ON THE last walking day of my May trip I caught a bus from Campbeltown to Southend. Upon arrival, I would turn and walk back to Campbeltown albeit by a roundabout route. This would be the final and most arduous section of the Kintyre Way, passing near to — but not over — the Mull of Kintyre from which Northern Ireland can be seen. The Kintyre Way actually ends at Machrihanish but I had it in my head to also walk the five miles from there to Campbeltown (unless I’d had enough by then, when I might just use public transport).
An Awkward Silence
My initial bus journey to Southend was both uneventful and farcical in the extreme. I had learned from a bus driver the previous evening that fellow coastal walker Alan Palin was also in the area and it did cross my mind to wonder if one of the other two passengers — who was evidently a hiker —might be him. Though possible, it seemed like a coincidence too far and my fellow passenger seemed to be keeping quietly to himself so I didn’t like to intrude on the offchance.
As it turns out, it was him, and in his own internal reverie he was weighing up how badly it might go if he mistakenly accused a random stranger of being the Helpful Mammal. I have to admit, I rather had the advantage in that situation.
And so we two—who regularly read each others’ blogs and who almost met by accident last year in Largs — shared our journey on that Scottish bus without so much as a word or a nod. Heaven forefend we make fools of ourselves by potentially intruding on a stranger. We couldn’t have been more British if we’d tried…
Alighting upon Arrival
The farce continued even after reaching Southend. I hopped off at the southern end of the village so that I could follow the Kintyre Way past Dunaverty Rock. This involved first heading east, then west along the shoreline towards Keil Caves. Alan stayed on one stop further, heading west to Keil Caves, before walking east along the shore.
With our opposite trajectories, we should have met one more time — no doubt politely ignoring each other as we passed — somewhere near Dunaverty Bay. As it turns out, we didn’t set eyes on each other again until we both caught the same ferry the following morning. And no, we didn’t speak then, either. Tsk, the very idea!
Dunaverty Golf Club
As I’ve said, I initially headed east towards Dunaverty Rock. This was hardly a section of great distance or difficulty, comprising as it did a short amble through the grounds of Dunaverty Golf Club (est. 1889).
The cattle were roaming freely, much to the consternation of the couple with a dog who are visible in the photo. Though they were freaked out by a sudden bovine bout of intense interest, I felt little sympathy, to be honest. It was their pocket-wolf-on-a-stick that was the problem and had they not to tried to walk it within touching distance, the cattle would have likely kept away.
Since they had stirred the cows into a nervous tizzy, I elected to wait a minute for the beasties to calm down. This afforded me the opportunity to pause and inspect a low, stone structure that looked like a sheepfold or an old ruined chapel but turned out to be a monument.
Dunaverty Massacre Monument
It was in fact the memorial to the Dunaverty Massacre of 1647, which took place amid the backdrop of civil war. A badly beaten Royalist army was fleeing to Ireland but naturally had amongst its number many unwilling or unable to leave. Around two or three hundred of these were left as a garrison in Dunaverty Castle, under the command of Archibald MacDonald of Sanda.
The garrison must have known it couldn’t win. The victorious Covenanter Army — a Presbyterian, government force — was already in pursuit of the Royalists and it wasn’t long before the Covenanters besieged the castle. The defenders soon found themselves without water and sought terms for surrender. They were allowed to submit ‘on discretion of mercy,’ which they took to mean that they would be spared if they gave up. But Lieutenant-General David Leslie, egged on by his chaplain — the Revd John Naves — decided that mercy would not be forthcoming and had them all killed (along with any women and children with them).
Never Trust a Campbell
It is not a coincidence that both Leslie and Naves took their orders from Archibald Campbell, Marquess (and 8th Earl) of Argyll (1607-1661). The clan chief of the Campbells and de facto head of the Scottish government, Argyll had previous form for perfidy, having similarly slaughtered the Lamonts of Asgog Castle and Castle Toward in the previous year’s Dunoon Massacre.
