Saturday, 30 June 2012

Murrays on Tour - Beinn na Cille

Wednesday 20th June,
Beinn Resipol from the lounge 06.00 – the promise of another stunning day.
We were up sharp this morning. The wall to wall blue sky was too much of a temptation so the rest day was put on hold again as we got ourselves organised for another day of walking. After the success of yesterday we decided that we would try and get some height under our boots so plumped for a hill by the name of Beinn na Cille that sits on the north bank of Loch Linnhe. The hill itself at 652m is not high but, unlike our home turf in Deeside and the Cairngorms with its rolling profiles and high starting points, this 652m would start from sea level and reach the top in something short of half a mile!

We knew it was going to be steep but this just confirmed it!
The walk starts at Glengalmadale Farm and the run down from the cottage was along one of the best single track roads in the country – best that is as long as you keep your nerve! The route we were to walk is part of a horseshoe route that would normally take in the two Corbetts of Creach Bheinn and Fuar Bheinn as well as the Graham we intended doing. The complete walk, while an outside possibility for us since we had managed an early start, was not the plan for today since we knew that the hardest part of the day would be the initial start and the goal was to get photos of Loch Linnhe and beyond from high ground. We started off with a steep, difficult climb up the side of a small tree plantation just west of the parking area at the farm.
The first of many steep sections today
The climb itself was bad enough but the worst part was the midges. It seemed that we had wandered into possibly the worst location for walking as we trudged up through damp ferns, on the edge of a pine forest, on surely one of the hottest mornings of the summer so far. We were being eaten alive! Despite the discomfort we battled on, complaining all the time and asking what exactly midges add to the eco system and, more importantly, what do they eat when we’re not available! We did eventually reach the top end of the plantation but instead of heading slightly south and west along the top of the trees we struck straight up in search of a breeze and relief from the damned insects. What we got was a nice steady breeze and some stunning views, both of which gave us reason to stop complaining.
Looking down to Glengalmadale farm and the car park
Our first view over Loch Linnhe
Although we were now midge free the price we’d paid for not following the contour of the hill was that we were still climbing steeply.
A hard pull up from the trees but now free from the menace of the midge
Eventually the gradient began to level off but we were continually faced with false summit after false summit and, even though we knew they were coming, we were still a little downhearted as the top seemed way beyond our endurance. The views however continued to improve and we kept reminding ourselves that it was the views we were here for. And they were stunning.
To the southeast over Loch Linnhe
To the southwest over Loch Linnhe
We were taking our time now and stopped a couple of times for sustenance, usually coffee and chocolate with the odd bottle of juice thrown in. At least we had come prepared! The views were now also opening up inland and we were able to see the whole horseshoe of the full ridge walk for the first time.
Looking west
Looking north to Fuar Bheinn (L) and Creach Bheinn (R)
Looking east to the final part of the ridge walk and beyond to the Nevis range
Finally after a great deal of huffing and puffing, of bitching and complaining and of whining and nagging we dragged ourselves up to the summit cairn and a few things became obvious. Firstly it was worth it for the achievement alone, secondly, and more importantly, for the views in all directions and finally that we would forego the challenge of doing the full circuit. We were weary and although the worst of the climbing was probably over we still had a fair way to go, so we used a degree of common sense and decided that we would make our way back down.
First view of the summit cairn – worried in case it’s another false summit!

Of course I’m happy darling, look I’m smiling!

Looking northwest with Loch Sunart (?) in the distance
We found a sheltered spot just below the summit and had some lunch and a chat about what to do next. We quickly agreed that going on to complete the route was out of the question. After all we wanted to be fit to do other walks this week and doing too much today might cause problems in this regard over the next couple of days. So our chat moved onto the best way down, the most obvious, but not very palatable, being to retrace our steps. In the end we decided to carry on north down into the col at around 460m then try for a route down the Allt Coire Mhic Gugain stream that fed into the Glengalmadale river a couple of kilometres from the car.
Looking north from the col towards Fuar Bheinn
Looking down to the Glengalmadale River and reservoir
The descent was steep and treacherous at times but with a little bit of care and attention we navigated our way safely to the bottom. If I was ever to come back to this area specifically to do the two Corbetts then this is probably the route I’d take. It would still be steep of course and you would miss the initial views over Loch Linnhe, but it would also be midge free!
Looking north to Creach Bheinn from our route down
Dragonfly that kept us company on the way down
When we finally reached the access road for the dam / reservoir we had a sit down to finish our food, coffee and juice and to reflect on the day and decided that, all in all, it had been a success. OK we hadn’t completed the full route, but that had never really been our intention, and although we had anticipated a steep climb, it had turned out much more difficult and uncomfortable than we had imagined. But the sense of achievement was good and the views were way beyond what we expected, so how could it be anything other than a great day out?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Murrays on Tour - Portuairk & Bay MacNeill

