Posts tagged ‘Mazda Bongo’

March 25, 2014

Shropshire Hills AONB – The Stiperstones, Corndon Hill and Heath Mynd

by backpackingbongos

I had planned to spend the weekend with my feet up doing nothing.  However the forecast was for the first warm weekend of the year.  There was nothing for it other than to pack the Mountain Staffy into the Bongo and head for the hills.  Shropshire is only a hundred miles from Nottingham, an easy drive if Birmingham was not in the way.  I had no real plans, a couple of hills and time to kick back in the van and enjoy a good book.

The Stiperstones – 536m

It is many years since I walked amongst the jagged tors on the summit of the Stiperstones.  These rise like armoured plates on the back of a dinosaur from the broad heather clad ridge.  It was early afternoon when we arrived at the car park, so I settled on a short circular walk.  A low-level path followed by an exploration of the ridge itself.  There are some great scrambling opportunities on the Devil’s Chair and I spent a while watching a group gingerly pick their way across the narrow ridge.  With Reuben in tow I had to make do with a rocky perch to watch the world go by instead.

The last tor of the day was Cranberrry rock where we surprised a family who had scrambled up.  They did not expect to be greeted by a hound.  I have to say that I was impressed by the scrambling abilities of the two small folk, with parents happy to let them have a go.

By the time that we got back to the Bongo the car park was busy with people out for an evening stroll.  It would have been a good place to spend the night but I was keen on a bit of solitude, so the Bongo was headed in a westerly direction.

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Mitchell’s Fold stone circle and Stapeley Hill – 403m

A bumpy potholed track leads to a small car park a couple of hundred metres from the road to Priest Weston.  A perfect spot in which to sleep in the Bongo for the night.  Fortified by a cup of coffee I set off once more with Reuben, this time into the soft light of early evening.  The stone circle occupies an atmospheric spot with Corndon Hill as a backdrop.

The light was getting better and better as the sun began its descent towards the horizon.  The summit of Stapeley Hill looked like a worthy destination to watch the day fade into night.  On the way we passed a guy walking his dog on a flexi lead, Reuben also being on one.  Within a few seconds there was a tangle of dog and lead when Reuben got too enthusiastic with his greeting.

Back at the van I spent a comfy night with a good book and piles of food.

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Corndon Hill – 513m

I had left the privacy screen off the Bongo’s windscreen.  This meant that I woke to a panoramic view from the comfort of my bed. Layer after layer of hills spreading into Wales.

The shapely cone of Corndon Hill has often caught my eye when in the area, one I have long been keen to climb.  The car park where I had spent the night was an ideal launching pad.  We did a short and sharp circuit taking in the neighbouring Lan Fawr.

Corndon Hill is a superb viewpoint, seemingly taking in half of Wales.  There is even a handy bench on which to take it all in. Definitely high on the list of hills with big views for little effort.  A spot for a mid summer bivvy maybe?

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Heath Mynd – 452m

I had planned to drive home after Corndon Hill in an attempt to miss the Sunday afternoon M6 rush.  However another shapely hill had caught my eye.  My map showed that it was Heath Mynd, located on a small parcel of access land.

I initially tried to get onto the access land from the north.  However the track that led onto it through pastures has a very large sign pointing out that it is private.  I was not in the mood for any form of confrontation so headed south in the van so attempt it from there.  The lanes were so narrow and knackered that I began to wonder if I was actually driving down a farm track at one point. Parking proved to be difficult, I eventually squeezed the Bongo onto a small grassy patch off the road.

The hill itself was a simple climb, initially through grassland before knee-deep heather on the summit.  It was surprisingly warm and I sat in a t-shirt to eat my lunch, Reuben enjoying the sun.

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Sadly I did get caught in the Sunday afternoon rush on the M6.  Worth it for a couple of unplanned days in the sun.

January 24, 2014

A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt2

by backpackingbongos

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.

Uisken Beach

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

January 10, 2014

A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt1

by backpackingbongos

My New Year plan turned out to be far too ambitious.  I was going to spend a few nights at my favourite spot on the West Coast of Jura.  However the weather once again was not playing ball.  After a ten hour drive I would have to catch two ferries, drive another hour and then walk for seven hours.  With storm after storm rolling in my enthusiasm quickly diminished.

I was still very keen to spend a few days amongst rugged coastal scenery, somewhere to escape the madness of the New Year period.  Batteries needed to be recharged after a busy December at work.  To make things easier I decided that the Bongo would be both transport and home for a few days.  There was suddenly a calm day forecast so I bought a CalMac ferry ticket to the Isle of Mull.  I would worry later in the week about the weather on the return journey.