It didn’t help that that Royalist force was composed mostly of MacDonalds and MacDougalls, whom the Campbells had displaced as the rulers of Argyll and against whom they thus held deep-seated enmity.
Almost half a century later, in 1692, there would be another Campbell massacre of MacDonalds, this time in Glen Coe, although that is not to say that repetition in any way normalised the perfidy. Scots law recognised a particularly heinous crime of ‘murder under trust’ and generations would thereafter be taught to ‘never trust a Campbell.’
The monument to Dunaverty’s massacre dates from a further half century on from Glen Coe. It was erected in 1846 by the Revd Douglas Macdonald of Sanda and stands on the site where Archibald MacDonald and his son were buried. You’d think he’d have waited just one more year to build it on the bicentenary.
When I’d judged the cows had enough time to settle, I crossed the cattle grid and strolled nonchalantly past. Since I was neither with a canine companion nor freaking out in front of their faces, the cows paid me no heed. I returned the compliment, getting good value from all the Ignoring Practice I’d had on the bus.
In no time at all, I was standing beside Dunaverty Rock (also known as the Rock of Blood). It was a rock. I was beside it. Beyond that there’s not a lot to say. A cluster of buildings huddled at its foot including an old lifeboat station (operational 1869-1930) but the castle is long-gone — torn down in 1685 after the failure of Argyll’s Rising. This was an abortive rebellion against James VII & II and was led by the 9th Earl of Argyll (son of the perfidious marquess).
Dunaverty Rock sits at the eastern end of Dunaverty Bay, a smallish embayment with a sandy beach. It looked rather pleasant.
From the rock, I dropped down onto the sand and splashed my way along the water’s edge. At the far end of the bay the Kintyre Way rejoined the road. Before I did likewise, I paused to visit a convenient public convenience. I mention this purely because it’s the most likely window in which Alan and I could have missed each other.
Overlooking the western end of Dunaverty Bay is the great white bulk of the former Keil Hotel. Built in 1939 to an art deco design by Scottish architect James Austen Laird (1878-1950), it was finished just in time to be immediately requisitioned as a naval hospital. The war also saw it painted white as a navigational aid (with lighthouses being under blackout regulations at the time, shipping needed all the help it could get).
In 1947, it finally opened as the hotel it was planned to be and continued in that role until 1990, when it was closed with the intention of converting it into flats. Since then, it has sat empty, successive owners having done nothing with it, and a leaking roof has allowed all the floors to rot away. Its most recent owner purchased it in 2010 and intends to restore it, which, in this case, means essentially rebuilding it within the existing outer shell.
Next door to the hotel and considerably more ruined are some fragmentary walls and a couple of fine stone arches. Today a rather extravagant cattle enclosure, they are the remnants of Keil House, a mansion built in 1875 for merchant and banker James Nicol Fleming (1832-1904), who had made his wealth from the Indian cotton trade.
Fleming spent very little time in his new house before he lost it (and everything else) when the City of Glasgow Bank — of which he was director — went bust in 1877. He fled abroad to escape the consequences and his assets were seized.
In 1883, after Fleming had returned and served a prison sentence, the house was sold to Ninian Bannatyne Stewart, whose father was co-founder of Glasgow drapery Stewart and McDonald (one of its apprentices went on to found House of Fraser).
Kintyre Technical School
Stewart sold on Keil House in 1915 and it became Kintyre Technical School until it burnt down in 1924. The institution of the school still exists — now known as Kiel School, its campus is in Dumbarton — but its original structure now echoes only to mooing and not the many voices of a school…
Mull of Kintyre
The road led past Keil Hotel and the ruins of Keil House, curving its way westwards past a cemetery and round the curve of the coast. Ahead I could see the Mull of Kintyre (Maol Chinn Tìre), made famous to the wider world by Paul McCartney’s band Wings in 1966. I knew though that the Kintyre Way would turn inland before I reached it.
