Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Jura

by backpackingbongos

For a map of the backpacking route click here.

Please pull up a comfy chair as I got carried away and this is a long post!

I arrived at Port Askaig just as the Jura ferry pulled in and let off a single car, this meaning an hours wait until it made the short trip back over to Jura.  There is not a lot to explore in port Askaig with there being just a hotel and a shop as well as the ferry terminal.  A short walk up to the Jura ferry just made me nervous as even in this sheltered position it was rocking about.  Looking across to the cloud shrouded Jura I could see the size of the waves that this small ferry would have to cross.

Before waving me on the ferryman came over and asked if I was planning on staying on Jura, if I was not he would not take me across.  The weather was worsening and he was not sure if he would be able to make it back.  I boarded the ferry with one other vehicle and was told to make sure my windows were closed to avoid a soaking from the waves.  Let me say that I was really glad that the crossing was only about five minutes because the whole experience was like a fairground ride.  The size of some of the waves were pretty alarming and the ferry pitched heavily from side to side.

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I had booked myself a single room at the Jura hotel which is located in Craighouse, the only village on Jura.  It was only early afternoon but I was glad to be able to get out of the weather and have a shower and enjoy the comfort of a proper bed for the night.  It has to be said that the hotel bar was not exactly jumping on this Tuesday night in late October!

The forecasted break in the weather arrived the next day and I was up and out of the hotel early after a good breakfast.  Craighouse looked like an idyllic place to live with its whitewashed cottages lined up facing a sheltered bay.  The climate is obviously mild here as there was the odd palm tree scattered about the village.  My aim was to drive along the only road to the point where the public road ends at the north of the Island.  The journey along the A846 was one of the best drives that I have done, single tracked for its entire journey and in roughly 20 miles I only passed three other vehicles.  The scenery becomes pretty desolate as signs of habitation are left behind and the road becomes even narrower and rougher.

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At Ardlussa the road becomes unclassified and passes through some stunning woodland which was showing off its Autumn finery.

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As I passed Lealt the road becomes unsurfaced and there is a fair bit of bumping along until finally a sign is reached marking the end of the public road.  There is a small old quarry that serves as a parking spot.

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The night in the hotel had given me time to sort and repack my rucksack so I was able to get moving as soon as I had parked up.  The start of my backpack was along a nice easy track for the first couple of miles.  This track eventually leads to the Isolated farmhouse of kinuachdrachd and Barnhill which is the cottage where George Orwell wrote 1984.

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The track passed through a landscape of tussocky moorland and low craggy hills, to my right there were great views across to the mainland.  I started to dread the moment when I would have to leave the security of the track and risk my ankles on the very rough ground!  As I reached a small wooden hut I noticed an Argocat track heading north towards the low summit of Beul Leathad, luckily in the direction I had planned to walk.  Although not a proper track the all terrain wheels had flattened the tussocks meaning that I just had to squelch through ankle deep bog.  Progress was fairly swift and I soon had a view of Scarba across the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

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The aim for today was to bag the summit of the Marilyn Cruach na Seilcheig which stands at a not very mighty 304 metres.  After crossing the boggy Gleann Dorch it was fairly easy climb up to the trig point.  I found myself stopping often to soak up the view and simply revel in the remoteness of my location.  For some reason the highest point of the hill is not the trig point but an unmarked bump about a kilometre away.  This gave awesome views along the wild and rugged west coast of the Island.

