Saturday 20 September 2008

Island wandering


19th September. Camped Coll. OS map LR46 GR 219555.
Did the long run up last night and continued on today. By the time I got off the ferry at 1745 I was bone weary. My one goal was just to find somewhere to camp as quickly as possible. Even before I left last night I was feeling out of sorts. Recent personal events taking their toll. In the last week or two I had not been sleeping that well.It is quite noticeable on the coach, how, when we stop for a break, the smokers dash out of the coach, gasping for that fag. Some will remain, puffing away until the last moment to get the maximum nicotine fix. Quite a few folks, we women in particular, make a beeline for the loo.Conversation on the ferry with a guy, supposedly an instructor with some outdoor group. He asked where where was going and so forth. His main concern was that I was travelling solo. "Humhp! do you think that's a good idea?" As far as I am concerned then yes and I told him so. "I assume you've left route cards, gps and fixed points where you will be camping?" Nope, nothing like that. He was shocked. "That is totally irresponsible, you could die out there and how would anyone find you?" Not being in the frame of mind for his attitude my reply was brief and to the point. In a few short words I told him in no uncertain manner that having no next of kin or family there was no worry of family missing me. If I died on the hill, well, so be it. In all probability no one would be aware of it for many weeks. He stormed off in high dudgeon. A lady who had overheard our conversation grinned at me. "Idiot, who does he think he is? Glad you put him in his place."Once the ferry cleared Mull we ran in to quite a heavy swell. Most odd, sitting on the loo with the water in the pan sloshing from side to side.There is some drizzle tonight and the grassy bit I have thrown the tent up on is fairly wet but it will suffice for tonight.
Wednesday 10th September. Camped Coll. OS map LR 46. GR182533.
Was late away this morning. If there had been water I would most likely have stayed put for the day. however, the water I picked up last night was a bit thick and looked a tad unhealthy. So I moved on. Strolled up to Arinagour, picked up a couple of bits in the village shop and head back out on to the coast again. Fairly rough going for a mile or two but not too bad if I stayed inland a wee a bit and tried to keep to slightly higher ground. The wind had been gradually picking up during the day and I had one eye on the weather. By the looks of it a storm was coming in. The waves breaking on the rocks. By mid afternoon a light rain was also falling and I decided it was time to stop. Passed up on a few lovely places to pitch. considering them too exposed to the prevailing wind. Opted instead for a wide grassy ledge snugged in by a large rock. Tent just fitted in. By this evening a storm is now blowing, strong winds buffeting the tent. rain lashing down and in the background the booming of waves breaking on the rocks. Have been seeing flocks of grey geese all day. Also oyster catchers, what I am fairly certain are dunlin and snipe.
Thursday 11th September. same place as last night.

Unable to settle during the night. Slept badly. Too much on my mind. Pottered during the day. Rough seas meant no chance to attempt fishing. Found mussels but they are all tiny. All around this area are the remains of lazy beds and crumbling dry stone walls. Evidence of much human endeavour. Managed to get a fire going despite everything being wet or least damp. Rain showers on off during the day. raining again tonight.

Friday 12th September Coll. Camped OS map LR 46. GR171579Once again, heavy rain during the night but the wind had dropped. Fairly dry by morning. Tent was packed away wet though. Was away fairly early this morning. Listless and as yet, not settling down to this trip. Violent headaches are more frequent than normal. Picked my way up the coast. As I came around the bay at the head of Loch Gorten a group of young highland beasts came galloping along. Typical young cattle, just generally curious. Though it did cross my mind how the farmer would react if he saw me walking along the beach flanked by his beasts! The ground underfoot was wet and in places decidedly boggy. Keeping to higher ground the going was not too bad but each time I had to cross lower ground things got decidedly wet. This was very much the case as I made my way around to the bay at the head of Loch Breachacha. It meant wading through thick almost waist high marsh grass. We, wet, wet, my trousers where soaking. The bay was lovely, a wide, curving open sandy beach. Geese everywhere, loads of wading birds, peewits, more oyster catchers and curlews. There are two castles by Loch Breachaca, one rather crudely restored, slathered in cement. The other, although lived in, looked in a poor way. two wings of it where derelict. The farm at Carpach was in similar condition. The majority of its buildings in a state of collapse. Came over by Hogh bay, which is a RSPB reserve. A heavy surf breaking on the beach. The water was cold too as I paddled bare footed up the tide line. It is noticeable how free these beaches are of flotsam and jetsam. Picking up odd bits of wood for a fire was hard work. At the other end of the bay found some crystal clear running water. An opportunity not to be missed. As I went to fill up with water a middle aged couple who had wandered up from the car park, came hurrying across. "Oh dear, you musn't drink that water, cattle have been drinking it!" In fact I was filling up above where the cattle had been drinking. Giving them a smile I answered. "It's ok, I am sure the cattle won't mind." The guy looked a bit put out by that. Giving me a look he went on. "Anyway cattle are dangerous and those are very dangerous, there is a huge bull with them! He looked at me in horror and stalked off with his wife in tow when I mentioned that I had no problem with the cattle or the bull and had passed them as I came up the beach. It was an early camp, with fresh water and a lovely spot on a wide, grassy shelf on the cliff, out of site and mind of anyone passing by. With a heavy sea running, large waves are rolling. Their crests smoking, with a booming, thudding crash they explode on the rocks across from where I am camped. Fountains of spray are sent shooting high in to the air. Awesome to watch. Quite mesmerising. Got a small fire going to cook supper on. One or two folks have criticised me for lighting open fires. In my defense I would say any fires I light are not lit where they can cause damage or get out of control. On this occasion, I moved a small boulder, dug a fire pit underneath. Once the fire was finished with I ensure everything was burnt, no lumps of charred wood, just ash. Also made sure it was totally extinguished, back filled the fire pit and replaced the rock. Thus leaving no trace whatever. That is the way it should be.

