ON THE sixth and final walking day of my July 2017 trip I knew I was in trouble the moment I got out of bed. My knee was stiff and slightly inflamed and the previous day’s 20-miler had done it no favours at all. My plans for the day involved another 20 miles but that was now looking rather foolish. Perhaps I should abandon my walk altogether? I mean, I could hardly do that using only one leg…
Taking the Bus
What I should do, I decided, was hop onto a bus and do the walk another day. There were plenty of buses whizzing up and down the A816 to Oban. Except on Sundays but that was okay because this was…
Ah, yes, it was Sunday.
The only ways of getting to Oban were via Shanks’s pony or by cadging a lift. I was up pretty early though, so it would be some time before anyone else was up and about to impose upon.
On the other hand, I had been offered lifts by random drivers several times a day that week, so if I set off — slowly and gently — towards Oban, my walk was bound to be cut short by someone’s kindness. Guaranteed. It absolutely couldn’t fail.
Let’s Call it ‘Plan “A”’
A quick consultation with my map revealed that my best bet for getting to Oban was to stick with the A816 all the way, this being both the most direct route and the one with the most traffic (and thus the highest possibility of receiving a helpful lift). And even if I ended up walking all the way, this route would reduce the distance from 20 miles to 15.
And so, limping slightly, I ventured out into the damp and loving embrace of soft drizzle…
Limping in the Rain
Loch nan Druimnean
I was already quite damp within the first quarter-mile, which brought me to Loch nan Druimnean (‘loch of the little ridges’). This was a small loch about half a mile long, where I had originally intended to turn off towards Melfort. This was therefore my last chance to stick to the plan as originally devised; if I stayed on the A-road instead, I would be committed to limping up to 15 miles that ‘wouldn’t really count’.
I paused beside the loch to make my final decision.
I heeded my knee and continued along the A-road with appropriate care and attention. That particular section has proven quite dangerous with drivers misjudging the road and conditions.
An Example of Awfulness
Almost exactly a year previously two small children, aged two and three, had drowned there when their mother’s car left the road and sank into the loch. Other motorists stopped and dived in to help but were unable to save them.
Perhaps worse for her, the mother survived, having been successfully helped to the shore; how she must have felt hardly bears thinking about.
I had no traffic to contend with for the road was deserted (apart from me) at silly o’clock on a wet Sunday morning. Accordingly, I soon left Loch nan Druinmean behind and came to another body of water in the form of Loch Oude.
Loch Oude was created as an impounding reservoir in 1956 by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which built a dam and a small power station housing a single turbine. The station is small scale and was originally designed to provide power to the immediate area. Kilmelfort is a good example of a small scale power scheme designed to meet local demand.
The architect was Ian G Lindsay (1906-1966), who was involved in many such hydro-electric schemes and yet was a friend of the poet John Betjeman (1906-1984), who I can’t imagine approved of such constructions.
More Accidental Awfulness
The road ran alongside the eastern shore of the loch and it was there that I encountered my first car of the day, which pulled out and passed me without fuss.
That driver, at least, had full control of his vehicle but I would later read that just four days later the A816 would close for over three hours when a car and a motorbike crashed close to Oude Dam. Fortunately for my peace of mind, I had no idea that that stretch of road was so dangerous as I trudged along it in the rain.
I had rather hoped that the rain might ease off but instead it did the opposite and intensified as I crossed over the River Oude at the north end of the loch and followed the winding road as it climbed Glen Gallain.
Glen Gallain is about 1½ miles long with the river River Gallain flowing through it. It has no settlements now but William Roy’s Military Survey of 1747-52 shows three vanished hamlets along its length.
At Glen Gallain’s top end, I entered Glen Euchar, where in Roy’s day the road presumably crossed the River Euchar by a ford.
The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (about a century later than Roy) shows the road diverting north-east to cross by a bridge and then returning on the far side. The modern A-road ignores that diversion, a new bridge keeping it to Roy’s alignment, but the diversion persists as side-roads (now serving a couple of farmsteads), as does the Victorian bridge.
Walking up Glen Euchar brought me to a couple of buildings on the outskirts of the village of Kilninver (Cill an Inbhir), the name of which means ‘church of the river mouth.’
The rest of the village was half a mile to the north-west but I had reached the village school. It being the holidays, the school was closed so no one could possibly object if I took cover from the rain at its bus stop, safe in the knowledge that no buses would be showing up either. The bus shelter enabled me to look at my map without reducing it to papier-mâché.
