Written by: Anne Gavin

Editor’s note: This post is a continuation in Anne Gavin’s series about returning to Scotland after her first visit last year. Read about why she, like Claire, had to go back.  And if you want to relive Anne’s first trip last year, here’s a link to get you started. Let the virtual travel begin!

After the longest day, I woke up to some sunshine and a new – albeit guarded – outlook on the day ahead. My blisters were raging. My feet and legs had been throbbing most of the night. But, besides all that, I felt pretty good and just decided that walk on, I must. I double Compeed-ed both feet, wrapped my right foot with tape, and waited until the last moment before we left the cottage for our start point to gingerly slide on my hiking boots. We were walking from Blackwaterfoot to our cottage at Lagg, which sat just above the Coastal Way. How convenient! I wasn’t entirely sure how I would fare given my blisters, but was anxious to get started and enjoy this beautiful, sunny day along the coast. So, I laced up my boots… 

Day 4
Our start point was the Kinloch Hotel in Blackwaterfoot – where we had ended the day before. Starting off, I felt very much like the hapless Redcoat courier in Episode 14 of Outlander  Season 1 (“The Search”) after Jenny Fraser Murray administered some Highland justice. Outlander fans will know what I mean! It was like red-hot pokers were stabbing my feet each step I took. But, it was a nice day. The sun was out, low clouds were clearing and we were walking on the beach again. The little dogs – the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – were walking with us today. Also, my friends, Melvyn and Barbara Ingleson, gamely decided to join our group for this part of the Coastal Way. The more the merrier, I always say!

As we snaked along the coast we came upon yet another very boggy section. Carefully stepping to avoid the sinking slurp of an unseen hole in the earth, I actually managed to remain out front of the group for a short bit. I found myself really concentrating on the path in front of me just to keep my mind off my feet. Today was all about boggy coastal walking and lots of trekking through farm fields. Unfortunately, what we found, is that markers for the Coastal Path were few and far between on this particular section. It was confusing to say the least. At one point, we did pass a marker directing us up a steep set of crude stairs and back to the road above the cliffs. We took a vote as to whether we should return to road-walking. My vote was “absolutely not!” – primarily because I enjoyed being seaside, but also because I really didn’t think my feet could take the punishment of a hard surface after our 17 miles of road-walking the day before. The unmarked coastal route won the day amongst the group, so onward we trudged.

Dogs enjoying cow-free, off-leash time
We walked several miles through large, grassy farm fields. At times, Dave and the dogs had to take large detours to avoid crowds of cattle. I learned something – cows are not big fans of dogs. I didn’t know this, but could understood why neither Dave or any of us would want to try and outrun 1000 plus pounds of bovine charging at us because they might be put out by a few toy spaniels! Therefore, I fully supported Dave’s decision to take the long way around on a couple of occasions!
It was actually a relatively easy and very scenic walk along the fields for the middle portion of this day’s segment. Other than dodging cow patties and avoiding mama sheep and their babies for fear of being chased, it was a pleasant meander. No boulders in sight! But, we knew at some point, we would have to return to the road for a short stint before finishing down on the coast. But, where? Where to go up? Again, very disappointing that this part of the Coastal Way was woefully under-signed. In fact, we saw no signs at all directing us to the designated path.

At some point, Dave made an executive decision (supported by all) to make a break for it up a seemingly benign hill in the distance. As the group started to slowly make their way up, the realization that this was a hill entirely made of SHITE started to sink in. And, my Lord, the odor. I seriously laughed the entire way up the hill thinking to myself that, indeed, this was definitely going to be one of those memorable Scottish hill-walking experiences that I shall never forget. I was also laughing because sweet Doreen lost one of her boots in the shite. After gingerly retrieving her boot from the muck, she actually seriously considered continuing on without putting the boot back on. I screamed back at her, “NO!!!!! Put on your boot!” It was a delicate balancing act – you know, standing in poop, while putting a hiking boot back on. But, she managed and we continued on.

Poop Hill

Upon reaching the top of Shite Hill, we were informed by young Gary not to touch the metal fencing above and besides the wooden gate because one of our other walkers was just *electrocuted* when they accidentally touched it. What? After being assured that our group member was still upright and not in need of a defibrillator, we moved on. As we emerged on the other side of the poop hill, we all noticed the distinctive odor each of us was giving off. My boots and bottom part of my trousers were caked in…well, poop. Again, all part of the hill-walking experience. As we emerged on the roadway and started walking, I noticed a few landmarks I recognized in the distance. We had traveled the two-lane road around this part of the island numerous times so I thought I knew where I was. I was excited thinking we were probably an hour or so from the cottage.

