I AWOKE on day two of my July 2017 trip with a sense of excitement. Not only was I about to embark upon another day of plentiful pedestrian progress but also I was awaking on an island. Now, I realise that I normally awake on an island but I was on a smaller island and that makes all the difference.
Sound of Gigha
It always feels to me that there is something magical about islands and the same quantity of that magic is allotted to each island. Thus, the smaller the island, the more concentrated the magic and Gigha was considerably smaller than Great Britain. It wasn’t however part of my walk, so I first needed to return to the mainland. Fortunately, Gigha’s standing magical field summoned a ferry for my convenience…
Having returned to Tayinloan’s jetty, I stood and looked northwards up the coast towards Rhunahaorine Point. While I had come to the jetty from the A83 the evening before, I did not plan to return directly to that road. A section of the Kintyre Way ran north along the coast here and it was my intention to follow that.
I don’t actually mind road walking but I knew this trip was going to feature a lot of it and so I rather enjoyed this little off-road diversion. I passed the pile of rocks where Tayinloan’s other jetty had stood until 2012 (it was still shown intact on my map) and soon found myself walking a swathe of mostly sandy beach. Unlike the previous morning the weather was glorious and the sheltered waters of the Sound of Gigha mustered barely a ripple.
Island Queen was a 9.15 m wooden, clinker-built fishing vessel constructed in Orkney in 1972. She originally had the Kirkwall registration K420 but at some point around 2008 her then-owner Martin Foulis sold her on and transferred her registration to a new vessel, Alison Marie.
Island Queen’s new owner was a St Andrews fisherman, John Chater, who had her re-registered at Kirkcaldy as KY15. He used her for catching shellfish but later put her up for sale. She was decommissioned as a registered fishing vessel in 2012 and seems to have been sold to an owner in Oban. Quite how she then came to be abandoned on a Tayinloan beach to rust away is something of a mystery. However she got there, she is now is a very sad state indeed.
Very Happy Dog
Whilst not intrinsically beautiful in itself, I chose to see the disintegrating hulk of Island Queen as a picturesque remnant of coastal life rather than a melancholy waste. As such, I continued along the coast in high spirits, only to be met an even happier dog.
I tend to regard approaching dogs with caution until I have some sense of what their mood is but this particular dog had been fetching sticks from the sea for its owner and it was radiating such an air of untrammelled joy that my only fear was that it might decide to shake itself off while right next to me. It bounded up, looked up at my face and was almost immediately off again; I was apparently instantly forgotten.
‘That’s all he wanted,’ said his owner, ‘just to say hello.’
Having been judged worthy of only a micro-second’s attention by someone’s dog, I continued along the beach towards Rhunahaorine Point, the south side of which was wooded.
The name Rhunahaorine is derived from the Gaelic rhubha na h-Aoireann meaning ‘headland of the raised beach,’ not that there was much of a gradient to the beach at this point. Still, the trees were definitely sitting on a sort of bank or low hillock as I passed along their outer edge.
Sunscreen & Sheep
As I approached the actual point the trees gave way to a field full of sheep and a Kintyre Way signpost indicated that I should pass through it. An old lookout tower stood crumbling near the gate and I sat on its steps for a moment while I hastily slathered myself in more sunscreen knowing that it was already too late.
My skin, puzzled as ever as to what it’s supposed to do when the sun shines, had thrown up a handful of freckles and then shaded rapidly to scarlet. Thus, when the sheep showed more interest in my passing than the dog had, I ascribed only half of it to the usual ovine fear of absolutely everything and half to their amazement at seeing an ambulatory tomato.
A Shingle Shoreline
The path skirted the edge of the field for a while before dropping me back onto the beach. I experienced no dog-like wave of overwhelming joy at this for one look revealed that it was now largely shingle. The north side of the headland had a more pronounced camber and, as I continued begrudgingly along the beach, the field beside me gained height to become a low, crumbly cliff. For the next two miles, I attempted with limited success to stick to the less shingly parts of the beach.
Embracing the A83
It is perhaps a measure of how much I dislike trudging along on shingle that when I ran out of projecting headland and found that the beach was once again beside the A-road, I rejoined the latter at the first opportunity and almost had to restrain myself from kissing the tarmac like Pope John Paul II.
The A-road would run directly beside the shore for about the next two and a half miles. The first half mile of this treated me to some very hazy views of Jura to my left and to a smallish patch of conifer plantation to my right. At the end of that half mile, the Kintyre Way surprised me by signposting that its route was diverting off the road. Curiously, I followed to find this:
An Abandoned Alignment
It was, of course, the old road alignment before the A83 improvements in the 1980s.
It was only a short section and it ended in an earth bank with some trees on it, just as you might get if someone deliberately blocked off access to it. A visible foot trail led over this bank so I followed it to find on the far side a bridge across Ballochroy Burn. The current road alignment crossed on a newer, wider bridge just a few metres west, which was the reason they’d abandoned this section.
The owner of nearby Ballochroy farmhouse appeared to be storing a boat on the old bridge, which seemed to me be a slightly ironic place to keep something that floats.
