DAY Four of my May 2017 walking trip presented me with a choice. I had two options for walking from Carradale to Campbeltown: the coastal route down the B842 or a longer, meandering trek via the Kintyre Way. While both had their advantages, I’d already spent the previous day on the B-road. But Section 5 of the Kintyre Way could hardly be described as ‘coastal.’ Ah, decisions, decisions…
After some deliberation, I opted for the Kintyre Way. It started and ended on the coast and ran partway beside a loch, a format I’ve chosen before. Besides, it was near the coast. Kintyre’s a narrow peninsula; all of it’s near the coast.
I set off just after nine in the morning, after Paterson’s Bakery — which doubles as Carradale’s village shop — had opened; I had no desire to run out of water again.
When suitably stocked-up, I turned right at a crossroads and set off along the B879, the short spur connecting Carradale to Kintyre’s eastern coast road (the B842). The spur was quiet and tree-flanked and carried me westwards towards a low brick building that turned out to be the village hall. Beside it stood a subtle clue that it once had a different purpose:
‘Little is known about the early history of the mill building,’ a nearby sign helpfully explained but then went on to reveal that it had been a threshing mill, separating grain from chaff.
It had been owned by the Paterson family but passed into the possession of the Forestry Commission which sold nearby Carradale House and its estate to English barrister and politician Dick Mitchison (1894-1970) in 1939. He was married to Edinburgh-born Naomi Haldane (1897-1999) who, under her married name, became a prolific author and poet, writing over 90 books in multiple dissimilar genres.
It was the Mitchisons who converted the old mill into a village hall.
Just past the village hall, a footpath ran parallel to the B-road but slightly separated from it. I transferred to this and strolled past the grounds of Carradale House, the 17th century mansion in which the Mitchisons had lived.
A Leafy Path
The path brought me to a junction, where I could head left towards Carradale Bay or right towards Bridgend (I was actually heading for Waterfoot and either route would do). The left hand option was shorter but involved stepping stones across Carradale Water, which I knew to be a tidal route. Though the tide was waxing, it still had a way to go. The trouble was, I hadn’t checked at what point the stones became impassable.
I decided to play it safe and turn right, following a wooded path that ran roughly upstream to the B842 bridge. I could have achieved the exact same result by following the road but this was better.
After a while, the path spat me out onto the B842 anyway, where the road crossed Carradale Water via an arched stone bridge. A handful of buildings clustered about it constituted the hamlet of Bridgend.
I remained in Bridgend just long enough to cross the bridge and turn left, taking a narrow road to Waterfoot. This hamlet, as its name suggests, sits at the foot of Carradale Water where it spills out into the sea at the western end of Carradale Bay.
Having passed a farm and a graveyard, I now found myself passing a number of well-kept cottages, each facing out onto the narrow estuary. A couple of boats sat stranded on the mud.
Tidal Rock Route
Actually, I was glad that the tide was making such a feeble showing as the next part of the Kintyre Way could have impassable were it higher. A sign on the outskirts of Waterfoot confirmed this (though its credibility was diminished by its faded display of the tide table for last December).
The problem was that while the shore east of Waterfoot comprised the glorious sands of Carradale Bay, that directly south was a little harder.
Actually, it was okay. There were a few spots where it was clear that the incoming tide would soon cut the route off and at one point I almost stepped in a rock pool for no reason other than ineptitude. But mostly, it was pretty straightforward.
I made my way over the half mile that separated Waterfoot from Dippen Bay (dipinn = ‘net’), which included a section of salt marsh in the middle just to keep things interesting.
At Dippen Bay, the footpath left the shore, climbing a grassy bank and crossing a stile to join the B842. For the next few minutes the Kintyre Way and the coastal road route would be one and the same but it really was just a matter of minutes.
Beinn an Tuirc Distillery
The Kintyre Way took the first right-hand turn, passing between two gateposts into the Torrisdale Estate. The road became an unmade gravelled track and a sign beside it rather desperately punned that I was now on the ‘Gintyre Way,’ sponsored by the Beinn an Tuirc Distillery, which is located in the estate’s old piggery.
Appropriately, and by no means coincidentally, Beinn an Tuirc means ‘wild boar hill’ and is also the name of Kintyre’s highest peak, a 454 m hill about 2½ miles to the west.
