Monday, January 01, 2007

Note 'Walking Into A New Life'.

The story below, 'Walking Into A New Life' was written 18 years ago shortly after the walk was completed. I won't give any details here but will explain that it was not only my first walk in Scotland but my first ever visit there so everything was quite a novelty to me. I realise that in places I talk about walkers not being in abundance and compared to where I come from that is still true to some extent but there are more walkers visiting Scotland than I was aware of at the time, just that they are so obvious due to the extent of the wilderness. No doubt there are local people who think that they are over run by tourists but compared to the Peak District where I came from Scotland at the time felt deserted. Also I talk about Kinlochbervie not being somewhere you would want to stay. At the time of this walk the place was a mess due to a lot of work being done in the village and docks. I've been back many times since and it is very pleasant. If anyone should want details of anything they see leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer. This story is going to be posted in several parts over the coming week so if its not all there when you visit pop back in a couple of days for the next instalment which will follow on from the bottom of the last post so be sure to keep on scrolling down.


Walking Into A New Life (Ledmore To Clachtoll).

I started my walk to Sandwood Bay close to a place called “Ledmore Junction”, which is situated about fifteen miles north east of Ullapool. It was only a small place as were most of the places I passed through, quite often there were more letters in the name than there were houses in the village.

As I waved goodbye to my parents I felt this was going to be a greater adventure than even the Pennine Way had been. I immediately felt at home in these surroundings, even though I’d never been here or seen anything like it before. I greatly appreciate the wild places close to where I live, and consider myself quite fortunate, but they are no more than a child’s toy compared to this. This is a real wilderness, it would take me a life time of Saturdays to fully explore this place.
The first part of my walk took me down GlenCanisp, the weather was as beautiful as the scenery, everything was perfect. After only a few minutes walking I came upon my first loch, Cam Loch. From here I could see the mountain called Suilven, which lay in my direction of travel and was really where I wanted to be by lunch time. Before then I’d got to carry on along the shores of Cam Loch, turn north and then cross a ridge to pass Loch an Fada and the mountain of Canisp. Both lay to my right as I walked down the glen eventually reaching Loch na Gainimh, which lies below the towering Suilven. I went to the end of this loch and stopped for lunch.Afterwards I continued along the rough track which was becoming more distinct all the time, to Glencanisp Lodge which stood amongst trees on the banks of Loch Druim Suardalain.

There’s one aspect of walking where I’m really lacking in confidence, and that is when it comes to passing through people property. E.g. farmyards, and gardens etc., Glencanisp Lodge was one of those places. It was a big house with an even bigger garden, not that I paid much attention to either. I passed through the garden and in front of the house looking nowhere but straight ahead and trying without much success to be as small and inconspicuous as possible.

Once through the garden I began to relax again, I was now walking along a tarmac drive, and the air was filled with the scent of flowering Gorse. After a mile the open drive became a walled lane, which led to the small port of Lochinver.

As I walked along the sea front Loch Inver to my left and Lochinver to my right, I realised that for me life could get no better than this. I wanted for nothing – well almost nothing, I did need a couple of postcards, so I popped into a shop and bought a couple.

My present situation of contentment began to go down hill whilst on my way up hill out of Lochinver and it continued to get worse over the next day or so. Soon after leaving Lochinver, and just before the road to Clachtoll a car came up from behind and slowed to a halt alongside.

“where are you going?” asked the man driving the Ford Cortina Estate.

Why couldn’t he have asked me something simple – like who is Jacques Alexandre C’sar Charles?! I could have answered that. But oh no, he had to be difficult and want to know where I was going. How do you tell someone you are heading for Loch Leadhed a’ Bhaile Fhoghair? I did try but by the look on his face I got the impression that he thought I was swearing at him. So not wanting to cause offence I quickly stopped and instead showed him where I was going on my map. He was out of the car and had the back up ready to put my rucksack in before you could say Loch Leadhed a’ Bhaile Fhoghair!

“I’m going that way myself, I’ll give you a ride”, he said.

I don’t know what it is about me when I’m on a long walk, but people continuously seem to take pity on me. Try as I might I couldn’t make this man see that I enjoyed walking up hills with a forty pound pack on a boiling hot day.

“No, it’s alright, I’m on a walking holiday, I’m enjoying myself.” I said.

It was no use, the more I refuse the more he insisted. He was almost begging by the time I agreed to let him take me, this made his day! He told me he used to be a builder from Brighton and that he had moved up to Sutherland to run a guest house and to get away from the rat race.

