A rocky ride to Craggy Island

The wreck of the MV Plassy dominates the skyline on the eastern side of the island.

The opening credits to the BBC sitcom series Father Ted shows aerial views over the fictitious Craggy Island. The island in real life is the easternmost of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and during this summer I decided to take to the high seas to visit this lonely outpost.

It’s a fresh windy morning as I make my way from my base in Ennis to Doolin on the Clare coast. With plenty of time to spare I am parking in the village then walking the last half mile down to Doolin Pier. The place is busy with tourists and I have taken a chance by not booking the ferry in advance. It is easy enough to buy a return ticket to any of the Aran Islands but the problem is finding the right boat to get on. Several boats bob up and down in the harbour with more just waiting offshore. It seems like organised chaos as first as a group of us are told we will be leaving on one boat then on another and whilst those with advance tickets soon set off, a smaller group of us are left on the pier. Sure enough we soon depart for the rocky seven mile crossing of South Sound. As soon as we are out of the harbour we hit the full force of the Atlantic and it isn’t long before some of us are getting more than fair of spray over us.
As we near the shelter of Inisheer then the sea becomes that bit calmer and after about fifty minutes of being tossed about on the sea we are glad to set foot on terra firma. Islanders are vying for business providing jaunting car rides or for bike hire but I am about the only one who is here to walk.

Jaunting cars and cyclists leave the quayside and all of a sudden you have been transported back a hundred years.

Like a beached whale, the rusting hulk of the MV Plassy has been stranded here for over fifty years.

A view from within. I am stood in what was once the front hold of the MV Plassy looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean.

As I head away from the bustling harbour I can hear the sound of horse’s hooves as a succession of jaunting cars pass me loaded with tourists. I have a full day ahead of me to explore the five square miles of this fascinating rocky island and want to see as much of the island as possible and to get to those places that jaunting cars and bicycles don’t reach. With the weather set fine I want to visit the shipwreck of the MV Plassy first and set off along the road passing the small island airport. It seems that many cyclists are heading this way as well as a few jaunting cars. The wreck eventually comes into view like a beached whale visible across a sea of stone walls. On closer inspection the wreck is much bigger than expected and I spend awhile exploring it and taking photographs of its rusting hulk set against the blue Atlantic sky backed by distant shower clouds. The MV Plassy was built in 1940 in Beverley, East Yorkshire and was a steam trawler. Originally the vessel took on the name of HMT Juliet but after WWII was renamed Peterjon and converted to a cargo vessel in 1947. In 1951 she was acquired by the Limerick Steamship company and renamed Plassy. On the 8th March 1960 whilst sailing through Galway Bay in a severe gale the vessel struck Finnis Rock off the south eastern side of Inisheer. The islanders rescued all the crew but the ship which was carrying a load of whiskey, stained glass and yarn was tossed ashore on the rocks and has remained there ever since and is now quite a tourist attraction. It has been made even more famous as it appears on the opening credits to the BBC comedy series ‘Father Ted’.
It is time to move on, and I follow the tarmac lane along the coast before taking a rough path and later continue via the rocky foreshore towards the gleaming black and white lighthouse which dominates the south eastern end of the island. As expected there is strictly no access to the inner lighthouse complex itself which is guarded by high walls but when no one was looking I scale an outer wall to stay with the coast as this is not trespassing. Today, the weather is just perfect to get some good photographs with wisps of cloud to add contrast to the deep blue sky.

The black and white lighthouse dominates the south east corner of the island. I had certainly picked a fine day to visit.

I venture west next along the coast but the going underfoot isn’t that easy. Above the limestone wave cut platform is a jumble of rocks and behind this the ground is littered with smaller rocks many hidden in the grass. It is time to head back to the village via one of the many narrow lanes hemmed in by limestone walls. Everywhere you look there is a sea of small fields many which aren’t much bigger than your average garden. Entering the village I intermingle with all the tourists that haven’t ventured that far. The signal tower which stands on the highest part of the island is really out of bounds so I make my way down to O’Brien’s Castle. The rocky knoll on which it stands gives a good view over the area but there are many tourists at the place. The ruinous castle dates from the 14th century and was a stronghold of the O’Flaherty family and many of the descendants still live on the island today. I opt to go elsewhere to have my lunch and find a sheltered grassy track away from the crowds.

O’Brien’s Castle is located just above the village and dates from the 14th century.

A sea of tiny fields, many not much bigger than your average garden and what a spot to have lunch on this perfect day.

For the afternoon I have ample time to explore the western part of the island. I set out via a quiet narrow lane hardly wide enough for a car soon passing the whitewashed island church then set out south westwards on another enclosed lane only this time the lane stops well short of the coast. Ahead lie a maze of small fields each surrounded with limestone walls with few openings. There is very little surface soil and my progress towards the coast is slow as I search out the easiest crossing points of each wall. There are a few small gates but in some cases loose stone had been stacked up where there were once openings. Without doing any damage I reach the coast and this time I decide to cross the storm beach to walk on the limestone wave cut platform. The walking is most pleasant and in this quiet corner of the island known as Tonefeennay I pause several times and sit to just watch the rolling Atlantic. It’s a wonderful spot that I could have stayed there for hours. I stay with the shore along the western side of the island, always wary of any big waves coming in. To my left Foul Sound separates Inisheer with the neighbouring island of Inishmaan. Here the waves are sending columns of spray into the air. I opted later to join the lane which runs just above the beach back to the main village but now shower clouds on the horizon are steaming in off the Atlantic and in this part of the world there was absolutely no shelter. I press on at a slightly quicker pace and I am back at the village before any rainfall, and threatening as it looks, the shower passes to the south of the island.

Atlantic surf crashes against the limestone pavement on the western coast of Inisheer. Beyond, across the sound is the island of Inishmaan.

Shower clouds pass close to the island and the white beach becomes briefly deserted. The colours are so sharp here with a most inviting aquamarine sea.

I still have some spare time on my hands and so set about by wandering around the village and down to the lovely white sandy bay. I time it just right to get some excellent pictures of shower clouds, white sands and the aquamarine sea in the bright sunshine. Eventually it is time to head back to the quay for the roller coaster of a ride back to the mainland. Again the deck is awash periodically with sea water and I gather some people are taking quite a soaking and end up with rather wet feet before the end of the voyage.

Returning to the quayside at the end of a perfect day. Ahead is a fifty minute boat ride of being tossed around in the Atlantic.

Breakfast on Helvellyn

Its a warm May morning and its only 7 am and I am on the summit of Helvellyn having breakfast. Once more I have the whole place to myself.

It’s going to be a very hot day and I’m in the Lake District with the family who will not want to toil up a mountain and so I have a cunning plan.
With a temperature forecast to sore up to around 28 centigrade it is worth bringing your plans forward by a few hours. The weather forecast is set fair for the day and so the plan is the set out walking by about dawn and to be back by mid-day which gives a free afternoon in which to visit Levens Hall on the southern edge of the Lake District and its fine topiary gardens.

