ON THE third day of 2017’s July trip, I theoretically had a choice on how to proceed. I could continue up the A83, along the shores of Loch Fyne to Lochgilphead or I could go the long way around, following the B8024 along the Atlantic coast. The former would be a shorter walk of about fourteen miles, the latter would take me two days.
Practically, I had no choice at all as I’d made that decision before I left London and booked accommodation accordingly. The long route promised far less traffic and, as it turned out, the first part would also be a shorter walk of 14 miles. Clinching the deal was that the Kilberry Inn, where I would be staying the night, has a Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ award.
Like an army, a Helpful Mammal marches on its stomach.
My day began beside the harbour in Tarbert.
Well-rested and fuelled with breakfast (to facilitate that marching); I eyed the dull grey skies with relief — my sunburn didn’t need any further encouragement — and reviewed my route for the day before I set off.
West Loch Tarbert
I started with a little bit of backtracking, which is seldom my favourite thing but was needed to get me to the B8024. I thus retraced my steps of the previous evening, heading back down the A83 until I reached the turn-off at West Tarbert.
There wasn’t much traffic on the A-road that morning but even so the difference on the B-road was remarkable. It was a single track road with passing places and unless you want to visit one of the coastal hamlets, the main thing it offers the driver is a longer, slower route to where the A-road goes, anyway. It was dead quiet and that suited me just fine.
A golf club sits at the head of West Loch Tarbert because, like bracken, they spring up out of nowhere on any unattended piece of ground. Ignoring it with well-practised disdain, I turned west and strolled along the loch’s northern shore to the hamlet of Dubhchladach (‘black shore’). And when I say ‘hamlet’ I actually mean ‘three cottages strung out along the road.’
From them, I could look across to West Tarbert and its hotel, where I had so gratefully purchased a restorative gin & tonic the previous evening.
Now Entering Knapdale
Since I was now north of West Loch Tarbert, I was no longer walking the Kintyre Peninsula but was instead exploring the district of Knapdale (Cnapadal), which comprises that part of Argyll between Tarbert and the Crinan Canal. Much of my day would be spent heading west along West Loch Tarbert to get back to the mouth of the loch.
Amber Warning Lights
As I ambled along the leafy lane, thoroughly enjoying myself, a flashing light caught my eye. An enormous construction lorry, liberally festooned with amber hazard lights, was crawling along the A83 towards Tarbert. Slow and ungainly, it was impeding the traffic flow and I was extremely glad that I didn’t have to share my narrow B-road with it. Oh, such a fool am I.
I continued on my way, minding my own business, when I became aware of an engine noise. A medium-sized van, also kitted out with flashing amber lights, was driving up the road behind me. I obligingly stepped to one side to let it pass and noticed the words ‘wide load escort’ emblazoned upon it. Had it, I wondered — O happy fool! — somehow taken a wrong turn and become separated from its charge? Of course it hadn’t.
The Largest of Lorries
It was as I stepped back onto the road that I heard the low rumble of the construction lorry. Now, I’ve walked along many a narrow country road and I’ve often noted that they were one tractor or lorry wide. This time that was not the case. The lorry was wider than the road and branches caressed it as it passed. Hopping onto the soft verge was no use here, not unless I wanted to be run over anyway and pushed into a water-filled ditch!
With the road behind me now blocked by this vehicular behemoth, I had little choice but to go forwards and take advantage of one of those designated passing places. The lorry rumbled past, at much the same speed as continental drift and even less likely to stop.
I watched its orange lights disappear as it very approximately rounded a bend in the road and then waited a few minutes more. I had no particular desire to follow it closely for miles. No, let it continue slowly ahead with all the inevitability of a glacier, scaring the bejesus out of any oncoming tourists…
The B-road crossed a stream called the Abhainn na Cuile at Avinagillan, near to which a standing stone stands (they do that).
