Day 170: Southend to Machrihanish
Distance: 19.54 miles
Ascent: 3470 feet
Weather: Sunny Spells & Gusty
Accommodation: Wild camp Machrihanish
The heavens had opened up yesterday evening and the rain had continued through most of the night, so it was lucky it was my rest day. Fortunately, as I was considering leaving it looked like the rain had stopped, though the wind was strong, and the sky overcast. Today was a day I was very anxious about as it was the first day where I had an extended patch of walking cross country across what I expected to be boggy and heather clad ground, so I left early about 7am.
The first part of the day was nice and simple following a little road out of Southend and then skirting the end of Dunaverty Bay with its lovely sandy beach. Then there were a series of quite strange presumably touristy things (it seems to be they were made up in the 1800’s) the most bizarre being St Columba’s Footprints, which I didn’t go and see as it was up a hill, but since when do human footprints leave a clear print in stone!?
The road continued to the even prettier Carskey Bay, where it diverted inland. The road actually continues inland as does the Kintyre Way, but I had decided during planning that I couldn’t actually miss the Mull of Kintyre (as bizarrely the Kintyre Way does) so I took an even smaller road that after crossing the river begins its long slow climb up into the hills roughly parallel to the coast. The sun had actually come out and I cannot imagine there could be many better roads in the whole of Great Britain for driving on and if you are ever in the area you must drive this road. It winds up the hillside passing pine forests, heather covered ground and on turning around incredible views back down to where I had started. I startled a group of deer, and it was really sweet to see a mother and her two fawns.
As I neared the top I became fully exposed to the wind and the walking became very tough even though I was on a road. I reached the end of the public road, and as I had half expected there was a tent pitched. I had met two German girls in the hostel in Campbeltown, who were proposing walking to Machrihanish in three days, and I had bumped into them again as they walked through Southend yesterday and they had said they were going to head all the way to the lighthouse and maybe pitch near the carpark (just a gravel bit next to the end of the road), and then proposing to head cross country to Machrihanish as I was. They must have been battered by the wind and rain last night, and I felt a bit sorry for them as they were sleeping in one tent and their rucksacks were in another tent, but the zip had pulled open in the wind and hopefully their gear hadn’t got soaked in the night. But the view from this point was stunning out over the sea with Ireland clearly visible.
It was from this point that I was very anxious as my proposed route headed off piste across the boggy and heather clad land for the next 4 miles. Having googled it I could only find 2 accounts, 1 was from a fellow coastwalker 20 years ago who had managed it fine though getting very wet feet after sinking into boggy ground and the other not so promising was a man who appeared to hate it and described how incredibly hard and horrible this stretch was for walking as he got scratched, soaked and fell over several times. But I had decided to go for it anyway and as per the person 20 years ago stick to the high ground.
So, at the end of the public road, instead of dropping down to the lighthouse I turned almost 90 degrees right and started heading up and around Beinn na Lice. The going was OK though quite tough with heather and soft mossy ground under foot and you had to be careful not to step in the covered boggy areas. It was incredibly tough on the ankles as the ground was not flat at all but you couldn’t see it so you had to just place your foot and the ankle flexed depending on what you had landed on. Despite all this I was loving this section, the scenery was stunning, with views out over the sea and I have never felt more remote in my life. On my OS map there was a field boundary shown but I did not think there would be anything there, but I suddenly saw some old fence posts (no wire anymore) and they followed this line so made my navigation much easier. There have been many plane crashes in this area and I was surprised to find a large piece of plane fuselage wreckage in amongst the heather.
I had made the first 2.5 miles easily and my proposed route carried onto the wood before rejoining the Kintyre Way, but as I could actually see the track of the Kintyre Way from where I was, not far away, I decided to cut across earlier. This turned out to be a big mistake as I had to navigate across 2 streams with steep sided valleys but though I was massively slowed down I managed to negotiate them and was glad to be back on the Kintyre Way. I had really enjoyed the off-piste section, but my ankles were exhausted, so I was happy to be back on a slightly flatter track.
I had massively underestimated this last part of the Kintyre Way which has a very tough sting in its tail. It is incredibly steep and the drop down to one of the coves was ridiculously steep meaning that my knees as well as my ankles were now aching but as per the off piste section the scenery was just so stunning that I couldn’t help but love it. I reckon a few people must have caught out by this last section of the Kintyre Way
I finally reached the road that would take me down to Machrihanish and I was completely exhausted, it had taken me 9 hours to walk 20 miles, which is far slower than my normal pace, but I was happy with this as due to the terrain I had expected it. I pitched my tent in a slightly sneaky place just of the beach only 10m from the road and more importantly only 100m from the pub to get Wi-fi to write this as well as grabbing some food.
Quite simply the most scenic day of the entire walk so far, a contender for my favourite day of the walk so far but also a contender for the toughest day of the entire walk so far.