I already knew where I was — the big sign saying ‘Kilninver’ had told me that — but I wanted to see where everything else was in relation to it.
The Routes Recombine
I immediately saw that, had I followed my original plan, Kilninver is where I would have rejoined the A-road after a circuitous route around the coast. I would have approached it via the B844 and met the A816 about a mile and a quarter down the road from the bus stop.
This being so, when I had fooled myself into believing that the rain had lightened up, I set off to reach that point. The two roads ran parallel for a short distance before merging, with the A-road higher up the hillside than the B.
Both were running alongside Loch Feochan, a sea loch opening onto the Firth of Lorn. The view looked like this:
The road continued to follow the shores of Loch Feochan as they snaked generally north-east. About halfway along, I passed through Knipoch, which comprised a hotel and not much else. To give it its due though, the hotel was pretty old, having been first constructed in 1592 (though much altered and added-to since). I didn’t stop though, I still had a half a loch to walk.
I was, by then, entirely soaked through and I knew that hardly anyone would want to offer a lift to someone off whom the rainwater was running in rivulets. After all, the few drivers out in the drizzle had so far happily kept the rain outside their cosy cars.
Resigned now to walking the full distance come-what-may, I splashed through the puddles for another two miles until I reached the village of Kilmore (Cill Mhòr, ‘big church’).
If Kilmore Kirk doesn’t seem like a particularly large church, then that might be because it’s not the church the village’s name is referring to.
Church of St Bean
Kilmore Kirk was built in 1875 but its predecessor, the Church of St Bean, was built in the 15th century, probably on the site of its predecessor, which may or may not have been founded by the 11th century missionary St Bean. The mediaeval church was abandoned when the new kirk was built and its roof was removed and walls partly destroyed in order to transform it into a romantic ruin without all that tedious waiting for the ravages of time.
Had I been on a normal walking day, I might have made an effort to go and find it (it’s about a mile from the current church) but I thought it unwise to add two additional miles to my ailing knee’s challenge.
On Higher Ground
I had vaguely hoped to find somewhere to rest and perhaps get a snack or a drink in Kilmore but that hope proved forlorn. As such, I set off again and found the A816 climbing steeply to about 50 m and snaking across open hilltops. This should have been lovely and I did enjoy it but an aching knee and rain-sodden everything could not help but detract from the moment.
Even so, the next mile or two seemed to fly by and I think I kind of zoned out because I was rather startled when a car pulled up sharp beside me. It was, as I had hoped for early that morning, somebody offering me a lift.
Oddly Entitled Offerer of Lifts
Actually, and rather more specifically, it was a man offering me a lift ‘to the bottom of the hill.’ This precise wording told me that there must be somewhere down there that seemed to him like an obvious place to be walking to. And given how far I’d walked already, that could only be Oban.
I quickly decided that if I’d already managed to walk 14 of the 15 miles (and I had) then I wanted to finish my journey on foot, limping painfully or otherwise. On this basis I politely declined and was surprised to see a flash of anger cross the lift-offerer’s face.
‘I turned around specially,’ he sniffed, ‘I was going the other way.’
I am Unmoved, Except by my Feet
He glowered disapprovingly but I was quite unmoved. Any awkwardness I might have felt at turning down a genuine offer of kindness was entirely dissipated by his expectation that I had to accept out of gratitude. After all, I hadn’t asked him to turn around. He was basically trying to guilt me into accepting his lift so that he wouldn’t feel he’d wasted his effort on the offchance. It was as though the thought didn’t count unless I was suitably thankful.
I decided to be clear as to how thankful I was, which at that moment was ‘decreasingly’.
‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ I said firmly and then watched him drive off in high dudgeon. I have no doubt angry muttering filled his car. ‘Bah! Try to do a man a favour…’
At the bottom of the hill was indeed Oban. The rain eased off (but didn’t actually stop) as I entered that town.
A distillery town and small port, Oban is the largest settlement between Helensburgh and Fort William. It has a proper seaside resort feel about it and this was good as it meant I had no difficulty in finding a café to sell me tea and a bacon sarnie.
And Then Leaving It
My knee being sore, I kept my urban pottering about to an absolute minimum, choosing instead to check into my hotel at the first opportunity. I spent the rest of the day nursing the knee and caught the train home in the morning.
It took roughly a couple of weeks before the knee fully recovered.
Obviously, I plan to go back and risk busting it again. That’s what knees are for, right? Besides I still need to walk to Oban ‘officially’.
This time: 15 miles