For the next three miles, it diverted from the shore, avoiding the hills of Cnoc an Tigh Odhair and Bàrr Mòrr. These aren’t particularly large hills (95 m and 102 m respectively) for all that bàrr mòrr means ‘great peak’ but why go across them when you can go around? Cnoc an Tigh Odhair, on the other hand, is a somewhat irregular form of the Gaelic meaning ‘dun house hill.’
The road having veered inland, I soon had half a mile of woodland between me and West Loch Tarbert. This pretty much took away any lochside views but I still had my leafy country lane so wasn’t overly upset. As I wended my way I met a couple of cars heading east whose drivers looked like they’d just had a near-death experience. A big one, no doubt, equipped with many flashing warning lights.
The road curved around the northern flank of Bàrr Mòrr, not far from Lochan Liath (‘grey tarn’). On the far side of the hill, it descended steeply to a bridge over the burn that empties from that lochan and also from Loch Chaorainn Beag (‘little rowan loch’), the Eas Torrantuirc.
These two bridges — one newer, one older — beckon the traveller over the burn into Torinturk. They also betray modern road improvements of the sort that had become so familiar on the A83.
On the right, the old bridge now purely serves a farmhouse with road traffic using the stronger but more utilitarian bridge on the left. Immediately across the old bridge, an access lane connects to the farm but the route of the old road (now gated) curves left to meet up with the B8024. You can just about see that the B-road bends sharply left in the distance — that’s because its joining up with an alignment that curves more easily towards the old bridge.
I had plenty of time to analyse this layout as I felt that the old bridge’s parapet was a perfect place to perch and take a little rest. I didn’t particularly need one yet but it’s better to take short pre-emptive rests than wait until you really need one.
Having had a quick sit down and a packet of crisps, I passed through the hamlet of Torinturk (Tòrr an Tuirc,‘hill of the boar’).
Torinturk is not ancient and dates only to the 1930s; its first bungalows were constructed as part of a nationwide scheme to create employment during the Great Depression. They were occupied by forestry workers, who worked on creating the new plantation of Achaglachgach Forest.
Less than a mile southwest of Torinturk is Cnoc nan Cnamhag (‘hill of refuse’) on part of which can be found the ruins of Dùn a’ Choin Duibh (‘the fort of the black dog’).
Foir the Black Dog
The black dog in question is Foir, a magnificent hound that — as tales would have it — belonged to a prince named Eubhan Oisean who was very proud that his dog could not be beaten in a fight. He thus sought out the Fianna, the followers of mighty hunter Fionn Mac Cumhaill (sometimes anglicised as ‘Finn MacCool’) to challenge them to a dogfight.
As befits Gaelic legend, Foir slaughtered his way through 150 hounds without much effort until Fionn himself spurred his own dog Bran into action. An epic struggle duly ensued, at the end of which Bran was victorious and Foir lay dead.
The dead dogs, Foir included, were all buried by their dismayed owners and local tradition would have us believe that they lie under Dùn a’ Choin Duibh.
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne
Not far from the site are two cairns, separated by very little distance but a vast gulf of time. One is a Neolithic cairn composed of rounded cobbles, the other is Bronze Age. This too has legendary associations, being claimed as the resting place of Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, who ran away with Fionn’s fiancée Gráinne, daughter of High King Cormac mac Airt.
Fionn pursued them — mythical heroes aren’t supposed to take that sort of thing lying down — but eventually relented. Sort of. Years later, Fionn invited Diarmud on a hunt during which the latter was fatally gored by a wild boar — the one from the nearby hill perhaps? — and Fionn, who could have magically healed him, let him die instead.
Diarmuid Ua Duibhne is traditionally regarded as the founder of Clan Campbell, though this is not backed up by actual evidence.
The road led me out of Torinturk and past Dùn a’ Choin Duibh, which was completely screened from view by the trees of Achaglachgach Forest. A milepost, presumably left over from the days of the old turnpike trusts, informed me that it was 9½ miles to Kilberry. I already knew Kilberry to be another small hamlet comprising just a handful of houses and it says much about regional settlement patterns that it was considered important enough to list distance to.
