Go West!

Kentra BayThat’s us just back from a week staying at the edge of the most westerly peninsula, Ardnamurchan. We discovered this little gem around 13 years ago now and now find a need to return as often as time lets us. It is peaceful, surrounded on all four sides by the most amazing scenery. It has a lovely community spirit which enables local producers of all kinds to ensure you are kept well fed and watered.

My work means it can be hard to even find even two back to back days to walk, let alone a week. But of course this was also our family holiday so a balance is required. Leaving behind a stressful week is something which isn’t easy for me. I struggle to switch off from the things I know are happening, the things which might be happening, and the things which likely aren’t – but I convince myself they are. So imagine 12 hours before we hit the road Mr Smith says “I’m not seeing anything about Wifi, only a comment there is no TV as no TV reception”. Oh me. Not sure how I will cope not being contactable for a week but I packed by boots so I sure as hell am going to try.


When we planned this week a short while ago I kind of ‘ring fenced’ 60,000 steps. Not a lot for some I know, but my holidays are almost always spent in search of galleries, photo opportunities, crafts and the odd pub lunch (outdoor of course, weather permitting). And reading! A lot of reading. But the week that had gone before threatened to derail the entire break. With more date clashes, commitments, and so a very tough emotional decision to make, I was tired. Mentally and physically. I achieve so much more when happy and I was a long way from that, so frankly 60,000 steps seemed a tall order.

So we arrived on a quiet Sunday evening, unlocked the padlock on the gate (something we would do countless times in a week) and drove the final mile or so to Gorteneorn. Set on the Kentra Bay it truly is an away from it all location. A quick check of the phone confirmed – that’s me out of contact then. So first night out comes the map and we had a few destinations in sight. Nothing too structured or planned. With no network we couldn’t even check the weather – so reacting to the barometer and the sky would be key.

Day 1 and 2

Ignoring a thwarted attempt at Singing Sands on Day 1 (more of that later) we were quick (maybe too quick) out of the stalls on Day 2 with an 11.6 mile walk around the bay to Ardtoe and back. We loaded up with packed lunch, water and biscuits for Keara and got a start straight after breakfast. Outbound is always motivating as every twist reveals something new, including a beautiful eagle soaring over the rocky outcrops. The end revealed a small but peaceful sandy bay (chance to put in a few “sand” steps practice for the Sahara) and a pretty wee ocean backdrop. Lunch was eaten perched on a rock on the beach, just in time for the rain! Getting wet wasn’t on the agenda and so cut short the plan to linger and let the calories reach the parts they need to. It’s a road walk all the way, so it’s hard on the joints, and I confess at around eight miles I started to hurt. This seems to be my “wall” where knees, back and hips seem to suddenly shout in unison!  By 10 miles I’d have happily lay down under a bush for a nap.


Day 3

dawned a lot brighter and was Mr Smith’s choice. Glen Moidart, a walk which was curtailed last time because of cattle across the track. With a dog in tow they can get pretty aggressive and while I love them, I also fear them in herds. So today we set off and prayed! They were there again but these were young bullocks and mainly inquisitive so after a sidestep (or 40) we were by and on our way. A lovely level walk through the flat glen to the end. Though a tad shorter it still involved a long section of road (there and the same way back), an even more evil hill (look, there was a loch at the top, I had to go there) but on the plus side also included a traditional pasty from the bakery kept warm in tinfoil sat by the river. Well these walks are not all about numbers are they?


Day 4

…and I confess today was not a great start. I was tired and felt the need to get to some sea and stop worrying about “steps”. The sunset at 5:56am was amazing – the reddest sky which lasted only minutes. A sign maybe to just enjoy what the day presents. And so after a leisurely breakfast we headed out on a road trip. No lunch, no flask, my summer “flatties”, my sunglasses and we were Mallaig bound. We went there some years ago on a dreich day and vowed to never bother again. But today we saw it in a different light – well it was glorious sunshine for a start. Found a lovely bake house on the harbour front – lovely pastries and a coffee and then it was time to set off back. A detour via Loch Morar. I had seen it on Walk Highlands but wasn’t feeling up for another walk in a glen. A drive though? Hey that sounds nice. Then before we know it I am out the car, boots on, shades on and we’ll “just do half hour”. Turns out to be anything but a glen and actually a fabulous expanse of water. Two and half hours later we return to the car having covered just about 6 miles. Ok hardly a hike, but a psychological lift. Only once back and looking at the map with brighter eyes did I wish I had planned the whole route. Tarbet looked a lovely retreat “on the sea side”. But we would have had to plan that and then I’d have been doing “steps” again. And it was rather nice to arrive home not hobbling out of the car like a duck thinking longingly of a soak in a hot bath.


