Before setting off I had read of a special little campsite hidden away on the Ross of Mull. With its twisty single track roads Mull feels surprisingly large. It took a while to navigate the Bongo to the west. This was in part due to the stunning scenery around every bend, along with the fact that a low winter sun had made an appearance. You may have heard about the quality of the light in the Hebrides, it really is something that you have to experience yourself.
Our destination was the small and perfectly formed Uisken beach and possibly one of the finest located campsites you could hope for. Basically it is a stretch of close-cropped grass right next to the beach. With high tide the beach disappears and the sea is lapping literally a few metres from your pitch. A sign simply requests that you seek permission from the croft before pitching (I think that they ask for £2 per unit). This I duly attempted to do but no one was home.
Being the day before Hogmanay I was of course the only one there. With no facilities at all (i.e. toilets or running water) the Bongo with an emergency portaloo was the perfect accommodation.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring with Reuben before getting some use out of the camping chair for the only time during the week. I sat wrapped in down and watched the sun set, keeping warm with slugs of single malt until the stars came out. It was soon far too cold, magical surroundings or not and the van beckoned.
Of course dawn brought totally different conditions. When I woke the van was once more being lashed by rain and rocked by winds. The area was transformed into somewhere bleak and inhospitable after the benign evening before.
At midday a weather switch was pressed somewhere and the grey clouds lifted and the sun came out. The speed of the change was swift and dramatic. Time to open the door for the first time that day and explore more of our surroundings.
We walked no further than perhaps a couple of miles but I was in no hurry. I just wanted to poke around a few corners and see what was over the headland. Another beach was found, this time uninhabited. Somewhere to sit and eat lunch whilst Reuben tried to destroy strands of seaweed. A lovely area deserving of further exploration, perhaps when the daylight hours can be measured on the fingers of more than one hand.
Back at the van I sat for a while and contemplated what to do next. It was very tempting to stay for another night, however I was keen to see in the first day of the New Year with a hill. I packed up and set off, stopping once again at the croft to pay up. The owner was in this time and refused payment simply on the grounds that I was honest!
An area on a map marked as ‘The Wilderness’ is like a red rag to a bull where I am concerned. I therefore headed towards the National Trust for Scotland’s Burg estate. This was via a shop to pick up some locally brewed ale.
Ardmeanach Peninsular – Beinn na Sreine 521 metres
The small NTS car park is a few hundred metres down a bumpy track after the road ends. Their attitude differs from the organisation south of the border, the car park being free rather than an extortionate £7. The only downside is that it is situated on a hillside so I parked for the night at a rather jaunty angle. I celebrated New Years Eve with a couple of bottles of beer, a slug of whisky and an early night. When the New Year crept in I was fast asleep.
The forecast for the first day of 2014 was for a calm and dry morning before wind and rain swept in once more for the afternoon. I was up and packed before dawn, walking west along the track as the first of the light was cast across Loch Scridain.
I nervously passed through a group of cattle that were hogging the track and scattered through the surrounding woodland. Thankfully they barely batted their long lashed eyelids at either the dog or myself. The climb to the summit of Beinn na Sreine was relatively straightforward. A case of picking a way through various tiers of rock before walking across a wide and stony plateau. Typically the mist came down before we reached the summit, lifting once we were half way down the hill. A shame about the murky conditions as I am sure that the summit view would be superb.
I picked a more direct route back down to the van, the only difficulty being the man eating tussocks on the lower ground.
Typically once back at the van, the clouds lifted off all of the surrounding mountains and it brightened up. The promised rain did not come that afternoon, instead passing through later in the evening. Due to the short daylight hours I did not set off up another hill, instead deciding on doing a bit of sightseeing from the comfort of the Bongo. My destination was to be Calgary bay for the night.
My first stop was to have a peek of the scenery around Gribun, on the northern side of the Peninsular. It was as spectacular as I thought it would be, a place to return to backpack around the wild and uninhabited coast past the farm and Mackinnon’s cave.
It was a long drive to Calgary as I was constantly stopping along Loch Na Keal, which is a wild van camping paradise as I found out one summer a few years ago.
I have to say that I was as disappointed with Calgary bay as on my first visit. Yes it is a perfect crescent of white sand worthy of the tropics. But even on a dull winters day it was crowded, a shock after a few days of almost total solitude on the island. Winter storms have obviously battered the wild camping area, leaving it drowned under rotting seaweed. I returned the way I had come.
The high point of the road provided the perfect place to stop for the night, an exposed spot when the promised storm eventually rattled through after dark.
The storm raged until noon the following day meaning an enforced lie-in (never a bad thing in truth). Reuben was very keen to have a leg stretcher once the sun came out again.
A mobile signal showed that a major storm was coming the following day, bang on when my ferry to the mainland was scheduled. The CalMac app on my phone showed various cancellations would be likely. I therefore decided that I would drive to the terminal that afternoon and try to change my ticket. Once again I found myself stopping often to take in the views and the ever changing light.
CalMac are much more accommodating than the joke that we have for train operating companies. The guy in charge at the ferry terminal simply asked me to wait in a separate queue until everyone had checked in. After space on the boat was confirmed he swapped my ticket valid for the following day for a boarding pass. Simple. Can you imagine a train company doing that if you turned up for a different train from which you had booked?
As is traditional, CalMac fish and chips were enjoyed on the crossing back to the mainland.