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My map showed that the descent to the coast along the north west ridge would be steep but manageable.  Either my map reading needs to improve or the OS were being less than truthful with the amount of actual crags on this descent.  It also did not help that there is some writing over the bottom crag on the map, which I had not noticed.  The start of the descent was ok and I zigged zagged down the steep grassy slopes avoiding small outcrops.  As I got lower I noticed a large herd of deer and another of goats sharing the grassy shoreline.  The deer spotted me and ran whilst the goats continued grazing.  With about 100 metres of descent left to go I came to band after band of crags.  I got down one ok to find that I was on a long grassy ledge with nowhere to go.  I found a break in the cliffs and started a very wet slithery descent with black oozing water coming up to my shins, before coming properly crag bound.  Without a pack I would simply have gone down the wet mossy rocks on my bottom, but my pack was getting in the way.  There was nothing for it but to remove it and drop it a good ten feet into an oozing bog!  I slithered and slided down getting covered in black goo to retrieve my sack from the bog.  I could see that I was now less that 30 metres above the sea and felt relieved that I had got down safely.  A bit of bracken bashing and my heart sank.  A line of completely sheer crags ran the length of the hillside and into the gorge like stream bed on either side.  There appeared to be no way out.  It was at this point that the remoteness of my location really sank in, if I was to injure myself it could be weeks or maybe months before anyone else came this way.  I started to consider climbing back up the way I had come down but that was not really that appealing.  I then noticed a goat track though the bracken leading to the cliff edge, I followed it and was relieved to see that there was a narrow slanting ledge that led down to safe ground.  I gingerly followed this down to safety noticing at the bottom that my ledge was above a slight overhand on the cliffs.  The goats scattered as I approached the rocks on the sea-shore and I removed my pack, both it and myself were covered in a layer of muck from the descent.  At least now I could relax and take in my surroundings!

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Shouldering my wet pack onto my wet back I started walking south out of the bay Bagh Uamh Mhor.  The coastline was as convoluted as the map shows with numerous ups and downs and small bands of cliffs to wind myself around.  My first destination was the little sandy beach in the next bay, Traigh na Garbh-airde.  With the light slowly beginning to fade at around 4.00pm this was a magical place, but I was aware that it would be dark in about an hour.

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Close to the beach I came to an old sea arch that was now a good 100 metres away from the sea.  From this angle it reminds me a little bit of an elephant’s head.  I had passed a similar natural arch on Islay on the way to An Cladach bothy, but the weather had been too foul to appreciate it or take a photograph.

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I sat on a rock next to the beach for a while feeling so lucky to be surrounded by such stunning remote scenery.  If it had been a warm sunny day it would have been a perfect spot for a swim, unfortunately the fading light meant that I could not linger.

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Looking at my map now, it is almost impossible to trace the exact route that I took, the ground is so convoluted.  I ended up climbing above the lines of cliffs where progress was much easier.  I constantly felt like I was being watched and whenever I looked at the horizon there would be deer or goats staring back at me.

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I reached a high point in the cliffs and there ahead of me lay Glengarrisdale bay with the bothy set back from the beach.  I stood there for a while amazed that an open bothy could be located in such a beautiful location.  I continued along the cliffs for a while before realising that I needed to find a way down to the sea.  Again goat tracks came to my aid and I found a series of ledges that wound their way down to sea level.

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The bothy was now in full sight and I walked across the beach in low light watching various deer and goats run off into the distance.  The Glengarrisdale river was running pretty high but seeing at my feet were already soaking I simply waded across feeling my boots fill with cold water.  There was no light or smoke coming from the bothy as I reached the door, I opened it and was greeted by complete darkness, light failing to penetrate through the tiny windows.  Switching on my head torch I had a look around and decided that I would sleep in the downstairs right hand room.  In the darkness the bothy was not very homely and it was a bit damp, probably due to the fact that it had not been inhabited for a couple of weeks according to the bothy book.  A fire would cheer the place up but there were only massive pieces of driftwood left by the previous visitors, it was too dark outside to go and start hunting for wood.  I had a go at hacking up some wood with a blunt axe but gave up and resigned myself to not having a fire, at least it was mild.  As I started to cook my dinner I noticed that my clothing was crawling with ticks which I must have picked up whilst passing though all that bracken.  I stripped off and shook my clothing outside before putting on a fresh set.  That evening and the following day I removed five of the little buggers that had burrowed into various parts of my anatomy.  Every time I went outside I would manage to bring in more ticks with me, the downside of having so many deer and goats.  I was glad that I was not camping outside with them!