Established last year, the distillery proclaims itself ‘sustainable’, taking its power from a 99 kW private hydro-electricity scheme. Both it, and the rest of the estate are owned by the Macalister Hall family, who have lived there since 1872. Specifically, they lived here:
Torrisdale Castle is by no means an ancient fortification, having been constructed in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Designed by prominent Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham (1776-1855), it was built for General Keith Macalister (1756-1820), who owned the estate.
Gillespie Graham was known for favouring a Scottish Gothic style and freely added crenellations and turrets to his plans for the two-storey mansion, which was built using Wigtownshire sandstone.
General Macalister had no children so when he died in 1820 the castle passed to a close relative, Alexander Macalister, for whom many of the estate’s other buildings were constructed.
The Macalister Halls
In 1864, the estate was sold to Colonel David Buchanan-Jardine who had also acquired Carradale Estate, and he leased it to local businessman Peter Macalister Hall in 1872.
Peter was the brother of James Macalister Hall (1823-1904), a key member (and later chairman) of the British India Steam Navigation Company, Britain’s largest shipping line (later part of P&O). He presumably liked Torrisdale Castle as he bought it outright in 1890 and it has remained in his family ever since; his great-great grandson Niall Macalister Hall still lives there today with his family.
The castle was extended it significantly in the 1900s by Peter’s son William although not — as you can see in the photo — using the same type of stone.
I followed the estate road past the castle and out to Lephincorrach, the former estate farmhouse. This takes its name from the Gaelic leth-pheighinn corrach which means ‘the steep half-pennyworth’, where a pennyworth is an old Scottish land measurement originally worth a rent of one penny.
Today, the farmhouse of Lephincorrach serves as holiday accommodation, while its piggery is the home of the gin distillery. I was impressed as I walked past that the latter’s boarded-up windows have been painted to look glazed from a distance — a nice touch.
On the far side of Lephincorrach, a gate led to a dusty access road that zig-zagged its way upwards, gaining 150 m in less than half a mile. At the top, I glanced back down the valley of Lephincorrach Burn. My legs protested slightly at the climb but what did they expect? The steep half-pennyworth; it was all there in the name.
I continued along the track, beside which was a ditch absolutely heaving with tadpoles. Before long I reached a point where the track ended, becoming a narrow footpath. This crossed the Lephincorrach Burn via a wooden footbridge and climbed up the hill called Cnocmalavilach. Though marked as forest on my map, the area had largely been felled and replanted so that dinky little saplings covered the ground to either side. As I strode between them, I imagined myself a giant.
Apparently my blood is scented like pine, because that was the only aroma that I was aware of. At least until I passed some gorse and an undertone of coconut was added to the air.
Cnoc na Cailich
The footpath connected with a forestry track that rounded Cnocmalavilach’s eastern flank and then joined another track leading south onto Cnoc na Caillich. There, a footpath diverted off to the right and this quickly turned into a half-mile descent of knee-straining steepness.
Partway down it, I met a man coming up, his hands casually clasped behind his back, climbing the strength-sapping gradient as though merely strolling in the park. His dog, despite having several advantages, was making a far harder job of it.
Strolling Man nodded to me as he passed, but his expression communicated no friendliness. Rather a flash of annoyance transformed his features; how dare I have the temerity to invade his splendid solitude? Well, that’s just me, I’m afraid, mate. I’m clearly out walking just to spite you.
I reached the bottom of the footpath and had a short, sharp argument with my knee which isn’t the hugest fan of steep descents. We agreed that if it stopped complaining, I wouldn’t amputate my own leg with nail scissors (the only cutting implement I had with me) and we were good after that.
The footpath met up with a dirt track beside the small stream of Guesdale Water. On the far side, a herd of cattle decided to make it known that they had spotted me coming. For all their volume and gusto, their fuss was entirely pointless as my way forwards did not lie through their field.
Instead, after briefly experimenting with being a quagmire of cattle dung, the track passed through a farm gate and into a different open field. This only seemed to contain one cow, so far as I could tell, and she watched me cautiously, a young calf by her side.
‘Don’t mind me,’ I told her as I strode past and she, still unsure if I were a calf-eating monster, kept her distance just to be safe.
I was now passing through the pastures of Ifferdale, a working farm that also offers holiday accommodation. The farm sits in Saddell Glen about a mile and half northwest of the village of Saddell (Saghadal) and the track soon connected to its access road. I could now, if I wished, detour left to Saddell, or turn right and follow the road as it became a forestry track leading up the valley of Ifferdale Burn.