Shortly afterwards the road and shoreline met up once more and remained close for a mile or so, after which there was a slight blip at Rubha Riabhach (‘speckled point’). But even then, I could still see West Loch Tarbert.
Achaglachgach House is the sort of magnificent, tongue-twisting address you can only afford if you absolutely know that you’ll never have to give it out over the phone. Even if you spell it out there’s a risk you’ll get lost in the middle. Highly trained search & rescue linguists would have to be dispatched to pull you out before you phlegmed yourself to death.
It apparently comes from the Gaelic achadh glacach meaning ‘field of hollows’ and has been called that since 1900. Before that — it was built around 1870 — it had the substantially less challenging name of Craig Lodge.
A craig (creag) is a rock and it wasn’t immediately obvious why it might have been called that. As I walked along the B-road, one possibility presented itself when I realised that I could see Kennacraig ferry terminal.
Serving ports on Islay, Kennacraig takes its name from ceann na creige (‘head of the rock’) and sits on what used to be a tidal island. Perhaps that’s the creag for which it is named?
About a mile further on, the road veered to the right and headed inland, cutting off Ardpatrick Point rather than heading to it.
I passed the Dunmore Estate (dùn mòr meaning ‘great fort’ and referring to another nearby dun), whose mid-18th century Scots baronial tower used to look convincingly older until it caught fire in 1985; today, the estate appears to comprise holiday accommodation.
Kilnaish Burial Ground
Continuing on, I came to accommodation of a more terminal nature in the form of Kilnaish Burial Ground, which sat back from the road in a particularly waterlogged-looking field.
I looked at the enormous puddle pooling at the field gate and quickly decided that I would admire the cemetery and its mausoleum from a distance. It might be holy ground but at last the road was wholly ground. Between me and it was more than enough moisture to deter me.
The name Kilnaish derives from the Gaelic Cill-Aonghais meaning church of St Óengus or Aengus. There’s no church there now though a holy well — Tobar Cill’An Aonghais — can be found a short distance down the road if one looks for it.
The well is said to have restorative powers and the 19th century mausoleum that now dominates the burial ground could probably do with a sprinkle. The enclosure has not been maintained and sapling roots are undermining the stones, which has earned the mausoleum a place on the Buildings at Risk register. One might call its situation grave…
Beyond the burial ground, the road turned briefly in line with West Loch Tarbert before veering left to continue snaking inland. This afforded me my last glimpse of that loch and my first of Ardpatrick Point.
The road’s meanders shifted it into leading northwest just as I came to the Ardpatrick turnoff. This led about a mile and half towards Ardpatrick Point, ending in the vicinity of Ardpatrick House. Built in 1769, it occupies a site formerly occupied by a MacAlister castle that at one time was the clan seat. The question was, did I want to go see it?
Unless I wanted to go off-track, there was only one road in and out, which would mean more retracing of steps. Also, it would three miles to my day converting it from a short ‘easy day’ into an ordinary one.
No, I decided, I did not. Ardpatrick wasn’t calling to me but the way onward was.
The road straightened out a bit after the junction and spent about a mile flanked by rough pasture on one side and trees on the other. This short stretch of relative isolation ended at a building that my map told me was White Cottage.
I followed the road as it wound through a patch of deciduous woodland and crossed a small burn before passing the drive of Carse House, a large Georgian house. Sadly, I only glimpsed the house but had plenty of opportunity to look at this farm instead:
Carse Farm Steading
‘Carse’ is Scots for an area of fertile, low-lying floodplain such as that found in the lower reaches of river valleys. The river in this case was the Abhainn Learg an Uinnsinn (‘river of the slope of the ash trees’), which flowed out into Loch Stornoway through the aforementioned sheep-dotted carse.
The sheep didn’t have the carse entirely to themselves for watching over them were two ancient standing stones. Not that they make for good guardians of livestock.