It was during this part of my journey that I discovered I was something of a novelty in these parts, or at least what I was doing was. He was really interested in my walk so much so that by the time we reached Clachtoll I felt quite a celebrity. Clachtoll was the place where he dropped me off saying – “There, that was better than walking wasn’t it”?

I hadn’t the heart to tell him that is wasn’t.

At Clachtoll there was a camp site which I decided to make use of, it was close to Loch Leadhed a’ Bhaile Fhoghair so it made very little difference t the mileage I would have to do tomorrow.

The owner of the site was very apologetic at having to put me so far away from the toilet block. Once again I felt a certain amount of pity aimed in my direction, after all what does three hundred yards matter when you’ve already walked eighteen miles.
After a meal of Shepherds Pie followed by apples and custard and a mug of tea I decided to explore my surroundings and I discovered beauty at every turn. At one point a beam of multi-coloured light burst through the clouds to target itself on a now distant Lochinver.

It was like something from a sci-fi movie. After a couple of hours wandering and with rain threatening I decided to return to my tent. As I was approaching a green and cream caravan an old lady came towards me, I politely bid her good evening. I was to regret this later for without a doubt I wold have enjoyed the rest of my holiday far more had I completely ignored her. But I didn’t and now I had to pay the price.

After a few minutes idle chit chat the lady asked, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

Like a fool I replied, “Yes please, as long as it’s no trouble”.

The lady assured me that is wasn’t.

“Come in to my caravan”, said the lady to the walker.

This I did and willingly so. It was like walking in on the ‘Waltons’, you know, the ones from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. There wasn’t as many of them but the welcome was just as warm. They soon had me sat down on one of the beds. I sat drinking coffee whilst we talked about the usual things strangers talk about. As is the case when one id enjoying one’s self the time passes quickly, so before I knew where I was the time had come to say, “goodnight John Boy” or in this case Pearl, Vicki, and Fallon.

I lay in my tent feeling mortally wounded, embedded deep in my heart were three arrows fired from cupids bow.
To be continued below....

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Walking Into A New Life (Clachtoll To Quinag).

Today’s walk was to seventeen miles in length, all but the last three miles being along a public road. The road was like a roller coaster, up, then down, twisting first this way, then that. Always the scenery was beautiful. Even though my heart wasn’t in the walk, I never tired of it for a moment. I passed from one bay to the next, one loch to another, each one different from the last, and each one had its own special beauty. A mile from Clachtoll I passed the Bay Of Stoer, followed by Clashnessie Bay, Loch Drumbeg and Nedd.

It was shortly after Nedd I got my first good view of Quinag. I was aiming to spend the night at Loch an Bealach Cornaidh which is on the eastern slopes of Quinag. But before that I’d another seven miles and more bays and lochs to pass.

The first being Loch Ardhhair followed by another climb, this one leading to excellent views to my left of Eddrachillis Bay.

Still the road stretched out before me. It lay draped across the landscape like a piece of discarded string, and as the road continued on its way so did I, to Loch a’ chairn Bhain.
From this point I could see the Kylesku Bridge, it was also at this point, or shortly afterwards that I left the road to find a place to pitch my tent.

Kylesku Bridge in the far distance.

I was sorry to leave the road, for one thing the occupants of the few cars I’d see during the day had either given me a friendly toot-toot on their car horns, or a cheery wave as they passed by. I found it to be a morale booster, and morale had been in very short supply since leaving Clachtoll. My other reason being, once off the road walking became very strenuous, mostly over trackless, rough, and boggy terrain.

From leaving the road to where I pitched my tent was three miles and it was the roughest and wettest three miles I’d ever walked. After two miles of excessive exertion, and intense concentration I trod awkwardly on a tussock of grass and a part of my left leg immediately snapped in protest. Thankfully it was nothing serious and after a short rest I was able to press on with very little discomfort.
On reaching my intended campsite I had a decision to make, between pitching on boggy ground or on a tussocks of grass. I couldn’t make my mind up at first, I didn’t fancy either so I dropped my rucksack and scouted around for something better, if there was anything I couldn’t find it so I returned to my sack. It would be more comfortable lying in a bog, but having a lightweight tent meant I also had had a lightweight ground sheet, I could see that even a pin prick of a hole would cause the tent to become flooded. So I chose the site with the tussocks. As it came on to rain this was the point where my morale was at its lowest ebb, things couldn’t get any worse. Apart from my now stiffening leg, and the heartache I felt for my three friends from Clachtoll, I now had to live with an enormous tussock plonk in the middle of my tent.