Saturday 13th September. Coll. camped OS Map LR46 GR226629.
Rain during the night and then a heavy dew leaving everything soaked. Woke to a still, grey morning. The midges where out as I packed up. Started off in a thin drizzle which soon gave way to steady rain. Headed over to the Hebridean centre and then up the road for a mile or two. Had two cars on the road. Obviously rush hour! Came around by Clabhach to be confronted by a wild looking pony on the road. He snorted and rolled his eyeballs at me. Spoke to him gently and he finally settled down and we parted on more amiable terms. Came back on the coast to wander up miles of rocky outcrops, rolling sand dunes and expanses of pristine sandy beaches. Saw a few tracks on some of the beaches but they where quite old and smudged. A couple though sparked my interest. Turned back down the coast and sure enough, there where some fresh distinctive tracks leading from a small stream down the beach and out towards the sea. Now, I am far from an expert tracker, but I was fairly certain these where otter tracks. The location was right too. Fresh water which otters like to bathe in and plenty of seclusion. Decided to stop and focus on that particular area. Got the tent up and with the rain having eased off, sat outside with the binoculars. With the tent behind me my silhouette does not stand out at all. For a couple of hours I sat scouring the offshore rocks. Seal, seal, diving birds, (shag and gannet), lump of kelp, seal. Suddenly something caught my eye. A small dark shape moving swiftly, not seal. Voila, otter. It dived and re emerged. Otters move very differently from seals and the rudder like tail is distinctive. For quite a while I managed to track it. The otter then vanished and I thought I had lost it. But no, it had clambered on to a long fin of offshore rock and scampered along the spine of the rock. It had started to rain again, too bad, I was not going to miss this by putting my waterproofs back on. This otter was big and very dark coloured. Suddenly it was joined by a second otter. Slightly smaller and a bit lighter in colour. This one also had a pale cream coloured bib under its chin. The pair obviously knew each. They rolled over and where soon busy playing on a patch of seaweed. Rolling and writhing around each other and having fun. Too soon it ended and they both took to the water together swimming off side by side. A mother and almost adult cub? Possibly a mating pair. By the size of the dark coloured otter, I would suggest an adult male and the lighter, slightly smaller a female. It has been a long time since I last spotted otters so I am feeling pretty pleased.
Sunday 14th September. Coll. Camped Arinagour.
A lazy day. Woke to a slightly chilly, blustery day. It had rained on and off for most of the night. Managed to pack up in fairly dry conditions. My intention was to wander back up the coast a bit and then cut across a golf course marked on the map back to the road. Had not seen the course on the way up but I had not been looking for it. When I did spot it I was totally confused. According to the os map, the course it was located on the other side of a t junction from where I was. However, unless my map reading had thrown a total wobbly, I found the course down by Gallanach. over a mile from where the map said it was. Ok, I can accept the map people making the odd mistake, but how can they misplace a whole golf course? For a Sunday the road was awfully busy, one car, one tractor and a herd of cows. In the morning I am catching the ferry to Tiree and my intention had been to camp close to the village. On a hill at the back of the village, close to the church I spotted a couple of tents. Making a few enquiries I found it was an official camping area. Not a camp site, but an area where camping was permitted. Water could be had from outside the public loo by the pier at the other end of the village.It had been threatening to start raining again and sure enough, as I put up the tent on a nice heather clad ledge on the side of the hill, it began to pour down. Rain continued through the rest of the afternoon. At times heavy. A break in the weather later this evening had me scouring the inlet directly below me. The tide was almost fully in. Once more a multitude of birds where feeding. Suddenly, and only too briefly I spotted an otter swimming across the inlet to quickly disappear again.