I had expected the moment I saw the old bridge that, once I had crossed it, the Kintyre Way would rejoin the road but not so. It chose instead to head further east up a road along Ballochroy Glen. An unofficial speed-limit sign stood beside it.
The Kintyre Way followed the road for just a few metres before veering off through yet another field of mildly surprised sheep. It climbed the steep bank of the hill behind the field and allegedly passed by some standing stones though I totally failed to recognise them for what they were. In my defence, the path was quite overgrown and most of my attention was keeping my footing.
Before long, the path spat me out onto a farm track and I followed this back to the A-road. I don’t think I was supposed to do that however as a few hundred yards further on I encountered a sign at another access track where the Kintyre Way rejoined the A83. Oh well.
Sound of Jura
The next section of the A-road was basically more of what had gone before, with haze obscuring the sea view and trees obscuring the landward one.
Near Ronachan Farm, the A-road began to swing inland away from the coast but the Kintyre Way, knowing better, diverted down a minor side-road towards the shore. I followed it past an old gatehouse as the road curved down towards Ronachan Bay then onwards past Ronachan Point. Before it got there however, a branch arched inland to run directly past a rather lovely country house.
Ronachan House hasn’t always looked at it does today. Previously, a plain, white building occupied the site, which was Macalister land. It was acquired by Sir William McKinnon Bt, (1823-1893) who made a fortune as one of the founders of the British India Steam Navigation Company (which would later become part of P&O).
A fire burnt much of it down in 1897 but the McKinnons had it rebuilt by a ‘Mr Tregellis of London’. A quick bit of detective work suggests that this would be a Cornish-born but London-based architect named John Allen Tregellis (1850-1917). He enlarged it considerably and gave it its ashlar frontage and crow-step gables (a popular feature of the Scottish baronial style).
Changes in Ownership
The house remained a McKinnon home until the death of 85-year old Gladys Pollok (née McKinnon) in 1973; she left it in her will to the Church of Scotland. The church put it to use as a rehabilitation centre for recovering addicts but rising costs led the church to close it in 2010 and put it up for sale.
The house was purchased in 2012, presumably by the company Ronachan House Ltd, which was incorporated that year. The company didn’t last long — it was dissolved in 2015 — and I have no idea who currently owns the house; it looked like they doing some major renovation when I walked past it.
Place of Bracken
I wasn’t actually meant to walk past the house; the Kintyre Way abandoned the road before it reached the gated turn-off, crossing a fence via a stile and running up the far side of a small stream. I initially intended to do just that but, well…
The thing is, the name Ronachan comes from the Gaelic roineachan meaning ‘place of bracken’ and there’s a reason for that.
I quickly decided that the path was pretty much impassable. I could have bashed my way through the bracken but that stuff has skin irritant sap and is a favourite hiding place for ticks. I opted instead to continue along the road, crossing the stream via a stone bridge, and then nipping across in front of Ranachan House to regain the Kintyre Way.
Lord of the Flies
The house’s driveway was wooded, which gave some nice relief from the sun but replaced it with a new problem in the form of several small flies. They weren’t the biting kind — I had insect repellent to deal with those in case I needed it — but they seemed really keen on buzzing about behind me and only behind me.
The flies kept following me even after I rejoined the A83 at the end of the drive and I was starting to get really paranoid about personal hygiene by the time I eventually figured it out. I found that if I covered my neck and head they lost all interest even when other skin was on show — they were attracted to the scarlet of my sunburn!
I’m not sure if they thought I was ripe fruit or fresh meat but either way I wanted rid of them. I experimentally broke out the insect repellent, which I seldom use as the usual pests — midges and mosquitoes — generally find Helpful Mammal an unpalatable flavour. Not being midges or mosquitoes, they were completely undeterred and I had to resort instead to draping something over my neck to hide the redness. Given the intensity of the sunburn I’d developed, that was probably a good thing anyway.
West Loch Tarbert
Having returned to the A83 as it headed inland, I figured that this would be a fairly disappointing stretch of road. I think I did it a disservice. For one thing it wasn’t chest-deep in bracken. For another, I could turn back and look towards Dunskeig Bay, with the Iron Age fort of Dun Skeig standing guard beside it.
The land directly opposite the bay was Ardpatrick Point, which marks the western end of West Loch Tarbert. If I turned slightly further to look to its south, I could see a far crinklier horizon in the form of Jura lurking in the haze.
Jura (Diùra) is large, bumpy and relatively empty of people. It is also surprisingly remote with neither a direct ferry link to the mainland nor any direct flights.
I turned my back on Jura and the A83 carried me forwards to Clachan, a village whose name means ‘hamlet’. As such, I had no hopes that there would be a handy shop and indeed I saw none.
Clachan does have a church, built around 1780 on the site of its predecessor. In addition to art nouveau windows, the church has several early mediaeval gravestones in its churchyard, many of which are thought to commemorate the chiefs of Clan McAllister.
