|22/03/2011||Filled under Carradale, Kintyre, Scotland|
The news from Libya is troubling and is all over the television at the Lancaster Travelodge where we spent the night en route to Scotland. Nineteen pounds buys a bed here with clean sheets, a cup of tea or coffee and hot water in which to bathe, many thousands of miles away from the men with guns. But prior experience has taught us to avoid Travelodge breakfasts. These come in a tough plastic bag within which is a series of small hermetically sealed packs – cereal, milk, spoon, crunchy bar, fruit – the contents of which are digested with difficulty to leave behind a cloying aftertaste and a mountain of packaging waste. The best part by far is the tough plastic bag of which we already have several serving as handy receptacles for our muddy walking shoes. (This is called recycling, Travelodge please note.)
After stuffing ourselves full with a more sustaining breakfast we head northwards on the M6 towards the Lake District, Kate doing a sterling job piloting our heavy vehicle. At first low cloud blankets the road as we ascend steadily then suddenly we crest Shap Fell and the sky clears, the air sparkling and radiating sunshine. Descending now towards Carlisle the only dull note is when we spot a Tunnocks lorry heading south, full to the brim, no doubt, with delicious caramel wafer chocolate bars destined for the undeserving English. This is Scotland’s least talked-about and most underrated export product, unrivalled and unchanged since my childhood it brings back a host of memories at each bite.
M6 becomes the M74 as we cross the border. Now only Glasgow stands between us and our new home. The motorway fills as we navigate around the metropolis, many lanes of traffic weaving about pointlessly but purposefully, then across the Erskine Bridge and suddenly it feels like we have dropped into another world. We glide along Loch Lomond’s shore, Loch Long, Loch Fyne and finally Loch Gilp where we turn south for the first time in two days of driving. There is a thin neck of land between the east and the west Lochs Tarbert but for which the Kintyre peninsula would be an island. It takes but a moment to drive across this, to transit from the cul de sac of the Clyde estuary to the Atlantic Ocean, and years ago sailors would drag their boats across this piece of land to avoid a long and dangerous sea passage around the Mull on their journey out to the Western Isles. Our road now follows the Atlantic shore where today the air is clear, just a faint salty mist drifting in where the swell pounds jagged boulders at the water’s edge. The Isle of Gigha lies closest but beyond this we can see Jura with its naked rounded paps peaking cheekily out of the sea. The road surface is still cratered from last winter’s frosts, holes cannot be avoided and our heavy van’s wheels crash noisily beneath us, distracting us from the horizon smudge that is Rathlin Island, another country just visible across the sea. We peer out to see if the surf at Westport has lured any wave riders before driving into Campbeltown where in an estate agents’ office there is a key waiting for us, the key to our new home.
I clutch this smoothly worn precious object tightly in my hand as I climb back into the van for the last leg of our journey. We head back north now along Kintyre’s east coast past Davaar Island which guards the entrance to Campbeltown Loch. Ailsa Craig squats in the sea away to the south east and the Isle of Arran shows off its massive summits just three miles away across Kilbrannan Sound. This is the road that takes our village’s inhabitants into Campbeltown but there are no concessions here to make a driver’s job easy. There are twists and turns, narrow bridges with tight corners and hard stone parapets, hairpin bends which enable the road to drop to sea level when it wants to show the traveller some feature, a quiet cove with a sandy beach or a rocky inlet. This lively piece of tarmac is now taking us to our new life.
It is very mild, with almost no wind so there is a tropical feel to the day. The vegetation is lush, daffodils in full bloom are scattered here and there making a startling contrast against the dark vegetation covered rocks. The moss under the rhododendrons is bright green too, springing back to life freshly emerged from winter. Our key turns in the lock and we enter. The empty house blinks back at us. All we have to do is fill it with our belongings to make it ours so up goes the loading door, down comes the tail-lift and away we go. Despite all those potholes and the twists and turns of long road from Glasgow nothing has moved or come adrift inside the van, nothing is broken. Peter and Liz soon arrive to help out having made the long journey from their home in Leeds and by dusk we are all sweaty and exhausted. Our bed is reconstructed, our visitors retire to their B&B in the village, and we all sleep the sleep of the just.
The next day, our first full day in Carradale, and the van is empty. Peter and Liz have departed and we make time for a five minute stroll to the sandy beach of Carradale Bay. The rocky point lures us in and before we know it we are in full adventure mode, clambering over rocks, splashing through soggy tussocks and wading through last year’s bracken. We already know that this place is home to a herd of feral goats – perhaps we’ll be lucky. We see their hoof prints in the mud and follow them but they could be behind any piece of rock, hiding in a crack where the strata have twisted in on themselves. Goats could even be laughing at us while hidden from view close by.
We turn a corner and suddenly we are confronted by them. They, of course, see us first but stand and stare, captured between curiosity and caution, jaws munching on regardless. The message is clear: approach thus far but no further. Such wild animals ought to be living free from any human interference but the ‘freshly-shorn’ appearance of these two suggests that they might have given up their coats to a higher cause.