Monday, 17 September 2018

The historic Kilmartin Glen

Monday 17 September 2018

Nido’s parked up on the Ardfern Motorhome Park.  We’re ‘billy-no-mates’ again - just us here on a 10 pitch site next to Lock Craignash.  I’d booked this on pitch.com, but we could have just turned up, as there’s an honesty box for payment.  It comes with electric and a decent wifi signal (hence a flurry of blog posts going out tonight).  Another wet and windy night!

We slept well in the total quietness of the wild camping spot and after breakfast reversed our route to rejoin the A816 for a mile to stop in the village of Kilmartin.  Kilmartin Glen is the most important prehistoric site in Scotland.  In particular, it’s linear cemetery, where several cairns are aligned for more than two miles to the south of the village were well worth the visit. They date back as far as 3000 BC and are thought to represent the successive burials of a ruling family or chieftains.  Our first stop was the Kilmartin Museum, next to the village church.  We paid to learn a little more about the history of Kilmartin Glen before following the well marked path to visit each of the cairns.  Close to the south cairn, there’s Temple Wood which is the site for two stone circles.  I was interested in the name of the wood, given the areas possible links with the Knights Templar in this area, but I’m going to save that for a separate post.  It warmed considerably as we walked to and from the cairns, before we visited Kilmartin church and cemetery, with links to Knights Templar again.

We continued south in the van, missing out one area of interest as the car park was too small for us, but parking up with plenty of space at the foot of Dunadd fort.  This ruined iron age fort occupies a distinctive 176 foot high rocky knoll, once surrounded by sea but currently stranded beside the winding River Add. It was here that Fergus, the first king of Dalriada, established his royal seat.  The stone carvings near the top (the originals are now covered by a concrete replica) show inscriptions in Ogham (an ancient alphabet of Irish origin), the faint outline of a boar, a hollowed-out footprint and a small basin.  It’s thought the footprint was used as part of the royal coronation rituals.  It’s also thought that the Stone of Destiny was used at Dunadd before being moved to Scone Palace.  The recently arrived wind and rain made it quite a difficult and slippery climb to the top but despite this the views were amazing and the site atmospheric.  

Back at the van, we dried off and enjoyed a hot brew before driving back north for a few miles to Ardfern.  On electricity, we’ve been able to ‘charge all the things’ and watch a bit of a TV series.  It also means hot showers tomorrow and toast for breakfast! 

Friendly natives!

Kilmartin Museum and Church








 



River Add and car park from Dunadd Fort



Footprint in stone




Washing up shack with a view






The Isle of Seil and the Bridge over the Atlantic


Sunday 16 September 2018

Nido’s wild camping just off a minor forest road, high up overlooking Loch Awe.  It’s peaceful and quiet and no doubt will be very dark tonight.  We’d just about given up on this road when a Wild Camping symbol popped up on the Sat Nav.  There’s easily room for several vans, but we’re on our own and I suspect it’ll stay that way.  Cathy’s preparing an alternative chicken dinner - a hot cooked chicken from Tesco, with potatoes and veg. 

Last night was very wet and windy at Crannich Farm, but there was enough respite in the morning for me to jump out to unhook the EHU and empty the loo before we set off.  The crossing to Oban was smooth and I was soon pushing a trolley around Tesco to top up with a few bits and pieces, before topping up with diesel and heading south onto the Kintyre peninsula.  It didn’t take us long to reach the Slate Islands, which at their peak in the mid-nineteenth century quarried over nine million slates per year.  The most northerly is the Isle of Seil, which was our destination.  It’s separated from the mainland by the thinnest of sea channels, which is spanned by the narrow, single-arched Clachan Bridge, built in 1793 and popularly known as the “Bridge over the Atlantic”.  We drove to the end of the road and the village of Ellanabeich.  It’s a small hamlet with two rows of small, stone, white-washed terraced cottages crouching below the black cliffs on the western tip of the island.  This land was once separated from the mainland by a slim sea channel until the intensive slate quarrying silted it up and become solid enough over time to build on.  The small island of Easdale is reached by a tiny ferry from Ellanabeich.  It has a Folk Museum, but is more famously known for hosting the World Stone Skimming Championships on the last Sunday of September; we were two weeks too early!  Just so you know, a legal ’skim’ qualifies as a stone that bounces at least twice and the championships are open to all comers.

We parked in a free car park right by the sea.  It had a sign say no overnight camping, although several large motorhomes look set for the night.  However, we prefer to respect the signs and local’s wishes, so our plan to stay there had to be changed.  We had a walk along the two small roads with the cottages either side, past the Oyster Bar and Restaurant and down to the harbour.  After a quick snack and a brew in the van, we were off again, south down the A816.  It took a while, but eventually we ended up at this lovely spot above Loch Awe, although the rain is sheeting across the water once more - that’s Scotland for you!

Ellanabeich cottages



Ferry to Easdale island 

Bridge over the Atlantic


The Atlantic!
 