Tuesday 19th June,

Beinn Resipol from the lounge 07.00 – not actually raining yet.
With the good weather of yesterday sadly lacking as I looked out the widow this morning, we decided that we would take the opportunity to explore the area by car. We did of course pack the walking gear just in case things brightened up. We decided we’d cross to the north side of the loch and head generally west towards the Ardnamurchin lighthouse. There was no particular reason for this other than we fancied a look around Strontian and maybe grab a cup of coffee before we set off. As it turned out the coffee was very nice but not quite as nice as the home-bakes, made all the nicer by the torrential rain bouncing off the roof of the cafe! Still we’d had a good day yesterday and if that was the only nice weather we were going to see this week we decided to be philosophical about it and enjoy the drive today. As it happened the weather began to improve as we journeyed west and by the time we pulled into the view point at Camas nan Geall it had cleared enough to give us some hope of a walk later on.
Camas nan Geall
We gave some consideration to pulling on the walking gear and taking advantage of the weather by exploring the bay but the car park was busy and it looked as if other people were thinking along the same lines, so we decided to stick to the plan and carried on our journey westward, stopping along the way for photographs of course.
Looking west
Our next brief stop was at the natural history centre Nadurra just west of Glenborrodale. We had a look round the shop but the interactive exhibition looked to be based around kids and, although I’m sure it would have been educational, we decided to give it a miss. We stopped again at the ferry terminal at Kilchoan to check the sailings to Mull as a possibility of a day out should the weather breakdown later in the week.
Mingary castle
We were now sure that the weather was going to hold long enough for us to get a walk during the afternoon so we dismissed the idea of visiting the lighthouse and settled on a walk that would take in Bay MacNeill and hopefully give us some decent photos. We parked above the village of Portuairk and wound our way down the zig-zag bends towards the houses. The views to the west from above the village were fantastic.
Looking west from above Portuairk
We made our way through the few, well spaced houses stopping all the while to take yet more photos. It didn’t seem to matter which way you looked, there was always something else, equally spectacular to see.
Looking North West
The path passed the last house and led down onto a small inlet before turning away from the shore and up a gully. At this point we were wondering if we’d made a mistake because it was muddy underfoot and not particularly appealing. However at the top of the gully the path began to make its way across the moorland and between two hills and looking back we were given nice views of the village and looking northwest we had spectacular views of the islands.
Over the moors towards a gap in the hills
Looking northwest to the Western Isles
Looking back to the village of Portuairk
It was at this point we decided to take a bit of a detour up onto the hill on our right. There was a faint path just at the highest point of the pass before it dropped down again towards the beach. The climb was easy and well worth the little effort involved. It was difficult to believe we were on the west coast of Scotland and not somewhere in the Mediterranean.
A little effort would lead to some great views
Looking southeast to Ardnamurchan Point
We retraced our steps back to the path and made our way through the pass before taking another detour up onto a lower hill but one that gave us a nice view of the white sands of Bay MacNeill.
Bay MacNeill
Eventually we made our way down past the ruins of an old croft where we stopped to pick some wild mint that was probably a legacy from the last tenants of the croft, and down onto the sandy beach.
The white sands of Bay MacNeill
With the beautiful weather and the crystal clear waters, having a paddle became almost inevitable. The only surprise really was that the water wasn’t nearly as cold as we expected!
Honest it’s really pleasant!
We sat in the sun, (for the second day in a row), and had some lunch while our feet dried before heading up through the small caravan park by a waymarked route. We stopped to take more photos before the views disappeared as we headed inland and our route back to the car.

Having fun with the lighthouse
Looking north
The path then made its way across the open moorland for a while before reaching the access road for the lighthouse. At this point we could have turned right and visited the building itself but we decided that since it was getting quite late in the day we should start our journey back to the car. We stopped for a while to watch a pair of eagles soaring high above the cliffs but they never got close enough for me to be able to photograph them. Obviously a bit camera shy.The views now began to open up to the south as we made our way along the road.
Looking south
We deviated from the route for the third time when we came across a sign for a footpath to Portuairk which we followed for a while. It gave us some great views to the northwest again before we cut across from the path and back to the road where we had parked the car.
Looking Northwest
All in all it had been a fantastic afternoon made all the more so because it was unexpected. The weather that had been so bad while we drank coffee and ate cake in Strontian and changed so dramatically and completely that it was hard to believe we were still on the same day. The journey back was uneventful apart from seeing one or two deer and the occasional “big bird” that could have been eagles but were probably buzzards. We stopped again just before Strontian to photograph the cottage from the north bank of the loch then it was home for a well earned meal.
Sunart House from the north bank of the loch.
More Photos

