Day 180: Clachan Bridge to Benderloch
Distance: 22.84 miles
Ascent: 2644 feet
Weather: Sunny, Very Hot
Accommodation: Seaview Camping Park
After a lovely breakfast in Shielings, I was ready for the off a little later than normal about 8:30. I had rejigged the days for this week at my last rest day and this one had been extended to almost 28 miles. I was quite sure in this temperature and leaving a little later than normal that I had no chance of making 28 miles so had accepted I would be stopping short of my goal for today.
The first part took me back over Clachan Bridge and onto the mainland where I joined quiet lanes that took me the first 4 miles, passing Loch Seil, to Kilninver. In the village a car pulled up and a guy got out and he said he had seen me a couple of times in the last few days and that he had only just found out from a friend what I was doing so stopped for a chat and to give a donation. He was acting as the support driver for a pilgrimage walk for a group of other walkers, unfortunately one of them had got heat stroke.
On the topic of heat stroke (including the above is 3 people I have met or been told about in last 2 days) the conditions really are tough, walking 20+ miles, with 15kg on your back in temperatures just under 30 degrees with not a breath of wind is very tough. I am doing everything I think is sensible, drinking lots, taking extended breaks every couple of hours to cool off, covering my head with my ‘fashionable’ rag etc. It seems to be working as other than being very tired due to the heat, not getting headaches or anything like that.
Anyway after Kilninver, the quiet roads soon stopped and I was going to roughly have to follow the A816, it was only a couple of kilometers to the head of the estuary where though my plot carried on following the road I hoped I may be able to walk across the estuary. For the couple of kilometres on the road I mixed between foreshore and road walking and though it was not ideal there were no real issues. At the estuary I decided to go for it and strided out across the mud/shingle foreshore knowing I would hit a river at some point. There were a few small streams that I managed to negotiate easy enough and then there was the main river. It was evident I would have to wade so I took my shoes off rolled up the trousers and started crossing. A few steps in it was deeper than I expected so I returned to the shore and the trousers and leggings came off as well. I managed to wade across with the water level just below boxer height at its deepest.
From the estuary I found the farm tracks shown on the OS map and climbed over the hill and back down to Lerags, this climb was very tiring in the heat. Above Lerags I was surprised to spot a sort of pub so I decided due to the heat to stop and got a coke and salty chips as well as filling up my water.
From here to stay as coastal as possible I had planned to follow a track though Cologin Wood to Loch (reservoir) Glean, and then off piste the short distance around its eastern end to linkup with a track directly on the other side of the loch. I thought this would be simple, how wrong was I. The track to the loch was clear and nice walking in the shade, but once at the loch I firstly followed a narrow strip by the water until this disappeared and from this point it was an absolute nightmare. In short; steep scrabbles, head high bracken, bushes, couple of fences and all in the desert inferno completely took it out of me and almost defeated me. When I hit the eastern end, in fact the dam end of the reservoir I tucked behind the wall and had a chill in the shade. I also changed my route (no way was I putting myself through the same on the other side of the loch) as there was a track that headed from this end towards Oban, where even though many miles short of target I now thought I would finish. This would be slightly less coastal, but I had no alternative.
I actually got to Oban quickly from that point and beelined for the Tesco superstore where I firstly had a cheap meal in the café and then went and stocked up on lots of supplies. Oban itself was like nothing else I had seen in Scotland it felt a bit out of place, more like a english coastal resort with a plethora of dated hotels on its frontage and the slight whiff of tackiness though it was compeltely rammed which came as a shock to me after having been away from busy places for weeks.
I was exhausted but it was still quite early so I decided to carry on from Oban and I was very happy that the quiet road to Ganavan Bay was simple walking and from there a tarmacked cycleway took me over to Dunbeg. From Dunbeg I had assumed there would be a cycleway alongside the road but there wasn’t so I just had to follow the verge for a couple of miles before finally reaching Connel Bridge.
And oh what a bridge. Maybe simple in its engineering but the seemingly primitive steel truss sits so wonderfully in its location with its perfect proportions and is one of my favourite bridges I have seen on the walk. It is a single lane bridge so it has to have traffic lights each end though fortunately pedestrians have a pavement that means you can cross at any time.
I was now truly exhausted and the only reason I carried on was that I believed there was a campsite that might take tents about 2 to 3 miles further on near Benderloch. I felt I needed an actual campiste rather than wildcamping as I wanted to just sit under a cold freshwater shower and also there would be drinking water on tap and I was sure I would drink plenty of it this evening.
The walk from here was fairly easy following a cycleway through Oban airport and then down to the beach and from there it was lane walking all the way to the campsite. I normally pitch straight away but I was too tired, and the rucksack literally fell of me and I first sat down before that was too much and I ended up lying down with my hands over my face to keep the sun of it. After about 20 minutes I did pitch and after a cold shower and lots of water I felt strangely fully refreshed.
A really tough day, the part near Loch Gleann took it completely out of me both mentally and physically and from then on it was just managing myself to the end. In fact after everything I ended up only a couple of miles short of target, so in the end it felt like a successful day.