Day 1 – Jump start
Originally, I would take the bus to the Kennacraig ferry terminal and … wait one night before taking the ferry to Port Ellen, Islay. Yes, quite an unsatisfying start of the walk that would make. So instead, I got off the bus at Arrochar, not even an hour away from Glasgow Airport. I walked round the head of the loch, picked up the Cowal Way and climbed a freshly bulldozed forestry track to its high point. At seven, all travel haste ebbed away when I touched the first trig pillar this trip. The Brack. Wonderful. (I wonder why I walked three quarters round it, but apparently my mind was set on this route).
With the very last rays of light I pitched the tent, sheltered from the winds on the eastern edge of the Coire Odhar plantation. Since I hadn't been able to buy fuel, I ate a cold quiche, and didn't have tea, but bliss instead.
IMG_2319crop Coillessan Glen and a 'smoke ring cloud'
IMG_2326 The Brack trig point at sunset
IMG_2329 Coire Odhar and Beinn Bheula, half an hour before pitching
Map: day 1 and the morning of day 2 (simplified)
Day 2 – two days in one
Still, if I was to get to the islands, the bus to Kennacraig would have to be boarded 07:42 AM at the Rest & Be Thankful stop. To get there, an early rise and a boring trudge awaited, climbing into Glen Croe and following forestry tracks. At night, snug inside my sleeping bag and high on my first dose of hill, I calculated a more exciting option. Getting up another hour earlier at 04:30 and walking at 05.00 would give me the summit of Ben Donich...
The very weak light of my mini-headtorch was just enough to see the fence and skip the bog. At 05.30 some daylight seeped in through the clouds. The east ridge of Donich isn’t very clear, just climbing the highest thing at hand repeatedly will give you the normal route in the end. I summited at 06.30. I took a selfie, and my wife commented that I looked extremely happy (did I hear the worry that such happiness was too seldom seen at home? ).
I would have ample time to make the bus. Or? The lower I got, the more the feeling crept in that I would need every minute. I made it to the bus stop 07.37, the five spare minutes spent grabbing a cappuccino at the ‘outside catering specialist’, while keeping an eye on the roadwork traffic light down the road where the bus would appear.
On the ferry, I watched Jura come into view, still distant. Port Ellen looked wonderful. Later, after bus, ferry, supermarket, lunch restaurant and another store for fuel I was more than fed up with indoor commercial life and couldn’t wait to take to the road. One more stop: the Ardbeg distillery, where many intriguing stories are woven around a process that has come loose from being local and artisan. After that, I still wasn’t on the hill proper, because a lady gave me a one mile lift and got me eating many cakes and tea with her girlfriends, who were laying mosaics, painting in watercolors and creating felt landscapes ( ). Ben Donich, 8 hours earlier, seemed a million miles away.
Later, I got to find out why the east coast of Islay is called ‘remote’. The area beyond Ardtalla is so boggy and riddled with bushes and tufts and puddles, it snuffs out anything touristic. It slowed me down, enough to not make it to Proaig bothy before dark. A mile short, I made a hard right and camped near the shore.
IMG_2337 I Rested and was Thankful (for the cuppa)
IMG_2346 Port Ellen arrival
IMG_2349 Islay drystone walls
IMG_2350 Lagavulin warehouses
IMG_2352 Lagavulin barriers
Day 3 – Islay Marilyn
Had breakfast at Proaig and soon followed a stalkers track uphill, the slowly rising kind, across the flanks of Glas Bheinn to a highpoint at 438596 while walking from under the cloud cover into sunshine. I climbed the wonderfully compact hill of Sgorr nam Faoileann (429m). Sympathetic little beast. Descending, I found out that this area is not only blocked from the south, but also from the west. A herd of foothills, all tufty and boggy, guards the three sub-2000s. I got through unscathed, only to s(t)ink in over knee deep within 100 yards of Storakaig farm. From there to the Dunlossit Estate grounds around Loch Ballygrant it’s a rather disappointing walk between unkempt farms in monotonous grassland. The one thing lightening the commute are the Paps of Jura, in constant view. I had a mature cheddar lunch at the north jetty, sunbathing, and continued to Port Askaig along a delightful woodland track. On the ferry to Feolin, the Paps came closer, steep and scraggy. Next: north along the coast to position myself for the Paps.