There is a 9.45pm sailing on Fridays so I was able to drive up to Oban in a day.  In the end it only took nine hours from the Midlands which meant arriving four hours early.  The Bongo became a convenient place to snooze that time away.  It was far too wet outside to stroll around the town.

I found it disorienting arriving on the Island at 10.30pm.  The unfamiliar single track road towards Fionnphort was challenging for the Bongo in the dark.  Being one of the first off the ferry I frequently had to pull over to let traffic pass me.  It is easy to tell when a ferry has arrived on the island as a line of traffic snakes its way along usually deserted roads.  Rush hour is dictated by CalMac.

I stopped for the night at a small car park near the summit of the road through Glen More.  A few stars were making an appearance as I made up my bed.

Ben Buie - 717 metres

It was pitch black outside when the alarm woke me at 8.00am.  This was a bit disorienting as it felt like it was still the middle of the night.  In fact during the whole trip I was surprised at just how short the days were on Mull at this time of year.

The sight that greeted me when I finally stepped out the van took my breath away.  Arriving at night I had no idea at the view that was hidden in the dark.  I visited the Island a few years ago in summer but I had forgotten just how stunning the place is.

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A few hefty showers passed by whilst I was having breakfast and packing my sack.  After they stopped the surrounding hills were covered in a light dusting of snow.  The boiling clouds and rising sun provided a spectacular light show over the lochs to the south.

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The weather forecast was for a bright morning with little wind before another weather front rattled though in the afternoon.  Keen to climb at least one mountain during the week I settled for a there and back walk up Ben Buie.  It is a mountain that I admired on my last trip to the island, sadly not having enough time to visit its summit.

The ascent up its north ridge was  straight forward until around the 550 metre contour.  Then out of nowhere the clouds descended, which meant that careful navigation was needed on the wide undulating ridge.  Snow was encountered at around 650 metres, just as the rocky slopes of the north peak steepened.  This was rapidly melting which meant that there was no point in putting on my microspikes.  What would usually be very easy scrambling was a little tricky in the slushy conditions.

The highest point sits to the south of the summit ridge, the ascents and descents from the north peak appearing much more than on the map.  Probably because a combination of mist and snow exaggerates your surroundings.

Typically when we were half way back down the cloud lifted and remained above the mountain tops for the rest of the day.  Rather frustrating considered we had set off early to get the best of the weather.

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We arrived back at the van early afternoon, however with darkness falling so early there was not enough time to head off for another walk.  The Bongo was pointed back down Glen More as I was keen to explore some coastal scenery the following day.

Lochbuie

The road to Lochbuie is stunning.  Narrow and twisting is ascends steeply through woodland before taking in the northern shore of Loch Spelve.  Here the force of the recent weather became apparent with seaweed covering sections of the road.  An old yew tree in a cemetery had some of its limbs torn away, scars on its ancient trunk gleaming under a grey threatening sky.

The light was fading as I arrived at the small parking area in front of the old post office.  A quick stroll with Reuben before it got dark was an opportunity to stretch our legs as a very long night was in front of us.  It was dark by 4.00pm.

During the evening the wind picked up, rocking the van.  I could hear the waves over the drumming of rain on the roof, a comforting sound as I lay in bed reading.  A twelve hour sleep was very enjoyable.

The wind had died down by dawn, the rain becoming intermittent.  I had no real plans for the day apart from exploring the coast south of Laggan Sands.

Several expensive looking 4×4′s passed us on the track to Lochbuie House.  As we walked in front of the grand looking building it was evident that people were gathering for a shoot.  A collection of Barbour, tweed and gun dogs.  Soon after going past Moy Castle the peace was shattered by a cacophony of shotgun blasts.

We only ended up walking a couple of miles beyond Laggan Sands, I took my time as the coastline was absolutely stunning.  I cursed leaving the binoculars in the car as I spotted two White Tailed Eagles circling overhead.  One even doing me the favour of perching on a small island a few metres offshore whilst I was having an early lunch.

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Back at the van it was tempting to stay for another night.  However being surrounded by houses I was not fully getting my ‘wild’ fix.  Before leaving I visited the local shop which is located in what was the old post office, a small wooden shed like structure.  This is not staffed and relies totally on the honesty of visitors to leave the correct amount of money.  Having places like this exist left me with a warm feeling as we drove off in the Bongo to find another stunning spot.