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The morning brought a change in the weather with a strengthening wind and spots of rain.  I took a while to decide what to do with myself.  My original plan had been to walk about 8 miles down the coast and wild camp at Corpach bay.  However I knew that there were more gales and rain on the way plus I did not fancy spending a night in a potentially tick infested campsite.  I though about staying at the bothy for another night which would have been appealing if I could get a fire going.  However this and the surrounding bays were now devoid of driftwood according to the bothy book and a map on the wall.  If I stayed today I would have to cross the Island tomorrow in gale force winds and heavy rain.  I decided to head back to the van where it would be dry and comfortable.

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I decided that I would walk back via another Marilyn Ben Garrisdale which is a big complex hill with many false summits (well 380 metres is pretty big for the north of Jura!).  It looked complicated on the map but I though I would be fine as long as the mist did not descend whilst I tried to find the highest summit knoll.  I climbed boggy tussocky ground and then the steep slopes of Grianan Mhor which gave good views along the coast.  However it was evident that the weather was making a turn for the worst.  As I hit the 300 metre contour the mist came down, the wind picked up and it started to hammer it down with rain.  At least the trig point was a definite point to aim for and was easily found.  Then by compass bearings I found Loch Fada Ben Garrisdale and I knew that it would be impossible to locate the highest point of the hill.  With zero visibility I knew that there was a real risk of getting myself lost, the terrain being complex enough in good visibility.  The wind was also making walking a bit of a struggle, plus it would be dark in a couple of hours.  I have never been defeated by such a small hill before!

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I was pleased with my map and compass work, managing to contour round the hill and towards the smaller peak of Carn nan Gillean where I picked up another Argocat track.  I was fortunate in that this took me back to my van meaning that I could avoid some of the worse tussocks, there was even an old bridge to cross the Lealt burn.  I arrived back at the van wet and knackered even though the actual mileage for the day had been fairly low.  Jura is a tough place to backpack!

During the night the promised gales and heavy rain arrived meaning that the following day was a wash out.  I had a few short day walks planned just in case there was bad weather on this trip, however there is bad weather and completely miserable weather.  I decided to go home a day earlier instead.

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31 Responses to “Backpacking, bothying and bongoing on Jura”

  1. Makes my walk in the Lakes look like a walk in the park. Well done for trying something new and adventurous!

  2. Like Robin said the Lakes look tame. Love it. Wild and remote 🙂

  3. Superb adventure – best blog trip report of 2009 !!

  4. Robin, well more like a walk in a National Park! Its good to get out and explore completely new places.

    Martin, the wild and remote definately come at a price, it was hard going!

    Steve, thanks!

  5. A fine trip and a good read.
    I take it you have done the excellent traverse of the Paps on an earlier visit!

  6. Martin it was my first visit. I had planned to do the Paps but they stayed firmly hidden in cloud whilst I was on Jura. They looked good from Islay though!

  7. nice trip and that bothy looks a cracker

    🙂

  8. Looks like you had some tough days, very rewarding though I guess!
    Excellent write up and done so quick after your return, my last one took me a month.

  9. What a great trip report,an amazing looking trip and you drive a Bongo like me. Will be keeping a close eye on your future adventures.

  10. It was a great trip Dave and yet again the bothy was a stunner. I just wish that I had got a fire going and then it would have been perfect.

    Paul, I have to get them out quickly or I lose my motivation! Once again the photos on your site blew me away. I would be a very happy man if I could reach your standard.

    Boyzie, good to hear from another Blogger with a Bongo! I look forward to having a good read of your blog and seeing what you have been up to.

    • Im finding the Bongo more and more useful now I have taken up backpacking. I find the Bongo a great base camp now the weather has taken such a horrible turn.

      why does it always rain on a weekend?