Saddell was a little tempting — having not only the ruins of a historic abbey but a castle later built from its stone — but I turned right and followed the Kintyre Way. This led me past Ifferdale Cottage towards what was once a barn but is now outfitted as the Kintyre Way’s outdoor education classroom, used by schools, scouts and other local groups. A good idea, I thought.
A little further up the track, I turned to look back the way I’d come:
The track plunged into the forestry plantation, becoming hemmed in on both side by mature conifers for the next couple of miles. On the one hand, this obscured the view but on the other it offered some much-needed shade. This section was accordingly much cooler and in places the dusty forest track had gained patches of lush, green grass. It gradually zig-zagged its way up the hill of A’ Cruach (‘the stack’, a common name for Scottish hills) until emerging from the treeline at a spot which my map thought was forested but had clearly been felled.
This marked the highest point of the walk at about 290 m and though the next couple of miles had both ups and downs, they overall lost about a third of that elevation. It was mid afternoon by now and the heat had built to be quite oppressive, especially on the open hilltop. And then, in the distance, a sliver of blue appeared.
Foxy Loxy was nowhere to be seen, so I kept the news of this celestial disaster to myself and continued plodding, warm and weary, in the direction of Lussa Loch.
The track swung around the southern flank of Meall Buidhe (‘yellow lump’) and descended alongside the stream of Bordadubh Water. Soon enough, it joined with another track where the cottage of Bordadubh once stood. This isolated building had been a home for shepherds and their families.
From 1880 to 1910 it was home to the McConnachie family and a small cairn nearby marked where three of their children were buried. The last shepherd to occupy Bordadubh was Malcom MacMillan, who dwelt there from 1936 until 1952 when Strathduie Water was dammed to create Lussa Loch.
In 1974, the empty cottage was converted into an adventure centre for use by youth groups but was closed in 2000, after which it became badly vandalised leading to its demolition in early 2012. The cottage was still marked on my Ordnance Survey map which, though printed in 2016, was actually last revised in 2012.
A small copse of trees stood beside the cottage site, in front of which was a cairn. Its plaque revealed that the copse had been planted in memory of Hugh MacMillan (1927-1990), brought up at Bordadubh — presumably he was Malcolm’s son — who was a long-time employee of the Forestry Commission and who died while erecting a fence at Bordadubh. The copse is known as Hughie’s Wood.
Shortly after Bordadubh, the track met with another and crossed over Strathduie Water, the stream that was dammed to make Lussa Loch; Bordadubh Water is its tributary.
Before the reservoir was made, Strathduie Water snaked its way through the valley in broad meanders and at the loch’s north end, which I was now approaching, these are still very much in evidence. Out of curiosity, I compared a modern OS map with one from before the damming and while one obvious difference is that a lot of the old flood plain is now permanently underwater, it’s also quite clear how much the meanders have shifted over the decades.
I sat at a handy picnic table and rested for a while, gazing out over the meanders and having my ears assailed by a couple of geese with their volumes turned up to eleven. When I felt sufficiently
deafened refreshed, I set off along the forestry road that runs down the loch’s western side.
Lussa Hydro-Electric Scheme
Lussa Loch was created as part of a hydro-electric scheme, authorised in 1947 and begun the following year. By 1952, a dam had been built about two miles downstream of Bordadubh and the waters had risen to form Lussa Loch.
Interestingly, the dam’s brief entry on Canmore (Historic Environment Scotland’s website) states that the dam raised the level of two pre-existing lochs to create a single large storage loch while no such lochs are shown on any of the pre-dam OS maps, which throws some doubt on the accuracy of Canmore entries.
Upon completion of the Lussa hydro-electric scheme in 1956, water was being piped from Lussa Loch to Lussa Power Station a further 2½ miles downstream, where the latter’s twin turbines generated power for Campbeltown. The power station remains in use today, generating at a capacity of 2.4 MW.
The banks of Strathduie Water were largely free of development and it was mostly meadows that were swallowed (though that in itself made Bordadubh Cottage redundant). Only one farm was actually submerged but another, Stramollach, was abandoned. Its access road ran right across the valley, and the old bridge over Strathduie Water remains submerged in the centre of the loch.
Stramollach, having thus been isolated, has lain empty for seventy years and is now nothing but a ruin.
