DURING my coastal walking endeavour I have been inconsistent where islands are concerned. I ignored Sheppey, clipped one side of Hayling and dismissed Wight as something for another day. Anglesey, by contrast, I included. Once I reached the Firth of Clyde there were islands a-plenty and at first I chose to regard them from afar. The Cumbraes and Bute I thus passed by, likewise the Isle of Arran. Except that the convolutions of the coast brought Arran within reach a second time and, partly motivated by the distribution of ferry routes, I decided to my own surprise to walk it.
By the third morning of my May 2017 trip, I had completed that circuit — slowly of course; I didn’t want to get dizzy — and it was time to return to the shores of Great Britain.
Once again, the skies were blue and the sun was blazing and I was forced to use almost my own bodyweight in sunscreen. This day’s walk would be shorter than the previous two for I thought of it as a ‘recuperation day’ comprising a casual stroll down the coast of Kintyre. Even so, I fuelled up on breakfast at my hotel before heading out to Lochranza’s ferry slip.
A number of vehicles were queued at the slip, plus a couple of cyclists and one other walker. She was younger than I and carrying more and was wearing a nice, warm jacket that I guess wouldn’t fit in her rucksack. She was, I mused, going to cook if she wore that all day. She looked up then and we nodded to each other, before falling back into our private reveries.
These were interrupted mere minutes later when MV Catriona arrived to take us away.
Crossing & Arrival
The crossing to Claonaig was roughly four miles and took about half an hour. We spilled off the ferry, pedestrians and cycles keeping well out of the way of the motor vehicles.
For a few brief moments, the single-track B8001 was alive with traffic and then, once the ferry had emptied, near-silence fell over that place. A few minutes later, a gentle whirr betrayed the departure of the two cyclists and Ms Other Walker plodded away down the road.
I intended to do something similar but first my attention was arrested by one of the vehicles that I had noticed on the ferry. It had parked straight after disembarking and now its occupants — an elderly couple — were pausing to consult a map. I crossed the road to the car park and asked permission to photograph their car.
‘Go right ahead,’ came the answer. At least, I assume it was an answer, and not just the driver repeating directions aloud.
The car was definitely an Alvis (as betrayed by the eagle mascot on its bonnet) and I’m 99% sure that it was a Firebird, manufactured between 1935 and 1939. That 1% sliver of uncertainty persists because Alvises were built as a chassis and then finished by a coachbuilder to the customer’s requirements, meaning that no two were ever exactly alike.
The Coventry-based Alvis Ltd began as TG John and Co Ltd in 1919, founded by naval architect Thomas George John (1880-1946). It rebranded itself in 1921, taking a meaningless name that could be easily pronounced in any of its customers’ languages.
Alvis shut down car production for the duration of WW2, when aircraft engines were more urgently required, resuming post-war with new models despite having lost its factory to bombing. A scarcity of coachbuilders then added to its woes but Alvis limped on as an independent luxury car marque until 1965, when it was essentially bought by Rover.
Heading to the Hamlet
Eventually, the Firebird’s driver decided that he knew where he was going and the venerable vehicle rumbled off down the road. I followed in its metaphorical wake, heading inland along the B8001 alongside Claonaig Water. After half a mile, I reached the actual hamlet of Claonaig.
It comprised no more than a handful of houses, one of which was converted from its church.
the original church was built on that site in 1756 but replaced by the current building around the turn of the nineteenth century; the fabric of its predecessor was incorporated in its design. Services ceased in 1980, Claonaig’s churchgoers attending services in Skipness instead.
Now lacking a church, shop or other amenity, Claonaig has little for the visitor apart from its ferry to Arran. And even that is seasonal, it being too exposed in winter when the ferry sails a reduced service from Tarbert.
Gazing across the millpond-flat sea towards Arran, it was difficult to imagine such difficult, wintry conditions.
The Long and Winding Road
I didn’t tarry long in Claonaig — what would be the point? — but instead turned left off the B8001 and onto the B842. This led me across Claonaig Water and then up the valley slope. The road ascended to just under 50 m and passed along the seaward flank of a hill called Cnoc Creagain before gently descending again.