I am up by 4am and with dawn breaking I decide to head off to climb Helvellyn before the day gets hot. After a light snack I am on the road by 4.50am and drive north on empty roads to Wythburn Car Park north of Grasmere. The only downside is the cost to park there but there is really no alternative. It is £4.50 for just four hours to park in this empty car park. Setting off by 5.40am I make my way up through the dark cool woodlands at a steady pace. Above this, the good stepped path runs up the mountainside. The first rays of sunshine are lighting up the hills opposite and mist hangs silently over Thirlmere. Good and steady progress is made as I gain height but even this early in the day it is quite warm. The early morning sunshine is lighting up more hillsides and the mist is gradually dispersing as I gain height under a cloudless sky. I’m still in shade as I toil up the western shoulder of Nethermost Pike catching the first rays of sunshine as I near the col to the north of this hill. The ‘wow’ factor soon comes into play as I stair across to the black outline of Striding Edge. Now a short ascent lies ahead to reach the summit of Helvellyn which I gain in the next ten minutes.

Nearing the summit of Helvellyn and its not yet even 7 am on this perfect morning.

The morning sun reflects off a mirror like Red Tarn. It’s worth getting up early for.

The view north from Helvellyn on a perfect May morning.

Speechless I stand alone on the summit under deep blue skies with a view to Criffell in Scotland to the north and the Pennines to the east appearing above a misty Vale of Eden. Below, the sun is reflecting off the mirror like Red Tarn. I sit awhile on the summit having a snack. There is not a sound or a breath of air on this perfect morning. The climb has taken exactly an hour and a half. I am reluctant to leave this fantastic viewpoint on such a lovely morning. I have to be back to the car by 09.40am which gives me time to walk along over Nethermost Pike, and High Crag to Dollywaggon Pike and again this turns out an excellent ridge walk under perfect conditions. On Dollywaggon Pike I again rest awhile, timing it carefully to give me time for my descent.

My route south towards Dollywagon Pike. I’ve still not seen another walker today.

Setting off, I return to the col between Dollywagon Pike and High Crag then contour across to reach the path I took up to Helvellyn. I then follow my outward route down to the car park taking exactly an hour from leaving Dollywagon Pike. The descent now is in sunshine and I meet one woman walking uphill with two dogs and already feeling the heat of the morning. We chat briefly and she says she had got up early to undertake this walk. I am soon back at the car ready for the short drive back to Crosthwaite near Kendal just as most people were heading out for the day.

Descending towards Thirlmere and the day is already warm. I shall be back down to the car by 9.30 am.

I certainly recommend getting out really early to do a’ daybreak’ walk. It is a way of seeing the countryside in a completely different light so next time when you can guarantee a fine sunny day. Get an early night then get up very early the following day and aim to get out walking just before sunrise and you won’t regret it.

A grey day with a fine end

Heading out towards Mam Barrisdale. the path is good here but these conditions underfoot wont last. I am aiming for the pass in the distance.

Heading out towards Mam Barrisdale. the path is good here but these conditions underfoot wont last. I am aiming for the pass in the distance before heading up on the right into the mist.

It’s day three on my visit to Knoydart and I am hoping for some better weather to scale the last two Munro’s in the area. It is in some respects today or neverto climb these two peaks and in any case the weather forecast suggests an improvement during the day but the chances of having a view from the Munro’s tops seems unlikely.
This walk is going to be complicated as it traverses some for the most rugged countryside in the area. A walker whom I met the previous day at Airor had said there was a path between the two Munro’s and so this would be a big bonus.

A bridge to catch the unwary. A few planks missing so I tested each step crossing this bridge.

A bridge to catch the unwary. A few planks missing so I tested each step crossing this bridge. I had walked via the loch side path to reach his point.

Heading out on a grey morning along the valley of Gleann an Dubh-Lochain I make good progress. Cloud is well down on the mountains but at least it appears to be lifting slowly and so whilst I expect the tops to be in the cloud, the walk between will hopefully offer some limited views. The good track finishes at the eastern end of Loch an Dubh-Lochain and the path soon degenerated into a quagmire in parts and I often have to divert up the hill side on my left. Small bridges span most streams but occasionally bridges are in a very poor state of repair with planks missing.
I reach the top of the pass at Mam Barrisdale in the two hours after leaving Inverie and have made exceedingly good progress. It is here on the pass I now leave the main path and take a very boggy side path to start the ascent of Luinne Bheinn (sometimes known as Loony Bin!). The path follows a line of stakes and climbs diagonally across the mountainside. The going isn’t exactly easy and I know that I will need to cut up to the left at some point. I gradually ascend into the mist climbing up a grassy steep hillside with crags here and there. The path as such appears to fizzle out but on reaching the western crest of the ridge I join a good path coming in from the left which might be the main path up from Loch Hourn. An upward walk in the thick mist takes me to the western summit and this is just one metre lower than the main summit which at this stage is out of sight due to the thick mist. The path runs along the crest of the mountain with a steep drop to my left but there are simply no views whatsoever. The compass is essential here and for the next few miles I repeatedly check my bearing and timing every couple of hundred yards. There is really no point hanging around the summit of Luinne Bheinn (939 metres) as there were simply no views. With a col ahead of me, I am soon on the eastern summit and here afterwards the path gradually curves to the southwest but avoiding many crags on the descent. I need to cross the point where there is a line of old stakes and I am pleased to find this point in the col. The mist has not risen above the col but just briefly it clears enough to get a view of the ridge ahead and to my left towards remote Ben Aden. I am soon back into the thick mist as I climb over the complicated satellite summit of Meall Coire na Gaoithe n-Ear and with a small diversion I leave the path to bag the summit of Druim Leac a Shith (839 metres). Taking a compass bearing I find my way back onto the path for the descent to Bealach Ile Coire by which time the mist has turned to a fine rain. It is time for lunch and to get the full waterproof gear on. I find a sheltered spot for lunch on this most gloomy day before setting off up the north eastern spur of Meall Buidhe. The slope increases in steepness with an increasing number of scrambles and many times I think I am almost on the summit then grey crags loomed ahead. Eventually and quite suddenly I am at a small cairn and this I confirm is the eastern summit at 942 metres. The main summit is a little to the west-northwest and I press on along the very misty ridge with the ground disappearing into a misty craggy abyss to my right. After crossing a small dip I am soon on the main summit at 946 metres which has a larger cairn but today the mist is turning thicker.
There is no point lingering here so setting the compass I now press onto the satellite summit of An T-Uiriollach which initially means a steady descent before a short rise to the 826 metre summit. I need now to find a couple of very small lochans where I can set my compass and continue down the western ridge and one such lochan soon comes into view. I am expecting now that I will be soon below the mist with views opening out to the west but I am wrong. An intermittent faint path runs west down the broad ridge but the fine rain is relentless and the mist shows no signs of lifting. I decide to stay on the ridge as far as possible as it seems the easiest option and the faint path keeps coming and going. When am I going to come out of the mist I think? The weather has certainly closed in.
I continue over Druim Righeanaich and at around 300 metres above sea level there are signs of limited views down into the valleys either side. As the ridge steepens ahead I decided to cut down to the left but the slope is full of crags and bracken. Not far below is the footbridge over the Allt Gleann Meadail where I am aiming for. To get there, the slope is covered in head high wet bracken with hidden boulders. I inched my way down testing each step on this most unpleasant area and getting quite wet in the process and so I am much relieved to reach the foot. At least there was a good drying room back at the bunkhouse. I now join a footpath along the valley of Gleann Meadail but the wet vegetation hangs across the path. The private bothy at Druim is passed and soon I meet a large party walking towards it. Bearing right later I cross the Allt Gleann Meadail once more via a good footbridge and soon join my outward route for the last mile and a half walk back to the bunkhouse.