Coming out of the woods of Coil na h-Uanaire, I disturbed a herd of highland cattle. They kept their distance most effectively by repeatedly walking away from me on the track, so to put them at ease I had to make a right at Cnocbreac. This put me at the Lochan Gleann Astaile dam one hour later. Not where I wanted to be, but a good position anyway. I pitched near the dam.
IMG_2381 camp south of Proaig
IMG_2389 Sgorr nam Feoileann
IMG_2403 Feolin ferry and the Paps
IMG_2411 Tent near Astaile dam, near Beinn a’Chaolais. Blue skies.
Day 4 – The Paps
After a cold night I got up as early as I could handle. Finally, a hill ‘with some degree of unknown-ness’, a pleasant tickle. The upper reaches of Beinn a’Chaolais were hoared-over screes, and thick, beautifully colored moss in the warm light of the rising sun. 08.10 I touched the summit cairn and soaked in the extensive view. To climb Beinn an Oir, I would leave my rucksack on the bealach in the deep below. But how to get there? I simple-mindedly followed the first path at hand, which soon dived down at a ridiculous angle. Obviously, I wasn’t on the ‘middle aged walkers route’ but had hit the ‘masochistic fell runners’ route’. Without ibuprofen .
Meanwhile, I studied the face of Beinn an Oir. Of course, there’s a walkers route diagonally crossing the eastern slope, approaching the summit from the northeast. I could see that the south ridge was criss-crossed by a path of sorts, keeping away from awkward scree slopes until high up. This path turned out to be a delight. It follows ledges, scrambles up crags and crosses bouldery slopes cleverly. You’re in the small world between the last corner and the ledge above you, intimate with the mountain. Just after 10 I summited, the views clear and far.
The way back to Craighouse got me contouring SE to the track at 512724 and then following it through low foothills. I got acquainted thoroughly with Jura’s default vegetation of tussocks and tufts, puddles hidden between, and Jura’s tracks. This one here I reckoned to be ‘Grade 1’ being ‘Tall grass flattened by Argocat exactly once’. I made it to the coastal road at Jura House after going astray in deep bracken and bramble lower down. On the beach I wandered on bare feet. I saw an otter. Or rather, I saw excited photographers pointing huge lenses at something, and then I saw the otter.
The shop was closed and the bus wasn’t running, so my plan to stock up and travel north was postponed. I then decided not to visit Colonsay taking the wednesday ferry, to extend my time to walk the north of Jura to 3 full days. A good decision, given the sunny terrace in front of the Hotel. I chatted to group of fell runners. One of them forced me to take a photograph of the group. She brought the Streets’ song ‘You’re fit but you know it’ into my head. (worth playing and learning by heart).
I showered and had a good pub meal in the company of a boozing mother’s day group of women forcing me to answer all their questions (I like to think my brand new wedding ring kept them at bay). However, the puzzle ‘bus leaves before shop opens’ and ‘only morning bus from north connects to afternoon ferry’ was solved by one of the ladies. She was sober enough to dig up the business card of ‘Jura Bikes’. The barman and the Hungarian barmaid apologized for the group’s behavior. The barman then callously sold a £20 bottle of wine to the one most inebriated.
IMG_2422 Beinn an Oir and Beinn Shiantaidh from Beinn a’Chaolais
IMG_2432 Beinn a'Chaolais from Beinn an Oir south ridge
IMG_2447 On Beinn an Oir's south ridge
IMG_2452 Beach near Jura House
IMG_2456 Yuccas to invoke a tropical atmosphere
Map: day 2 - 8 (simplified) Long straight lines = bike/ferry
Day 5 – Heading North
I had decided on hitchhiking north to Tarbert, but changed my mind seeing the grey and cold weather. I called the bike man, Gerry, a big and genial guy. We got along very well, lots of jokes. The biggest one being that I wanted to pay £20 for four days of bike hire (I would only use it on monday and thursday, for 20 km only) while his tariff list said £20 per day. Gerry burst out laughing. I have promised not to write down the agreed price here, but he exclaimed “t was a pleasure doing business with you, even though you ripped me off”.
