Exploring the West Coast: Northern Kintyre and our first otters!

Last week it was our birthday (we have our birthday on the same day!), so we planned to go away for a trip in the van over the weekend. Originally we were going to leave on Friday evening, but one of our gifts was two MASSIVE steaks, which we really wanted to eat, so Friday night became steak (they were so big we had to share one) and wine night and we set off on Saturday morning instead.

The forecast wasn’t great and we had been so busy we decided to explore the West coast rather than climb mountains. Our planning consisted of checking Google Earth for nice looking beaches and driving to them! I decided we should aim for Kintyre, but with just two days we weren’t going to be able to drive far south so we decided on a route that stayed north with some nice beach options.

We set off around 10.30am on Saturday, and drove around the bottom of Loch Lomond to Arrochar. We have been to Arrochar a good few times to walk or climb in the Arrochar Alps, but I had never been any further than than, and Chris has only been as far as the Rest and Be Thankful pass: a nice view point that looks down Glen Croe. From then on we were in new territory for both of us.

We carried on along the A83 to the tip of Loch Fyne, where we stopped to check out a brewery (Fyne Ales) that we had heard good things about in Achadunan. It seems very nice and we bought a few bottles to try; it definitely looks like the perfect place to stop off on the way down from Beinn Buiddhe one day.

Further on, Inverary looked nice and the castle is very impressive. We stopped for a wander at Port Ann and followed the marked trails down to the abandoned Otter Ferry (we didn’t see any otters there).

We then carried on until the turning right approx. 3km beyond Ardrishaig, where we took the B8024 across to the west coast and the edge of Loch Caolisport. We paused for a cup of tea and biscuits just beyond Tighnahoran, but the beach I had been hoping for didn’t look as inspiring as I had imagined; it was a very calm place though (all the beaches were disappointing on Saturday, but we later discovered it was simply because the tide was in!).

We carried on going, whilst starting to think of finding somewhere to stay for the night. There is really very little in that area: there were hardly any cars on the roads and just a few scattered houses and farms.  Kilberry has a shop (I think I remember one) and a café/restaurant/pub but there’s not much anywhere else, except a campsite about 2km before you reach Kilberry.

We drove right down to Loch Stornoway, where we got out to have a look. The water was amazingly still and came right up to the grass, which I had never seen before; we didn’t stay long as the midges quickly found us!

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Loch Stornoway at high tide

We parked for the night in a layby above Port Mor and from the time we arrived to our departure around 11am, we only saw about 4 cars! The beer from the brewery was very good.

In the morning the sun was shining and we could see the sand at Port Mor, so we found a gate and a muddy path down to the little bay. It was perfect, nobody around, nice white sand, clear blue water and just enough sunshine.

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Our private beach, Port Mor

Two seals were watching us from some rocks just off the beach along with a collection of shags or cormorants (I’m not very good at distinguishing them).

p1050349The sea was too inviting to resist and not as cold as we expected! We spent a good while swimming, wading, finding beautiful shells and introducing Chris to hermit crabs (which are very cool!), before drying off and finishing our birthday cake (thank you Kirstie!).

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We then moved on to Ardpatrick: there is hardly anywhere suitable to park but we managed to tuck the van in, and followed a track past Ardpatrick House to another small bay. Seaweed and layers of massive shells lined the top of the beach but beyond that was a large expansive of beautiful sand.

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Is this really Scotland? Who needs to go abroad!

As we climbed over the rocks to see what was around the corner, I spotted something in the water ahead of us. After a couple of seconds I realised it was an otter, and, amazed, we stopped to watch. We quickly realised that there appeared to be another on the rocks: in fact, there were three, a mother and two youngsters, who she was fishing for. It was incredible; I have always wanted to see otters but had never found any before. We were about 25m away and watched them for nearly an hour; the mother fished almost constantly, and made an unexpected amount of noise when she found something suitable for the young ones, which would promptly leap into the water. Otherwise they would just swim around the shore and roll about on the rocks. Eventually we left them and moved on but ended up just above them. The mum eventually noticed us and dashed back, making a very peculiar huffing noise and led them away tucked in either side of her. They weren’t that bothered though as we saw them again all curled up together on some rocks just around the corner!

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Otter family!

On the way back up the beach, we couldn’t resist another swim, the water was too nice. Then we headed home, following the road to Tarbet and then the A83 back to Arrochar again, via another tea break in Inverary. Overall, it was an absolutely wonderful weekend and we felt like we’d been away for much longer than the two days.

 

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Finnich Glen

If you are looking for somewhere nice to go in the Central Belt to pass an hour or so, I would highly recommend Finnich Glen. Accessed from the A809 (parking on the A809-B834 junction; the glen is to the east of the road) and not far from Drymen and Killearn, the deep, narrow and mossy gorge makes a really interesting little exploration. If you take children beware of the edges and steep drops to the left of some of the paths, and if the steps down into the gorge look too intimidating, keep going: you can reach the water via a much gentler slope further along.

Microadventure: A night under one star

The weather in Scotland had been beautiful all week and was set to continue over the weekend, however I really needed to work on my PhD thesis. So  Chris suggested that if I worked during the day on Saturday,  we could go and spend the night on Dumyat, which is our local hill.

We packed our things after dinner and drove the van to Stirling University campus where we parked it….in case the midges were awful and we had to retreat from the hill! We found a nice spot part of the way up that caught the sun as it was setting, but would also allow us to see the sunrise.

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From about 9pm the temperature dropped quickly and I soon regretted leaving my down jacket at home, but it was nice to relax with a cider (and beer for Chris).

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At about 10.30pm, we were cold and decided it was time to unpack our beds. Choosing a spot for bivvying is quite strange: which patch of grass do we like most? On top of the bank where we have the view, but catch the wind so it might be chilly, or lower down where we will be more sheltered? But sheltered might mean midges! Which patch has fewest lumps, is flattest, and has the least sheep poo?

Then you have the “should I have my sleeping mat inside or outside of my bivvy bag?” dilemma. Apparently this depends on your bivvy bag: my Robens Primacore sleeping mat fitted perfectly inside my Alpkit Hunka bivvy bag, until I tried to get in too….I could not move at all! In contrast, Chris was comfortable with his Exped DownMat Light 5 inside his Rab Storm bivvy bag. At 11pm when we were in our sleeping bags, it was still light enough to see perfectly. It was also a bit cloudy, so rather than being able to lie and look at the stars,we had to make-do with the single star that was visible.

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I was surprisingly warm and comfortable, but the cool breeze on your face and the strange noises makes for broken sleep. I woke up startled by a particularly loud noise at one point, only to realise it was just a sheep. Even then, it still wasn’t very dark. At 4.50am, it was daylight again and I could no longer deny that I needed a wee, but after that we slept on until 7.20 am! This was despite the light, and the walkers and runners who were up VERY early for a Sunday morning.

We didn’t get to see the sunrise though: we were completely surrounded by cloud, so the view while we shared our Bran Flakes for breakfast was not as pretty as we had anticipated.

However, it was a good little microadventure that nicely broke up my PhD weekend.