After cooking a basic meal in the evening the weather is clearing from the west so it is time for another wander through the empty village of Inverie where I am told that I had just missed seeing an otter at play on the beach. Its late evening as I walk in the opposite direction to Long Beach and to visit the unique ancient cross in the graveyard at Kilchoan. The light is magical on this still evening and a good opportunity to take many photographs. It feels like being on your own island, just me and ten million midges.

The ancient cross in Kilchoan churchyard is rather unique to Scotland in its design and possibly dates from the 15th century.

The ancient cross in Kilchoan Churchyard is rather unique to Scotland in its design and possibly dates from the 15th century.

Evening lights begins to light up the village and pier at Inverie on this very still evening.

Evening light begins to light up the village and pier at Inverie on this very still evening. Near this spot I had just missed seeing an otter at place on the beach.

Smoke gently rises from this cottage chimney at Aultvoulin on Knoydart. There is not a sound on this very still midge infested evening.

Smoke gently rises from this cottage chimney at Aultvoulin on Knoydart. There is not a sound on this very still midge infested evening.

As the evening draws on then the light illuminates the hillside opposite and reflects into the still waters of Inverie Bay.

As the evening draws on then the light illuminates the hillside opposite and reflects into the still waters of Inverie Bay.

Its 10pm at Inverie Bay as the end of the day. This dead tree is silhouetted agianst the eveing sky and stands in the grounds of Inverie House.

Its 10 pm at Inverie Bay at the end of the day. This dead tree is silhouetted against the evening sky  stands in the grounds of Inverie House. In the far distance is the Isle of Rum.

A glowing sun sinks behind the hillside at inverie Bay. Its almost 10.30pm on this silent evening as I wander along Long Beach. i have the whole place to myself and it feels like being a castaway on some far off land.

A glowing sun sinks behind the hillside at Inverie Bay. Its almost 10.30 pm on this silent evening as I wander along Long Beach. I have the whole place to myself and it feels like being a castaway on some far off land.

So what are my overall impressions of Knoydart? Well it’s a place you could love or hate. For me, I was glad to be going back to Mallaig and I had mixed emotions about the place. On the plus side it was good to experience living on this remote peninsula cut off almost from the outside world for three days and the overall peacefulness of living in such a remote community. The evening light was just magical.
Given good sunny weather the place would be paradise but if you were there during three days of solid rain you would be hankering to leave the place. My advice would be to take a good book with you just in case. With no mobile phone signal, no television and no easy internet connection I lost contact with the outside world for three days which in some ways isn’t a bad thing but I could have done with an up to date weather forecast each day. For me I had one reasonable day and two days of dull overcast weather with hill cloud and some rain.

Sampling the Ouse Valley Way

The River Great Ouse at St Ives with its medieval bridge.

The River Great Ouse at St Ives with its medieval bridge.

You can’t go very far in St Ives Cambridgeshire without some sort of reminder to the town’s most important resident, Oliver Cromwell. Although born in nearby Huntingdon he lived in St Ives for around five years before he became famous.
For this walk we are starting out in Huntingdon as we are catching the bus to St Ives and walking back along the Ouse Valley Way. We are just sampling a short section of this 142 mile long path which runs the whole length of the River Great Ouse from its source in Northamptonshire to the sea at King’s Lynn.
We time it very finely late on a sunny Sunday morning to Huntingdon Bus Station as the bus is about to depart. Having ridden around most of the housing estates in Huntingdon we arrive in St Ives and ready for an early lunch. A south facing seat is found overlooking the River Great Ouse to eat our sandwiches. There is so much to see here from the coming and going of numerous boats negotiating one of the arches under the town’s famous medieval bridge to the array for wildfowl eager to snatch any food going and it’s the sort of place you could linger awhile.
St Ives despite its relatively small size was an important inland port and being eighty miles upstream from King’s Lynn could take fairly large vessels in its heyday. The town owes its existence insomuch that it was once the location of a ford over the river prior to the fine medieval bridge being built. The bridge itself is quite unique as part way across is a surviving bridge chapel which is only one of four left in England today. The chapel was built in 1425 and was once several stories high. The town was once a Royalist stronghold but was taken by the Parliamentarians and under the command of Cromwell ordered the two southern arches of the bridge to be blown up and replaced with a drawbridge as part of the defences. On the southern side of the river, a former granary now converted to apartments was the home to the manufacture of the world’s first pocket calculator.

The view upstream along the River Great Ouse towards All Saints' parish church from the medieval bridge.

The view upstream along the River Great Ouse towards All Saints’ parish church as seen from the medieval bridge.

Leaving the Quayside it’s time to set off and heading back into the town the main thoroughfare is dominated by a large statue of Oliver Cromwell. Our pace westwards through the town is slow as there is much to see and the memorial to Queen Victoria in The Broadway is of note. It was given as a present to the town by Mr Elliott Odams, a local brewer having seen a similar memorial whilst at Sandown in the Isle of Wight. Liking the memorial so much he got the architect to built an identical memorial in St Ives with its grand unveiling to take place on the coronation day of Edward VII but alas on the chosen day the King was too ill and the coronation day was postponed until later in the summer but the inscription on the memorial still retains the original date of the coronation.

The memorial in The Broadway with the original date for Edward VII coronation which has never been corrected.

The memorial in The Broadway with the original date for King Edward VII coronation which has never been corrected.

The area known as The Waits in the oldest part of St Ives. this area was renowned for flooding until these flood defences were implemented.

The area known as The Waits in the oldest part of St Ives. this area was renowned for flooding until these flood defences were implemented.

Before leaving the town we pass All Saint’s Church which stands on the site of the oldest part of the former village here. The church has a splendid 151 foot tall spire which has had a chequered history. The present church dates from around 1470 and stands on the site of an earlier building but the spire is much later. Originally it fell during a storm in 1741 and was rebuilt seven years later and again it was rebuilt in 1879 but it was destroyed yet again when it was hit by an aircraft in 1918 when a trainee pilot lost control, so it must be one of the first church spires to be destroyed by a place crashing into it. The spire today dates from 1924.
The popular path to Houghton is surfaced the whole way and runs through woodland for much of the way with sloping ground on our right. The route we found was frequented with cyclists (if only they all had bells to give a bit of warning).
Houghton itself is busy with many people enjoying the riverbank and the campsite. The mill here belongs to the National Trust but today we don’t venture in due to the crowds. There has been a mill on the site for around one thousand years and the present mill dates from the eighteenth century. For a while it was a Youth Hostel and in my hostelling days it was one of the many Youth hostels I stayed at.
It is time to press on west and into a quieter landscape. It is riverside walking now alongside large meadows before veering off to take a path between large former gravel pits which are now wildlife reserves and all of a sudden we have the countryside to ourselves. Ahead the small town of Godmanchester (pronounced Gumster) draws closer dominated by the spire of St Mary the Virgin parish church. The town dates from Roman times and connected three Roman roads including Ermine Street. Walking through the town we find is much quieter than St Ives but there is still some boating activity to watch. It’s a pity that the earlier sunshine has gone as I wanted to photograph the picturesque Chinese bridge.
To reach Huntingdon there is a very large field to cross. This is Port Holme Meadow, which on my last visit was under water. In thick fog you would need a compass here as the area is quite featureless. Huntingdon draws closer and entering the town we pass beneath the busy and noisy bypass to reach the car.