Road walking requires a little extra vigilance when it comes to approaching vehicles. On such narrow roads, you oftentimes have to step up and off the pavement into the grass in order to safely allow cars to pass. So, while keeping half an eye on the route ahead, I was also sneaking peeks across the farm fields on my right. I have never seen such shades of green than I have on the Isle of Arran. Beyond the green was the sea and lots and lots of blue sky with just a few lazy clouds hanging about. Truly breathtaking.

I had fallen to the back of the pack again. But, eventually I caught up to what appeared to be a confab gathering amongst Coastal Way walkers, including my group. This was really the first leg of the Coastal Way where we had noticed other groups of walkers. We had passed a few groups on the beach and several had passed us. The groups had converged at the top of a dirt road that appeared to lead to the sea. As I came up upon the group, I noticed several were chatting – our leader, Dave Lawson, amongst them. Almost as soon as I walked up, I noticed a flurry of activity and then several started yelling and whistling very loudly. It would seem several walkers had continued down the dirt road mistakenly thinking that this was the right way back down to the coastal path. One of our walkers was among this group, having decided to move ahead on her own. The very loud whistling and yelling had no effect. At this point, our leader decided he needed to go after our stray walker. Given this would be a major delay, I decided to walk on knowing that with my slow pace, the group would most likely catch up to me very quickly. Doreen joined me still stewing about her “poo shoes” but cheery about the lovely weather. Actually, it was nice to have someone to walk alongside.

Again, we caught up to another group of Coastal Way walkers and took a minute to catch our breath and grab some water from our support crew, who happened to pull up next to us in their vehicle having picked up the dogs from Dave. The other walkers assured us they knew the way back down to the coastal path and pointed us down another farm road. Why not? They looked like they knew what they were doing. Frankly, I was anxious to get off the road and smell the sea air again and not the stench of my boots. As we got down to the end of the farm road and through several gates, we found ourselves skirting another field of ewes and their lambs. We turned slightly and found ourselves on the beach again. I was happy to be there, but could feel the fatigue in my legs. I was still trying to step lightly to avoid pressure on my feet. Unfortunately, in doing so I wasn’t as careful about picking my feet up and over obstacles in my way. It was then that I took a pretty hard fall. I tripped over a decent size piece of driftwood. I could feel myself falling and awkwardly tried to stop myself but instead landed squarely on my face. My right eye had made contact with another piece of driftwood. I was stunned for a minute. It was lucky I hadn’t poked my eye out on this deserted stretch of beach. Doreen had trained nursing skills but I am not sure she would have been able to do much. Luckily, I had not poked my eye out, but it hurt and I could feel it swelling. Time for my mantra – “Keep walking!”

Back to the beach
Colorful souvenir of day 4

Remarkably, we were able to spot the Coastal Way markers on this stretch of the path and eventually did find ourselves headed back up toward the road. We walked for a bit, past the Lagg Hotel, which we knew was less than a mile from our cottage. But, we remembered what Dave had said about a wooded pathway that would direct us once again toward the beach and to our cottage and the day’s end point. When we found it, we were thrilled and it was very beautiful. It lead us straight to the back cliff where our cottage sat. The entire walking crew we had left earlier was already there plus the support crew. It was clear that Doreen and I had been the cause of some concern given we ended up about 30 minutes behind the rest. I am guessing the reason for this is because we did a couple of stints down on the beach path while the other group stuck strictly to the road after the incident where one of our walkers had taken a wrong turn. I was actually quite surprised at the level of emotion that greeted us when we got back. It would seem that Doreen and I were persona non grata  for “leaving the group.” To this day, I don’t quite understand this, especially since the day before, I was left in everyone’s dust on the final five miles or so before arriving at our end point. There didn’t seem to be the same level of concern then. It was an island coastal path. How lost could we actually get? But, all that said, we had arrived safe but not quite sound. My eye had really begun to swell and I knew the morning was likely to bring some colorful bruising. But, it had been a beautiful day of walking and enjoying our seaside commune with nature – yes, even the poop!

Day 5

The group convened at our cottage early the next morning. The plan was to walk down the hill to the coast and begin our second-to-last day of the Coastal Way walking from Lagg, ending at Dave’s cottage on the far side of Whiting Bay. It was another beautiful day. How lucky we were to have enjoyed so many days of brilliant sunshine. We met a fellow walker coming towards us, having been where we intended to go. We asked him about the terrain ahead. He told us to expect several long stretches of – yep – BOULDERS! He said one stretch was quite “feasible.” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that characterization except to think that what we had already endured on this trek was sometimes not “feasible” yet we completed it nonetheless. So, feasible it was and on we went.