Gerry gave me a pannier for my three bags of food, and a padlock to chain the bike to a Tarbert tree. He offered me a helmet, which I refused, (The Dutch do not wear helmets regularly). Later, on seeing the potholes and the loose grit in every bend I regretted my choice. Also, sharing the road with the kind of tourist who drives an M-series BMW or an S-line type Audi only to break hard when spotting one scruffy deer by the roadside didn’t feel safe. AND I would have to pedal up 450 vertical meters. But hey, the self-propelled rule!
At 614849 I placed the bike under a fir tree and sorted out all food and stuff. At this point, for the first time, the trip, even though I had climbed the Paps, got wild in earnest. From the edge of the forest, Jura showed itself an empty, wind-ridden, labyrinth-hilled island, capped by low grey cloud promising cold rain. I braced myself.
Not long after, my expectations were corrected: the tracks, not visible on the 1:50.000 map, but all marked on the 1:25.000 map, were excellent. Yes, they are very vague, sometimes so much that you think you’re no longer on it, but they have the fine features of good stalker’s paths: they rise in lazy diagonals up the hillside, stay high on dry ridges, curve to cross rivers in the right place and avoid flat, wet areas altogether. I no time, watched by eagles, this landed me in Cruib Lodge bothy. A true palace. After taking in the warmth of a soup (I 'found' a package of noodles), I left for Ruantallain. Again, showers had me donning waterproofs, but the hills, the shores of Loch Tarbert and the birds gave me an optimistic mood. I didn’t let this be ruined by the sight of Ruantallain’s open room: a true dump, stinking of ****, all creaking boards and staring deer skulls. I pitched the tent, with extra guy lines, behind the northern gable of a ruin nearby. I made a walk along the coast. Ragged cliffs and shoals, a good Game of Thrones location.
*In the bothy book I read that most walkers follow the coast from Tarbert. Yes, that is the shortest way, but IMHO the clearer and faster way is to use the stalker’s tracks crossing Glen Aiostail at 606855 and connecting to the road at 614849 or 609838. Do take or download the 1:25.000 map.
(bike: 21km, 450m; walk 15.5km, 400m)
IMG_2458 Dutch favourite in the Jura Community Shop. The fourth box since February!
IMG_2461 Gerry and his shed. Highly recommended!
IMG_2477 Jura's interior from near the north coast of Loch Tarbert
IMG_2492 Rocky scenery near Ruantallain (bothy centre of photo)
Day 6 – Singular Jura
A track, pressed ever so lightly into short heather, grass and moss, runs north from Ruantallain between the hillside and the raised beaches. Small herds of wild goats roam the friendly scene. A pleasurable sounter indeed. At Shian bay I paused and turned inland, following a track that runs west to east all the way back to my bike. I followed it to its high point between Dubh Bheinn and Rainberg Mhor, the latter being the bulkier, rougher hill, while the Marilyn of Ben Dubh is a rather arbitrary summit. The view is all one could expect: a mess of hills, overseen by the snow-dusted Paps to the south. Jura is a blonde, speckled with heather, ribboned with rock. I made my way, as if on a virtual stalkers path, cutting down to Loch Tigh Sealga and up to Beinn Bhreac, another very wide hill, like a stack of 30 dinner plates keeled over east to west, with one, the summit ridge, sticking out slightly higher. The trig point is a Vanessa-style pillar. (See below for details). Loved it.
The next hill, sprawled along the northern horizon, was Beinn Garrisdale. Soon I was lost in tussock paradise. The headwaters of the Lussa river are quite a long distance from the summit of Bhreac, and from that infant river, Beinn Garrisdale lies another 2 miles back. Descending with some speed through these tussocks really put knees and ankles to the test. Once across the river, I had lunch, sunbathing.
The climb up to Beinn Garrisdale was confusing, there seemed to be no clear slope, only small, separate bumps, and the going was horrendously slow. This hill has a Vanessa trig pillar as well, but, one kilometer to the east, it has a summit 6 meters higher. I wanted to visit both. On the dip between the two summits I left the sack and walked out to point 371m, fooled by at least three false summits. Same followed for the trig point summit. These hills sure show character, be prepared to show some character in return.