Monday. 15th September. Tiree Camped OS map LR 46. GR016472 Rain for most of the night but just drizzle by this morning. Sort of grey and driech. Was down at the ferry terminal fairly early. It is only an hours run from Coll to Tiree. Had a cup of tea in the cafeteria. it had been my hope that I could have had a plate of chips. CalMac do nice chips. No luck though, too early.The first that strikes you is how flat Tiree is. The houses are quite uniquely designed too. Some with walls several feet thick. Low and squat. Wind being an obvious problem on the island. Heading up the road towards Gott and it was case of back in waterproofs again. My aim was for a track that led across the island. There is a road that leads up to Gott farm and the track continues on from there. As I was heading up towards the farm buildings an old farmer pulled up in his car. He thought I had made the wrong turn off. There is a road close by that heads in the same general direction. The guy was obviously curious but I reassured him I was ok and heading in the direction I wanted. As I approached the farm buildings he was waiting for me. Bless him, he was concerned for my well being. "Tha'll be fair drookit time tha gans across the island. Onyway, thon wee bitty track'll be awfie wet and flooded too!" He beckoned me towards a big old barn and led me inside with a flourish. The chap was delighted I could relate to things concerning farming and we nattered for a bit about cows and milking and lifting tatties, thinning neeps and such. Well I sat for a while listening to the rain drumming ever heavier on the tin roof. Finally though, I made a move. Now this may seem perverse and odd, but I could not settle. To be honest, I felt closed in and I wanted to be out and walking despite the wet weather. With a sigh I put on the waterproofs and headed out again. The track was indeed flooded in places but I was happy enough. When the track ran out I just continued on up the coast towards Vaul and then doubled back. A rugged coastline this, storm battered. Briefly saw an otter swimming out among the rocks. With the rain coming down though the binoculars had to remain in the rucksack. Finally decided to stop for the day. it was case of finding the driest bit of wet ground to get the tent up on. Most of the ground was saturated and boggy. Do I regret passing up on the nice comfy, dry barn, with straw to put my sleeping on? Oddly enough, no. Ok, everything is either wet or damp and it is still raining but that really goes with the territory. When I took my boots off this evening steam rose steadily from my socks.

Tuesday 16th September. Tiree. camped OS map LR 46. GR 049451.
Rain finally died out last night to be replaced by a strong northerly wind. Made my way further up the coast turning back by Cornaigmore and the heading along the road past the airport. There was a tea room along the way. Sadly it was closed. Further down by Crossapol I found a village shop. Having only had a cup of tea for breakfast meant that I was in need of an early brunch. As can be the way of island shops, they had no rolls in. No delivery for another couple of days. All the lady had was a couple of fresh baked farmhouse loaves. Ah well, as needs must. Bread and cheese it was going to be. Uncivilised woman that I am, I found a sheltered spot on the beach and settled down for a break. Slicing off a couple of thick slices of fresh bread and a few chunks of cheese. All washed down with fresh orange juice. Actually saw a couple of dog walkers on Traigh Bhagh. Meandered on up the coast to Scaranish. There where a couple of folk camped on the grass by the beach. For me it felt too open and exposed to the public. Filled up with water from the tap by the loos and came on around to where I am now camped. Very close to the ferry terminal but sufficiently out of sight not to get noticed. Saw a few hares today. Quite distinctive with black tips on their ears. Also saw a vole. Today has been mainly dry and I have actually managed to air things out a tad.
Wednesday 17th September. Oban.
Drizzle this morning with a spot of heavier rain. Was packed up and down at the ferry terminal not long after nine. On the ferry I joined the queue for a cup of tea. The lady behind me stank of perfume. Sorry folks but strong perfume is not my thing. Also, after being out and about for a few days my sense of smell becomes more attuned to what is around me. She was all prim and proper, blue rinse and everything. She shot me a scathing glance as she took in my rather shabby and dishevelled appearance. As I sat down with cup of tea she joined her two companions seated just a few tables down from me. It very quickly became apparent I was being discussed. Snatches of conversation drifted my way. "Did you see that woman? How disgusting. Her trousers where utterly filthy." Ok, fine, my trousers are old, stained and showing signs of wear. After over a week of wearing them through wet grass, bog, sheep muck and everything else they are not going to look all nice and pristine. The three of them continued on with surreptitious glances in my direction. "She looks awfully butch doesn't she! I'm surprised they tolerate that sort of thing out on the islands. She looks as if she needs to see a good hairdresser too." It makes me angry. Unfortunately I find that sort of attitude difficult to handle. For me, it is safer just to walk away rather than head towards confrontation. Fine, I do not have good looks, maybe I am all lumpen and not nicely shaped. Possibly if I slapped on loads of make up and did my hair and everything it may make a slight difference. Carrying a hairdryer and a full make up bag on the hill though is not really on. A smidgen is carried in a small pouch but it is bare essentials only. Besides, I doubt it would make a major difference. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. Anyway, an overnight stop in Oban in a hostel. Cheap and cheerful, it provides me with all I need. Tomorrow heading out on the first bus and will be travelling for the rest of the day.