Despite its shorter designation, this B-road was no larger than the one I’d just left, being single track with passing places. This suited me just fine.
I passed Ms Other Walker on that road, basting slowly in her nice, warm jacket. Having nodded to each other last time, this time we escalated to actually saying ‘hello.’ That was the entirety of our conversation however, and I, less encumbered, soon had a commanding lead.
The road stretched out empty before me and I was now free, if willing and able, to race down this road at the speed limit of 60 mph.
Allt a’ Bhuic
The road descended to a burn, the Allt a’ Bhuic (‘buck stream’), where Section 2 of the Kintyre Way footpath — coterminous with the road since the ferry — turned off to the right down a forestry track; it was bound for Clachan on the other side of the peninsula, while I was heading straight down the coast.
I suspected that Ms Other Walker would take the Kintyre Way route and so it proved. The Kintyre Way fairly zig-zags across the peninsula; you may recall I walked Section 1 back in April.
The road climbed again to about 60 m and emerged from the trees into open fields and moorland, passing the farm of Oragaig and the ruins of a cottage nearby. Soon enough, it descended again, turning and dipping into the bay of Port Fada. This vertical undulation would continue all the way. I didn’t mind, I was rather enjoying it.
Eascairt Point & Allt Romain
A particularly steep ascent to Eascairt Point was followed by a dip into sun-dappled woodland in the valley of the Allt Romain. The shade cast by the foliage was welcome; I felt like I was starting to crisp round the edges.
Port nan Gamnha
Once back in the open, the road gained a low stone wall for a while as it passed the vicinity of Ravensbay. Ahead, I could see Port nan Gamnha (‘calf bay’) curving around towards Rubha Riabhach (‘speckled point’). Arran, of course, remained just off to my left. All in all, it was lovely, and I ambled along with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Well, tuneless humming at least.
A stream named Crossaig Water fed into Port nan Gamnha and the road obligingly dipped down to meet it in yet another wooded valley.
From close by the bridge, there issued a cacophony of bleating; a herd of sheep were closely corralled so that their shepherds could shear them. It must have been a blessed release to be rid of their wool in that heat and I mentally substituted their cries for shouts of ‘Me next! Get it off!’
Crossaig was not just a farm but a hamlet with several other cottages strung along the road south of the stream.
The climb out of Crossaig was steep enough to be marked as such on my Ordnance Survey map though not signposted as such on the ground. It continued to climb more gently as it crossed the headland, eventually reaching 76 m on the flank of Cnoc Dubh (‘black hill’).
It was at about this point that I realised the day was the hottest so far and, between that and the ups and downs, that I had woefully underestimated how much water I’d need. Time, then, to conserve what was left.
While I was attempting to calculate where on the walk I would run out water, I reached an electrical substation with a blue van parked outside it. The van didn’t appear to be connected with the substation, merely using it as handy spot to stop. A nearby milepost indicated the distance to Campbeltown (23 miles).
Blue Van Man
As I drew level with the van, its driver called out a greeting in an accent I took to be Australian, following it up with this:
‘Out walking the coast road, are you?’ he asked.
I carefully considered my answers. Every fibre of my being wanted to respond with something like ‘no, I’m testing hot air balloons,’ or ‘clearly, I’m rediscovering Atlantis.’ Somehow, through dint of near-superhuman effort, I played nicely.
‘Yes,’ I replied; I didn’t trust myself with more words.
He nodded then remembered what country he was in and went on to mention the weather. Apparently, I’d certainly got it. I agreed with some misgivings — the day was glorious but it was also turning me a colour more suited to tomatoes — and he added that he’d just come down from further north, where it was currently raining buckets. Ah, ok. I decided to count my blessings, however scarlet they might be.
‘Well,’ said Blue Van Man, ‘I’d best be off,’ and he sped away into the distance. I cast my gaze about the empty road. Nope, no sign of Atlantis.