Lunching at probably Britain’s remotest mainland cafe and a ‘tail’ of lost dogs

A panoramic view of Airor. Probably one of the remotest settlements on the British mainland.

A panoramic view of Airor. Probably one of the remotest settlements on the British mainland.

Its day two of my three day stay on Knoydart and the weather forecast isn’t that good with rain forecast to spread in during the afternoon. Rather than get caught out on the mountains in bad weather I’m opting to walk low level today and head out to see what the hamlet of Airor has to offer. Staying at the Foundation Bunkhouse in Inverie I am the only person in my eight bed dormitory and even in the kitchen there is hardly anyone around.

Setting off by 8.30am I’m going to get the hardest bit of the walk out of the way first before it rains. At least the walk back from Airor is on a road and hence no problem with tall vegetation to wade through. One line of thought is to follow the good track all the way to Inverguseran then ford the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein near its mouth as some maps mark ‘stepping stones’ but my timing will coincide with the high tide. A wiser and safer choice is to stay on the southwest side of the river and work my way the down to the coast despite no path shown on the map and this may mean a walk of two miles over difficult terrain.

To cross or now to cross, that is the question. Crossing the bridge and staying with the good track will mean fording the river at its mouth.

To cross or not to cross, that is the question. Crossing the bridge and staying with the good track will mean fording the river at its mouth.

The view back towards Mam Uidhe. I had crossed the moors on a good track but was following the riverside down to the coast. No path was shown on the map but for now the terrain was easy going.

The view back towards Mam Uidhe from the ruin at Cluainairighe. I had crossed the moors on a good track (just visible in the distance) and was following the riverside down to the coast. No path was shown on the map but for now the terrain was easy going.

Following the river bank of the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein towards the sea. There is a good track on the far side but using it would have meant fording the river at its mouth.

Following the river bank of the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein towards the sea. There is a good track on the far side but using it would have meant fording the river at its mouth. for now the terrain was better than expected.

Inverie is again deserted on this cloudy morning and I set a good pace out of the village on the track I had followed the previous evening. The cloud base is down on the mountains but not that low. I cross Mam Uidhe on a good moorland track before dropping down to the bridge over the Abhainn Inbhir Ghuiserein some two miles upstream from the point where it enters the sea. The river is running fairly high and quite wisely I opt to stay on the south western bank where I spot a quad bike track alongside the river. Surprisingly a path of sorts runs along the river bank down to the ruinous building at Cluainairighe. Beyond this spot the path becomes a bit more intermittent and further down near a sharp bend in the river I have to climb a high deer fence and cross tussocky terrain to easier and higher ground. Here I find another path which soon leads to a gate before crossing rough pasture down to the coast at Inverguseran. My decision had been right not to cross the river as despite a scattering of rocks in the river and a rough but wide ford I would have been up to my knees in water. Satisfied, I continue around to a spot overlooking the Sound of Sleat to stop for my morning break at a deserted pebble beach and the sound of silence. A large piece of cut timber from an old ship is a good place to sit with a view out to Skye. I have made good progress and a couple of miles down the coast I will be on a lane for the rest of the day.

Morning break overlooking the Sound of Sleat. Pure silence.

Morning break overlooking the Sound of Sleat southwest of Inverguseran. Pure silence.

A mile or so after setting off again I see a large party of walkers coming towards me. I half expected to bump in the ‘Wilderness Scotland’ group as I had met up with them on Eigg three days earlier and they were staying at Doune on Knoydart for the week. We have a long conversation and it turns out that they are walking to Inverie via the route I had just come and suggest that I meet up with them at ‘The Old Forge’ at the end of our walks. They also mentions that a Jack Russell dog had followed them from Airor and they had to take it to the isolated house at Samadalan which I would pass shortly.
Going our separate ways I went in search of a ruinous chapel marked on the map but I think this was well hidden somewhere in the bracken. Shortly afterwards I passed the isolated house at Samadalan then met the owner of the Jack Russell coming towards me to reclaim her dog.

Is this the British mainland remotest cafe? I stopped here for a beef chilli half way through my fifteen mile walk.

Is this the British mainland remotest cafe? I stopped here for a beef chilli half way through my fifteen mile walk. The place is not even on a road.

I am at Airor by noon and head into this remote village and come across the ‘Roads End Cafe’ which must be a contender as the remotest cafe on the British mainland. Its not even on a road and it’s a good opportunity to get a hot meal to save me cooking in the evening. The place is little more than a shed with a tin roof and venturing inside I take a bench seat at one or two long tables with a view looking out over the Sound of Sleat. A beef chilli is cooked whilst I wait and I get into conversation with another couple of walkers who advise me that there is a path over the two Munro’s I intend walking the following day. Another couple of walkers arrive for lunch whilst I am there and time for another long conversation. An hour had slipped by quickly and I set off again soon passing the village jetty to join the long lane back to Inverie. Crossing the lonely moors, the earlier brightness of the skies is now turning more grey and gloomy and I feel that the rain isn’t too far away. I stop and chat with another walker who is doing the same walk as me but in reverse.

A long lane crosses the seven miles of moorland between Airor and Inverie and doesn't connect anywhere else. Only one vehicle past me over the seven miles so it wasn't exactly busy.

A long lonely lane crosses the seven miles of moorland between Airor and Inverie and doesn’t connect anywhere else. Only one vehicle passed me over the seven miles so it wasn’t exactly busy.

Pressing on at a steady pace and beyond the turning to isolated house at Sandaig a battered four by four vehicle draws up behind me. The person is the owner of the cafe who had lost one of her dogs and had I seen it. It was still lying there in the entrance of the cafe when I left and I think I would have seen it if it had come my way. I continue on with views later towards Loch Nevis. The mountains inland are now engulfed in cloud and rain and so as expected it isn’t long before the rain gradually sets in. I plod on along the lane towards Inverie with umbrella up on this most gloomy afternoon. In the village the ‘Wilderness Scotland’ group are already in the pub and on seeing me I am invited to join them where I spend the next two hours supping a Guinness and deep in conversation about our travelling experiences. When their minibus came to take them back to Doune I set off alone to the almost empty bunkhouse in the opposite direction. It seems like a lonely wet evening is in the offing with tea by myself but I do find a good book to read on the history of Knoydart which does occupy a couple of hours on this wet evening. It’s still daylight outside as I turn in around 10.30pm.

A walk of Great Expectations

Often referred to as 'Pip's Graves', these small barrel graves are located in Cooling churchyard.

Often referred to as ‘Pip’s Graves’, these small barrel graves are located in Cooling churchyard.

