The day was too good to waste, so with daysacks packed we left the bothy and set off up the hill. Our destination was Cruach Scarba, the highest point on the island at 449 metres. Pete had previously visited the island and climbed the hill. Therefore I was more than happy to leave my map in my rucksack and follow him in his bright yellow jacket.
The first mile or so was rough and trackless, involving the usual effort of getting some decent height when starting from sea level. There were plenty of opportunities to stop and look at the stunning vista that was slowly unfolding. The dogs however ignored the view, keeping an eye out for any furry four legged critters escaping up the hillside. If you want to clear every deer and goat within a square mile just take a couple of dogs.
Our first landmark was Loch Airigh a’ Chruidh where Pete delivered us accurately to the northern end. As water was abundant on the island and pretty much guaranteed to be clean, we had not brought water bottles but empty mugs with us for the walk. A dip into the stream flowing into the loch produced mugs full of cold and clear water. So cold it induced ice cream headaches.
At the edge of the loch we picked up a well constructed pony path that crosses the island from Kilmory lodge, before contouring high above the south coast. This speeded up progress considerably. The eastern horizon kept demanding our attention, with a large wall of snowy mountains on the horizon. One particularly large snowy pyramid stood head and shoulders above them all, Ben Cruachan was our best guesstimate.
A cairn marked the change in direction and we left the path to descend a little way to a viewpoint that Pete had mentioned. The landscape to the south from the small rocky outcrop was simply breathtaking. From our high perch the west coast of Jura was spread out in front of us, line after line of what looked like crouching prehistoric lizards with their tails in the sea. In the far distance two perfect pyramids rose above the low rugged ridges. It would have been a splendid day on the Paps of Jura.
The famous Corryvreckan lay at our feet, unfortunately it was the wrong time for the whirlpool to be in action. However even from this height the swirling eddies and racing water was clear to see. We stood as a group for a while drinking it all in, sharing the binoculars to pick out points of interest.
The path continued on level ground, becoming less distinct in places. The rough boggy vegetation was slowly winning the battle and swallowing it up. At a point where it starts descending we left it for a pathless bash up steep rough slopes. With height the going got easier as the vegetation got shorter.
The trig point was finally reached and oh boy what a view. 449 metres is hardly the Himalaya but on a small island the height is greatly exaggerated. It is views like these that make the Hebrides so special. To the north west the Island of Mull dominated the view, its huge sea cliffs visible. Nearer at hand were the Garvellachs which look like they may be worth a charter boat to spend the night on. To the north and east was a huge vista of mountains, the peaks of the Western Highlands covered in snow. Unfortunately a haze in the air meant that it was impossible to capture on camera what we could see.
A rocky outcrop provided shelter from the cold wind, a perch to gaze from and feast our eyes. All of a sudden someone spotted something in the air. First one Golden Eagle, then two, then three! Finally to top it all off a White Tailed Eagle decided to do a fly by, followed in quick succession by a Hen Harrier. Top that Bill Oddie!
The group then split into two. Rich and Pete decided to descend to and explore the rugged west coast. Myself and Rob decided that we would take things easy and head north to pick up the track back to the bothy. The dogs were divided up between us.
The going started off easily along the spine of the island, sticking to the high ground before descending along a prominent ridge line. The islands to the north began to fill the horizon as we lost height.
We picked one rocky spur and found that it ended in a significant cliff, the ground dropping away into a natural amphitheatre. A good position to view the serpentine shape of Lunga.
A bit of backtracking and we set our sights on the whitewashed building of Kilmory Lodge. A shallow boggy glen was crossed filled with the skeletons of Scotts Pine. A sad sight but thankfully there were a few specimens still alive. Rob being a big tree fan decided that the best way of appreciating them was to climb to the top of the largest. Reuben was unimpressed and wondered what was holding up his walk.
Once on the track it was an easy stroll back to the bothy, much quicker than our original journey as we were unencumbered with heavy sacks. Already after one night, coming back to the bothy felt like returning home, the place was beginning to feel familiar.
Pete, Rich and Dougal had not yet returned so after a cup of coffee we decided to explore the headland to the east of the bothy. Rob went ahead whilst I had a bit more of a sit down. On the way down to the beach I found Reuben standing and staring at something white and fluffy. It turned out to be a sheep that had got caught in a bramble bush, the thorny stems tightly wound round its woollen fleece. It was impossible to set free by hand so I fetched a saw, it eventually legged it after I hacked off a bit of its wool. Hopefully by coming nose to nose with a woolly has demystified them a bit for Reuben. I finally got to set off round the bay after Rob.
Whilst sitting at the headland I did a stupid thing. I decided that I would take a photo of Rob sitting on the rocks. Whilst framing the photo I stepped back without looking and put my foot in a deep bog up to my knees. In my haste to get out I managed to put the other boot in too. My freshly waxed boots that had remained dry after tramping through bogs all day were now full of water. The only positive that came out of this was whilst taking my socks off to wring them out I spotted a tick that had burrowed into my leg. Even in February the little critters don’t give up!
Back at the bothy there still was no sign of the others and the light was quickly fading. Reuben as usual laid claim to the manky blanket that someone had left. After another energetic day on the hills he was soon snoring away.
