This was a particularly well-planned day.
I bet you didn’t think I was going to start this off with a compliment to Phil’s route planning, but as my old Mum says,”Stranger things have happened at sea!” (I’m not quite sure why she says this, as I don’t think she has spent too much time at sea. She also says “Drat your buttons!”)
Admittedly, this will probably be the last nice thing said about this bastard of a route that went north for five whole days before finally heading east, but it must be said that Phil had done a good job with today’s route. It was about a seventeen miler, which at the start of a Challenge can be a fair old yomp, but it was cleverly broken down into four discreet sections, allowing for rests under cover, in the highly unlikely event of inclement weather, and refreshments.
[CLICK ON MAP TO ENLARGE]
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As we were packing before breakfast, Phil noted that the way our kit was laid out said quite a bit about our party: Andy’s kit looked like it had exploded from his pack in a violent eruption, with bits scattered all over the floor, the bunk, hanging over lampshades and wall fittings. Phil’s was stacked precisely, in a tidy stack upon the side chair, with his rucksack sat symmetrically atop the heap. My own kit was placed in a tidy row on the floor, perfectly parallel with my bed.
Here’s a picture of my two companions, having just set out on the first leg of today’s route to the ferry for Lismore – looking remarkably clean & tidy. It won’t last.
After the Lismore Ferry’s bow doors were beaten into submission by a bloke with an enormous lump hammer, a dodgy looking group of Challengers generally mooched about the empty car deck ferreting through Lismore’s post and groceries seeing if there was anything worth pinching, The old tub wallowed its way north west and, as it wasn’t raining, pictures were taken. Everyone was in good spirits.
However, as this was Scotland, all this happiness was going to be rationed and shared out pinch by Scottish pinch. We had had our share of joy and happiness for one day and now we could see the clouds gathering.
The second leg of the day was the Isle of Lismore. Lismore reminded me of Father Ted’s “Craggy island”. It was quiet, with lovely views back to the mainland and had just a little of that wonderful “cut off” feeling to it, a sort of time-warp. We were passed by couples on bicycles and buzzed by aging Land Rovers. It could have been any time in the last fifty years.
Lismore was over almost as soon as we had landed and in a matter of a moment all the Challengers had re-grouped in a sweaty little portakabin at the north end of the island that served as the waiting room for the foot ferry to Port Appin. This ferry is about the size of a large Dormobile and so we all squeezed on board. We were soon tucking into lunch in the Pierhouse Hotel. I had the Cullen Skink, which was sadly, slightly disappointing. Their bathroom was jolly nice though. Top marks for their plumbing!
Then it was out into the gentle plash of rain, for the third leg. On the way we stopped at a bird hide and Andy snapped this little gem: Castle Stalker: There was a chap in yellow oil-skins slapping about in the mud, digging. It was all very medieval. We could only imagine he was burying his murdered wife. What other reason could there possibly be for being up to your knees in foul-smelling mud in the pouring rain?
A cycleway on the line of the old railway led us to the Creagan Inn for scones and warming cups of tea. It was here that Andy began his annual ritual of covering every conceivable digit in micro-pore tape. By the end of each day all his fingers and toes are covered in grime and he passes rather well as Fagin…
By now the rain was bouncing off the slabs outside. It was sluicing it down. But there was nothing for it but to start the fourth leg, a wander up the beautiful Glen Creran, with its fine houses and well tended gardens. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy this bit of the day as I was becoming brassed-off with the rain and the road walking was hard underfoot. After a bit of scouting about up a steep track at the road end at Elleric, Phil pitched on top of a bog and Andy & I pitched our shelters on the hard-pack of the nature-trail.
It was all a bit cold and gloomy, and the rain came back with gusto. But on the positive side, we had done what we had set out to do and we were on track. As I lay there, nestled in the bosom of Sally Solomid, taking little glugs of hip flask and munching on pasta with cheese & mushrooms, I thought to myself “This weather has to improve, surely?”
My skull cinema was flashing images of sad little huddles of Challengers in their tents, all over western Scotland, all thinking the same gloomy thoughts as me. Strangely, their gloom lifted and was replaced by smiley happy faces with every extra glug of Cardhu, and I drifted off to sleep.