Local tradition holds that the carse once saw a battle between the Campbells and McIvers when the former caught the latter stealing their cattle and slew their chiefs. Supporting this was the discovery of a helmet inlaid with gold and several ornamented sword hilts during land drainage work sometime around 1830.
Whatever the megaliths’ original purpose, be it astronomical, religious or symbolic, today they’re just watching the sheep. What other events might they have witnessed. What would they say, I wonder, if they could speak?
Carse Old Bridge
Just as at Torinturk, there were two bridges crossing the stream at Carse: a modern one and an older one. The latter bore a date stone inscribed 1897. The new bridge didn’t look to be any wider but its approaches were on a much straighter alignment than the old bridge had required, which might be why it’s redundant.
Actually, the bridge isn’t entirely disused; the cottage in the photo above was one of three properties provided access by the old bridge’s short section of road alignment.
One of the others was Kilberry Parish Church, whose name briefly confused me as to where I was. A plain Georgian affair constructed in 1821, you might expect Kilberry Parish Church to be in Kilberry. Well, more fool you. Carse and Kilberry are three and a half miles distant, which isn’t far in the scheme of things but feels a lot longer when you’re nearing the end of a walk.
That being so, I sat on the old bridge’s parapet and rested before setting off for the day’s final stretch.
The road climbed steeply out of the valley then kept climbing as it ran alongside Loch Stornoway. It topped out 79 m before beginning a gentle descent as it rounded the western flank of the 182 m Cnoc Bealach Sithe (‘fairy pass hill’). This briefly brought the road right next to the coast overlooking a small bay called Port Mòr.
Thanks to the undulations of the western coast, this brought me to a position where I could look out and see Gigha no more distant than it had been at lunchtime the day before.
The road soon swung inland again, passing the farms of Tiretigan and Keppoch before delivering me to Kilberry. But not before I had been hailed by an extremely lost driver.
The driver was looking for a farm at which he would have gone shooting if he hadn’t already missed his slot by hours. I quickly found, to my delight, that he too had been perplexed by Kilberry Parish Church and, thinking he’d gone past Kilberry, he now didn’t know where he was.
But surely, you are no doubt thinking, in this modern age he must have had satnav or a smartphone? Well yes, he had the latter but that was no help to him at all, not when Kilberry has no signal whatsoever.
I pulled out my trusty paper OS map and gave the poor man directions to the Kilberry Inn, where I figured they might be able to help him further. He was still there, learning just how badly he’d estimated rural Scottish distances when I myself arrived in Kilberry.
Arriving & Exploring
Having checked in and — most importantly — booked dinner, I dropped my bag in my room and set off to explore the limits of Kilberry, an exercise that took about five minutes.
Kilberry (Cill Bheiridh, ‘Bearach’s Church‘) doesn’t actually have a church apart from the one down the road in Carse. It once did though and its burial ground appears to have lain beneath what is now a bowling green on the Kilberry Castle estate.
First mentioned about 1350, the church fell victim to a scorched earth policy during the Civil War. Kilberry’s Campbells, keen to deny it to an approaching force of MacDonald-led Royalists, torched it to the ground.
A number of mediaeval grave slabs and fragments dating to between the 14th and 16th centuries have been recovered and, after a brief stay in the castle basement, were displayed in a purpose built shelter in 1951. How amazed would they be, Kilberry’s dead, to know that their graves would provoke such interest?
The castle on whose estate the slabs can be found is a Victorian mansion, built in 1844 and enlarged in 1871. Incoporated within it however are the ruins of an actual 16th century castle that stood on the site but said to have been burnt down by a pirate in 1813.
My curiosity satisfied, I returned to the Kilberry Inn to get washed and changed and then sate my hunger.
The food, as expected, was quite marvellous and my starter — mussels and chorizo with vermouth — was perhaps the most delicious mussel dish I’ve ever eaten. I ate well that evening and I may have followed it up with a whisky or two.
The following morning, after breakfast, I set off for Lochgilphead…
This time: 14 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,947 miles