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December 1, 2013

A weekend in Eskdale with a dirty high

by backpackingbongos

The Bongo in winter is like sleeping in an upholstered freezer, a lack of heating requiring piles of down clothing to keep warm.  A purchase of an electric hook-up and a small radiator gave the promise of warmth and comfort.  A campsite in Eskdale was booked and I headed north with Reuben early on a Friday morning.  It had been a whole year since my last visit to the Lake District.

High pressure had settled over the UK, the centre sitting slap bang over the Lake District.  Blue skies and light winds I hear you shout.  Indeed this was the case on the first afternoon and the final morning.  The rest of the time it was benign cloud and murk.  A dirty high.

Black Combe – 13.5 kilometres with 430 metres ascent

Black Combe

The single track road between Duddon Bridge and Waberthwaite was surprisingly busy, a convenient short cut from the coast road. There is parking for about four cars at its summit, most of the space taken over by one solitary car who had parked as stupidly as possible.

Starting at 380 metres made the ascent of Stoneside hill a breeze.  A woman with her lively Jack Russell warned me of the bogs ahead if I was heading for Black Combe.  I inwardly smiled to myself thinking that this Pennine bog trotter can handle a little bit of bogginess.  Ten minutes later I heard a splash as Reuben disappeared into a pool of slime, struggling to drag himself out.  The large area of rushes we had walked into was booby-trapped, the ground oozing and quaking.  My Pacerpoles are handy for crossing boggy ground but they were sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo.

A quick bag of the cairn on Stoupdale Crags and what felt like a long detour to White Combe.  This Wainwright outlying fell has a large cairn with an even larger view.  A late lunch was enjoyed but I did lament the lack of fluids, my water bottle was also sitting nice and comfortably in the Bongo with the Pacerpoles.

The final climb to the summit of Black Combe was done in shadow, the sun heading towards the horizon.  Already the grass was crunchy underfoot, ice glazing over areas of bog.  Arriving at the summit it was hard to see, the sun reflecting off the sea was the deepest orange.  The quality of the light was fantastic, it made even the array of wind turbines and the nearby nuclear power station look beautiful.  It was tempting to stay and watch the sun set.  However it was a long way back to the van so we reluctantly headed the way we had come.  The last half hour done by head torch, the battery very close to empty.

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I probably should not mention one of my outdoor secrets.  The week before heading north I joined the Camping and Caravan club. Shhhh keep that one to your self.  This was done so that I can access their numerous certified sites, designed for five ‘units’. Somewhere to escape the crowds but with electric hook-up if needed in the colder months.  The campsite close to Boot in Eskdale is not a certified site but it may as well have been this weekend.  It was pretty much empty and I got nearly a whole field to myself. With light and heating, time progressed really quickly until Chrissie and Geoff turned up in their van.  Time for a convivial couple of beers before turning in for the night.

Sca Fell – 16 kilometres with 1,080 metres ascent

Sca Fell

I woke totally sold to the whole heated campervan in winter idea.  Outside was a world of white frost, inside was snug and warm. Even Reuben who I am beginning to realise dislikes camping appeared to be happy.

Three humans and three dogs met outside the vans and set off in pursuit of Sca Fell, a reasonably long day with short daylight hours. Chrissie and Dixie walked with us until we got close to Stony Tarn before turning back.  Dixie is a twelve year old Boxer and the climb to the summit of Sca Fell would have been too much for her.  Geoff and I continued on upwards, Reuben impatiently leading the way, Tilly looking for objects that she should could carry (this often would include large stones).

The first destination was the cracking little summit of Great How.  Detached from the higher hills it gives great views in all directions. We sat and had lunch number one, watching the play of mist and light on the surrounding fells.

A boggy walk across Quagrigg moss was followed by a steep pull up to the summit of Slight Side.  There we met a couple who were celebrating completing their round of the Wainwrights.  No offer was made to share their whisky!

It became increasingly wintry as we approached the summit cairn of Sca Fell which was sadly shrouded in mist.  As we had lunch in the shelter Reuben let me know that he was feeling the cold, enthusiastic when I put his warm coat on.  I had managed to leave my microspikes in the Bongo (a bit of a recurring theme during the weekend) but had managed to borrow Chrissie’s when she turned back earlier in the day.  They came in very handy for the steep descent down the western slopes towards Burnmoor Tarn.

Daylight deserted us during the final half hour, and I realised that I still had not changed the battery of my headtorch (don’t worry I always carry spares, it’s just that I could not be bothered to stop and change it).

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The evening was spent at Chez Crowther where Geoff filled our bellies with Chilli and apple pudding.  It became full on glamping when we sat and watched Dr Who afterwards!