The Various Things of St Columba
Just past the cemetery, at the point where the road turned inland from the coast, I reached Keil Caves and a bunch of things associated with St Columba (521-597), the Irish missionary most credited with spreading Christianity in Scotland. Columba is said to have crossed over from Ireland in 563 and landed on Kintyre with his twelve followers before then heading further up the coast.
As the saint’s point of arrival in Scotland, there was bound to something named after him. In fact there are three things, with varying levels of credibility in a range between ‘spurious’ and ‘mendacious’. There are St Columba’s Footprints — two footprints carved into solid rock, neither of which are his — a chapel (built much later) and a well.
St Columba’s Footprints
Let’s start with the footprints, of which one is very much older than the other.
The elder has its probable origin in the Kingdom of Dál Riata, which liked that kind of thing and which had a fort at Dunaverty when Columba arrived. So, it might be contemporary with him but, given that he immediately headed north and that it’s not the only Dál Riatan carved footprint, it’s unlikely to have any actual connection.
So far, so sceptical but the second footprint is taking no chances with my cynical disbelief. It’s even labelled ‘564’ in order to be extra-extra-convincing. Okay, so that’s one year out for Columba’s arrival and it uses numerals that were not then devised but is that any reason to be a Doubting Thomas?
One man who would have needed superhuman levels of faith to believe in the footprint’s legitimacy was a chap named Daniel McIlreavie. A local mason, it was he who carved it in 1856 to help boost the local tourist trade (or so his grandson later claimed).
St Columba’s Chapel
The footprints are right next to the ruins of the chapel, though only the bases of the walls remain of that.
The chapel was built in stages between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries and may have occupied the site of an earlier church. I’m sure the its builders believed that Columba had founded a religious site there but he was in exile when he arrived and should not have lingered within sight of Ireland (hence his immediate journey north).
St Columba’s Well
A short distance from both footprints and chapel is the other thing named for St Columba, namely his well. If it is his. So, is it? Did he use it?
Canmore has no earlier reference to it than 1871 and it’s suspiciously outside the grounds of the chapel (you’d think they’d have built that right there beside the well). Like the second footprint, its existence may owe more to an entrepreneurial spirit than a holy one…
Keil Caves are but a few paces west of St Columba’s Various Things. There are several caves, the largest of which is named (with admirable simplicity) the Big Cave. Or the Great Cave but that’s less pleasing somehow. There’s also the Piper’s Cave — allegedly haunted by the ghostly music of a piper — and the Hermit’s Retreat.
People have certainly lived in the caves including Romano-Britons and Dál Riatan Gaels. Their last permanent inhabitants were recorded as recently as 1881, when the census listed tinsmith John McFee and his basket-maker cousin Alex McCallum living there with their wives and children, seven souls in all!
I spent some time mooching about the caves before tearing myself away to continue my journey.
The road turned right, heading up a shallow valley and I followed it past the turnoff for the Mull, to a second junction about a mile inland. To the right, the road continued towards the B842. To the left it made its way up Glen Breakerie. The latter was my route…
As you can see, it was hardly a motorway. Indeed, the only traffic I encountered was one elderly shepherd bombing along on a quadbike, a collie dog sat beside him. And, if I’m any judge of canine body language, this was the bestest thing ever.
The Velocitous Duo
I had about two miles of the Glen Breakerie road to walk and I paused partway to take a break since it was hot and I was in no hurry. The same cannot be said for two other walkers who surprised me by suddenly overtaking when I’d thought the road behind me clear. Blimey, the pace on those guys! They were walking not jogging, but not by much.
We exchanged enough words to establish we had much the same plan for the day with the exception that they were definitely going to take the bus from Machrihanish. Well, fair enough. If I was storming along at the speed of a shepherd’s colliemobile, I’d get pretty tired too.