Most of us have never heard of the Hoo Peninsula or even where it is. It’s not a place exactly on the tourist map and yet it is where one of Britain’s most prolific writers took inspiration from one of the best known books ever written.
Lying between the River Thames and the River Medway, the Hoo Peninsula consists of a low line of hills bordered by low lying marshes and terminating at the oil refinery on the Isle of Grain. Only one main road penetrates the area and this heads directly to the Isle of Grain. There are a few villages located above the marshes and many of these communities have seen recent expansion but still retain some old and fascinating churches. The marshes are devoid of any civilisation with several square miles of pastures and a maze of drainage ditches.
Charles Dicken’s took inspiration from this area in writing the novel Great Expectations. The story begins at the isolated village of Cooling in the winter of 1812 with the main character Pip fixated over the barrel graves of his parents, brothers and sisters which he is confronted by the escaped convict Magwitch. The setting of the story is very much on the bleak, cold and foggy Kent marshes in mid winter with prison ships moored in the nearby Thames. The graves can be seen today in Cooling churchyard and are often referred to as ‘Pips Graves’. The line of small barrel graves dating from the period between 1771 and 1779 belong to the young children of the Comport and Baker families who lived nearby with the oldest child dying aged no more than seventeen months. The deaths were probably attributed to malaria. Today, one could imagine this location being cold and bleak but for this visit it is a fine and sunny May morning.
For this family walk we are setting out from the nearby village of High Halstow which unlike Cooling has seen some expansion in recent years. With a picnic lunch at the start this will be a walk down onto the Kent Marshes but our walks gets off to a bad start as we manage to lose the path on the thickly wooded Northward Hill and have to back track. Northward Hill is a nature reserve and despite its modest height there is the odd vantage point which affords views towards London. It feels strange to see the towers of Canary Wharf rising shimmering in the distance above the vast openness of the Kent Marshes on this fine day of early summer. We do eventually pick up the Saxon Shore Way over Northward Hill which is a much better path. A left turn later takes us on a field path down to Decoy Farm and here we joined a lane for awhile to get to Swigshole, the last farm. Beyond we are on the Kent Marshes and beyond, the River Thames so it seems unreal when we see a large ship plying the hidden waters across the marshes as it appears to be sailing across dry land. A good track leads out to Egypt Bay on the Thames Estuary and this little bay has a surprise for us. The upper part forms a fine shell beach making it feel rather out of place but the downside is the amount of flotsam along the high tide mark.

Not exactly the Mediteranean but at least Egypt Bay you will have to yourself even on a fine day.

Not exactly the Mediterranean but at least Egypt Bay you will have to yourself even on a fine day.

Walking the sea bank alongside the River Thames.

Walking the sea bank alongside the River Thames.

The origin of the place name Egypt Bay is unclear but one theory was that the area once traded with the eastern Mediterranean around Egypt as Phoenician artefacts have been found in this part of Kent. Further down the beach the shell sand is replaced by typical Thames mud. We take a rest here on the embankment looking across to the Essex side of the Thames including Canvey Island and the hills around Hadleigh. We follow the embankment east now for a mile and a half to reach St Mary’s Bay. It seems strange to be in such a remote area yet within sight of London. Like Egypt Bay, St Mary’s Bay also has a shell beach but again, the down side along this stretch of coast was the amount of flotsam washed up to the high tide mark. Turning inland we now head towards the village of St Mary’s Hoo, initially on a good track across the marshes before gradually ascending across fields. The village stands isolated above the marshes and has some old buildings.

Like Egypt Bay, St Mary's Bay has shell sands but not the sort of place to go for a paddle.

Like Egypt Bay, St Mary’s Bay has shell sands but not the sort of place to go for a paddle.

'Sailing across the fields'. This large ship is outward bound towards the Thames Estuary.

‘Sailing across the fields’. This large ship is outward bound towards the Thames Estuary.

 

Time to leave the marshes and head towards the higher ground at St Mary's Hoo.

Time to leave the marshes and head towards the higher ground at St Mary’s Hoo.

For the last leg of the walk we cross higher ground with large arable fields on the return to High Halstow.

The last leg looking back towards St Mary's Hoo and its historic church.

The last leg looking back towards St Mary’s Hoo and its historic church.

Entering the Rough Bounds of Knoydart

A panoramic view from the summit of Ladhar Bheinn over Loch Hourn

A panoramic view from the summit of Ladhar Bheinn over Loch Hourn. to the far left on the horizon is the Outer Hebrides. Skye can be seen just above the summit on the left.

(This is the first of three articles about my recent visit to Knoydart – one of the last wildernesses in the British Isles which will appear over the coming weeks).
Until recently Knoydart in western Scotland was one of the few places in the British Isles I’d yet to visit and my intention of this trip was primarily to bag all three of the remote Munro’s which lie on this remote peninsula.
Having spent a few fairly sunny days in Mallaig in a comfortable B&B it was now time to pack just the basic essentials and enough food to last me three days before I set off on the second ferry of the morning from Mallaig across to the small village of Inverie. The village is the main settlement on this remote peninsula and despite being on the Scottish mainland has no road connection to the rest of the country. Just a minor lane leads seven miles to another small settlement of Airor and that’s it.
I cross to Inverie on a seventy year old wooden boat converted to carry passengers having started out life as an army supply boat. Once ashore I walk the fifteen minutes to the Foundation Bunkhouse which is located just beyond Inverie House. Now my plan for the first day is to do a low level walk but from the forecast, today will be the best of the three and so I decide to get the first Munro under my belt.
Having introduced myself to the warden I make up my bed in one of the dormatories and leave in the bunkhouse what I don’t need for the day. It’s going to be a late start for a walk which states on the ‘Walk Highland’ website will take between 9-12 hours and will cover much rough terrain. Setting out after midday it will be probably 9pm before I am back but in past experience on doing walks taken from the ‘Walk Highland’ website I normally shave a bit off the time they suggest.
I have decided to a circular walk and climb Ladhar Bheinn (also known as Larven) which at 1020 metres is the highest summit in this area and I know the walk is not going to be easy but at least there is a good track in and another out.

Leaving Inverie with a view towards the Brocket Memorial.

Leaving Inverie with a view towards the Brocket Memorial.

A lonely track heads towards the high pass of Mam Barrisdale.

A lonely track heads towards the high pass of Mam Barrisdale.

Setting a good pace I head up through the empty valley of Gleann an Dubh-Lochain. Dominating a small hill a mile and a half along the valley is a substantial cairn surmounted by a cross. This is known as the Brocket Memorial. Arthur Ronald Nall Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket was an unpopular absentee landlord who bought the Knoydart Estate in the 1930’s opposing the rights of crofters and dismissing and evicting workers, preferring the estate for shooting and fishing. He had two other grand houses in England where he entertained supporters of Germany and became known in society as a Nazi sympathiser. I had no time today to divert to visit this monument but instead headed up along the good land rover track. Prior to reaching Loch an Dubh-Lochain I stopped for lunch. So far I had made good progress but this was about to change. My objective was to climb to the pass known as Mam Suidheig but alas no path was visible. The ‘Walk Highland’ website stated that this part of the walk was ‘every man for himself’. For the next hour I toiled uphill over exceedingly difficult terrain with chest high bracken and hidden boulders where each step had to be tested. I was just thankful to reach the col but I had lost much time. Ahead, the view opened out with my objective Ladhar Bheinn over to my left but still a fair way off. Ahead lay a complicated craggy ridge leading up towards Aonach Sgoilte. Thankfully I found a sketchy path which weaved around some of the crags rather than going over them. One advantage I had was that I had read walk reports on the ‘Walk Highland’ website prior to my visit and so didn’t make the same mistakes as others and took the path between two unusual parallel craggy ridges which ended rather abruptly. A further narrow ridge ran up to the first summit at 849 metres but today there wasn’t the time to explore the interesting ridge that ran north east to Stob a’ Chearcaill. Instead I turned north northwest to follow the relatively easy slope down to Bealach Coire Dhorrcail.