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Murrays on Tour - Laudale Estate

Monday 18th June,
Beinn Resipol from the lounge 07.00 – this must be typical morning on the West Coast.
Having walked Friday and Saturday and travelled all day on Sunday, the plan, if there was such a thing, was to have a rest on the Monday. It was supposed to be a case of having a long lie, getting to know the cottage, maybe taking a run over to Strontian, it being the nearest thing to civilisation, then back to a lazy day of reading and drafting up a bit of the blog. Well that plan lasted all of an hour and, even after a leisurely breakfast, we were still packed up and out of the door before ten o’clock. We had no particular route in mind so set off on foot from the cottage, heading west to an even more minor road a couple of hundred yards away signposted as a public right of way to Kinlochteagus, which would take us towards Laudale house. 
After we left the surprisingly busy “main road” the views began to open up and the woodland of Ash, Birch, Rowan and all the others I don’t know the name of was alive with birdsong. And we were still only half a mile from the cottage!

Looking east over natural woodlands to Loch Sunart
Looking west towards Laudale House
The woods eventually gave way to scrubland with a few sheep dotted about as the road dropped down the loch side. There were the usual noisy Oystercatchers and lots of other ubiquitous waders whose names I should learn. The weather by now was getting surprisingly hot and we were shedding layers and regretting that among all the paraphernalia we take with us as standard when we walk, sun tan lotion isn’t seen as necessary. The views, wherever we looked, continued to be outstanding.

Looking north to Beinn Resipol
We stopped off at what looked like an old dock and did our usual speculation, based on no facts whatsoever, on what it might have been used for in the past and what stories it had to tell. Not all of the old dock was still intact though as we could see the timbers in the crystal clear water of the loch.
Old dock of some sort, answers on a postcard!
With the loch on our right we had been walking under the steep cliffs of Creag Dhubh on our left and as these slowly gave way to more fertile farm and pasture land with Laudale House in the distance. We carried on until we came to the gates with a sign that suggested that if you were driving then you better have a good reason for going beyond this point! There wasn’t however anything to say that a couple of middle aged walkers would inconvenience the owners too much so we wandered on.
Laudale House entrance –motorists beware!
The house itself is a large whitewashed building that looks well maintained and much less castle like than we would have expected to see over in our Deeside stomping grounds. This building looks much more like a“normal” family home than a defensive fortification. Although I did think that having a herd of deer on the front lawn was just a tad ostentatious!
Laudale House – complete with deer on the lawn
Although walkers, (and cyclists), were discouraged from going in around the house there was a waymarked route around the lochside and it was this path we took towards a boathouse. We had already walked further than we had intended so decided that we’d stop here for a while and have our hastily made up packed lunch while we discussed what to do next.
Lunchtime in the sun
We spent a quiet hour sun worshipping and wondering how long this weather could last. It was obviously being overly optimistic to think that it could last all week, but if it would only last for a few days it would certainly be a pleasant surprise. We took some photographs of the boats and a strange little statue of a stag that probably meant something to somebody but there was no explanation for the casual visitor. We also had a look into a fenced off wood that, according to the plaque, had been planted in memory of Diane Elizabeth Brazendale. Who was she? I’m afraid I can’t cast any light on that but having a wood planted as a memorial seems quite classy, so hats off to her.
Stag standing guard over the boats
Memorial woods
We decided to carry on for a while at least as far as the Laudale River before turning back. There was no real reason for this other than the fact that it was too nice a day not to be walking! As it turned out the river was almost dry although we did watch the minnows in the pools for a while again wondering at how clear the water was. We eventually stopped at a bridge being guarded by some Highland cattle, not because of any fear of the docile beasts but simply because we decided that it was time to be heading back. We took some photos from the bridge and of a cottage that seemed to be getting refurbished before retracing our steps back to the boathouse.
Laudale River
Cottage refurbishment
The walk back was pretty uneventful apart from trying to get a photograph of what was probably a cuckoo but may have been a sparrow hawk. I’m afraid I don’t have either the knowledge of camera equipment, (or skill perhaps), to be sure. We also cut across the bay in front of the house rather than around the banks and tried to guess the names and types of shellfish we came across, but again it only goes to reinforce our ignorance! The sky by now had lost its pristine blue but it was turning into a beautiful evening and the views that had been behind us now opened up as we made our way back.
Looking east
The only other thing of note was that we met Clifford the handyman for the house and had a laugh at my expense while he explained how to get the heating to work. In my defence it’s not as straightforward as it might seem so I’m not going to mention how it all works and if you find yourself in the same predicament, spare a thought for me.