Aiming for the Buoys!
Seeing a sign outside Oban, warning ‘Dumb Dumpers’ that they risk being fined £40,000 if caught fly-tipping jolted me - my Highlands Honeymoon was clearly coming to an end.
After leaving the green shores of Loch Sunart earlier in the week, I trekked through Morven, another sparsely populated area where remote farms cling to hillsides. Morven’s western shores are bounded by the Sound of Mull which took a time to reach, only for heavy rain to obscure any views on arrival. There seems to be a pattern emerging with Scotland’s summer! On the Sound’s shores, the small village of Lochaline has a CalMac ferry link to the Isle of Mull, its own shop and fuel pumps which provide for Morvern inhabitants strung out along the dead-end road to Drimnin.
As I made my way along the shore of Mull Sound, skies cleared and I came across the arched Wishing Stone and made a wish of my own: more donations - please! At the final hamlet of Drimnin, I noticed a cairn erected to the memory of Charles Maclean who lost his life while leading the Macleans at Culloden in 1746.
After Morven I continued to follow a string of two-pronged metal mileposts which had initially counted me out to Drimnin. Later, I followed them as I was routed across the Kingairloch area, down towards a hamlet of the same name. The mileposts are helpful, but if feeling weary they never seem to come quick enough. Some have sadly been damaged or lost, and when that happens it’s a good feeling seeing the numbers unexpectedly jump in your favour!
We parked-up near Kingairloch village for a night where we found ourselves dwarfed by two vast mountains. Seen from afar, their dominance was much more noticeable as I walked away next morning aiming for Loch Linnhe. I spent a good part of a day walking up this beautiful Loch, before catching the busy ferry at Corran Narrows. Nearby, a new road bypasses Clovullin which had once been the route to the ferry. It was here in this small village I came across the local Registry Office – someone’s house where the owner works her hours ‘By Arrangement’.
Having crossed Loch Linnhe I began my walk down its southern shore past Onich and on towards North and South Ballachuish, once only linked by a ferry. Today, a road bridge links the two and I had excellent views down Loch Linnhe, and up Loch Leven towards Glencoe too. Until 1966 South Ballachulish used to have a railway station that linked the town to Oban via this branch line. Not only was the line used for passenger traffic, it also provided a means of getting slates from the Ballachulish quarry to builders in the growing cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The old branch line now serves as both the Caledonian Way and Route 78 on the Sustrans Cycle network: I was glad to free myself from the nearby main roads and make use of this excellent route. In many places the old trackbed was too overgrown to be reused as the cycle route. Instead, some new sections were cut, and these often run parallel to the old railway line. As I walked Route 78 there were still clear reminders of the old railway with platform remains, deep cuttings and arched bridges which navvies and masons would have toiled over for many years. I found another reminder of the line at North Connel where its old cantilever railway bridge spanning Loch Etive now carries the A828.
The Macleans mentioned earlier are not the only clan who feature this week. Still in sight of South Ballachulish I came across a gloomy glade where a memorial to James Stewart (also known as James of the Glen) had been erected. James was a senior member of a leading Jacobite clan, who had been hung for the murder of Colin Campbell – the Campbells were keen Hanoverian supporters.
James Stewart had always proclaimed his innocence in what has become known as the Appin murder. Regarded as one of the great unsolved murders, Robert Louis Stevenson used it as a basis for his novel Kidnapped. It’s not for me to comment on Scottish Clan history, but it would seem the odds were heavily stacked against James of the Glen. He was held in a prison and denied access to his solicitor, the jury consisted mainly of Campbells and the Judge was Chief of Clan Campbell. Poor James didn’t have a chance. In more recent times his descendants have campaigned unsuccessfully for James to be pardoned.
Having been hung in November 1752, his body remained on public display under constant military guard until April 1754 as a reminder to all Jacobites. That’s not a guard duty I’d have fancied!
Along the Caledonian Way heading towards Oban I met Matt, a young farmhand from Cornwall. He’d decided to walk Brown Willy, the highest point of Bodmin Moor, before walking all the way to Scotland where he planned to go up Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain. We met during yet another wet day, but he remained committed to raising funds for a cancer charity. Unlike me, he was carrying his ‘home’ on his back; I admired his spirit, fortitude and fitness.
After all the tiny settlements I’ve passed this week, my arrival in Oban seemed like stepping into a big city port. The CalMac ferries, which operate a lifeline from Scotland’s mainland to numerous islands can be seen regularly steaming in and out of this busy port. Above the town, McCaig’s unfinished Tower, based on Rome’s Colosseum, dominates the skyline. Designed by John Stuart McCaig, a wealthy philanthropist, he intended the memorial to be both a lasting monument to his family and provide much needed work for local stonemasons.
My ‘bootometer’ clicked 2,800 miles as I entered Oban, where we are parked for the weekend in the Northern Lighthouse Board’s operational base. I’m surrounded by so many buoys of all shapes, colours and sizes, that I can’t tell my port from my starboard!
See Photo Album Numbers 46 – Walking Loch Linnhe Part 1; Walking Loch Linnhe Part 2; Aiming for the Buoys!