The view back along Aonach Sgoilte showing the parallel ridges and here you need to take the path between rather than over the top.

The view back along Aonach Sgoilte showing the parallel ridges and here you need to take the path between rather than over the top.

The final approach to Ladhar Bheinn from the east. a rock step nearing the top proved an awkward manoeuvre.

The final approach to Ladhar Bheinn from the southeast. A rock step nearing the top proved an awkward manoeuvre.

Ahead the route looked much more difficult with several rock bands to negotiate with precipices on the right hand side. Sticking to the faint path, the route took the least line of resistance and all rock bands were no more than easy scrambles. A series of knobby rocky tops followed before the final ascent to the eastern end of Ladhar Bheinn but a rock band which I had spotted earlier looked more difficult to negotiate with no real alternative. The gradient steepened with crags falling away to my right but a path wound its way up the slope. Now for the rock band which stopped me in my tracks. It was just simply too big a step to get up. How the hell had anyone got up this I thought! With the rock being rounded there were simply no hand holds. In the end I decided to take off my rucksack, place it on a ledge then lever myself up backwards and this manoeuvre was repeated again a little higher up. It was late afternoon as I reached the summit and wow what a view to rival any summit view in Scotland. It had been worth all the effort. The summit ridge is little more than a quarter of mile long with the middle summit slightly higher than the other two but this quarter of a mile walk was a real dream. I rested awhile at each top with a longer rest by the shattered trig point which I would imagine had taken a major lightning strike some time in the pass. Today the view was superb and included much of the Western Isles, Skye, Rum, Eigg to the west and countless mountains inland.

The view from the top towards the eastern end of Loch Hourn.

The view from the top of Ladhar Bheinn towards the eastern end of Loch Hourn.

The shattered trig point which is not quite at the highest point.

The shattered trig point which is not quite at the highest point. Time to pause and admire the roof of Scotland.

It was time to head back to Inverie as it was gone 5pm and the route west in contrast was down a easy broad slope to a col at An Diollaid. Just beyond here I found a cairn which marked the top of a path which headed down to the southwest. I wasn’t expecting this but the path continued all the way down to the valley which was a bonus. The latter part was however boggy in parts. In the valley floor I soon came to the ruinous house at Folach and shortly afterwards passed through a deer gate then over a bridge to join a reasonable track in the early evening strong sunlight. The walk back to Inverie was now straightforward and most rewarding and I paused from time to time to look back at my route in the evening sunshine. The countryside was completely still and no one was around. A better land rover track was joined at Folach Gate and here I headed south over the moors at Mam Uidhe before entering forestry plantation with a later descent into a completely deserted Inverie. Being a Wednesday the remotest pub ‘The Old Forge’ on the British mainland was closed. It was 8.15pm as I walked through the empty village with white washed cottages but not a soul or a sound except for the occasional seabird on this perfect evening. Well it was then just a short walk to an almost empty bunkhouse and a late meal in silence to round off a memorable day.

Evening light near the deserted settlement at Folach. Just three miles left to walk on this perfect evening.

Evening light near the deserted settlement at Folach. Just three miles left to walk on this perfect evening. This view looks back to Ladhar Bheinn which is on the left.

Inverie on a sunny evening but where has everyone gone? Am I the only person here?

Inverie on a sunny evening but where has everyone gone? Am I the only person here?

Arriving back at the Foundation Bunkhouse at 8.30pm after a fantasic day in the hills. Now time for a late meal.

Arriving back at the Foundation Bunkhouse at 8.30pm after a fantastic day in the hills. Now time for a late meal.

Exploring the Copper Coast and Ireland’s earliest Christian site

Annestown Beach on the coast of County Waterford, one of many such secluded coves in this area.

Annestown Beach on the coast of County Waterford, one of many such secluded coves in this area.

Imagine a coastline similar to the Cornish coast but something is missing. This place has rugged cliffs, copper mines, quaint villages and sandy coves but the missing ingredient is that it is devoid of a coastal path however there is one spot where there is a fine cliff walk which I shall come to shortly.
The coast of County Waterford in southern Ireland is a hidden gem and on a recent visit I looked at the possibility of exploring the coast in a little more depth. My journey starts in Tramore in the east of the county and this place seems a bit out of character with the rest of the coastline. Tramore has a fine beach but in my opinion it is marred by amusement arcades and fun fairs and so the town wouldn’t look out of place somewhere along the south coast of England.
Further west the landscape changes and you could easily imagine that you are travelling along the north Cornish coast but without the crowds, traffic congestion and furthermore the car parks are free! This is known as the ‘Copper Coast Geopark’ and more in depth information can be found on the following website;- (www.coppercoastgeopark.com). My first stop is at Annestown which has a sandy beach hemmed in between rocky headlands but any attempt to get onto the cliff top is barred by either no trespassing signs or vegetation so thick that walking would be near on impossible. Just over a mile west is the almost hidden fishing cove at Boatstrand which is sheltered by Dunabrattin Head on which stands one of the finest promontory forts in Ireland.

Boatstrand Harbour, county Waterford. Hidden from view from the coast road this spot could be easily missed.

Boatstrand Harbour, County Waterford. Hidden from view from the coast road this spot could be easily missed.

No this is not Cornwall nor am I expecting to bump into Ross Poldark. This is the Copper Coast Geopark in county Waterford and the Tankardstown North Engine House.

No this is not Cornwall nor am I expecting to bump into Ross Poldark. This is the Copper Coast Geopark in County Waterford and the Tankardstown North Engine House.

The coast of County Waterford is so much like the Cronish coast but without the crowds. Sadly there is no coastal path.

The coast of County Waterford is so much like the Cornish coast but without the crowds. Sadly there is no coastal path.

Continuing west again on the coastal road and you soon come across the ruins of Tankardstown (North) Engine House used to bring up copper ore to the surface and many display boards around the well kept site depict the mining industry of the area. My next stop is at Stradbally, a most attractive village about a mile inland from the coast and here, time has stood still and the place seems deserted on this fine summer’s day.
The main town along this section of coast is Dungarven which lies at the head of Dungarven Harbour and the mud flats which are almost split in two by a sand bank are an ornithologist’s delight. The town dates from the 7th century and was once the county town of Waterford. Not far from the town square is Dungarven Castle which overlooks the harbour and dates from the 13th century. A more recent attraction in the town is that it is now at the western end of the popular Waterford Greenway, a surfaced cycle trail along the old railway line that runs all the way to Waterford. For more information see website (www.visitwaterfordgreenway.com).

A lazy summer's day at Stradbally and where is everyone. The villages along this section of the Waterford coast are so clean and tidy.

A lazy summer’s day at Stradbally and where is everyone? The villages along this section of the Waterford coast are so clean and tidy.

Dungarvan, set at the top of a large bay is a very colourful place and full of flower displays on this fine summer's day.

Dungarvan, set at the top of a large bay is a very colourful place and full of flower displays on this fine summer’s day.

Now for the walk. I am starting out from the historic village of Ardmore and again I find free parking on the seafront. A fine sandy beach stretches northwards from the village but I am heading off in the opposite direction. This short walk is full of history and the village has the honour of being the oldest Christian settlement in Ireland. St Declan lived in the area sometime between 350-450AD which predates Saint Patrick. The main village street still has some thatched cottages intermingled between more modern buildings and seaside shops.