Day 5

…dawned dull and damp. Time to try the Singing Sands again, and maybe a little beyond. The path heads for Ockle but with no target, just a packed lunch, we headed off. The path heads past a fenced exclusion area set aside for the filming of Eden. Our walk took us up and by and down onto the sands before heading up the path towards Liath Dhore. A rather teasing path which sits in a “tunnel” as Mr Smith described it, we knew the sea was over there somewhere but had almost given up hope when the path offered a choice of Ockle Brae – a climb over yonder and inland – or a no through track. We threw caution to the wind and declared the no through road our only hope – the cairn revealed a stunning viewpoint over lands way beyond including Eilean Shona, Moidart, Skye and the isles of Eigg, Rhum and Muick. Only a huge downpour dissuaded us from continuing on the forbidden path. A pattern which would continue long into the day. Bouncing rain on two bedraggled souls and one even wetter dog was our stop sign more than once. We were soaked. After lunch under our coats on the beach, it was home for a dry set of clothes, a cup of tea. Then off again for an impulse walk along the River Shiel (Mr Smith said he wanted to suss out it’s fishing potential). And the day would find us with 12 miles completed without really thinking about it – much. Just one day left now.


Our final day arrived

…and feeling great, having decided 93,000 steps was pretty damned amazing actually. So we sought out a lovely wee walk between Sanna Bay and Portuairk. Mr Smith even packed a picnic lunch and a spot of wine to celebrate the end. Except…you guessed it!

No, not rain. More walking. Well Sanna Bay consists of several sandy bays backed up by sand dunes. So it was just too good an opportunity to miss. So I walked the mile back to the car to collect lunch, we topped up our calories, my steps and then spent another couple of hours walking on and in sand. Boy that stuff is a whole different type of walking. It started cool but soon the sun shone warm so it was good temperature walking too. Good enough too for the skinny dipper. Too far away to say for sure if male or female. But not so far you could see they were swimming in the suit they were born in 😀


So today we headed home. Mixed emotions. 46.1 miles walked and 107,683 steps taken to get there. Way beyond my expectations and a slightly clearer head. Ok I still struggle after 8 miles. But I can do 12, once in a while. And I did get back out each day. The stresses are still awaiting me of course, I just hope I can draw on having bust any personal target I might have had this week, to get me through whatever next week brings.

But more important is the reminder of why this is just as important to me as it is for the charities I am fundraising for. See steps and miles are great targets, great motivators for some, but it’s the experiences walking brings along the way which actually motivate me. For me it’s about taking time to stop and look and breathe. I love the smell of the sea. It’s the golden eagle above we might easily have missed with our heads down. It’s the people we met along the way. The couple who chose to cycle yet still we leap frogged each other, stopping to chat more than once, only to find they moved from Steve’s hometown of Glossop 30 odd years ago.

It’s the Tornado which silently appeared in the Loch Morar basin at eye level which we wouldn’t have seen had we not been stopping to take in the view. Only as it passed by did you finally hear the sound of the jet. How do they do that? It’s the artist painting by Loch Sunart who shyly nodded as we passed one way and then chose to chat as we passed the other. And it’s author Alasdair Roberts who was holding fort for his wife’s wee craft shed when we dropped into his remote garden to take a look – and so spent some time talking about Bill and Jane our now sadly departed neighbours. He knew much about Scalan and our lovely neighbours, despite being 130 miles away.

It’s the ever changing scene of the Kentra Bay (which we saw from all sides). From sea to mud flats, bringing in the most amazing collection of sea birds and waders. And a light which goes through every season, misty, sunlit, capped in vivid red at sunrise or coppery in the golden light. And the fact that Channel 4 chose this remote part of the world to film Eden – 23 participants taken from modern society – a social experiment, to ascertain if the participants can build a self-sufficient community away from the technology and hectic pace of modern life. Tempting hey?

And of course it’s our Keara – of all our girls Keara is the one who switches from kennel to house dog (and back) readily. She almost knows when it’s holiday time. Though this time I expect she didn’t expect to walk her paws off, but still she is happy. Unlike me she rises with renewed vigour after a day’s walking. Though she has also discovered sofas make great recovery beds! Er, hello, I don’t think so. As I look across and find Mr Smith and his girl competing for best sofa snores!


Just one more

And the final surprise of the day was being presented with the hottest day of the week for our drive home and Mr Smith suggesting a walk by Loch Shiel. Really? Oh go on then. Glenfinnan is a popular tourist spot for Harry Potter fans but over on the opposite side of the road is an minor road to a small car park and access to a range of walks. One which heads down the south east side of the loch. It was stonkingly hot and we were hardly set for a hike, but boots on, rucksack loaded and we could surely get out to see a view up to that famous viaduct, and more important down the loch itself. And that was where we discovered the artist from London, stripped to his shorts, on a yoga and painting holiday. We spent a while chatting about the change of pace, the difference between London and here.

Now it’s the little things like that which make the numbers matter a little less. But 50.4 miles walked with 118396 steps? Yes am going to pat myself on the back, because that really is massive – for little me – who loves driving, who ain’t so excited about walking. And it now helps me see I will reach my million. Now imagine if Keara was counting steps too :D.

If you have enjoyed reading about my steps this week and would like to sponsor me then I am only 54000 off the half a million! Then head to my Virgin Money Giving Page here and choose your preferred charity (or feel free to “spread your bets”). And from the bottom of my heart (and Keara’s paws) thank you.

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