  11. The Bongo is a great vehicle to use. I usual travel to where I plan to start my backpack on a Friday night after work and then kip in the van. Then all fresh and ready to go the next morning! When the weather is bad the Bongo is often more appealing to spend a night in than a tiny tent.

    I wish I knew why it always rains on a weekend!

  12. Great report, I was on Jura (and Islay) 11 years ago but only briefly, I’d love to go again seeing your photies. Looks a bit similar to the North Antrim coast which isn’t far away. The Paps of Jura are easily seen from here, the monument on the Mull of Oa on Islay can be seen too if you know where to look. The van looks ideal given the roads, I was using a Land Rover 110 (vanbody) when I was there.

    Thanks for sharing.

  13. Nice work James. Jura looks incredibly wild and foreboding. Couldn’t believe the condition of that bothy – so well maintained! As always, a great trip all round and only a shame the weather had to be so persistent.

    Sorry it took so long for me to get around the reading and commenting – wanted to do it properly!

  14. Richard, both Islands are well worth a return visit. Looking on a map I did not realise that the North Antrim coast was so close, some good hiking there? The van did make driving those roads just a little bit easier!

    Marcus, thanks for your comment. I do not seem to be very lucky with the weather at the moment. It would have been such a different trip with a touch more sunshine and a little less wind! When is your next trip?

    • No worries.

      The next trip is up for negotiation at the moment but I think I may have a window next weekend. Charl and I are up the Yorkshire Dales tomorrow reviewing a hotel and taking in the landscapes on a short walk – just to whet the appetite.

      A bit like your latest post, I’m after a crisp one. I want it cold and if at all possible – snow! Last November we did the Lakes and were treated to some great weather so I doubt I’d get it again!

  15. Jura is high on my to-visit-very-soon list.
    Great, inspirational photos!

  16. Thanks Sophie, make sure that you do visit as the Island is stunning!

  17. Great trip report of the remote corners of this island. I’ve only managed day trips to Jura previously, but I NEED to plan a trip there next spring! That bothy looks so enticing. Let’s hope for a stonking winter (lots of snow, and frosts) to kill some of those ticks.

  18. A great place to backpack if you like wild and remote places. Make sure you go before the bracken grows as it will be over your head in places (and you will get even more covered in ticks). I would imagine it would be a great place on a calm sunny February!

  19. James? Good to discover your site. It’s one thing to go on great walking trips and another altogether to write well about them, which you definitely do.

    I really enjoyed your account of your walk on the wild west coast of Jura. My empathy gland was working overtime reading about your boggy and craggy descent to the shoreline.

    I was on the west coast in October and December, so just before and after your visit. Didn’t stay at Glengarrisdale in October or would have left you plenty of firewood!

    If you visit the west coast again, it is possible to follow the coast for much of the way from Corryvreckan to the head of Loch Tarbert and then on to Feolin Ferry around the coast as well.

    I’ve written about the west coast walk on my blog site under ‘Jura’ and a ‘Wet, wild and windy west coast wander’ if its of interest.

    I’m really glad to have found your site

  20. Hi Peter, many thanks for your comments. That descent did get my heart beating it has to be said! I would like to go back and do the whole west coast. Have checked out your blog entry on Jura and really enjoyed reading it, will catch up on your other entries over the next few days which I am looking forward to.
    James

  21. Epic trip…well done..!

  22. Hi James – only just come across this old post, a great read and a mini epic trip. Planning an Jura expedition next Easter with few pals so your experience together with Pete’s and his rather excellent guide have given me plenty of background. Going solo on such a wild and untamed part of the world out of season is pretty bold – really got the sense of anxiety you must have felt scrambling down to the coast.
    Andy

    • You will have a superb time on Jura Andy, it really is a special place. Just don’t follow my route down to the west coast!

  23. Fantastic James. As yet I have not been on Jura. Getting to Isla on public transport from London was interesting. Having done a couple of trips on Islay my next will be Jura.

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