What goes up must come down and so it was with the road. It soon dipped down into Cour Bay into which the Allt a’ Bheallaich (‘stream of the pass’) flows. The land around the bay formed the Cour Estate, comprising a farm and eight cottages. I sat for a while, perched on the wall of the bridge, taking a break and peering pessimistically at how much water I had left.
I sat and stretched my legs for a while, aware that my feet were starting to wake up to how far they’d walked so far that week.
When I felt ready to continue, I followed the road up and out of the valley. This took me past the access road to Cour House, a building designed in the early 1920s for a shipping magnate named JB Gray.
The architect was Oliver Hill (1887-1968), a keen proponent of the traditionalist Arts and Crafts movement. He replaced the existing farmhouse with a two-storey country house realised in English Mediaeval style, complete with round towers. The result may not be entirely appropriate to Kintyre but is nonetheless worthy of architectural note.
A little way beyond Cour House, the road negotiated a hill side with more of a corner than a bend. Had I felt inclined to venture off-road into the undergrowth, I’d have stumbled across a small, private burial ground.
William HS Nickerson VC
Interred within it, amongst others who once dwelt in Cour, are the remains of decorated war hero William Henry Snyder Nickerson VC (1875-1954). He was born in Canada in Dorchester, New Brunswick but his parents returned to Britain when he was a child. He trained as a doctor, graduating in 1896 and joined the army two years later. Serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), he was sent to South Africa during the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902).
Thus, in 1900 he found himself near the Transvaal town of Wesselstroom (modern Wakkerstroom), where he saw a wounded soldier of the Worcestershire Regiment lying out in the open, his guts protruding from his belly. The stricken man’s position was under heavy fire — from both rifles and artillery — as the Boers were trying to prevent the British from bringing up reinforcements. Young Lieutenant Nickerson ran out anyway and performed battlefield surgery under fire, sewing up the casualty and thus saving his life. He then stayed with his patient until he could be moved.
For this, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour. Nickerson later rose through the ranks to Major General and became the Colonel-in-Chief of the RAMC in 1933. He lived (and later died) in Cour.
Having left Cour behind me, I found the next couple of miles to be basically more of the same: sometimes wooded, sometimes not, always a bit up and down. At one point, a bright yellow lorry was parked while a small mechanical digger moved earth about beside the road but otherwise it was much of a muchness.
That’s not to say it was any kind of ordeal. It was still a pleasant leafy stroll, with hills on one side and Arran and the sea on the other; I just have nothing extra to add.
The two miles ended at Sunadale — not so much a hamlet as literally a couple of cottages — and a steep descent to Grogport.
By the roadside just before Grogport there was a picnic area and I gladly sat down on a bench. Feeling quite thirsty, I downed the last of my water hoping against hope that a hamlet as small as Grogport might have somewhere I could buy more.
On the opposite side of the road was the Sailor’s Grave, actually a Bronze Age cist. Whether its occupant was ever any kind of sailor is anyone’s guess.
I rested for a while on the picnic bench — this was a day for taking it easy, remember — and then wandered the short distance over to Grogport. I didn’t really expect it to have one but I was still hoping for a shop…
It took just a couple of minutes to traverse Grogport, confirming that I’d have to do without water until I got to Carradale. Well at least I now knew.
The road climbed steeply out of the hamlet and forest closed on one first one side then the other. A sudden shadow made me look up and for a moment I thought I was looking at an eagle but immediately dismissed it; after all, eagles don’t live in these parts. Except I then remembered where I actually was and yes they do.
I stared skywards as the golden eagle soared, presumably searching for an Alvis bonnet on which to sit. I was transfixed for a moment, my only thought now being ‘Blimey, that’s huge!’ but then I reached for my camera. Way too late! The eagle banked and was suddenly gone, hidden from my eyeline by the trees.
I remained where I was for a few moment more, just in case it might reappear. It did not. And I, with my attention directed to the heavens, paid little heed to a rumbling, roaring sound approaching from behind me. The sound grew louder and louder, forcing itself into my consciousness and I whirled around and stepped off the road just in time for the big yellow lorry, mechanical digger now stowed behind it, to tear past me at speed. It was a little close for comfort.