The building above is actually a former chapel built in 1878 for a nearby estate. Grade B listed, it has Italianate styling and ornate joinery crafted by a boat builder. Sadly (for me, though not its owners) it is private property, having been converted in to a house in the 1960s.
I stumbled my way past Clachan’s cottages and the above converted chapel — somehow completely missing the turn-off for the old church — and then crossed Clachan Bridge (built in 1763).
Moments of Kindness
Feeling hot, burnt and tired, I sat on a grassy bank and consulted my map for about thirty seconds before a concerned young woman, who’d just parked her car, checked to see if I was lost. I wasn’t, but I thanked her anyway. It was a simple moment of kindness and we should appreciate those.
In a similar vein, I also appreciated the number of lifts that I was offered by random drivers who had spotted me walking along the A83; I averaged three lift offers a day throughout the trip.
The Old Road
In entering Clachan, I had left the A83, which more or less bypasses the village and heads east past Balinakill House (which was another of Sir William McKinnon’s properties and today provides holiday accommodation). The A-road then turns northeast to run more-or-less alongside West Tarbert Loch.
The grassy bank on which I was sitting was beside a minor country road leading north from Clachan Bridge. This would climb a hill — actually the southeast flank of Dun Skeig — and then turn east, meeting the A83 in approximately the middle of nowhere. And why would it do that? Because it was the old road (still in use to access several farms), following an alignment the A83 would rather avoid with its hill, narrow bridge and village centre to navigate.
I love an ‘old road’ and even the threat of an unnecessary hill did not deter me; 90 m of winding ascent later, I was looking back at Dun Skeig and West Loch Tarbert:
The road continued to climb as it ran alongside a conifer plantation. The traffic comprised one solitary tractor and, even when I lost sight of Loch West Tarbert, I could still look down on the other side into the valley where the A83 was rising more gradually to meet me.
It was pretty glorious and the only fly in the ointment was an actual fly. Not one of the sunburn-seeking buggers — I’d figured out how to thwart them — but a massive horsefly that had not got the message that I’m not a tasty snack. It didn’t actually bite me but it certainly tried to have a go and it took some serious persuading to make it clear off. This was unexpected — such things usually leave me alone — and given that I was even wearing insect repellent (thanks to the little buzzers) its persistence was remarkable.
And so, flailing wildly around with my OS map standing in as a makeshift fly-swat, I reached the end of the road and rejoined the A83. For some reason, no one stopped then to ask the erratic, arm-waving madman if he needed a lift somewhere. Perhaps they were afraid I’d bring the horsefly with me.
Back on the A-Road
Now that I was back on the A-road, I could see the loch again:
I spent about three miles heading northeast along the barely meandering A83 before it developed a definite kink veering around the hamlet of Whitehouse (An Taigh Bàn).
This was another bypass to avoid a village bridge and this time, since the southern end of the road through the village no longer connects with the A-road, it’s now a bridge to nowhere. I followed the bypass but made a point of diverting into the top end of the hamlet just to see if there was indeed a white house.
Redhouse, another half mile down the road, wasn’t nearly so keen to live up to its name. There, the north end of the B8001 — the road from Claonaig and the Arran ferry — joined the A83. With it came National Cycle Network route 78 but since there wasn’t a separate cycle path, this had very little effect on my walk.
Less than half a mile further on than that was Kennacraig (Ceann na Creige) ferry terminal, which serves the island of Islay. The ferry terminal is itself on an island, linked to the shore by a short causeway.
Ceann na Creige means ‘head of the rock’ so presumably there’s a rock somewhere under the car park that covers the isle.
The ferry terminal had a waiting room and a ticket office but no café. It did have a coffee vending machine but that only took the old round pound coins and I only had the new polygonal ones. Not that I wanted a hot drink anyway; what I most wanted was a sit down, which was why I made the detour into Kennacraig.
There were seats; I sat on one. It was awesome.
When I felt sufficiently rested I set off again along the A83. For the next three and a half miles, it ran far closer to the loch but, thanks to the shore being heavily wooded, I only got the occasional glimpse. This changed when I reached West Tarbert, about a mile from my destination. There I found an uninterrupted view across West Loch Tarbert to the hamlet of Dubhchladach:
In West Tarbert I also found the West Tarbert Hotel and came to the immediate decision that a nice gin and tonic was just what I needed to power my way along that final mile. A veritable tonic in fact. It worked a treat.
My Triumphant Return
Before long, I was passing the outlying houses of Tarbert and making my way to its harbour at the head of East Loch Tarbert.
This was my second visit to Tarbert, having passed through it southwards on my way into Kintyre, but having walked up the side of West Loch Tarbert really brought home that it sits squarely across a narrow isthmus, serving as the gateway to Kintyre.
I found my hotel, which overlooked the harbour, and drenched myself in after sun lotion. I was, as I feared, the sort of bright scarlet that nature only favours for ripe fruit. Or for terrible danger; Nature does love her mixed signals.
I enjoyed a pleasant meal and took myself early to bed. In the morning I would be heading back to West Loch Tarbert and taking the road past Dubhchladach…
This time: 20 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,933 miles