The Velocitous Duo marched on ahead, soon disappearing into the distance. I followed in their footsteps at a more sedate pace, heading along the road until it reached the farm of Amod. There, the Kintyre Way broke free of the road network and, having crossed Breakerie Water, it followed that stream for a bit. I found the Velocitous Duo sat on its banks, eating their lunch and refuelling for another bout of high-speed hiking.
‘You’re going much faster than I am,’ I conceded. They disagreed.
‘No we’re not,’ said one of them.
‘We’re stationary,’ said the other.
Ah, the humorous joys of Taking Things Literally. Well, two can play at that game. I too had stopped, and that meant… er, no, they were still right. Damn it! I pressed on…
A Knotty Problem
The streamside path ended at a gate which was held closed with a loop of twine. Except someone had made such a monumental pig’s ear of tying it up that it took me five minutes of fiddling with its Gordian complexity before I could fix it and thus open (and close and refasten) the gate. It would have been quicker to climb over and leave it as a literally knotty problem for the Velocitous Duo to solve. But less satisfying.
My tangled twine experience had cost me just enough time for the Velocitous Duo to whizz through the gate and overtake me as the path began to climb the flank of Amod Hill. Well, I say ‘path’.
The trail wasn’t really all that visible on the ground but blue Kintyre Way markers provided a navigational aid. Except that many of the waymarks had been trampled by cattle, or were hidden by bushes or reeds. And blue doesn’t show up that well in front of green anyway. No problem, though —I could let the Velocitous Duo go first and if they sank to their waists in a bog I’d know it was probably not that way…
Amod hill is 234 m high but we were already starting from 40 m. In the scheme of things that’s not very high, nor was it especially steep. It was quite boggy and not lacking for vegetation but even so I’m slightly ashamed that I needed to stop at the top.
At the top of Amod Hill, the Kintyre Way ran next to the edge of some forestry. I would now be heading along a broad and undulating ridge from Amod Hill to Remuil Hill (302 m) and on towards Cnoc Reamhar. For much of that, the route would be straight along the top, as was the edge of the tree line. I found it oddly comical that half the hill was forested, the other half bald.
Before long, I started to see an obvious trail on the ground as the hilltop opened out onto moorland atop Remuil Hill. I’d come a couple of miles since I left the road and the Velocitous Duo had long since outpaced me, vanishing into the distance. I was now enjoying splendid isolation with neither person nor building in sight. I couldn’t even see a cow. It was marvellous. Just me alone with my thoughts.
After a while, the trail dropped down the flank of Cnoc Reamhar (‘fat hill’). I stopped for a while at the edge of the broad valley and decided it was as pleasant a spot as any to sit and eat the sandwich I was carrying. I wasn’t in a hurry, I could make time for lunch… or could I? It turned out that I had no idea because my phone battery had died and that was my sole timekeeping device. I looked up towards the sun and judged it to be at a lunchtimey sort of elevation…
Road to Largiebaan
When I was suitably refreshed and refuelled, I finished this section of off-road adventure by following the waymarks to an unfenced road linking the farms of High Glenadale and Largiebaan.
I mentally relabelled it from ‘surfaced road’ to ‘farm track’ while noting that both meant for easy going. I was on the track for about a mile and a half, heading mostly northwest until within sight of Largiebaan.
Regaining the Coast
From Largiebaan, a path headed west to coastal cliffs, traversing the southern flank of a hill named Cnoc Moy. This particular hill is 446 m at its summit, though the Kintyre Way approached the coast at only 250 m.
I now began to encounter other people. Not just one or two either but easily a dozen, in scattered groups of two or three coming up or going down Cnoc Moy.
A Path Fit for Goats
Cnoc Moy is on the edge of the peninsula and its western flank forms a steep coastal slope including cliffs and a corrie. The path climbed close to the edge of the latter, gaining 100 m in height in what felt like no distance at all. Although the path was not precarious, I was nonetheless aware of the long drop down to the sea. I was rather more aware that my lungs were threatening to explode as I ascended the hill.