I remember going to bed early that night for no other reason than to escape the utter misery.

To be continued below...

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Walking Into A New Life (Quinag To Scourie).

Things did improve the next day, so much so that by nightfall I would once again be full of high spirits. Again I woke to the sound of gently falling rain, Quinag was shrouded in mist, and my leg was as stiff as the fastener on my wallet – who said things couldn’t get any worse! I rushed breakfast and broke camp in record time, all I wanted to do was to get away from that godforsaken hole – or in this case – hump! I did think of taking a photo of the offending tussock, but not for long, who needs to be reminded of such things.From the camp I had a mile to walk across more rough terrain, before I once again reached a public road. After ten minutes walking down the public road I came to the junction with the coastal route that I’d left late yesterday afternoon. Today’s target was Scourie.
When planning the route it had never been my intention to visit Scourie, instead I was going to leave the coast road and head inland to spend the night at another wild pitch somewhere close to Ben Stack. However given last nights performance and my present frame of mind, I decided to seek the sanctuary of Scourie campsite. That’s the beauty of backpacking, one is almost as free as the birds. Just before reaching Unapool, I saw an old man and woman who appeared to have spent the night in the back of a van parked in a lay-by. Judging by the looks on their faces, their night had been as uncomfortable as mine. The woman was washing herself and he man was cooking breakfast by the side of the van. They gave me the sort of look my granny usually saves especially for rock bands like AC/DC!

As I reached Unapool the rain stopped and when crossing the Kylesku Bridge one and a half miles later the sun tried to shine. There, didn’t I tell you things would get better. Kylesku Bridge is a new bridge, it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on the 8th August 1984. before the bridge was built the only way across the water was by ferry. By all accounts this was a desperate bottle neck which at times meant long delays.

Now there’s a big new road two lanes wide, this was a road with a purpose and pride. This road didn’t dodge mountains or loch, this road had bridges and blasted straight through the hard rock. Nothing stood in its way, for me this was to be the road to Scourie Bay. Gone were the waving tourists of yesterday, to be replace instead by stern faced white knuckle drivers who knew their way. The scream of their steeds could be heard for miles, the occupants of whom all passed without smiles. At the sight of their plight I soon realised it was wrong to spend the day feeling demoralised.

For six miles I walked this road, eventually coming upon a sign intended to goad, “Private Road, No Vehicles, Walkers Welcome”. Since Ledmore Junction this was the first sign I’d had that walkers existed in Scotland, let alone that they were welcome. I must add that this sign was at the entrance to a nature reserve, I couldn’t help but wondering with walkers being scarce so far north if this was the way of attracting a rare species to their reserve, anyway it worked. My walk through the nature reserve was a delight, the route I followed was the route of the old coast road which had lain abandoned since the new road was built. Before long the road forked, the left hand going in to the sea, like a slipway. The right hand road disappearing around a corner, I decided the right hand road was the better alternative.

The sun was now shinning strongly, so I chose a comfy place overlooking Loch Duarlbeg and had my lunch.

After lunch I left the nature reserve and passed through Lower Badcall. A short way down the road was Upper Badcall, and later the next day I was to pass through another, this one was simply called Badcall. I arrived at Scourie at about five in the afternoon. I found the campsite, and then the warden, who found me a pitch at the top of a series of terraces overlooking Scourie Bay.
I’d pitched my tent and was enjoying what I thought was a well earned cup of tea when I heard a familiar voice, it was Fallon, the little girl from Clachtoll. I couldn’t believe it, the effect the Sound of her voice had on me can be likened to the effect of a starting pistol has on a sprinter. I’d got my boots on and was out of the tent in a flash, despite my aching leg. They seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see them. They informed me that they were taking a run up to Durness and that they would pop in and see me on the way back. As they were about to leave, into the car park drove my Mum and Dad, where were all these people last night? Thankfully my friends were as good as their word, and called in to see me on the return journey. They spoke with great enthusiasm about the golden sands at Durness and of a multi-­coloured rock face at Laxford Bridge. I spent another enjoyable hour in their company. This time before saying goodbye I persuaded them to let me take a photo of them, I also got their address.

