Beinn an Tuirc
|20/09/2011||Filled under Kintyre, mountains, Scotland|
Deep inside the forest a long clearing between the trees continues ahead of us following roughly the same line as the rough forestry track that brought us here. Although the sun shines brightly and there is a fresh breeze blowing, here in the forest it is still and shaded so last night’s rain drips from the vegetation. We continue upwards, struggling through a thick blanket of sphagnum or peat moss, like walking on a layer of wet sponge. Growing through this is a coarse reed-like grass which reaches up to knee height, each blade being topped with a cluster of water droplets, so that as we pass by, our feet sinking into the spongy surface, the water transfers easily from the grass to our clothing making our legs wet and heavy, the cold seeping right through to the skin. Having climbed this far we can only press on upwards, slipping and sliding in the damp, stepping over hidden gullies where the water runs even more freely and stumbling over broken branches and small pink mushrooms. Somewhere up ahead we can see the wind-farm towers on the summit ridge beyond the forest although these remain illusively distant, teasing us on.
We started out later than planned, following the Kintyre Way almost from our doorstep out of the village and along the shore path to Torrisdale. A line of cormorants stands at the water’s edge catching up on some late season sunbathing so we try not to disturb them as we negotiate the rocks behind them.
We are at sea level but our plan for the day is to ascend Beinn an Tuirc, the highest summit on the Kintyre peninsula standing 454 metres (1,490 feet) above us. It is close enough for us to begin the walk from our front door but the route is far from clear, no signposts point the way, so we must follow the forestry roads then do the best we can from there on up. The sun beats down as we ascend and the scenery opens up behind us, more and more of Arran’s mountains coming into view. Then we plunge into the dense forest where the air is motionless and all noise is sucked away by the trees. Between them there is deep shade, an impenetrable tangle of branches and moss-covered roots. Go only a few metres in and the trees swallow you up so you become disorientated with the uniformity around you, unsure which way to turn even to retrace your steps. We stay in a rough clearing between the trees, plodding ever upwards in the hope that sooner or later we will reach the upper edge of the tree line. Our legs are soaked below thigh level; we have reached the point where our feet cannot become any more wet so it matters little how deep are the streams we cross. Each foot is pulled from the spongy moss with a sucking noise, the effort sucking our energy away and we have only our grim determination and the thought of lunch on the summit to keep us going.
At last we scramble out onto the open hillside where the going becomes a little easier. It is still very soft under foot – the amount of water lying trapped in what passes for soil here just beggars belief – but we pause to orientate ourselves and identify just where we have emerged from the forest in relation to our summit. We set off again, steeply upwards to where we can see sheep browsing the upper flanks of the mountain, finally gaining the summit trig point where the panorama is stunning (the wooden sign marked ‘Viewpoint’ is rather superfluous). To the north-west, beyond the wind-farm towers, the Paps of Jura nudge the skyline and north of these are larger summits, maybe Ben Mor on the Isle of Mull or possibly even Ben Nevis further away still. South there is the faint outline of Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland and over across Kilbrannan Sound to the south-east we can make out the shape of the Mull of Galloway. East of us the Isle of Arran is spread out from end to end just like a map with fluffy clouds hovering over it and north of this there is Bute and Cowal. What a view!
The fresh wind is tempered by the sun’s heat but despite the stunning view this is not a place to hang about. It is mid afternoon and we have to choose a descent from the summit. There is no easy walking terrain hereabouts, no footpaths or waymarks to follow and to return the way we came is not appealing. So the choice is between a long walk over rough country along a ridge above Torrisdale but from which there is no clear descent path, or else we can follow the wind-farm service road, a longer indirect route that leads onto a forest track lower down the valley above Saddell Water. This is the route we choose, but it is a long march, and we know that we may be faced with a steep and dangerous descent yet and then finally a long walk once we do get back to our coast road.
The shadows are lengthening now and our legs are beginning to shout back at us as we pound along the forest track towards the sea. “No more”, they say, but as we round a corner we surprise a small herd of deer from their browsing and this encourages us on. Large birds of prey, buzzards we think, hover over the deep wooded valley to our right but our route stays high above this following the contours of the hillside. Then suddenly there is a sign we recognise, a waymarker for the Kintyre Way placed beside a track leading off to our left. This is a surprise since we know we are not on the present KW route but we follow the signs just the same and soon find ourselves descending a freshly made path through an area of felled timber then across a burn and back into the forest itself. By following a series of flags attached to trees this finally leads us out of the darkness onto the very forest road we had used earlier in the day. We have discovered, by chance, a Kintyre Way diversion in the process of being built which has worked for us as a short cut back into Torrisdale. Great relief brings new energy to our legs for the last few miles back home. Our aching limbs are testament to perfect day – visibility as good as it gets and sunshine to boot. Before long this land will change into autumn then winter colours – this one tree is ahead of the pack – and we are now looking forward to the whole lot following suit.