The chapel by St Declan's Well - a secluded spot sheltered from Atlantic gales.

The chapel by St Declan’s Well at Ardmore – a secluded spot sheltered from Atlantic gales.

There is a fine coastal walk from Ardmore and the path can be seen on the top left of this picture. The crane Barge 'Samson' has been a attraction along this section of coast since coming aground here in 1987. The crane jib collapsed in 2016.

There is a fine coastal walk from Ardmore and the path can be seen on the top left of this picture. The crane barge ‘Samson’ has been a attraction along this section of coast since coming aground here in 1987. The crane jib collapsed in 2016.

Following the coast from the village the first point of interest is St Declan’s Stone, a large rock on the beach perched on two smaller stones which differs from the surrounding rocks which probably means it is an erratic and was probably brought here by an ice sheet. There are many myths connected with this rock but the best known one is that a monk Runanus travelling with Declan back from a trip to Wales, forgot to bring Declan’s sacred golden bell. The legend goes that a rock bore this sacred object back to Ardmore, miraculously floating upon the waves. During the annual feast day of the saint on July 24th, pilgrims crawl or squeeze through the small gap under the rock as a cure for arthritis. (Lets hope the tide is out when they do it).
Leaving the village I soon come to the St Declan’s Well, set in a secluded wooded spot by a ruinous chapel. The stone cross at the western end of the site has been worn away over the centuries by pilgrims. The path now becomes more open and shortly rounds Ardmore Head and soon another more recent point of interest grabs your attention. Unlike the historic sites visited so far, this event took place on the 12th December 1987. The rusting iron hulk of the crane barge ‘Samson’ lies stranded below the cliffs. The story began on the 9th of December 1987 when the crane barge was being towed from Liverpool to Malta but the tow line broke off the Welsh coast and the barge drifted to this quiet cove in Ireland where it has stayed ever since and no attempt has been made to salvage it. On the cliff top nearby is the remains of a World War II lookout station and set back a little distance is another lookout tower dating from the 1800’s. All too soon the coastal path turns inland and crosses higher ground before descending towards Ardmore and soon the round tower which stands above the village comes into view. The 30 metre high tower stands in the churchyard and alongside are the remains of Ardmore Cathedral. The west wall of the former cathedral has recesses in stone featuring Romanesque sculptures depicting scenes from the old and new testaments. Alongside is St Declan’s Oratory where it is said that St Declan was buried but no trace remains due to souvenir hunters over past centuries. In another quiet corner of the churchyard I was drawn to a large grave and an information board. In the cold winter of 1947 when there major fuel shortages, the steamship Ary was en route from Port Talbot in South Wales to Waterford with a cargo of 600 tons of coal. In gale force winds the cargo shifted and the boat listed to one side. In an effort to correct the list water was pumped into the other side and in the rough weather the ship sank with the men hurriedly taking to the two lifeboats. There was only one survivor who came ashore close to Ardmore and he was able to tell the story. Other bodies were washed ashore over the coming days and are buried in the churchyard. Post mortems showed that the men died of hypothermia rather than drowning. The location of the SS Ary has never been found on the seabed to this very day.

The round tower above Ardmore village has stood here for over 800 years.

The round tower above Ardmore village has stood here for over 800 years.

The west wall of the former Ardmore Cathedral depicts scenes in stone from the old and new testaments. The buildings are site on the oldest religious site in Ireland.

The west wall of the former Ardmore Cathedral depicts scenes in stone from the old and new testaments. The buildings are situated on the oldest religious site in Ireland.

My walk was coming to an end as I entered the top end of Ardmore. It had only been a few miles but a walk packed with so much history. My bed and breakfast establishment was located on a lane leading up and out of the village but I shall remember this place by a rather magical sight I saw early the following morning. Peering out of the window at 3.40am with a view east over a smooth Ardmore Bay, with a few street lights in the village, a navigational aid flashing by the harbour, there was a golden glow as the day was breaking to the northeast with three planets piercing the night sky and the outline of the floodlit pencil shape round tower it all seemed rather unreal. I wonder what St Declan would have thought!

An ancient abbey and geological marvels

The ruins of Arbroath Abbey and the famous 'Round O'

The ruins of Arbroath Abbey and the famous ‘Round O’

Many years ago on a business trip to Arbroath I had taken an evening walk north from Arbroath along the coast and was impressed by an array of geological features. At the time I decided that I would come back on a fine day and walk this section of coast at my leisure.
On a family holiday last year we just so happened to be staying a few miles inland which gave me the opportunity of an afternoon walk from Arbroath along this section of coast as far as Auchmithie before I needed to head inland to follow a series of paths, lanes and tracks back to where we were staying. The walk I measured was around eleven miles which starting out after lunch would take to early evening to finish.

The Signal Tower Museum is well worth a visit and charts the history of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

The Signal Tower Museum is well worth a visit and charts the history of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

I had waited all week for a sunny day on the coast which had been plagued by coastal fog almost all of the time and this being the last day the sun was making a half hearted appearance. The morning had been spent in Arbroath with an interesting hour exploring the impressive ruins of Arbroath Abbey. Founded in 1178, the abbey which was constructed of local red sandstone was in its day the richest in Scotland. In 1950 the Stone of Destiny was stolen from Westminster Abbey and turned up at Arbroath Abbey in 1951. High on the south transept is a large round window which is locally known as the ‘Round O’ and this was originally lit up at night as a beacon to aid mariners. With an early lunch in the Corn Exchange Wetherspoons then a visit to the Signal Tower Museum which depicts the building and history of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which lies some eleven miles offshore I was ready for an afternoon walk.

From Arbroath I set off along the foreshore soon passing the town football club at Gayfield Park, famous insomuch of scoring the highest number of goals against an opponent in a senior football match against Aberdeen Bon Accord in 1885 with a mind blowing score of 36-0.

The picturesque Arbroath Harbour. You can just smell those smokies and just a pity that the sun wasn't shining.

The picturesque Arbroath Harbour. You can just smell those smokies but what a pity that the sun wasn’t shining.

Next I reached the attractive harbour which would have made a good location if only the sun had been shining. The lifeboat was just leaving on a training session. The harbour area is famous for the Arbroath Smokie, a haddock, smoked over wood and the aroma was very much in the air as I passed several fishmongers. Leaving the town I followed the promenade by Victoria Park before joining the good cliff path beyond. This stretch of coast has all the geological features one could wish for and forms a Geodiversity Trail and this includes arches, stacks, wave cut platforms, blowholes, gloups and caves. I had picked up an excellent leaflet explaining each feature and I now took my time pausing at many of the formations. First of note was Needle E’e, a sandstone rock arch, which was followed by The Blowhole, Dickmont’s Den and the Deil’s Head, a rock stack. Beyond, Maiden Castle was a promontory fort from the Iron Age. I soon descended to rocky Carlingheugh Bay and explored one of the sea arches. Progress along the beach was slow due to the large pebbles and at the far end I ascended to regain the good coastal path. There were more geological features of note had I had the time to explore but it was well into the afternoon. The cliff top path was lined with a variety of wild flowers which made the walking most pleasant. I would have like to have visited Gaylet Pot, a subterranean passage, its entrance lying in a middle of a field but crops had been planted. With welcome sunshine now making an appearance I approached the picturesque coastal village of Auchmithie rounding the attractive Castlesea Bay on the way. In the village I stopped in the churchyard for a snack before venturing down to take a last look at the coast before heading inland.