Wild camping overlooking Loch Awe



Fish and chips in Tobermory

Saturday 15 September 2018

Nido’s parked up at Crannich Farm campsite, in a lovely valley inland on Mull. It’s raining and is forecast to carry on until the morning, but we’re on electric, we have stuff to watch on the laptop and we have cake!

We had a lovely sunny morning on Fidden Beach.  I made use of the hot showers on the site while Cathy prefers the equally hot shower in the van - perhaps it’s no coincidence the midges have stopped flying around us this morning!  The plan today was to visit the colourful capital - Tobermory.  The 50 mile journey was along a scenic route, following the road along a couple of lochs, with highland cattle slowing us down  on occasion.  The road meandered alongside the water, sometimes curling in to cross moorland, again all on a single road with passing places.  Only by Loch Na Feal were there any places to park and admire the view (and possible wild camping spots when drier).  The last few miles into Tobermory are on a wide (for Mull) two lane road, which felt very strange!  The town offers free parking and we were able to easily park Nido.  I expected it to be busy on a Saturday, but I guess we’re approaching the end of the season, so there were only a few people about.  After stopping to buy Cathy a headband for walking, we enjoyed some fish and chips from the van at the Fisherman’s Pier - very tasty - that was our main meal for today sorted.  As I ordered, Cathy took the cakes we’d bought back to the van - that’s tonight’s ‘dinner’ sorted!  We had a bimble along the main street, past the brightly painted shops, pubs and restaurants, before following a path for 2km to reach a headland with a lighthouse.  There had been a few landslips along the path; it must be a full-time job keeping it open.  

Our drive to Crannich Farm was short and we were soon pitched up overlooking moorland and the pine forests on the opposite side of the valley.  We have free wifi here but it’s weak and intermittent, so I won’t be uploading three days’ worth of blog posts today.  Tomorrow we leave Mull and start to head south down the Kintyre peninsula, but I think we’ll be back to this lovely island.

A sunny morning at Fidden Beach



Tobermory


Excellent fish and chips on the Fisherman's Pier



If you look carefully on the far middle left, you can just make out the head of the seal following this survey boat

Isle of Iona and Fidden Beach

Friday 14 September 2018

Nido’s parked up on a grassy mound overlooking the white sandy beach at Fidden Farm.  The sun has just set through the clouds and below the rocks and cliffs in the distance and the wind has dropped.  This is a lovely spot, a well-used campsite with a mix of vans and tents, all pitched close to the beach and facing the sea.  There’s a new facilities block with toilets and hot showers, but no EHU.

We were up and on the beach at Uisken at 0730 this morning; the rain had abated and we enjoyed a walk on the sand as the tide returned.  Our next stop, the ferry terminal at Fionnphort, was just a few miles away.  It was raining again when we arrived and we had to wait about half an hour for the ferry, but at least we were in a warm, dry waiting room, with a great view over to Iona.  The ferry crossing was only about 15 minutes but was a bit lumpy.  Iona is just three miles long and just over a mile wide.  It’s been a place of Christian worship for more than 1400 years and still has a vibrant religious community.

The rain was here to stay this morning, so we were glad of our waterproof coats with peaked hoods.  We walked around the ruins of the fourteenth century Augustinian nunnery, disused since the Reformation.  We took the road North, passing the large Iona Abbey and stopping off at the eleventh century, St Oran’s Chapel, Iona’s oldest building.  It stands at the centre of Iona’s sacred burial ground - Reilig Odhrain, which is said to contain the graves of sixty kings of Norway, Ireland, France and Scotland, including Duncan and Macbeth.  It’s also the final resting place of John Smith, the Labour Party leader who died suddenly in 1994 - a very peaceful spot.  Carrying on along the north road, past crofts, homes and hostels, we came to lovely white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.  It was still raining hard but it didn’t spoil the beauty and serenity of the place.  Back in the village we stopped to warm up and dry off with a hot drink and shortcake at the Iona Heritage Centre, before visiting the adjacent museum.  Had it been a better weather day, we would have walked over to the Machair, on the west side of Iona, to the evocatively named Bay at the Back of the Ocean, a crescent of pebble and shell-strewn beach and with a spouting cave to the south.  We’d then have continued on to the south of the Island to visit Port a’ Churaich (Bay of the Coracle, aka St Columba’s Bay), the saints traditional landing spot on Iona. But the weather was a bit wild so that’ll have to wait for another visit - and we will return.

The return ferry trip was kinder; the wind had died down and the rain stopped.  Fidden Farm campsite was less than 2 miles away, so (while our wet things dried in the van) it didn’t take long to get set up and head off for a long walk on the beach, through the rock pools and over the many large gatherings of seaweed.  The sun made the odd appearance - enough time to throw our shadow but not long enough to warm us up!  So the rest of today was spent in the van, reading, eating and looking out at the view.  Cathy stepped out to take some sunset photos, while I sat in the van, watching a pod of dolphins far out by the cliffs through my binoculars.  It’ll be another quiet night with no artificial light, so proper dark.   

Sunrise at Uisken Beach

Breakfast view

St Oran's Chapel - Isle of Iona

Iona Abbey

Knight's Grave Slab?

North end of the island


 
Fidden Farm campsite