This piece of information made parting much easier. In fact the paper with the address written on it was like a peace treaty. The battle inside me was now over, I was once again my old contented self. My heart and my head were again pulling in the same direction. I went down to the waters edge and listened, and watched the calm sea gently slapping the rocks. The evening air was warm, not only was there peace within me, but there was peace all around. Everything was perfect —even the sunset over Scourie Bay.

To be continued below....

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Walking Into A New Life.(Scourie To Sheigra).

I left Scourie early the next morning. I’d got more than twenty miles to walk today, and it looked like being hot. Again the day’s walk was to be along public roads to either Oldshoremore or Sheigra, depending on whether or not I liked what I found at Oldshoremore. When I talk about walking along public roads, don’t get the impression that I was forever dodging cars or whatever because there were no cars — well not many anyway. A lot of the way the road was nothing more than a single track road with passing places. My first port of call today was Laxford Bridge seven miles from Scourie, which I reached after passing Loch na Claise Fearna, and Badnabay.

The views I had over Laxford Bay were stunning, the sky was almost totally clear and blue, the water was crystal clear and invitingly cool.

Shortly after Laxford Bridge I came to the multi-coloured rock face Pearl had told me about the night before - it was truly marvelous, although I was to see some even better the next day.

Five miles on from Laxford Bridge I arrived at a place called Rhiconich,which is situated at the south eastern end of Loch Inchard.
After Rhiconich I stopped for lunch, I sat under a blazing sun, to the northwest I could look out over the dark blue waters of Loch Inchard.

To the southeast I had an excellent view of the mountains, Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack, So clear was the day it was hard to imagine Ben Stack was seven miles away.
The following four miles to Kinlochbervie which is situated at the other end of Loch Inchard could be classed as a built-up area in these parts. I must have passed nearly thirty dwellings which made up the three villages of Achriesgill, Inshegra, and Badcall.

No matter how benevolent one is you would be hard pressed to say that Kinlochbervie was anything but a mess when I passed through it. The road into and through the village was being considerably upgraded. Then there was extensive re-development going on around the docks area. All in all I was pleased to put the fishing port of Kinlochbervie behind me.
I was also just as pleased to reach Oldshoremore two miles further on.

The heat of the day was beginning to take its toll. The sun was still beating down from a cloudless sky. Apart from making me hot, it was also making me very weary — and sunburnt!

Leaning against a fence post, just before reaching my intended camp site at Oldshoremore was a sign that read, "Camping", And an arrow pointing down a narrow, steeply descending road that led to the sea. Mmm! I thought, it would be nice to spend another night camped by the sea. So, I decided to check it out. On the way down the hill I passed a bungalow, in the garden an old man sat in a deck chair, looking out over the beautiful sun drenched bay. Ah! thats the life, I thought to myself. Sadly it’s the sort of life that was not a part of mine. Instead I had to press on down the ever steeper hill, past a large caravan that was home for a lot of brown hens.

"Enjoying your holidays, ladies?" I asked, very softly, just in case someone was listening. The sun had addled my brain but I didn't want everyone to know it!

