How to Earn a Scottish Breakfast
Eggs, bacon, sausages, more bacon, toast.... When you're spending a week walking on the rugged Kintyre Peninsula, you can eat as much as you like--and that's not even the best reason to do the trip.
All that wide-open space and challenging terrain takes on a different hue after two hours, as we begin to exert real effort. Following two miles of gorgeous sea views, a hidden waterfall, and a small hill, the ground becomes uneven and marshy as we enter a six-mile section of rain-soaked farmland. (Months later, we learn that the Way has since been rerouted to avoid some of this boggy interlude.)
At 10 miles, the day is one of the shortest on our itinerary, but the going is slow and tough. It takes us six hours, and the day is more than half over when we finally catch sight of the old-growth forest two miles out of Clachan. By the time we descend past the raucous residents of a turkey farm, we are definitely looking forward to doffing our boots and packs in exchange for a hot shower, a plate of tea cakes, and Moreen's promised roast beef dinner with all the trimmings.
The next morning, warm scones, homemade bread, bacon, sausages, and eggs are all washed down with copious cups of tea before we wave good-bye to the Mollers. Day three is nine miles, and we hug the coast on the way to Tayinloan, passing the point of a 16th-century clan skirmish, and in the distance, standing stones and a stone-lined burial cist. Next to the stunning scenery, it's the historic landmarks that are a highlight of the Kintyre Way. Fought over by the Vikings and the Scots in the 11th and 12th centuries, the peninsula is scattered with Neolithic standing stones, ancient Scottish burial sites, castles, and crumbling stone churches.
But the best part of day three proves to be the many animal sightings. We spy playful seals, graceful waterbirds, and even a lone otter nibbling on a lunch of fresh fish. The water is a Tahitian blue (though it's probably not Tahitian in temperature), and in the distance we can see the isle of Gigha. It's the kind of breathtaking seascape that casts a rosy glow over all--from the miles of slippery beach stones to the somewhat rustic lodgings we later encounter at The MacDonald Arms Hotel in Tayinloan.
The hotel, between the forest and the sea, is an old coach inn dating back to the 1700s, and it feels due for a little renovation. Still, what it lacks in gloss, owners Alastair Smyth and his son, Greig, make up for in hospitality. Cari and I are given free access to the laundry room, the steaks we have for dinner are huge, and, when we discover that we are short of cash, Alastair writes us out an IOU as we leave the next morning, content with our promise to pay in four days' time when we pass by on the bus back to Tarbert.
"PEOPLE TEND TO FORGET about Kintyre because it's not really en route to anywhere," says Marcus Adams, co-owner of Carradale's graceful Carradale Hotel. We're chatting by the fire in the drawing room--showered, changed, and awaiting dinner--after day four's 15-mile trek. "By setting up the Kintyre Way, we're giving people a reason to come and explore the whole peninsula, to enjoy the scenery, the food, and the people."
This certainly describes how we spent the past eight hours. After departing Tayinloan, we climbed nearly 1,500 feet and undertook a complete traverse of the peninsula from west to east, trekking among pheasants and grouse, passing beneath giant windmills at the Deucheran Hill wind farm, and descending through old-growth forests of moss-covered trees--where the leaves were blazing scarlet--to enjoy some of the trip's most startlingly beautiful terrain.
It was all in stark contrast to where we find ourselves now, sipping tea by candlelight and anticipating an elegant dinner in the Carradale's slightly too formal dining room. (If we were to return, we'd eat in the bar.) Over tender steaks and a deluxe cheese plate, Cari and I joke about spending our last three days cozied up here. But the walking bug has bitten, and, tired feet aside, we're ready to keep moving. Our faces are bronzed, the rain showers have missed us, and--with more than half the hike completed--we've become addicted to the open air.
I've learned over the years that if I want to enjoy these long-distance walks, I need to expect some physical discomfort. But even for a walking enthusiast like me, day five's 20-mile path from Carradale to Campbeltown presents a long stretch of daunting and, at times, downright difficult terrain. We predict eight hours of walking, and that's not far off the mark. The views and scenery are jaw-dropping, particularly tranquil Torrisdale Bay and the ruins of the 12th-century abbey at Saddell. Unfortunately, the peacefulness instilled by such sights isn't enough to offset the painful realization of how far we have yet to trek. It's a relief when we eventually spot Campbeltown in the distance.