‘This path is utterly ridiculous!’ I exclaimed inside my own head. ‘Who the hell thought this was okay? Was it perhaps made by goats?’
Actually that was beautifully timed. I really did castigate goats in my thoughts and then look up to see some staring back at me. If nothing else, it made me laugh aloud and that made everything better.
The path soon reached its highest point — 361 m on the subsidiary summit of Binnein Fithich (‘raven’s peak’) — where the wind was really giving it some welly; I didn’t hang about.
After Binnein Fithich, the path dropped down the coastal slope, descending to 150 m in the course of about half a mile. It did this by zig-zagging narrowly down the hillside, making for a sort of ski-less slalom between the waymark posts. It was fun but I took it quite slowly, not wanting to overtax my appalling sense of balance.
The path was down to 100 m by the time it reached Inneans Bay, where my camera decided that my phone had had the right idea. It too suffered battery death, shortly after taking this:
Actually, this delightful gem of an embayment is no stranger to death. Down by its shore lies the Sailor’s Grave, the last resting place of an unknown sailor whose body washed up in WW1. He was discovered by a Largiebaan shepherd, Duncan Sinclair, and the grave has been tended by volunteers ever since.
It is marked by a wooden cross giving labelled only ‘God knows’ and the date of the burial (16 May 1917). The current cross is the sixth or seventh — wooden crosses don’t cope well with the conditions — and the grave has now been tended for a century.
At Inneans Bay, the Kintyre Way turned inland, running east beside the Inneans Burn. The going got boggy in a number of places and I had no idea at the time that I was probably following an old trail. For Innean Glen is uninhabited today but that was not always the case.
Today, only an isolated sheepfold and some overgrown rubble attest to the vanished settlements of Innean Mor and Innean Beag. They are present William Roy’s 1747-1752 Military Survey of Scotland (known at the time as the Great Map) and survived to be shown on Aaron Arrowsmith’s map of 1807. But by the time the Ordnance Survey started to publish its 1843 series of maps, only the sheepfolds remained. Just two of many places lost to the Clearances.
I did attempt to take a photo of where Innean Beag wasn’t but, of course, my camera was dead. This was annoying but not a disaster. I could still take photos using my pho…
Ah. Yes. Well. No more photos then.
The Kintyre Way climbed up Innean Glen for about a mile until it basically ran out of glen. It then struck out across boggy moorland for a mile and a half to the farm of Ballygroggan (Baile a’ Ghrogain, ‘farm of the stunted one’). On the way, I got to see a great many of the sheep that the highland villages were cleared to make room for.
At Ballygroggan, I picked up the public road and followed it past a couple more farms to Machrihanish.
Machrihanish (Machaire Shanais) is a village of fairly small size with a large and surprisingly expensive hotel. It has an airport on its doorstep—officially Campbeltown Airport — occupying part of the WW1-era RAF Machrihanish. Until 1929, the village also had a coal mine but its main claim to fame is undoubtedly its golf links. Founded in 1876, the golf club is the primary reason for the hotel and the regular influx of wealthy golfers helps drive the local economy.
I wandered through the village looking for the aforementioned hotel, determined to find a bar and enjoy a cold drink. On my way I passed the bus stop and was hailed by the Velocitous Duo who (of course) had got there before me and were now ready to leave. I considered joining them but stuck to my guns, waving them off as the bus passed me moments later.
A nice sit down and a gin and tonic were what I most desired and I enjoyed both as I mentally ticked my day’s walk as officially done.
Well done me. Have another gin and tonic.
The Long Walk Back
I could at this point have easily caught the next bus. I did not. Instead I did as I had intended, walking the final five miles back to Campbeltown. It was quite pleasant though, if I’m honest, the B843 was busier than I’d have hoped. But the key thing was that it didn’t count for mileage. Getting to Machrihanish was my ‘official’ walk; this last bit was simply me ambling to my hotel. Y’know, like you do.
This time: 17 miles
Total since Gravesend: 2,897 miles