We made hot drinks and quickly had a fire roaring, darkness finally falling over the island. Once 6.00pm had come and gone I started to worry a bit about the others not returning. I had a feeling that they had set off without torches, if that was the case then the journey along the coast was going to be tricky in the dark. I began to wonder what was the ideal time to call out Mountain rescue if they did not return. In the end I settled on waiting until dawn, not much anyone could have done considering we were unsure of their route. Thankfully this was all academic as shortly before 7.00pm they finally arrived. The west coast had been much harder than anticipated with some tricky scrambling with a dog. It sounded like the final hour or so in the darkness had been tough going. Maybe take a torch next time lads?!
Whilst walking along the coast, Pete had received a call from Duncan saying that bad weather was scheduled to hit the following evening and last throughout Monday. He had sailed past our campsite earlier that afternoon and did not fancy the chances of our tents remaining there! He still felt that he would be able to pick us up as planned, so Pete had said that we were happy to stay. Excellent, as I felt that I was just settling into island life.
By the second night we had properly sussed out the makeshift stove. This effectively is an old gas bottle shoved sideways into the fireplace, with a door cut into the end. A good effective effort by someone. Once more we sat round the fire drinking rum laced coffee and putting the world to rights. Being a Saturday I think we even managed to stay up past 9.00pm.
The island was wearing a more familiar cloak the following morning, the weather had definitely become more Hebridean. It was a day where no one had any real plans. Pete being an earlier riser was out the door before I had finished breakfast for a stroll up the east coast with Dougal. I set off an hour later along the same route with Reuben; Rob and Rich planning to catch me up. It was a day of low cloud and drizzly rain, perfect for spending at low level with the sea and my thoughts for company.
I could spot Rob and Rich in the distance so found a rather nice cave to shelter in for a while. This had someones no longer secret stash of firewood in it, a couple of bags of neatly chopped logs next to a fire pit. I would imagine they had been left by sea kayakers.
Rob decided to peel off and return over the hills back to the bothy, whilst Rich and I continued along the coast. Less than ten minutes after Rob had departed we spotted movement in the water. Binoculars revealed three otters, another nature bonus.
The east coast lacks the ruggedness of the west and south of the island but it more than makes up for it in bogginess. Walking through the sheltered woodlands I was glad that it was winter, I could easily imagine all the vegetation being of tropical rainforest proportions. Dark damp and humid the midges and ticks would be unimaginable in their full horror in mid-summer.
I managed to walk within a metre of the best find of the whole weekend. Rich who was behind stumbled across a huge red deer stag head complete with a set of ten point antlers. A really fine specimen that made me immediately feel rather jealous. People pay good money to mount such objects on their wall.
On a positive note I was not the one who had to lug the deceased beast across the island for a couple more hours. The woods were increasingly rough going until we finally stumbled upon the moss-covered ruin of an old chapel and a few gravestones. A very atmospheric setting where you almost expect the cast of the hobbit to emerge from behind a tree.
Later back at the bothy we found that Pete had dragged a very reluctant big brown labrador for another excursion along the south coast. Those in the bothy got another fire going and set about the important business of a late lunch. I was aware that the weather would be coming in later that evening and considered taking my tent down and sleeping in one of the upstairs rooms. Another exploration of those dusty and decidedly spooky rooms made me decide a wind battered tent would be the preferable option.
The last of the rum was finished during the evening as the wind slowly picked up outside. The front door missing a panel of glass meant that the hallway was a bit of a wind tunnel, a big contrast with the room with the fire.
The rain soon joined in with the wind, drumming on the windows and soaking anyone going out to use the non-existent facilities. With tiredness overtaking us all it was hard to drag ourselves away from a warm fire and into the teeth of a howling gale. It turned out that we were in a fairly sheltered spot as laying in my tent I could hear the weather rage all around but the tent would remain static. Every now and then a violent gust would grab the tent and give it a good shaking, each time waking me. The heavy rain outside sounded like my tent was being pebble dashed. The seams on my outer need looking at as a few drips managed to get onto the inner.
It was a tempestuous morning, the sea looking angry under a bruised sky. Patches of brilliant blue would quickly be replaced by angry black clouds throwing a mixture of rain, sleet, hail and snow. Tents were wrestled to the ground in an attempt to stuff them back into bags. The bothy provided welcome shelter whilst we waited for 12.30 for the walk back to the jetty to meet Duncan. The bothy was swept, wood sawn and rucksacks packed. I had managed a final photo before the tents were taken down. What a spot.
We must have had the wind in our sails as we managed the walk back to Kilmory lodge in thirty minutes, half the time taken on the way out. We used the substantial walls as shelter from the wind as we waited for Duncan’s boat to appear. Earlier than expected we spotted him coming around Luing, bouncing along on the choppy sea. We set off down the hill, timing our arrival perfectly with his.
It turned out that he nearly did not make it, having got caught up in a lobster pot. The journey back was smoother than expected, the wind and waves at our back. There was one hairy moment when a wall of white eventually overtook us, enveloping the boat in a violent gusty hail storm. We all dived for cover, Duncan being less than pleased that we filled his cabin and instruments with ice.
As we disembarked Rob asked Duncan if he was going out again that day.
No I’m bloody not was his answer.