Highland Autumn

BlueDome Editor David Lynch heads for the hills for week of exploration in Argyll

The desire to get away grew stronger as the weeks went by, BlueDome is great fun to run but it is very demanding. I seemed to be working, eating and sleeping Internet, I needed to be away. Whenever time allows I head North, the Lake District, the Scottish Borders or better still the impressive West Coast of Scotland.

Inverarary was my choice of base for a week of camping, walking, eating and rest. Although the end of October is not everyones ideal time to go camping I prepared for my trip with enthusiasm. Choice of tent was the Robert Saunders SpaceTrek, designed as a 3/4 man tent it meant I had room for myself, Judy the Wonder Dog and plenty of gear. The tent has been on extended test with BlueDome and during that time it has seen service on the Baguley Ice Field in Alaska as well as more mundane use in the Lakes and Peak district.

My sleeping bag choice was the Ajungilak Kompact with one of their fleece liners just in case the weather got really cold. A thermarest mat ensured comfortable sleep and Judy had her own kipmat with an ancient down filled quilt to curl up on. In-tent central heating came from my Coleman mini lantern powered by gas and when burning at even low levels producing enough heat to make any tent warm and cosy.

The holiday really started after the long drive to Gouroch to catch the ferry to Dunoon. A Scottish sunset made the crossing a moment to savour and as darkness fell we disembarked to drive up the lenght of Loch Eck to join the Cambeltown Road which leads to Inverary. I finally arrived at The Argyll Camping and Caravan site at about 8.30 in the evening and was attracted to the lights coming from the sites own bar. I entered to enquire where I could pitch my tent, the barman looked a wee bit lost for words, eventually he asked politely if "there were any more people arriving from the same lunatic asylum as myself"! Although the site is open until the end of October there are rarely any campers at this time of year.

Pitching the tent quickly, followed by a light supper, I hit the sack, to be woken at 7.00 in the morning by the sound of rain. My spirits sank, rain. The last thing any camper needs. However by the time breakfast was cooking the rain stopped and it started to look as if the weather gods were going to be kind. The mist over Loch Fyne persisted, but little by little lifted until the evening sky was clear and the Milky Way could be seen in all its splendour. The night was cold but the promise of a fine day on Monday made me feel relaxed.

It was as if Winter and Summer had collided, the night had gone sub zero but the day was stunning. A great drive from Inverary through the Pass of Brander leads to the west of Loch Awe and a single track road that will be a joy to cycle down. Ben Cruachan dominates the northern horizon and by mid morning the early cloud had gone giving great views.

Loch Awe is a great area for walking and camping, the Forestry Commision and Forest Enterprises have done great work in creating walks into the hills and also along the shore. The Forest Lodges at Davalych are also tasty looking accomodation, they're open for bookings all year round by the way, and run by a very nice lady from New York of all places.

Another excursion took us to Crinnan where the Crinnan Canal joins Loch Fyne and the Atlantic with a series of locks that cut right across the Kyntire penninsular. Dunadry about half way along the canal has a superb set of walks and mountain bike trails around the forest plantation. A stiff walk up to the viewpoint give views out across to the Isle of Mull and beyond. It was at this point that Judy spotted a figure walking with a dog about two miles away and started to warn them off with some serious barking. Dogs, what are they on?

With so few people around at this time of year the chances of seeing wildlife is greatly increased, the annual rut of deer is just about finished but you still need to be cautious where stags are concerned. A red deer stag is a big animal and they become very aggresive, one stag glanced its reflection in the panels of a car parked at the hydro-electric plant and proceeded to vent its anger on the car causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. I didn't see any deer until later in the week but the bird life is active with buzzards, goldfinches, blackcaps and the friendliest robins I've ever encountered. Out on the Loch Grey Seals could be seen bobbing up to observe the goings on around them.

Inverarary seems to have changed very little since my last visit 9 years earlier. The town is the centre of Argyll life and is also the centre of the Campbell Clan, holders of the title Dukes of Argyll. Inverary Castle is the clan centre and also houses a museum to the Combined Forces Units which trained there prior to the D-Day Landings. In fact as I chatted to more of the local people the story of Inverarys role in the D-Day landings started to unfold. Prior to the invasion over 250,000 men from all over the world were training for D-Day around Inverary. The vibrations from tanks made the church spire unstable, it was dismantled, never to return. Wherever you walk on the Argyll estate you will find reminders of the war years, metalled roads go nowhere except into dense forest that is now reclaiming the ruins of buildings and the odd jeep and truck.

It is hard to imagine tanks, guns and Russian destroyers at anchor on Loch Fyne when you look at the countryside now, but a few minutes walk into the woods will show the remnants of war. At the head of Glen Shira, only a mile north of Inverary a lone pillbox still stands guard. The area is familiar to conflict, the watchtower overlooking Inverarary was built during the afternmath of the Glencoe massacre to give warning of approaching attackers. And if you take the long drive down Loch Sween you find Castle Sween, another mark of the conflicts that once blighted Scotland. Still impressive even though it is now surrounded by a holiday caravan park. Another mark of the conflicts that once blighted Scotland.

The choice of Inverary as base was a good one. It gives access to all the main roads and places the traveller in easy striking distance of some of Scotlands finest landscapes. Glen Shira was chosen as my major walking outing. Starting from the mouth of the Glen, a track, now a fully surfaced road leads all the way to the dams at Lochan Shira. This was one of the first hydro electric schemes and was built, according to local information, by all sorts of offenders, army deserters and other undesirables. Many died there and are buried in unmarked graves.

Glen Shira holds the remains of Rob Roy MacGregors house, a gift from the Duke of Argyll for his services. It is now just a pile of rubble, difficult to find and often mistaken, as there are also the ruins of an old croft nearby. If you want to have a look take care, the approach is steep and the wooden footbridge across the river will not see out many more winters. The views back down Glen Shira are well worth the long trudge. It does become tedious walking on what is now a well surfaced road so recourse to the map gives you the chance to climb up to the ridges and tops that overlook Glen Shira. Take care, the area is little visited even in the height of the tourist season. We returned from the hills after something like 16 to 18 miles of walking, completly nackered, but tired in the most enjoyable way.

If you don't want to be so hard on yourself, the area close to the Argyll Caravan Park offers horse riding, water sports, an excellent wildlife reserve and miles of low level walking and cycling along the shoreline of Loch Fyne itself.

I'll be going back in the spring, there is still a lot to see, next time my kayak will be going with me. The Lochs are just waiting to explored further.

If you want more information about Argyll and Inverarary please contact:

Argyll, the Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling, Trossachs Tourist Board.
Tel 01786 445222