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.
Following a dinner of lamb shank, a long sleep, and our now-routine breakfast ("Eggs, mushrooms, sausage, and extra bacon, please"), we pump Richard Bamford, our host at the Ardshiel Hotel, for advice as his black Lab lolls at our feet. With only a six-mile walk to the hamlet of Machrihanish scheduled for the day--the Way's shortest section--we're in no rush. And Campbeltown is a bustling metropolis, compared to the villages so far. It's the biggest town on the peninsula, home to 6,000 people; in the Victorian era, it was the whisky capital of the world.
Richard suggests a walk out to Davaar Island, a finger of land connected to Campbeltown by a stone causeway accessible only at low tide. Though the idea of viewing Archibald MacKinnon's 1887 cave painting of the Crucifixion is appealing, the idea of walking in the drizzle is not. Richard directs us to the Springbank Distillery, calling ahead to book us a place on a tour. The guide, Jim, proves an entertaining host, and our group of German, French, Canadian, and Australian whisky-lovers tops the tour with a tasting of three single malts at the nearby whisky shop, The Tasting Room. The whisky is just what we need to lubricate our weary legs for the walk over to Machrihanish--or so we convince ourselves.
Later, at East Trodigal Cottage B&B, it becomes apparent that we forgot an important law of hiking: Always make sure the night's meal is within easy distance. The Beachcomber Bar & Restaurant is a mile up the road, but the rain has arrived, and we have no desire to walk there and back. Mike Peacock, who owns the B&B with his wife, Linda, offers to take us to the supermarket in Campbeltown, as he has to run an errand nearby anyway. We grab a couple of prepackaged meals, which we combine with Linda's generous plate of chocolate cake and tea biscuits. We sleep the sleep of the contented.
THE KINTYRE WAY'S website advises using a compass for the final 17-mile section, but we find no need. Yesterday's rain has blown out, and the markers--every 100 yards or so--are clearly visible. This, in fact, proves to be one of the best-marked walks I've undertaken.
Having passed through a couple of herds of Highland cows at Ballygroggan Farm, we begin climbing through heather and moor, our breath stolen as much by the view as by the ascent; in the distance is the northernmost tip of Ireland, while below us, the cliffs drop steeply to the Atlantic. Passing by the ruins of stone cottages, we marvel at the communities that once clung precariously to the coast.
Almost too soon, we reach Columba's Footprints at Dunaverty--depressions said to have been left by the saint after he was banished from Ireland--and round the point to complete the last few hundred yards. At Dunaverty Bay, a lone seal guides us to the last marker, at the bay's end just outside Southend. As we touch the post, the start of the walk--90 miles and one week away--is a distant memory.
That night, at the Anchor Hotel in Tarbert (following a bus ride from Southend via Campbeltown), we reminisce about our week of walking. We've forgotten the tired legs, the aching feet and shoulders. Instead, our conversation is about the scenery, the haunting ruins, and the sense of achievement that comes with covering so much ground on foot.
"So you did the walk, did you?" asks the Anchor's barman. "How was it?" We pause, at a loss to explain. He smiles anyway. I guess our tired grins say it all.