasonably dry and headed off. I was having problems with my solar charger so my phone was on really low battery which of course meant very few photos again – a bit frustrating to say the least!
Over the stepping stones at Sannox and on to North Sannox picnic area. This was one of our wild campervanning spots many, many years ago so I was looking forward to see how it had changed since then. A bigger parking area but the rest looked pretty much the same until I got onto the path to the Fallen Rocks. I’m sure when we were here about ten years ago this was a small rough path, as it is further on, but now it has obviously been taken over by the Forestry Commission and turned into a slightly ugly, wide stone track. There has obviously been felling around the area, so I guess a decent track was necessary, but a bit of a shame.
The path further on meanders around the Fallen Rocks and onto a long grassy stretch all the way to the now deserted Laggan Cottage. This was a good sight to see as I came around the headland, it meant it was time for a stop and some munchies. Laggan Cottage is deserted but open to have a nosy around, it looks like people obviously bunk down in there overnight at times but otherwise it was dark and dingy with the windows boarded up. What a shame that it’s just being left to decay, it must have an interesting history but I am struggling to find out much about it online but will keep trying! I was kicking myself for not having a camera at this point.
I pulled up a chair in the doorway of the cottage and rested my feet while munching my very tasty lunch of oatcakes and pre-packed tuna mix -surprisingly delicious even if it looked like I was eating from a cat food pouch!! I was feeling really tired at this point and wondered how I was ever going to get to Lochranza…
Heaving my bag back on, I carried on to the ruins of the Duchess Anne’s Salt Pans which proved to be a good spot to get out of the wind for a bit, put on more layers and psych myself up for the next bit….the dreaded boulder field…
Over the first few boulders I heard a deep thwumping sound coming from the sea hitting a gap in the boulders and sucking back out again and looked along to see a swan calmly sitting in a large rock as the tide rushed in towards it. That put a smile on my face which was much needed as I got to An Scriordan Rock Fall.
If the weather had been sunny and calm, if I hadn’t got a bloomin’ heavy rucksack on my back and if my feet weren’t killing me at this point, I’m sure this would have been an enjoyable experience but I can honestly say it wasn’t. Big boulders to clamber over, narrow path between rocks, and overhanging rocks strategically placed to knock your rucksack to the side as you clambered. There was an awful lot of swearing involved! Towards the end, as I pulled myself up onto another boulder and shouted ‘For F*** Sake’ for the hundredth time, a young, good-looking Italian(?) guy appeared around a rock with a slightly shocked look on his face…oops! I politely said ‘Hello’ and then carried on swearing, slightly quieter this time!! I really never thought this part would end.
Coming down off the rock fall and seeing the lovely little white cottage of Fairy Dell was such a relief. Back onto flat ground and good paths…hurray! Eventually Lochranza was in sightand I stopped at a bench for a rest. I had completely lost track of time at this point, the sky had been so grey all day that I really thought it was about 6pm. I felt so exhausted but trudged down the side of the Loch in search of the campsite for the night.
At the end of the Loch I wasn’t sure which way I was going so stopped to ask a friendly looking man resting on some logs. He dug out his map and figured out where the campsite was and then told me he was waiting for his wife to get the car as he had walked too far that day…I knew the feeling. When he said I probably had another half mile to go I think I must have looked so crestfallen he took pity and offered me a lift. Bless the kindness of strangers – a lovely couple from Aberdeen saved the day!
Got booked into the campsite at 2.30pm – I’m not sure where my body clock was but it thought it was at least four hours ahead! Tent up in drizzle, bed prepared and I crawled into my sleeping bag to warm up and rest for a little while before dragging myself out for some tea and to find a plug to charge my phone.
It was a really,really tough day, I felt exhausted and utterly depleted. My feet were blistered and painful and I could feel a change of plan coming on…
I’ve been and not quite conquered the Arran Coastal Way for reasons I’ll go into later but I’ll attempt to give a run down of each day for anyone who’s interested!
The first day was mainly taken up travelling, starting out at 10.30 to catch the train to Glasgow Central and then on to Ardrossan to meet up with the ferry. I love trains and ferries so I find this part quite enjoyable, even the waiting between connections is fun if there is coffee and people watching involved. I had booked my train ticket from Oxenholme station (nr Kendal) to Glasgow back in January for just over £20 return and picked up a ‘Rail and Sail’ ticket which covers travel from Glasgow to Brodick for £22.90 from Glasgow Central. The plan was to walk a section each day carrying all my stuff with me to camp along the way. (I’d like to add at this point that my rucksack must have weighed in excess of 15kg so not ultralight by any stretch of the imagination!)
I arrived in Brodick at 4.15pm to a few grey clouds and a little bit of wind and headed straight off knowing that I had until about 9pm to get to my intended wild camp site at Sannox approx 8 miles away. Unfortunately both my phone and solar charger were slowly dying so didn’t manage to get too many photo’s along the way.
I think I had underestimated how much of this walk was uphill, heading up into Merkland Woods above the castle at Brodick and then following broad forestry paths for what felt like miles. Just as I thought I was coming back down to the coast, up it went again! The views through the gaps in the trees were amazing and I couldn’t wait to get back down near the sea way down there. I was getting tired and ended up slipping at one point and smacked down on my bum, I felt like a turtle trying to get back up with a fully loaded rucksack attached!!
Eventually I came down to the road and walked along to Corrie, finding a handy water tap at the village hall there (also toilets!) and the lovely pier complete with sheep! I must have looked shattered as a local came cycling up to let me know I could camp at the village hall if I wanted to. Thinking that Sannox wasn’t very far, I thought I’d push on and make camp so I was that bit further on for the next day. That last mile or so was tough, I was sooo tired and feeling disheartened that it seemed such a struggle on day one!
Tent up, food eaten, bed ready, woolly hat and numerous layers on…sleep! The rain and wind woke me a couple of times but my first night wild camping on my own was absolutely fine. The tent held up to everything thrown at it and I felt safe even if a little fed up.
Our Christmas present to ourselves was a couple of nights away, minus two teenagers… yeehaa! And because I like to think I’m the boss in the house, I sorted out and booked the two nights without letting on to Mr’Gnomead where we were headed… Unfortunately for him it wasn’t a spa break at Centre Parcs, or a luxury hotel with all mod cons (he was warned!!) Something WAAAAY more fun…
YES! a wooden hut in the middle of nowhere with no electricity or toilet facilities…or kitchen…or water… oh dear, what had I done!!??
We arrived at our destination on a dull grey afternoon and I was a little bit concerned when we walked in to a small, cold, dark wooden house at the bottom of a field. Visions of luxury hotels and spa breaks did fleet across my mind at this point! But soon with the log burner roaring, the candles lit and some fish and chips in our tummies it transformed itself into a magical little hidey-hole, so peaceful, so secluded and so, so cosy…
The next day was spent on a whistle stop tour exploring the Rhins of Galloway with lighthouses, beaches and lovely seaside villages, an area well worth visiting. We had tea cooked on an open fire outside and then into the cosy Roundhouse to fall asleep to candle light and the log burner flickering…bliss!
We woke up to a misty, mysterious morning, ate breakfast by the campfire and packed to head home by the scenic route.
This was at a great little campsite called Balloch O’Dee which had been recommended to us by two of our friends. An absolute gem of a place and one we will certainly be returning to. As well as camping they have other quirky and unique accommodation available. Gorgeous showers and toilets and friendly people – what more could you want? !