The descent was a pleasure: the seascape, Ben More on Mull, the wave-brushing snowshowers and finally the bright red roof of Garrisdale bothy. It was guarded by yet more tussock-puddle-terrain, so I was relieved reaching its door.
IMG_2498 A morning dusting of snow on the Paps
IMG_2502 Superb walking on short moss along the raised beaches of Jura
IMG_2504 Shian Bay
IMG_2506 Track to Dubh Bheinn, looking south
IMG_2515 Dubh Bheinn summit, looking south to Rainberg Mor and the Paps
IMG_2543 Beinn Bhreac summit, looking north
IMG_2548 Tussock Paradise, Ben Garrisdale miles away still
IMG_2549 I lost my heart at Knackered Knee.
IMG_2563 Snow shower approaching Ben Garrisdale
IMG_2565 Glen Garrisdale bothy
IMG_2568 'Welcome to the bothy'-fireplace
From Sgurr's report here
When at a late stage the secondary triangulation had progressed to the Highlands of Scotland, it was necessary to design a new and lighter pillar, cylindrical in shape, in order to avoid excessive transport costs. These round pillars, usually called 'Vanessas', or sometimes 'Branders' or 'Kelsey Columns', were considered "less aesthetically satisfying" than the standard pillar, so they were only placed in inaccessible locations to "reduce the risk of criticism from the more sensitive element of the population to an acceptable level."
'Vanessas' are so called because of a mispronounciation of 'Venesta', the name of the company which produced the tubes which the concrete was poured into. 'Kelsey' was the officer who commissioned the design of these pillars.
Day 7 – Jura’s End
During the night, the wind hollered through the bothy chimney, the sea all white horses, hammering at the cliffs. I took it slow in the morning, but by 9.30 I was on my way, after rebuilding the kindling, paper and coal firestack that had welcomed me the day before.
A path of sorts follows the coastline between the waves and the cliffs, weaving in and out of coves and beaches and behind rocky teeth, passing many a cave along the way. As I planned to climb the northernmost Marilyn*, I tried to assess where to leave the coast and climb away and up. At 673993 I saw it clearly: Cruach na Seilcheig has a nose jutting out to the shore. It is delineated by a ravine (An Ear) to the west, and a steep glen (Uirigh nan Crann) to the north. I saw a grassy rake above An Ear and climbed it, but got stuck. Fortunately I spotted the goats’ secret passage, and ’transforming five toes to two’ (as the Slayer song ‘Postmortem’ goes) I sold my soul to it and popped out above the cliff-zone minutes later.
*Cruach na Seilcheig is listed as 296 m, but on both the 1:50.000 and 1:25.000 maps, one sees a 300m + point at 678985. The finer map says 304m. I visited both that top, and the Vanessa trig pillar at 684981. Seems a kind of Sub-2000 zealotry had gotten a hold of me
The best thing about climbing these low hills is that there is no path whatsoever, let alone ‘walkers infrastructure’ like stiles, signs or painted markers. One is left to ones own talent to figure out a route, envision it and walk it. Exhilarating!
I hunched down behind the trig point and fussed over my next moves. I descended into Liath-dhoire Mor wood, a beautiful, melancholy place, clearly inhabited long ago. I followed Glen Trosdale to its shore. After another cauliflower-like headland to round, the shoreline-path ends in cliffs at 696013. I climbed out above the Corryvreckan whirlpools, which were very real (I thought they where a tourist-trapping-exaggeration). After this I was too knackered to choose the right route. I had lunch on a steep bracken slope. A sea-eagle soared overhead, all majesty, until it lowered its talons, stooped its back, and squirted out a long white splatter. Even kings take a dump, I realised.
I climbed too high, looking for the path, and I only found it when I saw other people. A chat, and I was on my way south, past Kinuachdrachd and on the track to Barnhill.
My opinion: the walk from Lussa to Corryvreckan, even the northern end of the path, has no hint of wildness (yes, maybe it’s remote). For those who want to see Corryvreckan, I’d strongly advise to leave the northbound track at 688960 (behind a square shed a track branches off) or even earlier (at the chain), and head due north, to experience some of the grand western cliffs, shoals and beaches around and north of Glen Garrisdale bothy.