The track upon which I was walking hadn’t existed before Lussa Loch (nor indeed had the track I’d approached it on). It led south west to halfway down the loch’s western side, where the farmstead of Corrylach stands, a companion bungalow close by. There, I paused to gaze back up the valley:
Corrylach’s position at the foot of a hollow in the hillside of Cnoc Buidhe (‘yellow hill’) means that it has always sat tucked into what is basically a corner in the valley. Now that the valley floor is flooded, its angular location is all the more evident.
Roads & Ruins
At Corrylach, the forestry track transformed into a proper public road. I was now on a route predating the loch (Corrylach Farm had always needed access). Except only part of it was original, specifically that nearest to the farm; the rest of it followed a post-dam alignment, the original course having been drowned. As had the spur that once branched off towards Stramollach.
I quickly reached where the junction had been, a little way past where a boathouse now stands, though nothing was easy to discern on the ground. And then I saw the remains of a structure right on the shore of the loch:
At first I wondered if it might be an old barn or a sheepfold. Whatever it was, there was nothing marked on my OS map. Fortunately, the National Library of Scotland has an excellent map website, which allows you to compare old OS maps side by side with modern satellite images.
The rubble is all that remains of Gobagrennan Farm — the only farmstead to be swallowed by Lussa Loch — and this surprised me a great deal because I knew I’d walked past Gobagrennan and seen it intact. Indeed, it was right there on my modern OS map, not to mention clearly visible on the satellite image when I later looked up those remains. It was right there, half a mile further south where no farm had stood before the dam.
Evidently (and sensibly) the occupants of Gobagrennan had opted to move the whole farm complex. For those living in the valley, the coming of the hydro scheme can hardly have been met with unalloyed joy.
The Road to Campbeltown
I found the new Gobagrennan immediately south of Lussa Loch, where a short spur road led off to the dam. Except my subsequent map comparison showed me the dam spur was in fact the original road to Corrylach. As was the rest of the road heading south as it rounded the low hill of Skeroblin Cruach — which has a standing stone upon its southern slope — and led on past Skeroblingarry.
Incidentally, on the right hand side of the photo above you’ll notice a hill with a copse of trees atop it. Directly in front of it and barely visible is Skeroblin Loch whereas behind it, on the hill’s far side, is High Park, a farmhouse that has belonged to Sir Paul McCartney since 1966. Just something to mull over…
A Couple of Quarries
The road was single track with passing places and traffic was light — basically people heading to or from the loch. This was good because I had about five miles of that road to walk. It climbed slowly as it went, rising up the hillsides of Achadh Beithe (‘birch field’) and A’ Cruach (I told you it was common), upon the top of which there were quarries. This would turn out to be a bit of a problem on account of their works traffic.
I was ambling along the road a little way past the quarries when a menacing rumble began to impinge on my awareness. I turned to see not a Landy but an absolutely massive quarry lorry heading directly for me.
Stepping aside, I more-or-less pressed myself into a fence, all too aware of the enormous wheel nuts rotating inches from my face. It powered past me at a speed I’d estimate as ‘way too fast for that road’, kicking up dust as it went. And then, not too many minutes afterwards, there was another. And another. The lorries kept coming at irregular intervals and it’s fair to say that they rather detracted from the fun.
A short distance on from the quarry entrance — when I’d still only needed to dodge one lorry and endure the dust storm in its wake — the road stopped rising and reached its summit at about 160 m. From there, looking southwest, I could see across fields to Kintyre’s west coast and Machrihanish Bay.
One plus to this was that it was now downhill all the way. One slight minus was that was also true for the lorries and they had a lot of momentum. Still, discomforting as they were, they seemed to cause me a lot less fear than they did the drivers of one or two cars that unexpectedly met them coming up.
And so, dodging heavy goods vehicles, I followed the road down through the hamlet of Upper Ballywilline (Baile Mhuilinn, ‘mill town’) and suddenly, for the first time, Campbeltown appeared in the distance.
The road curved down past Ballywilline Farm and met the A83 at the outlying hamlet of Drumore (druim mòr, ‘great ridge’).
From there, half a mile along pedestrian pavement brought me to my hotel at the top end of Campbeltown. I would explore the town later, I decided, for now all I wanted to do was check in and sit down. Which I did.
Rest and relaxation followed so that in the morning I’d be ready to walk again.
This time: 21 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,864 miles