Green Crag – 16 kilometres with 710 metres ascent

Green Crag

I had booked the Monday off work so was able to go for a full days walk on the Sunday.  Geoff and Chrissie were heading back south after lunch so we said our goodbyes in the morning.

The stepping stones over the River Esk were easy to cross with the water levels being low.  A sheltered climb brought us to Stanley Force, a great waterfall hidden deep in a gorge.  The climb up a path soon led us to a rocky viewing platform 150 feet above the falls. It was a giddy vertigo inducing spot, Reuben kept well away from the edge.

The hills around Green Crag are small in altitude but make up for it in terms of ruggedness.  A circuit taking in Great Worm Crag, White How, Green Crag and Crook Crag involved numerous ups and downs.  The summit of Crook Crag even involved a spot of easy scrambling to get to the top.  The best thing however was that there was not a soul to be seen all day, pretty rare for the Lake District.  A spot that I would like to return to in the summer for some wild camping.

A well-defined track that is barely marked on my map led us easily back down into the valley to Low Birker Farm.  The marked right of way would have been impossible down the loose steep slopes.

A path along the River Esk was taken in favour of the road for the walk back to the campsite.  Darkness had once again fallen at this point but thankfully my head torch was shining nice and bright.  This however did not prevent me from getting us temporarily misplaced.

Back at the campsite I had pretty much the entire place to myself.

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Rough Crag – 3.5 kilometres with 150 metres ascent

Rough Crag

Ambitious plans were hatched which involved getting up before dawn and marching over a long list of hills before heading home. The reality involved waking up at 10am after a very deep sleep before relaxing at the campsite for a couple of hours.  Even at midday the insulating screens on the van had frozen solid to the glass and took a bit of persuading to be removed.

I parked the Bongo near the summit of the Birker Fell Road, determined to stretch both of our legs before the long drive home.  It was a very pleasant there and back walk across the summits of Rough Crag and Water Crag.  Two small hills that give excellent views for their height.

I will have to make sure that I don’t leave it so long before my next visit to the Lakes.

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November 17, 2013

Postcards from Arran part three – Coast, stones, caves and waterfalls

by backpackingbongos

One of the pleasures of taking a campervan to Scotland is being able to park up in remote and secluded spots each night.  This is exactly what I did for the eight nights on the Isle of Arran.  Sometimes it was just me and the dog, other nights I joined the other two vans for sociable evenings.  With the weather being as wild as it was I was glad not to have been backpacking in a tent.  Having a van meant that I could wait out the worst of the weather, dashing out for quick walks in between weather systems.  It would be wrong to name the places where we ‘wild’ camped, so instead here are a couple of photos of my favourite spots.

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Fionn Bhealach (444 metres) and the north coast

The main lesson I learnt on this walk was not to underestimate bad weather even on the lower hills.  This was a full day circuit that took in a trackless moorland ridge before returning along the coast.  I measured sustained wind speeds of 50mph on the open moorland which made it difficult to walk.  I would often have to kneel down during the strongest gusts to prevent being blown over. Add into the mix heavy horizontal rain and I began to doubt my wisdom of leaving the comfort of the van.  Reuben kept disappearing to hide behind anything that would give him shelter.

The unpleasant moorland trudge was soon left behind for a spectacular coastal walk along a well-defined path.  This took us past Laggan cottage and the Fallen rocks.  A section to savour.

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Kings Cave and The Doon

A popular waymarked circular walk took us to the Kings Cave.  This contains Christian and pre-Christian carvings, some of which are quite beautiful.  I found myself following a rather noisy family so decided to peel off to the south to have a look at The Doon with its impressive columnar basalt cliffs.  An enjoyable leg stretcher.

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Machrie Moor Standing Stones

I waited until late afternoon before walking the mile or so to the various stone circles and standing stones on Machrie Moor.  I was lucky to time my visit when no one else was around.  A very atmospheric spot.

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Eas Mor (waterfall)

This was a quick diversion on the way to somewhere else.  During a day of vicious squally showers I managed to time a thirty minute dash without getting wet.  An impressive cascade hidden in the forest above Kildonan.

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Blackwaterfoot to Drumadoon point

Visibility was down to a couple of hundred metres as we sat in the wind and rain lashed Bongo.  The sea and sky had merged under the heavy black clouds.  The shower had blown in from the Argyll peninsular to the west, a solid wall of weather.  Thankfully it cleared as quickly as it had appeared, the sky washed clean.  A stroll along the sandy beach to Drumadoon point was timed to catch a spectacular sunset.  The feel of sand under Reuben’s paws sent him into canine heaven.

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