At Barnhill, I camped in the midst of an old wood. While picking up twigs to clear the forest floor for my tent, dozens of miniature ticks swarmed my hands.
IMG_2575 Stormy coast near Glen Garrisdale
IMG_2582 Goats' track up the nose of Cruach na Seilcheig
IMG_2587 Cruach na Seilcheig trig point, Scarba island beyond
IMG_2593 Gulf of Corryvreckan
Day 8 – Reposition
At seven, I left Barnhill and followed the track south to Lussa. I retrieved the bike, and pedaled it back to Craighouse, the last bit in pouring rain. On many a slope, my thighs burned, forcing me to walk. Got going again, only to burn up once more minutes later. I had lunch in the Hotel bar to hear the ferries where cancelled wednesday, and some tent poles snapped while I was fast asleep in Garrisdale Bothy. At 15.30 the Hebridean Isles sailed back to Kennacraig. I took the bus to Inveraray to position myself for the last leg of this trip.
(walk: 16.8km, 340m; bike: 21km, 380m)
IMG_2606 Barnhill, Orwell's howff in 1946
Day 9 – Bhuidhe traverse
Shutting down the Booking.com website and just wandering round Inveraray got me a full apartment with all facilities one might wish, for £30. All freshened up I went for a morning coffee in town, dallying because the MWIS had declared gale force winds and snow, relenting in the afternoon. I walked up Glen Shira, the signs all threats like ‘high power rifles in use’, ‘danger, forest work in progress’ and a lot of derelict, once-beautiful buildings. At the Brannie burn, I made a right, skipping Rob Roy’s house. Higher up I crossed the burn to find remains of a 1960s (?) forestry track (you know, the slate-coloured grit encased in bright olive green moss) that took me up to the (felled) treeline. On Tom a’Phiobaire, not happy with the easterly wind, I continued along the north side of the ridge. At Stac a Chuirn I encountered soft snow. The wind promised to be even harder on Beinn Bhuidhe itself. However, the wind died down, imperceptibly at first, but enough to make me take on the munro with confidence.
In my route-plottings, the traverse of Beinn Bhuidhe appeared to be a nice’n’straight dash. In reality, the ridge is bumpy, not straight, and after point 901m quite broad and unclear. I contoured Ceann Garbh (803m) and followed the ridge to its conclusion at 240210 where the river Fyne corners. On the other bank, I spotted a textbook grassy shelf, ideal for camping. Big meal.
IMG_2622 Sign for non-walkers, Inveraray Castle
IMG_2626 Old road bridge and fine toll house, head of Loch Fyne
IMG_2647 The first Munro and the last scone
IMG_2654 Excellent camping spot above the river Fyne
Day 10 – Corbett views
(The title of this report says ‘9 days’ because day 1 and day 10 are both halves )
All I had left to do was cross Meall an Fhuadair and reach the A82. The sky was overcast, a dark grey ceiling with swirls. And eerily quiet. I beelined for the summit. I loved the views of the Lui group, the Arrochar Alps and Beinn Bhuidhe. On closer inspection… that’s the Paps of Jura, just to the left of Bhuidhe! I descended northward into the corrie, and followed the track along fifties era water intakes out to the road.
How wonderful that the Citylink busstop is near the Drover’s Inn! How utterly disappointing was the Inn itself. After a coffee, I stepped outside to try and hitchhike. In Glasgow, I bought myself a quality burger, changed some clothes, repacked my rucksack, skipped buying presents and flew home.
IMG_2663 Beinn Bhuidhe from Meall an Fhudair. On the far left horizon: the Paps of Jura.
Map: day 9 and the next morning
I bought new shoes, Scarpa approach shoes again (Epic GTX, discount price). I bought them half a size smaller, for tighter fit in rough terrain. Lengthwise they were OK, but they felt slightly too narrow.
I brought the smaller of my two Tarptents, the Moment DW, to keep the base weight of the pack around 6 kilos (13lbs). It has much better ventilation than the Scarp, and proved quite wind-proof, when the hoop is fitted with two extra guy lines.