Boulder field of hell
Basalt rock formations
When we reached the first set of boulders, it was a bit overwhelming as we found ourselves looking out across a seemingly endless pile of dark gray and black rocks. There was no path, no noticeable route to traverse this section. It was clearly going to be a scramble with hopes that where you were stepping was solid enough to allow footing to continue forward momentum. We did pass what is known to be the largest cave on the Isle of Arran – the Black Cave – and some impressive basalt rock formations made millions of years ago from lava flow. And, everywhere we looked, we were treated to some beautiful views of Ailsa Craig. I think of Ailsa Craig like the Bali Ha’i of Scotland. It’s a mysterious little mound of an island off the west coast of mainland Scotland sitting in the outer Firth of Clyde. It was formed from the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano. It is most known as the source of the blue hone granite used to make the world’s curling stones.  Ailsa Craig appears and disappears mystically in the mist and clouds that often envelope it.  On this day, it stood out clear and bright in the distance every way we looked. I’ve been fascinated with this little island since the first time I saw it the year prior on my first trip to Scotland. Something about it is mesmerizing. In fact, in Gaelic Ailsa Craig means “Fairy Rock.”  It can appear very close or very far depending on the day and how the sun is shining. It can sometimes be hard to look away as it draws you in. The island to me is oddly comforting. I was grateful that for so much of our day it was visible.

Ailsa Craig in the distance
More boulders ahead – Photo credit to Gary Brown

We continued the scramble over yet more boulder sections. I got quite frustrated at this second section of boulders –  as evidenced by my audible cursing.  I could only assume this was our walker friend’s “feasible” section. In fact, it was not particularly feasible. It was dangerous and exhausting. The physical aspect of the scramble wasn’t too bad, but the mental energy required to pick your path carefully as to avoid a slip and a fall was the most difficult part for me. Slip and fall I did. Several times. But, fortunately, none of the falls resulted in any serious injury. Just more wee bruises! 

After making it through the most difficult of the boulder sections, we found ourselves back on the beach. As we neared an area with several rocky outcroppings, we heard the most incredible sounds. There were groups of common seals sunning on some of the rocks ahead of us. They were actually singing. It was plaintive yet melodic crooning back and forth between the nearly dozen seals we saw on the rocks or swimming back and forth to scramble awkwardly atop the nearest rocks. It lasted for only a few minutes but the sounds of their conversations were so haunting.

Seal concert — Photo credit to Gary Brown

As we neared Whiting Bay, we pushed back up off the coast and walked along some farm roads. We stopped for a quick look at Kildonan Castle. Such an odd shaped ruin, covered in ivy and teetering on the edge of a cliff. Small farm houses surrounded the ruin including the world’s smallest art gallery – appropriately named “the Wee Gallery.” There was only enough room for two people to take a look around inside and view the lovely paintings of Arran landscapes. I would guess there is no other place on earth quite like this wee place.

Kildonan Castle ruins

As we worked our way back to the main road into Whiting Bay, we had some incredible views looking back out towards the beach and across the sea. It was a steady climb and heart-pumping, but as we reached the top of the farm road to make our turn onto the main island road, we could see Whiting Bay in the distance. Our support crew had promised us a barbeque at Dave’s cottage. After so many hours of walking and eating protein bars and energy gel, a real honest-to-goodness cook-out sounded divine. We were definitely NOT disappointed. Our support crew had gone all out. There was grilled chicken, sausages, burgers and every type of side dish you could think of. There was wine, beer, cocktails and all our dog friends excitedly running to greet us as we trudged up the beach to the cottage. It was truly the very best ending to another glorious day on the Arran Coastal Way.

I looked around and counted myself so lucky to have the support and love of so many wonderful people including our four-legged friends. Just one more push tomorrow – another 12 miles – and we would complete the Coastal Way trek and then move on to my next few weeks in Scotland and more adventures. But, for now – time to eat, drink, be merry and enjoy the sounds of the laughter coming from our own little paradise on the back patio of our friends’ wee beach cottage.  Survived another day… happily.

Is there any part of this trek that you would really want to do yourself?  If so, what part?  Ever suffered an injury whilst hiking? 

Missed the previous entries in the Scotland Diaries?  Find them here:

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