The camp site at the bottom of the hill was heavenly. I could quite happily have spent the night there had it not meant sharing the field with four cows. Sure there was already a tent and three caravans in the field and the cows weren't paying them the slightest bit of attention. However, knowing how inquisitive cows can be I decided not to chance my luck, besides there were two more sites close by, and even if neither of those were satisfactory there was no shortage of moorland to choose from. I reckoned it was better to spend another night sleeping on a tussock than have a cow spend the night sleeping on me!
So, with reluctance I retraced my footsteps back up the hill, past the hens who cocked a head calmly, and on past the old man who must have thought me barmy, to the second camp site at Oldshoremore. This one was as ugly as the last one had been beautiful. The site was small, surrounded on three sides by tall conifers, the fourth side being occupied by a large house. If it was part of your garden, it’s the sort of place where you would keep the dust bins, or make the compost heap. The day and my mood were much too bright to have to stay at such a gloomy site. I put my rucksack down, then sat on the warm, soft grass drinking water and looking at the map ‑ it was so hot! Perhaps the cool shade of those trees wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. But even more tempting was the sight that greeted my eyes as I gazed at the map. The impression it gave was of the camp site at Sheigra being really close to the sea and a sandy beach. If only Sheigra wasn't a further three miles along this narrow, twisting, melting road. But, even so the temptation was too great, and so off I set once more, first of all cursing my leg for being so stiff, then after a while the glorious scenery once again started acting like a pain killer and I started to thank my lucky stars that I had two legs thus enabling me to enjoy such a wonderful pastime.
The walk past Oldshore Beg, Blairmore, Balchrick, and on to Sheigra was an absolute delight. To the right was endless sun drenched, rugged moorland, to the left, the dark blue sea. After Balchrick I descended a hill, rounded a corner, and came face to face with paradise.
Paradise of course means different things to different people. If you like busy streets, bright lights, amusement arcades, and noisy nights, then Sheigra is not for you. Sheigra is situated in a sheltered hollow, one end of which opens out to the sea. It had an air of peace and tranquillity about it that appealed to me immensely.
The campsite was situated just behind the little sandy beach. I pitched my tent and promptly set about preparing a shepherds pie, which I demolished with no problem. This was followed by a fruit cocktail and a cup of tea. After which I went exploring. First the beach, followed by a scramble up some rocks to survey my surroundings. Once again I found myself wonderstruck by the beauty before my eyes. The view to the south being particularly grand.
In amongst the rocks were lots of delightful little plants.
The view to the north west wasn't too bad either, especially when the sun was setting.
So captivated was I by this enchanting place I had to force myself to go to bed that night. One of the advantages of being so far north in the summer are the exceptionally long days. I never once saw it really dark, even at Shiegra when I closed my eyes for the last time at 11.45 p.m.
To Be Continued below...

Walking Into A New Life. (Sheigra To Sandwood Bay).

The next morning dawned overcast. I wanted to get off to an early start, ,even though it was only five miles to Sandwood Bay ‑ my target for this walk. My need for an early start was a result of an ambition to walk along a deserted beach, in this case the golden sands of Sandwood Bay. I don't know why or when this ambition was born, but to achieve it would be the icing on the cake. So I set off at 8.30 only taking with me the things I required for the day, leaving the rest of my possessions in the tent. I won't do that again, not that it was a problem, but I can see how it could have been. For instance, had it not been my last day it would have been blissful to spend the night camped at Sandwood Bay, but you can't do that if the tent is at Shiegra.
From Shiegra I had to retrace some of my steps of the previous day. As I passed through Balchrick I couldn't help but marvel at the tiny post office a tin hut on the end of a house.
Between Balchrick and Blairmore I left the public highway for a rough track heading north. After walking for a mile down this track my hopes of finding the beach at Sandwood Bay deserted were seriously dashed. Along the rough track came a car, in it was a man and woman. The car bounced and swayed along at a crawl, a crawl that happened to be three times faster than I could walk! All I could do was quicken my pace and watch in dismay as they disappeared down the track. But as long as you don't give up there's always a chance. I knew they'd have to leave their car at some point. According to the map the track came to an end at Loch a' Mhuilinn.

Fortunately they had to abandon their car before the‑tracks end, but even so they were still quite away in front. They were now travelling on foot which meant it was now that I had the advantage. While they picked their way slowly over the rough ground, I took rocks, boulders, and mud in my stride. It wasn't long before I'd closed the gap between us and was extending it again. This time in my favour.

There was now just one more hill to climb, as I crested the rise the whole of Sandwood Bay stretched out before me. It looked very beautiful, as I was sure it would from the things I'd read about it.

I suddenly felt excited, like a young boy at the start of school holidays. I longed to run down to the beach shouting 'I've made it I've made it!' On the other hand I wanted to stroll through the sand‑dunes and revel in my moment of glory. Walking on to the beach was like walking onto a stage, I expected a round of applause, I didn't get one, but it made no difference, the thrill was just the same.

I hope you enjoyed that little walk as much as I did and now you also know how I met my wife. We did keep in touch when we all got home, her to Coventry and me to Derbyshire and just over a year later we got married and moved to Scotland for five years. We have been back to Sandwood bay many times since but were stopped from doing so in the last year because for some reason someone has taken it upon themselves to ban dogs and as we can't leave them anywhere for the day its stopped us from going not only there but it is not often we visit that part of Scotland now as there are limitations on the beach at Oldshoremore too, or at least there was the last time we were there. You just don't need the hassle when you're on holiday so we take our money and spend it at Poolewe instead.

One more thing, if you ever visit Sandwood Bay, never take anything from it because apparently the place is haunted, the ghost being seen several times by different people and it's said that if you take home a pebble from the beach it will bring you nothing but bad luck!


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