Needle Ee, just the first of several fine geological features as you leave Arbroath to walk north along the coast.

Needle Ee, just the first of several fine geological features as you leave Arbroath to walk north along the coast.

A blowhole on the coastal path north of Arbroath.

A blowhole on the coastal path north of Arbroath.

Castle Gate at Carlingheaugh Bay north of Arbroath - an area of stacks and arches which can be explored.

Castle Gate at Carlingheaugh Bay north of Arbroath – an area of stacks and arches which can be explored.

Ironically I could have caught a bus into Arbroath as one turned up but I was heading inland now to Kinblethmont. Setting out along the road, a driver soon stopped to offer me a lift into Arbroath and I explained that I wasn’t going that way. Soon afterwards I came across two young ladies who were waiting for a friend to turn up. They had followed me out from Arbroath along the coast and we had passed one another several times. As I was speaking to them their lift turned up and again I was offered a lift into Arbroath which I declined.

An excellent path leads all the way from Arbroath to Auchmithie and is lined by a fine array of wild flowers. This view is on the approach to Auchmithie and the line of houses are the former coastguard cottages.

An excellent path leads all the way from Arbroath to Auchmithie and is lined with a fine array of wild flowers. This view is on the approach to Auchmithie and the line of houses are the former coastguard cottages.

Castlesea Bay near Auchmithie. One of several secluded bays in this area.

Castlesea Bay near Auchmithie. One of several secluded bays in this area.

Sunshine at last. The village street in Auchmithie and very typical of a east of Scotland coastal village.

Sunshine at last. The village street in Auchmithie and very typical of a east of Scotland coastal village. Its now time to leave the coast and head inland.

Turning right I set off along Cadgers Road, (a track), and later turned north through the West Woods of Ethie which was surprisingly busy with walkers as it was tea time. The sunshine of earlier had gone and now replaced by some threatening clouds to the north. Some lane walking took me north then northwest to cross the A92 beyond the hamlet of Brunton. My only concern was getting from the next road into the Kinblethmont Estate. A track ran southwest from a road and indeed this seemed good until I almost got to the estate boundary when it abruptly stopped and ahead what was supposed to be a track was choked by tall nettles. I had no choice but to divert to follow a field boundary with young crops planted to the edge. Scaling a low wall at the end I was immediately onto a familiar track within the Kinblethmont Estate which I had walked earlier in the week. The easiest way back was to walk via the walled garden but in doing so I met one of the owners armed with a gun. Having explained that I was staying on the estate we had a long conversation and anyway he was only out shooting grey squirrels. I was back at our self catering cottage by early evening and ahead of my intended schedule and lucky insomuch that the evening turned wet soon afterwards.

Holt. Who goes there?

All that is left of Holt Castle on this sandstone plinth in a grassy meadow.

All that is left of Holt Castle on this sandstone plinth in a grassy meadow.

This was a walk that I had had on my list to do for a number of years. Comprising of a riverside walk between the border village of Holt and Chester I wanted to follow paths beside the River Dee and hence I needed a dryer spell when the river wasn’t high just in case the adjacent low lying fields were flooded. I drive to Chester early on a fine October morning and park south of the river and walk through to the city centre. The bus to Holt is running a few minutes late and was fairly full.

Civil War musket shot damage on the interior of St Chad's Church, Holt.

English Civil War musket shot damage on the interior of St Chad’s Church, Holt.

Look carefully about midway up on the wooden door to see where holes were cut during the Civil War so that royalists could fire out onto the Parliamentarians from within the church at Holt.

Look carefully about midway up on the wooden door to see where holes were cut during the English Civil War so that Royalists could fire out onto the Parliamentarians from within the church at Holt.

At Holt I alight and go for a wander around this interesting village before starting the walk proper. I want to see what was left of the castle and so I head off there first. For once the weather is on my side as the sun has now made an appearance to enable me to get some fine autumn photographs. The remains Holt Castle have recently been restored. It is unusual that it stands on a sandstone plinth in water meadows and I would have imagined the land around had been quarried away. The castle was built by Edward I between 1277 and 1311 and is shaped like a pentagon and once had a water filled moat fed by the River Dee. Being on the border between England and Wales it saw much action and was burned down in 1400 in the uprising by Owain Glyndwr. Again during the English Civil War there was further action and by the late 1600’s the castle had been dismantled and the stone removed for building work elsewhere. Before leaving Holt I want to visit the parish church of St Chad and here some damage was caused in the conflict during the English Civil War. Inside the church there is evidence of musket blasts on one of the walls and an ancient wooden door on the north side has blocked up holes which were cut out to fire through from within the church during the English Civil War by Royalists who were trapped inside.

The tranquil River Dee on the English Welsh border at Holt/Farndon on a fine sunny autumn morning.

The tranquil River Dee on the English Welsh border at Holt/Farndon on a fine sunny autumn morning.

Rather colourful Mongolian yurts in Cheshire not far from Farndon.

Rather colourful Mongolian yurts in Cheshire not far from Farndon.

It’s time to start my walk and I cross the River Dee into England via the ancient 14th century sandstone bridge. I make a short detour to Farndon Church but an event is taking place so I don’t venture inside.
Setting out beside the River Dee I follow the eastern bank to Iron Bridge, a distance of some five miles. Summer houses line the bank of the river but many look very dilapidated. My route continues mostly alongside field boundaries with the river nearly always immediately on my left. Just over a mile out of Farndon I come across three large Mongolian Yurts at Willows Fish Farm which are worth photographing but by now I have lost the sunshine for the day. For the next few miles I stay by the eastern bank of the River Dee following field boundaries through a succession of pastures and some short sections of very overgrown fields. In one or two spots the path runs dangerously close to the river due to ongoing erosion but worse is to come. Close to Jones Wood the path has been washed away and a wooden footbridge lies tilted at an angle of forty five degrees but I manage to get to it and cross it. (A obstruction report will be sent to West Cheshire CC when I get back). As I near Aldford I start to look for somewhere for lunch but I don’t find anywhere suitable until I have crossed the ornate Iron Bridge. This fine bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and built by William Hazledine for the 1st Marquis of Westminster in 1824 and has a single graceful cast iron arch of 50 metres. It was difficult to get a photograph of this fine structure without a trespass upstream on the western bank by the river side lodge but as the lodge seems empty I take the risk. I return to the western side of the bridge where I stop for lunch.

The ornate Iron Bridge that spans the River Dee at Aldford which dates from 1824.

The ornate Iron Bridge that spans the River Dee at Aldford which dates from 1824.

The wooded banks of the River Dee on the approach to Chester and a good path north from Iron Bridge.

The wooded banks of the River Dee on the approach to Chester and a good path north from Iron Bridge.

I now follow the western bank of the River Dee into Chester and in contrast with the morning part of the walk I was now walking through woodland and part of the large Eaton Estate. This section of the walk is proving more popular with walkers. At Eccleston I continued through river side meadows on a good path and later pass beneath the A55 on the approach into Chester. Rounding an area called Earl’s Eye I soon entered Chester where it was just a short walk back to the car.