Carradale Water & Brackley
Having escaped being squished by the lorry, I was not now to let my good cheer be suppressed. Seeing the eagle had really perked me up and I bounded along with a new-found bounce in my step. The road was angling inland now and the ground to my right — hitherto always a hill — now dropped away into a valley, at the bottom of which flowed the stream called Carradale Water.
The road was traversing the valley’s eastern side and down to my right on the valley floor I could see the burial ground of Brackley, another strangely isolated Scottish graveyard. The remains of a chambered cairn stood close beside it, the stones of which were said to have protective and curative powers. One hopes they’re not too curative, given their next door neighbours.
I soon passed the turnoff for the burial ground, where the Kintyre Way rejoined the road.
This was part of Section 4 (linking Tayinloan and Carradale), and it occurred to me that if Ms Other Walker was doing the entire Way, she’d probably be walking it the day after next.
The Kintyre Way stayed on the B842 for no more than half a mile, leaving it via the very next forestry track.
‘Ah, what the hell,’ I thought to myself, still full of eagle-inspired oomph, ‘why not?’ and so I decided to follow it.
The forestry road was quite broad and tree-flanked (well, duh) and climbed another 100 m over the course of a mile. It took me to the edge of the plantation, where the Kintyre Way took to its own course, reducing to a footpath for the last 50 m of ascent. Another picnic table waited on the hill’s summit and I sat there for a moment or two getting my breath back and wondering why I’d gone up there.
Cnoc nan Gabhar
The view was of course pretty awesome, looking out across Kilbrannan Sound to Arran. I gazed at it for a moment or two and then turned my attention back to the path, which now wound its way back into the trees. But before it was totally swallowed up, I saw my destination waiting below.
The path descended the flank of Cnoc nan Gabhar, known in English as Deer Hill despite gabhar meaning ‘goat’ not ‘deer’. Towards the bottom it met another unmade road, which in turn connected with the road network proper.
Just minutes later, I was in Carradale, sitting in the bar of my hotel and drinking all the cold drinks I could want (that’s two, if you must know).
A Deliberate Destination
Carradale (Càradal) is at once both isolated and fairly spread out. You’ve already seen what a major traffic route the B842 isn’t, now consider that it bypasses Carradale almost entirely with the village arranged round its very own 1½ mile spur, the B879. Basically, no one ends up in Carradale unless they planned to.
There is an outlying hamlet, Bridgend, which touches the B842 but the centre of Carradale proper is about a mile down the spur with another cluster of houses (and a hotel) overlooking the bay of Port Righ (‘King’s port’).
The Tourist Trade
For a small village, Carradale is perhaps over-served with hotels, not to mention a caravan park at Carradale Bay. This is the consequence of a history of tourism, transformed by the rise of the Clyde steamers from the herring fishing hamlet it had been.
For an entire century, starting in the 1830s and ending with WW2, Carradale was a stop for the daily Glasgow-Campbeltown steamer. This being so, the village gained a pier in 1858, removing the need to shuttle passengers with small boats. Hotels sprang up and the village economy boomed but the death of the steamer trade led to a decline.
Today, when motor traffic is king, most of it simply drives straight past but Carradale isn’t going down without a fight. I counted at least three hotels and the one in which I was staying was in the midst of refurbishment.
It doesn’t lack for beaches either. Carradale Bay is a marvellous expanse of sand and, though I visited it late in the day, plenty of people (some of them on horses) were only just heading off home.
In addition to its tourist trade, Carradale still has a fishing fleet though these days they focus on shellfish rather than herring. Forestry also provides employment, with most of the tree cover dating from the 1950s, when the Forestry Commission began to plant the area in earnest.
And So to Bed…
Carradale seemed a pleasant enough village to me and I rather enjoyed my leisurely amble down to it even if I did run out of water (due to my own lack of judgment). I was glad to sit down at the end of the day though, retiring after dinner to my room with a drink and the cunning plan to have an early night. Next morning I’d continue on to Campbeltown…
This time: 15 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,843 miles