Tag Archives: Kintyre

Paps and posties

Looking out to islands

The rugged coastline of Knapdale with views of Islay and Jura.

On Monday morning I woke up to a fresh blue sky – the perfect day for a two-wheeled trip someplace new. And where better than Kintyre, the mysterious mass of land across the loch. I caught the ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert, stocked up on snacks from the co-op, and set off along the single-track road that winds its way along the western coast of Knapdale. After climbing up through shady woodland, I emerged into dazzling sunshine. The road stretched ahead of me, shimmering in the heat. Beyond the rolling, rough farmland and dark patches of pine forest, there was a splash of blue loch. White butterflies passed like pieces of tissue paper caught on the breeze. Foamy meadowsweet, thistles and harebells filled the verges, and honeysuckle draped in the trees. I raced on, listening to the bleat of sheep and wondering if my rattling bike chain was anything to worry about.

View of beach at Loch Stornaway

Looking back to the beach at Loch Stornaway. No sign of a bull...

Further on a streak of yellow caught my eye and I pulled up by a gate. There, beyond a grassy field dotted with clover and freshly shorn sheep, was a wide, empty beach. It would have been a perfect place to stop for lunch and a dip, but for the sign on the gate that said: ‘BULL ON SHORE’. I dithered, and like a big chicken decided not to take the chance and pedalled on. As I rounded the next headland, Jura and Islay came into view. They seemed to float, other worldly, in a sea of misty blue. It was as if I were looking down on a mountain range, the islands the peaks poking up through the clouds. A beetle landed on my hand, turned a few circles like a dodgem and then flew on its way. I too went on my way, hurtling along the road next to the sea with the smell of salty, sun-dried seaweed ripe in the air.

Road with view of the paps of Jura

The view of Jura just minutes before my bike broke.

I was thinking how perfect this all was and how I might describe the paps of Jura that rose, in a matronly manner, before me, when I heard a loud crack and my bike careered off into the verge. The derailleur had snapped off. The bike couldn’t be cycled or, indeed, pushed, and I was in the middle of nowhere in the midday sun. I sighed, fiddled half-heartedly with the chain and then resigned myself to hitching a lift on this, the quietest of roads. In a stroke of luck, a postvan rounded the bend. I flagged it down and begged a lift back to Tarbert. ‘Nae bother’, said the postie and threw my bike in the back of the van. As we motored back, stopping to collect the post and chat to passing farmers, he told me his story. At school his English teacher, a young Ian Crichton Smith, had spotted his talent for writing, but he was too young, too restless, to follow it through. Later in life, after years spent in the hills along the west coast working as a forester, he began to write. He was inspired by the landscape, its wildness and his place in it. ‘It seeps into you.’ ‘Aye’, he replied. ‘That it does.’

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Westcoasting begins

With a nip of whisky for courage I’m heading to the west coast of Scotland to live off the land, find wild places and write.

View across Loch Fyne from Portavadie

The view from the cottage, out across Loch Fyne to the Kintyre peninsula beyond.

My garden has never produced more than a withered tomato or two, so the living-off-the-land bit could be a slightly foolish (dangerous?!) decision, but there’s a supermarket an hour’s drive away if the crops fail and I can’t bring myself to kill the goat.

So what’s it all about? Well, it’s a punt at a freelance writing career. It’s a chance to live in the most beautiful place – I think – in the world. The west coast offers wilderness and I want to get amongst it. I’ll be swimming in mountain burns, walking to far-flung bothies and exploring remote beaches. And finally, it’s about following my dream – slowing down, spending less, catching crabs, diving for scallops, keeping chickens, knitting my own underwear. I’ll be writing about it all here.

Two crabs and a lobster

Two crabs and a lobster plucked fresh from the loch. The nice man next door says he likes catching them but doesnt like eating them.

This weekend I’m ferrying my stuff to the cottage in a transit van. That’s the first challenge. How do you drive a van? There’s no back window! How can you see what’s behind you? I guess all will be revealed (or not). It’s just a flying visit – the real move is happening on 9 May, when spring has properly sprung. I’ll be in Bristol till then, saving for the lean times ahead and growing my veg seedlings ready for planting out in May. Yes, the potatoes are chitting as we speak.

Talk to my friends and they’ll tell you that this isn’t a new idea. A move to deepest Dartmoor some years back lasted, err, a month, before I hot footed it back to civilisation. But it’s different this time, because I’m going to Scotland, which is, after all, my home.

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